Trustees of Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH), guests and BCH staff members gathered for a special luncheon at the Colonial Country Club in Thomasville to celebrate the 35th anniversary of president/CEO Michael C. Blackwell on Tuesday October 23 –– five weeks to the day from when the event was originally scheduled.
“Hurricane Florence had other ideas,” BCH Trustee Chair Sybil Stewart said. “But despite the delay, we come today to honor Dr. Blackwell and celebrate his years of ministry to children and families.”
The Trustees began nearly a year ago planning the event. One important addition to the plans was inviting First Baptist Church Lexington pastor Dr. Ray Howell to emcee the event.
“I was honored and touched to be asked to participate in this special anniversary celebration for my good friend, Michael Blackwell,” Howell said.
Howell used his emcee responsibilities creatively and wrote four vignettes to highlight Blackwell’s ministry and tie the entire program together. With the aid of actors including Howell’s eight-year-old granddaughter Ella Rae to portray BCH’s first child in care, Mary Presson, Howell revisited Blackwell’s childhood when Blackwell was a paperboy and a teen “rock ‘n roll” disc jockey, brought a voice from the past remembering the phone call from BCH presidential search committee chair Olin T. Binkley, and ushered BCH founder John Haymes Mills and Mary Presson (who was a member of First Baptist Church Lexington as an adult) to life so they could personally thank Blackwell for his 35 years of service.
“I was deeply moved by the entire experience,” Blackwell said. “To relive such important moments in my life and then to stare into the eyes of John Mills and hear his words, ‘You sir, you have done well.’ I will never forget it.”
Mills Home resident Ciara and BCH alum Joe Knight shared testimonies and thanked Blackwell on behalf of residents –– both past and present. Boys and chiefs from Cameron Boys Camp were led by musician Will Johnson and performed a percussion piece created by Johnson. Johnson is a friend of BCH and a world-renown musician and
percussionist. North Carolina Baptist pastor Dale Steele presented a painting by Robert Doares, “Jesus Blesses the Children,” with the help of Ciara and BCH resident Jeff. BCH staff member Alan Williams sang “Thank You” accompanied with images taken over Blackwell’s 35 year tenure.
“I couldn’t fight back the tears,” Blackwell said. “To hear Ciara and Joe, and see Jeff and then to be wowed by the boys and chiefs from Cameron, it was all incredible. Dale’s presentation brought the Doares painting to life and then to listen to Alan’s performance –– and he can sing – was inspiring.”
Trustees said thank you to Blackwell by establishing Blackwell Grove.
“The Trustees decided to focus our attention on a ‘legacy’ that will honor Dr. Blackwell for years to come,” Trustee Chair Sybil Stewart said. “We decided to invest in every BCH
location by creating Blackwell Grove.”
The Trustees committed to place 35 maturing Legacy Maple trees –– one tree for each of Blackwell’s years of service –– at BCH locations around the state. The trees are currently 15 to 18 feet tall with trunks of 5-6 inches in diameter. The trees will be moved from a nursery in Low Gap in Surry County late December and then planted at BCH facilities in January.
“Imagine how children and residents, for years, will play beneath their boughs,” Stewart told the crowd upon unveiling a commemorative Blackwell Grove wall hanging. “Hours will be spent sitting at their trunks to read books, to contemplate bright futures, or to lift hearts in prayer.”
Blackwell said he could never have imagined such an honor. “My heart overflows with gratitude –– a gratitude for having the privilege to serve children and families with such loving Trustees.”