A wonderful life worth mimicking

Published 4:40 pm Tuesday, May 7, 2024

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She was born in the midst of a World War.

She passed away on a calm, early spring day.

From September 19, 1943 until April 29, 2024, it was “Thelma’s World” and we were just lucky to be along for the ride.

Thelma Casper Harrell Hobbs entered the Pearly Gates last week. She didn’t have to knock….she didn’t have to ring the bell, they were expecting her arrival. Thelma was prepared to leave this Earth and go to a place that God had promised were many mansions…one bearing her name.

I first met Thelma back in the day when she worked as a Pre-School / Pre-K teacher at Ahoskie Christian School and Daycare. After hearing rave reviews about the caring staff there and their Christ-centered educational values, my wife and I enrolled our pre-school age daughter at ACS. Danielle fell in love with “Miss Thelma” from day one. She couldn’t wait to get to school each day, thirsty for more knowledge and wisdom shared by this wonderful Christian woman.

Now, 30-plus years later, I feel sure than Danielle has passed along to her son a lot she learned from Thelma.

I can’t fathom the number of children who, like Danielle, were influenced by Thelma Harrell Hobbs.

I found a photo in the News-Herald archives (December of 1991) that shows Thelma accompanying her Pre-K class to the Ahoskie Post Office where the children placed their Letters to Santa in a special mailbox located outside. Those children included Donald Vinson, Crystal Lewis, Victoria Joyner, Meagan Piland, William Barmer, Jason Brinkley, Amanda Perry, Chris Miller, Will Jones, Michael Morris, Tracy Eure, Bryn Terry, Jessica Watson, Brian Mizelle, Jessica Pierce, Duwane Hunter, Ariel Foxx, Sami Gueary, Kristy Ward, and Brandon Spivey.

Another photo from the archives, this one from October 1994, shows Thelma’s Pre-K classes after they had painted Halloween pumpkins. That photo featured Corey Saunders, Logan Kinlaw, Mamie Leary, Ashleigh Bradley, Joshua Calderson, Joseph Harrell, Eric Hall, Samantha Coefield, Amanda Hall, Shannon Hoggard, Owen Liverman, Blane Godwin, Joshua Watson, Emily Glass, Ashley Godwin, Elizabeth Blowe, Christine White, Meagan Ward, Brittany Morris, and Dillon Lowe.

And even as far back as 1987, Thelma and her pre-schoolers were featured in the News-Herald (April 15) when she took her young students to the Ahoskie Police Department where Chief Jake Willoughly led them on a tour. Featured in that photo were Kelli Bolton, Mary Ashley Burch, Cindy Lassiter, Jade Jones, Brooks Doughtie, Landry Jones, Kimberly Futrell, Ashley Gore, Josh Brinkley, Brandie Hoggard, Stacey Godwin, John Blowe, Drew Piland, Marcie Bradley, Trent Boone, Shelly Mitchell, Danny McKarty, E. Lee Penwell, Ryan Perry, Ashley Shores, Crystal Bell, and Stacy Harrell.

The point I’m trying to make here is these photos represent just a small fraction of the thousands of children (as well as adults) whose lives were touched by this special woman. And some of that was “tough love” as Pastor Wallace Phillips pointed out during Sunday’s service.

“She didn’t mind telling you what she thought and if it hurt your feelings, then so be it. But by the time she was finished you were both laughing,” he noted.

Prior to the start of the funeral, there were various photographs shown on the large screen behind the pulpit. Those photos were snippets of Thelma’s earthly life, many of which featured her with family. But there were many other photos of Thelma surrounded by children. They just seem to gravitate towards her, much like a moth is attracted to light.

Pastor Phillips also spoke about Thelma’s community involvement outside of the church. He said she served for years as a Hospice volunteer, never missing a meeting, training sessions, or an assignment.

“Miss Thelma could light up a room no matter where she was,” he stressed at Sunday’s service.

That statement is factual.

Last week, my wife shared with me something she saw on Facebook about a person shopping at a big box store somewhere in the region. The poster said she saw a line forming in one part of the store, thinking they had noticed a great sale on an item and were gathering to learn more. As it turned out, those folks had lined up and were waiting for their turn to speak to a very special person…..Thelma Hobbs Harrell. Yep, she could draw a crowd and entertain one as well.

I got to know Thelma and her first husband, Calvin Harrell, better when they moved two doors down from Deborah and I when we lived on Jernigan Airport Road outside of Ahoskie.

During Hurricane Floyd (September of 1999), the flooding left in his wake destroyed Thelma and Calvin’s residence at Stoney Creek Mobile Home Park. Later, a local effort spearheaded by several churches and contractors built them a new home in my neighborhood. Thelma and Calvin were great neighbors.

Even after Mr. Calvin passed away in 2003, Thelma’s life and legacy continued. She eventually remarried (to Donald Hobbs) and moved back to her native Gates County. There, she became active in the auxiliary of the VFW Post located near Sunbury. She would call monthly to update me on upcoming events at the VFW Post. If for some strange reason I failed to publish that info in the Gates County Index in a timely fashion, I would get a “stern” reminder from Thelma.

For those that knew Thelma Casper Harrell Hobbs, a little piece of us died on April 29, 2024. But our lives are a lot better because we knew her.

To her husband; her children: Kathy and Anita; her grandchildren: Stacy, Kevin, Brad, Karen, and Megan; her nine great-grandchildren; and her sister, Christine, thanks for sharing your celebrity – Thelma – with us. Know that she was loved and greatly admired by many people from all walks of life. Her loss is Heaven’s gain….a place where there’s no more pain from her various ailments, only peace and the thought that if we follow the path she paved, we will see her again.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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