received word that Shirley Banta died yesterday. After Shirley's husband, a Southern Baptist preacher, died in 1968, she moved to Oak Park to become church secretary at Calvary Memorial Church under the leadership of Pastor Bob Gray. Shirley served through the remainder of Pastor Gray's tenure, during the interim, throughout the tenure of Pastor Don Gerig, and through the interim again. She served longer as secretary than any pastor in the history of the church. When I came to Oak Park in 1989, she was still serving as church secretary, although she was past retirement age. Several years later, the church provided a small pension for her that made it possible for her to retire. She continued to attend the services and was active in the church as much as possible. In later years she would sit on the back row with Minnie Fahler and Gloria Ahlenius and Helen Scharama. I made it a point to stop every Sunday and talk to "the girls" and tease them about chewing gum and writing notes. Over the years Shirley would clip out cartoons and send them to me with a note of encouragement attached.
Shortly before she moved from Oak Park to a nursing home in Quincy, IL, Marlene and I visited her in the hospital where she was recovering from a fractured hip. She was in excellent spirits, and seemed happy to be making the move. When I asked her when we would see her again, she said we could see her anytime we wanted. All we had to do was come to Quincy. I said that's fine, but I'll have to find out where Quincy is first. Shirley spoke with affection about how Pastor Gray and his wife June befriended her in those early days. "I was from the country, and they made me feel at home in the city." She said the hardest times were when the church had no pastor. She ran the office and kept things together and it seemed like she had a dozen bosses.
People who do not work in a church have no idea of what church secretaries do. They generally don't get much recognition, they aren't paid big salaries, and sometimes they have to deal with grumpy church members and cranky staff members. A good secretary is hard to find, and a great one is worth her weight in gold. Shirley was a great one. She knew where everything was, she could answer any question, she knew how to juggle six projects at once, and she enjoyed dealing with people and their problems. She bailed out every pastor she ever served on more than one occasion. And she had a wonderful sense of humor that made the church office a fun place to visit. Most of the current Calvary attenders have no idea who Shirley Banta was since she retired over a decade ago. Take it from me. She was the best. Marlene and I loved her and we miss her.
Rest well, Shirley, and thank you for helping me find my way when I was a brand-new pastor and didn't have a clue. You made my job so much easier. I smile when I think of you. Heaven seems like a better place this morning knowing that you are there.
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