Special to The Leader
There is something within us all that wants to remember, love and honor a minister that pastored our church, led us to Christ or prayed for us when we were sick.
That minister officiated at our family weddings, funerals and attended simple Sunday dinners in our homes and showed up at our family events. The difference is, this pastor is still in in many of our lives today. The Rev. Henry L. Stevens at the age of 90 is still ministering to families in and around Texas .
Stevens moved to Orange in 1940 after graduating from Marshall College in Marshall. While attending seminary in Tulsa, Okla., Henry met his wife of 50 years. He married Mary Louise Mulford, also an ordained minister from Indianapolis. Soon they were a family with five sons and a daughter that are all still living in the area.
The Orange Bottling Works building on the corner of 11th and Scholars became the North Orange Pentecostal Church. Wide boards across wooden crates became pews. The couple put their education, ability, talents and faith together to found a church that still exist in Orange today. Within a few years, Lawson Stevens, Henry’s father, and men in the church remodeled the building. Later the two-story educational building was built that included evangelistic quarters, class rooms and nursery. Hunders of ministers still refer to Stevens as their “pastor” and honor him annually at their church events all over the United States .
Stevens’ drafting degree landed him plenty of work at the Port of Orange during the war. On a job in Sabine Pass, building a Navy Base, he built storage units for depth chargers that would be dropped on enemy subs. This job was completed in six months. Henry was given an $800 bonus by the Navy when the job was completed.
He remembers all street lights were turned off in costal towns because enemy ships had been seen in Gulf waters destroying our ships. His love for country and the need for funds to build his church kept him taking jobs to support war efforts at home. Sand was pumped out of the Sabine River, marsh lands were filled, homes were built in a subdivision that was called Riverside.
Stevens worked for State Electric wiring, installing plugs and switches and hanging 100 fixtures a day. Consolidated Ship Yard hired him to draw blue prints. Finally, drawing blue prints “under the wave” on the largest ships that were built in Orange, he remembers working on the last ship that was sent out during the war.
Stevens, with pride, accepted invitations from Bethlehem Steel to give the final prayer and blessing when launching ships at edge of the Sabine River .
Stevens served the Texas District of the United Pentecostal Church in an official capacity for 50 years and is still licensed with that organization. Mary and Henry Stevens served as registrars for the United Pentecostal Church Camp meetings in Lufkin for more than 20 years. Mary helped blaze the path for women’s recognition in the UPC that actually led to the present Ladies Auxiliary for the UPC organization. The couple became a moving force in the United Pentecostal Organization with Mary Stevens evangelizing locally and Henry Stevens ministering to a growing and thriving community. Industry boomed and the North Orange Pentecostal Church grew rapidly.
Memories of the Stevens family include behind-the-scenes in the life of a minister. Saturday nights could always find family and church friends cleaning the church and preparing for Sunday.
“It was just a normal, weekly event. After cleaning the church, everyone went out for 15 cent hamburgers and ice cream.”
Sunday mornings the radio programs coming from KOGT were live — Sister Mary with her accordion and Brother Stevens with a sermon for over 30 years.
“Throw out the Lifeline” was the theme song for the program. Midnight calls for prayer or trips to hospitals at odd hours is still the norm for Stevens. He still makes chaplain visits for hospitals in Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange and Houston.
Stevens’ other part-time job with local funeral homes was driving their ambulances on long-distance trips to Galveston and Houston. This gave the Stevens children close relationships with funeral director’s children and a reason to accompany their parents to funerals where their dad was “preaching” a funeral and mom was singing.
His last “extra” job was with United States Post Office. In the early 1950s he begin as a substitute rural carrier. The experience of memorizing names and addresses of thousands of people enhanced his ability and talent of memorizing entire books of the Bible. Today he is still invited to ministerial gatherings and churches around the country to speak and quote the Bible.
The Little Cypress School District boasts that this family’s six children all started in the first grade and all finished 12 years, graduating from Little Cypress School with perfect attendance for the most. Stevens participated in baccalaureates and graduation ceremonies at Little Cypress and other high schools. Mary Stevens was a den mother in the Boy Scouts of America. Together the couple was active in youth organizations and are lifetime members of the Little Cypress PTA.
Stevens was not only a “ fisher of men” he was an avid fisherman and sportsman. His love for fishing and hunting started as just a child in Jefferson, where he was born. If you are a neighbor, relative, friend or a visiting minister, chances are you were taken fishing in the Sabine River by one of the best guides that ever fished this area. He still maintains a boat and enjoys the fact that his fishing licenses are free. His children are all hunters and fishermen. They plan annual trips with their father, who is still in the lead for best shot and most fish.
Traveling to ministerial conferences was a way to show this family America. All six children had been to most the states in the U.S., Mexico and Canada before they graduated from high school. These conferences were in different states annually. The church also sent the Stevenses to the Holy Land. The trip to Jerusalem, wading in the Sea of Galilee and walking in Christ’s footsteps was an experience Stevens encourages everyone to take.
Mary Stevens — wife, mother and minister — was also an artist. She owned an art studio and taught many local art students at Mary Lou’s Art Studio. Mary was a founding member of the Orange Art Guild and her work can still be seen on the walls of the Orange Community Center. Mary painted back drops for the Orange Community Players and was an accomplished poet, song writer and musician.
After his first wife’s death, Stevens married Geneva Buxton Chandler, who is also deceased.
The Stevens family home on North 3rd Street was built b Stevens, his dad, uncles and church members. This huge 10-room house could be transformed into a wedding chapel, a woman’s crisis center, a short term hotel for ministers, a nursery or a high school hangout in a matter of moments. These memories are all that the Stevens family have after the Hurricane Rita destroyed their family home of 53 years.
The 100-year-old oak trees crushed the house but not the spirit of the reverend.
He also witnessed the tearing down of the original North Orange Pentecostal Church on 11th Street a few months after the same hurricane weakened that structure.
During Hurricane Rita, 15 Stevens family members huddle together in an 8x10-foot tool shed at the Toledo Bend. In the wake of the hurricane, there were more than 150 Stevens cousins, aunts and uncles that suffered losses but all survived. The reverend’s lake house too, is now history. Stevens claims that all these life changes are just making him stronger in body and spirit. He believes now, more than ever, that we must “Give God thanks in ALL things.”
He now resides on Pintail Lane in Orange, with son David Stevens, and points out that his cell phone has the same phone number that was issued to them 53 years ago — just in case anyone needs to contact him.
The Stevens family invites everyone to attend the 90th birthday celebration for Stevens. The event will be Saturday night at the First United Pentecostal Church on Edgar Brown Drive in Orange. The reception begins at 6 p.m. There will be gospel-singing, tributes at 7 p.m. and birthday cake at 9 p.m. The family asks that visitors’ presence be their gift. For out of town guest, the Ramada Inn offers discounted rooms. For more information or directions, call Dorothy at 409-883 2276
Stevens will be featured at 8 a.m. Sunday on KOGT. He will be interviewed on the J. Rainwater Singing Evangelistic Show.