Church surprises longtime member known as Good Sam

FLORENCE, S.C. (AP) — Mary Jane Alexander is known around west Florence as the Good Samaritan, and her church, New Ebenezer Baptist Church, threw a surprise party on a recent Saturday to recognized her as a Good Samaritan.

The Good Samaritan in the Bible helped an injured man, took him to a hospital and paid his medical bill. The Good Samaritan stepped forward to assist those in need — something Alexander has done for decades.

Even though she had her own kids, Alexander raised other kids in the neighborhood, took care of strangers and still does it at the golden age of 88.

“One of my earliest memories of my mother helping someone is when mama worked at the Colonial Hotel,” said her daughter Carolyn Mitchell. “This must have been in the 1950s. This woman was on a bus travelling through Florence to go somewhere. The bus stopped for everybody to hit the restrooms or stretch. The woman left her purse, everything in it, on the bus, and when she came back, the bus had gone. Mama had finished a shift at Colonial Hotel and brought the woman home.”

Mitchell said they lived in a three-bedroom house that was holding more people than it needed to.

“But I remember this woman particularly because every chore I had, the woman took it, because she felt it was the least she could do since mama let her stay with us for a few days,” Mitchell said.

The woman only stayed for a few days until she could allocate her funds.

Mitchell added that even though her mother had to raise her and her siblings by herself, everyone in the community came over to eat. Alexander would have hot biscuits, peaches (from Alberta Peaches in the McBee area) and fat back meat to feed the multitude, sometimes up to 30 people on a daily basis back in the 1950s and 1960s, Mitchell said.

As of 10 years ago, Alexander’s children told her she needed to slow down during the middle of the week on making such large Sunday dinners. Alexander cleans 3 to 4 pounds of meat every Saturday to prepare for Sunday dinners and such.

Vera White has known Alexander for the past 40 years and said she knows Alexander gives back what God blessed her. She says she knows that sometimes people bring meat to Alexander’s house, and that enables her to prepare meals.

“Mary’s mind is as sharp as an owl’s,” White said. “She has a sense of humor and discipline. Youth respect her because she teaches them from a young age. She teaches me, too, and I’m thankful for it.”

“It is through the grace of God she can afford to do all of this,” Mitchell said.

After time at the Colonial, Alexander worked for South Carolina Department of Mental Retardation. She retired from there, and in 1990 she started a residential home health care facility for the elderly. At the same time, she volunteered to work with a foster care program in the area. She opened her doors to disadvantaged children or whomever the Department of Social Services brought her way. For years she conducted both home health and foster care work out of her home.

Kenny and Joy Barnes have known Alexander for years. Kenny met her when he was in a fraternity with Alexander’s son, Felix, at Francis Marion University in the late 1970s. Alexander met Joy when she worked with Alexander’s daughter, Sherry, in the early millenium.

The two have witnessed how well respected Alexander is in her neighborhood. They said people tend to meet other people because of Alexander. They say Alexander becomes your family, and the others you meet through her become your family.

“She gives so much to the community,” Joy said. “She is family oriented, and hospitality describes her, because she is a giver.”

Kenny and Joyce laugh, because when they started dating each other, they both knew Alexander but did not even know it. They say she had a big part in their wedding.

The two think of her as a woman with wisdom who has never met a stranger.

“That’s her strong faith in God,” Kenny said. “She very seldom misses church. When she had knee surgery, she was still ushering, and we had to tell her to rest and sit down.”

At the church, Alexander is known for her great meals and as the pioneer of the Youth Usher Ministry. She started it in the 1970s, and they have had more than 40 youth come through it. A few of them are still ushers at New Ebenezer.

“I originally started a youth Bible study in the early 1970s at my house,” Alexander said. “We started to get a crowd for a weekly Bible study and we had to house hop for weekly youth Bible study. We eventually moved youth Bible study to the church. “

She said she started thinking about the Youth Usher Ministry, because the youth Bible study was working so well, and she noticed the kids were not doing something in church.

“Marie Jordan, a fellow usher, and I noticed we had so much small children in the church, but we needed to train them to do something,” Alexander said.

In fact, Alexander is the oldest usher at the church. She has been an usher since she was 15.

They went to the reverend at the time, Rev. Chaney. They asked him if they could start the usher’s ministry that trained the youth starting at the age of 6. He asked how they were going to train so many youth.

“We told him to give us a chance and we’ll show you,” Alexander said.

Alexander said every Saturday they trained the children on usher’s protocol, and then they bought black-and-white material to make the uniforms for the youth. Over the years the Youth Ministry became too large, and they had to have females usher on Youth Sunday Service and the males on the third Sunday out of the month.

“She’s compassionate about what she does. She has the spirit of hospitality,” said New Ebenezer’s present pastor, Rev. Norman Gamble. “She is the model for caretakers, respectful and care for others.”

He said she is patient and punctual, and she has structure on how she does things. He believes she represents the virtuous woman described in Proverbs 31.

“My life has been richer because of Miss Mary Alexander,” Gamble said. “She has the best cooking in the United States. She has always treated me with love and respect.”

Even though Alexander has worked with the youth, Kenny and Joyce believe she has a great personality that can be matched with sternness. They believe that is how she gets along with the youth.

Ossie Brooks, Alexander’s friend for more than 50 years, agreed.

“It’s hard to find a person with a personality that Mary possesses,” Brooks said. “She’s a loving and caring person.”

Brooks, also in her 80s, has worked with youth, too. She was a kindergarten teacher for 22 years. Some of the students she taught, Alexander brought through her usher ministry.

“If there is anything to be learned from her, the more you give, the more you receive,” Brooks said. “She believes in the children and teaches being disciplined, be respectful of the elderly and others and study the Bible. But above all, she teaches to put God first.”

After having back surgery last month, Alexander started off with a walker and now has a cane.

“I really appreciate the surprise, and I can’t think them enough,” Alexander said. “I am glad I was alive to see it and that they gave me my flowers while I was living.”