published Saturday, February 8th, 2014

Cooper: A Jewell of a teacher

Jewell Patrick intimates she’s like a bad penny. She keeps turning up.

The East Ridge resident has taught the same Sunday school class — The Gleaners, a name she chose — at Woodland Park Baptist Church for 73 years.

“They’ve moved five times, and every move I went with them,” Patrick, 95, says of the church, which is now on its second location on Standifer Gap Road after moving from South Holtzclaw Avenue in 1977. ”I told Wayne (Barber, the senior pastor) that’s my last move.”

She began teaching the class when she was 22 years old and it was a gathering of all young, married women. Several of them have grown old with her. Three have been with her for all the moves.

Others “have died on me,” Patrick says. “That’s what I tell [the class].”

The class, which once numbered around 30 people, now averages about five.

“She’s true to her name,” says adult ministries pastor Steve McCary. “She’s precious — so much a woman of integrity.”

Even though Patrick says she’s been “trying to retire,” there are reasons she’s going to stay a little longer.

“You learn in the [worship] service,” she says, “but you can ask questions, you can talk in Sunday school. People come in with different hurts, things that need to be noticed. You have to be perceptive.”

Patrick says she recently relented in a desire to step down “because they’re wanting us to stick together. I don’t reckon I’m going anywhere. I guess they’ll hear what I [want] to say.”

However, she insists “she’s not as capable as many of the wonderful teachers” at the church. “God has blessed me as a listener. I need that more than I do [need to be] a teacher.”

The lifelong Chattanooga area resident says she came to Woodland Park after she married her husband and first “helped out” in the children’s department.

“Somebody quit,” she says, “and even though I’m not capable at all, I took it over until [the class expressed it was] tired of me.”

That’s never happened, of course.

Patrick says she has always used the Bible as her text, using the books chosen by class members, and relates to them “how it applies to us.” Her favorite passage, she says, is John 17, the chapter in which Jesus prays for himself, his disciples and for all believers just before his betrayal and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“I wouldn’t take anything for that,” says the widowed mother of one, grandmother of one and great-grandmother of one. “I love his prayer.”

Her style, Patrick says, has been just to stand “up and start talking. I ask them questions, but they weren’t too good to comment. They’d rather just listen. But we were friends.”

Through 73 years with those friends, she says, “we’ve been through a lot of problems, a lot of trials.”

Patrick, an East Ridge resident who has never worked outside the home and still lives by herself, has served the churches in more way than as a Sunday school teacher. She’s also been president of the Woman’s Missionary Union, was active in the choir and served on various committees. She’s been around so long, she says, that she was approached in a restaurant not too long ago by a man who reminded her that she had been his teacher in the children’s department. He had been a fireman, she says, and had retired.

Nevertheless, Patrick says, when Sunday rolls around, she still climbs into green-gray Toyota and drives to church to teach her flock. But she eschews any contributions she’s made.

“It’s me that has been blessed,” she says. “I’ve been blessed at Woodland Park. I’ve never known such people.”

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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