|Birth: ||Aug. 6, 1898|
|Death: ||Mar. 5, 2007|
The Christian Chronicle, Mar. 7, 2007
LAURA KEEBLE, the widow of the late traveling evangelist Marshall Keeble, has died at a Nashville, Tenn., nursing home. She was 108.
Baptized in a Mississippi creek 94 years ago, the gentle woman best known as "Sister Keeble" boasted a spiritual strength that belied her wrinkles, white hair and wheelchair.
Even in her later years, she expected someone to wheel her downstairs each Sunday afternoon for worship service.
"I'm going as long as I'm able to get up," she said at age 104 in a 2003 interview with Christian Chronicle managing editor Bobby Ross Jr., then a religion writer for The Associated Press.
For much of her life, Keeble lived in the shadows of her husband, who started more than 250 Churches of Christ, mainly black congregations in the South, and quietly helped bring about integration.
But this humble woman, who became "Mama" to dozens of young girls, had a story of her own — one of race, faith and perseverance.
At times, Keeble forgot details such as relatives' names. Still, she recited scripture easily while discussing her commitment to Jesus Christ.
"God wants you to preach the Bible, in season and out, reprove and rebuke, with all long suffering," she said in the 2003 AP interview.
She could tell you all about her grandmother, who was born before the Civil War, and she really shined when she talked about her late husband, Marshall Keeble, who was already a well-known minister when they met.
"Ain't he a dandy?" she said, holding a black-and-white photograph of her husband of 34 years. "He loved to dress and go preach. He'd say, 'Come on, Mama, let's go to church.' "
Born Aug. 6, 1898, Laura Catherine Johnson was the seventh of ten children, one of seven girls and three boys in her family. Her father, Luke, worked in an iron foundry. Her mother, Susan, was a nurse/midwife. She said she became a "nursemaid" at age 12.
"It seems like caring for others was a part of me. Because there were so many people in my family, growing up I never knew what it was like to eat a whole apple by myself until I was grown and gone from home," Keeble wrote.
When Marshall Keeble came along, Laura was 35 and wondering if she might die an "old maid."
Keeble, the son of slaves, was a recent widower and 20 years older than Laura. His first wife, Minnie, a Fisk University graduate, helped teach Keeble how to read and write. In 36 years of marriage, they had five children, two of whom died in infancy.
"Some of you ought to find me a good wife," Keeble told friends after Minnie died from an illness. "I can't live single the rest of my life as young as I am."
Percy Ricks, husband of Laura's older sister Willie, suggested his sister-in-law.
Marshall Keeble initiated the courtship with letters. To see a preacher "flirting around with a woman" disgusted him, he said, so he never spent more than five minutes alone with her before they married.
Keeble later said, "Ricks told me I'd get the best rose in the Johnson flower garden, and I think I did."
While the minister spent weeks and even months on the road, Sister Keeble stayed home.
"There was plenty to do at home to keep her occupied," author Willie Cato wrote in the book "His Hand and His Heart...The Wit and Wisdom of Marshall Keeble."
"She became a very loving mother to his three children and also to the grandchildren. Laura knew that Keeble was doing what he loved to do and what he did best - preaching the Gospel.
"She loved him dearly and always supported him in his efforts to evangelize the world."
Later, when Keeble served as president of the Nashville Christian Institute, a school for black children, his wife kept up to a dozen girls at a time in her home. She never gave birth to a child, but she became "Mama" to many.
After Keeble's daughter, Beatrice, died after a lengthy illness in 1935, Sister Keeble raised her two young daughters.
NASHVILLE, TENN. – As warm March winds outside heralded spring, some 350 people gathered Friday (March 9) at a funeral service inside the (1408) Jackson Street church to honor the 108-year life of Laura Catherine Johnson Keeble, wife of famed evangelist Marshall Keeble.
Speakers at the two-hour service remembered "Sister Keeble," who died Monday at a Nashville nursing home, as both a loving, dedicated supporter of her husband and a person of virtue in her own right.
"Sister Keeble was not just the widow of the greatest preacher since the days of the apostles," said Jack Evans, president of Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas. "She was a great woman in herself. She made her own mark."
In autobiographical remarks in the funeral program, Laura Keeble recalled her wedding on April 3, 1934: "Momma had fixed a big meal, and I was really dressed in a new suit, new shoes, stockings, gloves and, of course, my hat."
Her husband-to-be arrived late because he couldn't drive his new car, which still needed breaking in, more than 30 miles per hour from Nashville to Corinth, Miss., where the couple married. After the Wednesday wedding ceremony, the newlyweds made it back to Nashville in time for a prayer meeting at the Jackson Street church. They spent their honeymoon in California, where her preacher-husband held a three-week gospel meeting.
By Ted Parks, for The Christian Chronicle
Marshall Keeble (1878 - 1968)
Created by: Jean
Record added: Mar 08, 2007
Find A Grave Memorial# 18304397
Joseph P Abel
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