On May 29, 1908, Sherlie F. Hester (my father) was born on a farm in Lamar County, Alabama, to Drury Wilson Hester and Eliza “Lizzy” (Brown) Hester. At birth he was named, John Foster Sherlie Hester, but was called Sherlie by all who knew him.
However, when the time came that it was mandatory to have a first name and middle initial in almost anything of a legal or business matter, he shortened and rearranged the order of his name (strictly for signature purposes) and began signing as “Sherlie F. Hester.”
His parents were devout members of the Freewill Baptist Church. The name “John” was given to him for his maternal grandfather, John A. Brown, who was a confederate veteran and a Freewill Baptist preacher. It was “Grand-pap” Brown who instilled in Sherlie the desire to preach.
While he was a student at the Blooming Grove School in Lamar County, he became interested in a girl, Clora Lee Price, who was also attending the Blooming Grove School. Clora was the daughter of James Riley Price and Ada (Smith) Price who were also members of the same Freewill Baptist church.
Very early in life Sherlie Hester joined the Freewill Baptist Church. He joined the church of his parents, “Mr. Wilson & Mrs. Lizzy.” The congregation was also one of those where his grandfather, J. A. Brown, had preached regularly. Clora’s parents, “Mr. Jimmie & Mrs. Ada,” were also members of that church.
In fact, Papa and Mama Hester and Papa Price had been baptized in the Baptist Church by Grand-pap Brown. It is uncertain whether or not Mama Price ever joined the “Free-wills.”
It was learned that she and one of her oldest sons, Vanderfer “Vannah” Price, had attended a gospel meeting when uncle Vannah was about eleven or twelve years of age, and both of them had obeyed the gospel.
Seeing that no church of Christ was meeting in the Blooming Grove or Crossville area at that time, she attended the Freewill Baptist church with the rest of her family, and of course, the Free-wills claimed her.
The courtship of Sherlie and Clora consists mostly of church meetings, box suppers, and the big annual community-wide picnic. Sherlie and Clora were united in marriage on December 16, 1928.
Six children were born to this union, consisting of five boys and one girl. The first child was a boy who died at birth on April 16, 1930. Next to be born was the only girl, “Dot.” She was born on January 30, 1932. Guy Ferrell Hester was born February 15, 1936. Benny Wayne Hester was born January 30, 1940. Giles Wade Hester was born October 2, 1945. And lastly, Johnny Price Hester was born October 9, 1948.
His four sons were all gospel preachers, one is now deceased. Five grandsons are gospel preachers and three granddaughters married gospel preachers. He now has one great-grandson preaching the gospel.
Sherlie and Clora were both good singers, having attended “singing schools” every year from early youth. Sherlie became a much sought after song leader and singing school teacher. It was not long until he also became a “preaching deacon” in the Freewill Baptist Church. He was appointed to the “ordination board” of the convention, examining men to determine if they were worthy of being ordained to preach in that denomination.
Clora had objected to some of the teaching and practices of the Freewill Baptist’s for a long time and would engage Sherlie in long discussions about her questions. The conversations the couple had shared came to a head while they were practicing for a Christmas play to be put on by the church. Sherlie was very much involved, but Clora refused to participate or even attend with him. She argued that there was no scriptural basis for the church to be involved in such activities. So convincing was she that Sherlie had to concede that she was right and this led to his beginning to question other practices of the Freewill Baptists.
As he would argue with his Freewill brethren, he stood on the ground that there must be Bible authority for things taught and practiced in religion. Thus, they began to refer to him as a “Campbellite” i.e. Campbell.
The more he studied the Bible, the more convinced he became that Christ established only one church, and that the New Testament was the sole authority for the worship and practice of that church.
About that time a “Church of Christ” preacher by the name of Gus Nichols, was holding a meeting a few miles from where he lived. Since the crops had been laid by until gathering time, he would walk to the place of the meeting.
He would arrive in time for the day service and stay until after the night service. Sherlie carefully took notes on the lengthy, scripture packed sermons brother Nichols preached, and then would later study these scriptures privately.
Sherlie determined that every word spoken was according to the teaching of the Scriptures. He continued his study along with Clora until he was thoroughly convinced. One thing that continued to bother him was something called, “a second working of grace.”
After months of sincere Bible study, Sherlie Hester decided that there was no hope of going to heaven until he was baptized for the remission of sins. With a change of clothes under his arm, he walked to Vernon, Alabama, to see brother W. A. Holley.
He asked brother Holley to baptize him. Brother Holley said that he would be happy to do so, but that he was in a gospel meeting at another church in the county and told him to go with him to the meeting and he would do the baptizing as soon as the service was over.
As they traveled to the meeting place, Sherlie brought up the subject of “the second working of grace,” and asked for brother Holley’s thoughts. After the afternoon service they went out and sat on a log as brother Holley satisfied Sherlie’s mind by using the Bible.
The same afternoon, the two men went to the Mill Pond on Yellow Creek near Vernon, and there Sherlie confessed faith in Christ as the Son of God and was buried in water for the remission of sins.
Brother Hester was baptized into Christ in 1939, and from that time until the time of his death in 1982, he preached the pure gospel of Christ. It is believed that he baptized some 5,000 between 1939 and 1982.
Clora, being heavy with child, was not baptized at that time. However, after the birth of Benny Wayne on January 30, 1940, brother W. A. Holley baptized her in the Mill Pond.
Even though I was quite young at the time, I will take to my grave the memory of my mother being led out in the water by brother Holley who could only use one arm (his left arm was withered) and mother trying to keep the tail of her dress from floating up in the water, and then he with that one arm baptizing her. “Precious memories, how they linger, how they ever flood my soul!”
Shortly after daddy obeyed the gospel, members of the Freewill Baptist Church, where he was formerly a member, began asking why he left the Baptists and had gone to the “Campbellites.” One of his sisters wrote him a letter and said that she would rather see him in his coffin than in the “Campbellite” church. Daddy later baptized her.
Daddy asked his father, who was a deacon in that Baptist church, if he would announce on Sunday morning that he would be preaching at his house that afternoon at 2:00. Papa Hester agreed to do so.
In preparation for it they gathered all the chairs in the house and placed them in the front room, expecting perhaps a dozen to show up. Much to his surprise, almost the entire Baptist church arrived. Daddy stood on the porch with the audience in the front yard and preached on the subject, “Why I Am a Member of the Church of Christ.”
Some of those present said that they would like to learn more and arrangements were made for a tent meeting in the area. A widow lady named Mrs. Jones, mother of the late gospel preacher J. O. Jones, lived in Crossville and had a big level field next to her home. She agreed for the tent meeting to be held at that location. The tent was filled at every service.
Enough people were baptized and restored during that tent meeting to re-establish the old Mount Olive church in Vernon, Alabama. Even though the church had gone out of existence, the old frame building was still standing and was put back in use.
On October 22, 1982, S.F. Hester slipped quietly into eternity and was buried in the Christian Chapel Cemetery in Lamar County, Alabama, not far from the place of his birth.
“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”