This past Friday the largest number of seniors in its history graduated from DeSoto County High School. Family and friends at the Turner Center proudly attended.
This important event is a reminder of those influencing our seniors. Some of the graduates may remain or return to DeSoto County, others will not. Regardless, they leave behind family, friends, mentors and a unique community that contributed to that moment when a diploma was placed in their hand.
This community and its people are examples of everyday folks who care about each other and are not ashamed to show love and respect. When people care about each other, even newcomers to town have a sense of trust that is missing in other communities. DeSoto County/Arcadia is a place where people cherish, value and respect one another. There are still “salt-of-the-earth people” among us.
A shining example is Jerry Waters. He serves as an Arcadian example of how a person can be a model for others through their own life choices and behavior. Jerry, in his career as a bivocational minister, for example, had one passion—to teach young people and to be a means for saving lives. With the support of his wife Linda and a strong belief in Jesus Christ, he chose to work in both areas ... at the same time.
After graduating from Clemson University in South Carolina, Jerry and Linda moved to Arcadia—he had a job teaching chemistry at DeSoto High School. He was also attending First Baptist Church and teaching Sunday School.
It was at this time that Jerry Waters felt the call to become a pastor. To get there, he taught at the high school, Monday evenings driving to Orlando to attend classes provided by the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. And during the summer he taught classes at the college and took courses from Southeastern Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. During this time he also was a supply pastor (filling in for full-time pastors). In 1983, he was ordained as a minister at Calvary Baptist Church, became the minister at Mt. Ephraim Baptist Church for 20 years.
Waters couldn’t repeat enough how much he enjoyed teaching over the decades and spending time with his students.
“I was glad to have taught in DeSoto County,” he said several times during our interview.
Even though Waters did not use the role as minister at his day job, his students and co-workers respectfully called him “Preacher Man.” He was also often asked to conduct weddings and, sadly, funerals.
Bivocational ministers are important in rural churches. Fifty-seven percent of Protestant churches have fewer than 100 people attending services, including 21 percent averaging less than 50, according to national surveys. These churches often cannot pay a full-time minister and rely on other means to support the pastoral needs of the church. A bivocational minister fills that gap, however, the pastor relying on income outside of church duties to support his/her family.
Waters has returned to his role as a supply minister. His commitment to humanity and this community is but one example of how an individual makes a difference in the life of another by being welcoming, valuing others and showing love.
May DeSoto High grads continue their lives with the strong traditions of this community. And may we as a community remember that we should act as role models for our future generations.
And if you’re searching, look to Jerry Waters for inspiration.