by Fritz Ritsch
Eddie Shaw, St. Stephen’s sexton and facilities supervisor, has thirty-four years of memories of people and events at the Church on the Hill. As he prepares to retire he says, “For me, everything’s been good.”
Eddie’s last day of work is February 28. The church will hold a “Good-bye” Party on Sunday, March 3, after worship.
Eddie came to St. Stephen in 1983. He had been a star athlete at Trimble Tech in the early ‘70s, excelling in football, basketball, and track and field. After a year at Tarleton State, he returned to Fort Worth and went to work for Texas Steel, where he stayed until the plant was closed in December of 1983. “I was broke and I had a daughter,” he explained, referring to his daughter Ann Banks, born in 1972.
Eddie had kept his sports contacts in the Fort Worth Independent School District. He went to them to see if there were any openings at schools. He was referred to the ISD’s director of hiring, St. Stephen’s own “Red” Phillips. At the time, St. Stephen had two sextons, and one had just retired. Red recommended Eddie to Rev. R. W. “Bill” Jablonowski—“Bill Jab,” as he’s affectionately remembered here–and Eddie was hired by a search committee comprised of Bob Adcock, Walter Adams, and Roy Meinen. He partnered with the other sexton at the time, Frank Holland.
One of the few crises Eddie had to deal with happened about three years after his hiring. He remembers it well. It was a Saturday in mid-February 1986, and he was driving to the Southwest Conference Indoor Track & Field event that he likes to attend every year. “I was on Sandage and drove past the church and saw smoke,” he said. He may have been the first to report the fire, though other neighbors had gathered, he said. It was the first of two three-alarm fires caused by construction work on the sanctuary building. An earlier fire had happened on January 28th, according to the Star-Telegram. The third fire was caused by an exploding propane tank and happened on the Sunday after the Saturday fire that Eddie had reported. People were in the building, but no one was injured, and church was cancelled. “It was the only time I can recall church was cancelled until the vandalism” in January of 2017, Eddie says. The next day, Mark Scott had the Fire Department out again, after discovering smoke in the organ chamber.
One of the main things Eddie remembers about Bill Jab, St. Stephen’s pastor for 39 years, was how much he and his secretary, Sarah Redmon, smoked. “I never thought you were allowed to smoke in church til I came here,” he laughs. “There was a Sunday morning class in the kitchen—it wasn’t really a class, it was just where all the smokers went.” Bill Jab sat at one end of the table, holding forth on whatever topic came to mind. The choir still practiced in the loft of the Parish Hall, and they’d complain about the smoke coming from the kitchen. “We had little paper St. Stephen ash trays with our name and logo,” Eddie said.
“One time I was in the office,” Eddie says, “And Bill Jab walked into his office and closed the door. Then he opens the door and walks out in his boxer shorts and hands his pants to Sarah to hem them up,” he says, chuckling. “They had a hole in the seat.”
Bill Jab didn’t care for using the heat, Eddie says. In the winter, blankets were kept in the pews if people were cold. “We only ran the heat three months,” Eddie said. But if the air conditioning didn’t work, Bill would spare no expense. “The A/C always gave me the most trouble” of any equipment that he worked with in the building, he says. It needed to be turned on days ahead of time to be sure it was working, and if it wasn’t, they wanted to have time during the week to repair it without going into weekend overtime. All that changed, he says, with the Capital campaign 2013-16 that installed our new, efficient HVAC system.
Eddie has many fond memories of church members he’s encountered over the years. Bob Adcock was part of the team that hired him, and Eddie always enjoyed working with him. Another familiar name is Bob Oliver, Paige Daniel’s late father, who chaired the Personnel Committee. “We’d have a meeting every once in a while and he’d say, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing—no one’s complaining,” Eddie remembered. For the most part, Eddie had very little interaction with committee chairs. “Bill Jab was the boss,” he says. “Everything was his decision.” As the years went by, things changed, and Eddie reported more often to the chair of the Property Committee.
Eddie remembers that at Christmas time, he and Carol Casler, Peggy Wadley’s mother, would get out a ladder and pick mistletoe from a tree on the church property every year so that she could send it to her daughter in Wisconsin. It’s just one example of what so many of us have appreciated about Eddie over the years—the way that he goes the extra mile for anyone who needed it. “Whatever could help make somebody’s day easier,” he says humbly.
He also remembers with affection and appreciation all the volunteers who’ve helped him along the way, especially the “Tuesday Guys,” a group through which many have rotated over the years, but which started, Eddie says, when George Feild retired from Lockheed and began to tinker around the church. Soon he was joined by others, including George Archer (who is still here every Tuesday!), Jerry Moody, and the late Tom Vaden.
Eddie says the vandalism in January of 2017, when a man broke into the Education Building and did hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage, was unsettling. “I’m in that building alone a lot,” he says. As pastor, I remember after the vandalism running into a lot of church people who would ask me if Eddie was okay. They knew how often he was here and were more concerned for Eddie’s safety than for the building.
As Eddie leaves, he is appreciative of the church and all the friends he’s made here over the years. “Thank everybody for everything they’ve done for me,” Eddie says. Almost everybody in this congregation could say the same thing back to you, Eddie, tenfold. We are grateful to God that you’ve blessed us all these years and wish you Godspeed in your retirement!
WE NEED EDDIE PICTURES!!
If you have any pictures of Eddie that you’d like used for a good-bye slide show on March 3, we ask that you get them to us by Wednesday, February 27th. If you can send them to us digitally, that’s best: please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. But feel free to bring hard copies as well to the office and give them to our administrator, Anne Barrett.
Facilities Supervisor Search Team Has Begun Its Work
The session has authorized the formation of a Facilities Supervisor Search Team comprised of chairman Eduardo Calderon and Elder Walker Armistead, representing the Property Committee; Elder Molly Hale and Nancy Ricker, representing the Personnel Committee; Charlotte Ray; and Kurt Anderson. Rev. Ritsch and Elder Bill Curtis, chair of Personnel, serve as ex officio. They have developed a job description and a salary and benefits package, approved by session, and have begun advertising in the Star-Telegram, indeed.com, and the air base, among other places. The goal is to begin interviews by the last week of February and to have someone in place as soon as possible in March.
However, there’s no guarantee that it will happen that quickly. It is our hope that we can manage without having to hire an interim sexton. Clean Slate, the cleaning service from the Presbyterian Night Shelter who take care of our housekeeping, will continue its work. Eduardo Calderon has developed a calendar of activities, placed in the church office, for volunteers to do necessary work around the church. In addition, some folks have volunteered to do particular jobs while we’re between sextons and many committees have stepped up to do work that affects their focus area. We ask that if you participate in any activity in the church building that each group take responsibility for their own set-up and clean up until the new person is in place. It’s a good opportunity to know what it is you need for your events. In that way you can train our new sexton how to do the jobs you need done.