Joseph Cecil Wilson
Joseph Cecil Wilson was born on the old family farm near Middlebrook, September 3, 1918, to Louis and Evalene (Mock) Wilson, and lived out his youth helping his father, getting his education from the common schools of the area, and attending the Brakebill Church of Christ. He was able to complete the tenth grade (an advanced level at that time in the rural sections of Randolph County) by riding a blind mare to and from school.
Cecil was united in marriage to Ruby Louise Shaver of the Palestine-Ingram community by Calvin McCord on June 6, 1937. Ruby was a direct descendant of the old Christian John Shaver who settled on Mud Creek in 1815. Cecil's mother, Evalene (Mock) Wilson, was also a descendant of John Shaver in that she descended from Matthias Mock who married Leah Shaver, daughter of John Shaver.
The young couple helped work the Wilson family farm for awhile but at the invitation of his older brothers, Orace and Lawrence, they moved to St. Louis where they attended the Spring and Blaine Church of Christ and Cecil worked at various jobs. During this time, he and his brothers, and Addie, Orace's wife, did quartet singing over KMOX Radio. They were a popular group and established quite a following.
Cecil and Ruby left St. Louis for Liberty, Texas, but during World War II they were back on the family farm in Arkansas. In the mid 1940s they moved to Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where Cecil worked for Harbert D. Hooker, a Church of Christ minister and jeweler, and attended the Montgomery-Taylor College of Horology. He completed his schooling and in 1947, the Cecil Wilson family now consisting of Donald Ray (b. May 4, 1940, in St. Louis) and Michael Lewis (b. May 20, 1946, in Poplar Bluff), returned to Randolph County. Wilson worked at a jewelry store in the old Rexall Pharmacy in Pocahontas but in 1950 founded Wilson's Jewelry Store.
Cecil and his family became part of the Pyburn Street Church of Christ in Pocahontas. He and his wife had been immersed by L. W. Henson in 1931 at the old "Blue Hole." Early on Cecil was encouraged to preach by "Uncle" Burt Shaver and Harbert D. Hooker. After attending preacher training classes taught by Frank Gould and completing a Bible Correspondence Course from Harding College, he dedicated himself to helping small and struggling churches.
The elders at the Pyburn Street Church authorized his ministerial credentials:
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN, GREETINGS:
We the undersigned elders of the Church of Christ in Pocahontas, Arkansas, having personally known Cecil Wilson as a faithful member of the Church of Christ; and, furthermore, regarding him as both worthy and capable as a gospel preacher, do hereby recommend him to whoever might stand in need of such service.
ELDERS: Jesse Seawel, C. E. Powell, E. L. Perrin, January 22, 1949.1 (1 Randolph County Book F. p. 205)
Perhaps his first gospel meeting was an effort made with his life-long friend, Arthur Blackwell, at a community building between Warm Springs and Dalton late in the 1940s. He commenced his part-time ministry at the Mangrum and Hackberry Churches of Christ near Caraway in 1953. He subsequently served churches at Palestine, Brakebill, Noland, Eden, Birdell, Manson, Ring, Pocahontas, Maynard (Northside), Stokes, O'Kean, Reyno, Biggers, Skaggs, Bethany, Glaze Creek and Washington Road in Randolph County; Imboden and Giles Spur in Lawrence County; Grassylead in Clay County; Hardy in Sharp County; Welcome Hill (Near West Plains) and Delhalf in Oregon County, Missouri; Ponder and Doniphan in Ripley County, Missouri; and a small congregation at Poplar Bluff in Butler County, Missouri. He preached the annual Homecoming Sunday sermon at the Palestine Church of Christ after Burt Shaver died. He also served as a deacon, song leader and Bible class teacher at the Pyburn Street Church in Pocahontas for many years. 2 (2 Jerry Shaw, "JUST A REMINDER OR TWO," The Noble Searcher (Oct. 30, 1969):2.)
His popularity as a minister, businessman and friend was so great, he was often called upon to preach in revivals (he even held meetings for black congregations in Poplar Bluff, Jonesboro, and Birdell), conduct funerals and weddings for people of every religious persuasion, speak at school baccalaureates, church homecomings and conduct weekly gospel broadcasts over KPOC.
Family members believe that he officiated at more than 3,000 weddings and about 5,000 funerals. Perhaps his greatest strength was in his uncanny ability to comfort the bereaved in times of immense suffering due to the loss of loved ones. He could say just the right words and do just the right things calculated to alleviate the sorrows and sufferings as much as humanly possible. He expressed some of his thinking on this subject in an article he wrote for the Gospel Exhorter in 1974.3 (3 Cecil Wilson, "The Days of Our Years are Threescore and Ten," Gospel Exhorter (December 1974):4.) Bill Pratt, a Harding Graduate School student, consulted with Wilson on this topic as part of his guided research. 4 (4 3Bill Pratt. "The Preacher and the Funeral" (Guided Research, Harding Graduate School of Religion, Feb. 1985), p. 56.) It was said that he had "preached more funerals than all of the other preachers in Randolph County combined."4 (4 "Meet Our New Deacons..," The Noble Searcher (Jan. 29, 1970):3.) On the day before his death he comforted a bereaved family and helped them prepare for a funeral service which he was to conduct, and officiated at a wedding.
He died in the dark hours of October 14, 1984, a victim of heart trouble which he had experienced since 1959. His memorial service was held at the Pyburn Street Church in Pocahontas before a standing-room crowd of people. Officiating were some of his old friends: G. W. Allison, Frank Gould and Arthur Blackwell. Glen Wilson, a nephew, led the congregational singing. His body was interred in the Palestine Cemetery.
His legacy lives on in his beloved wife of nearly fifty years and three children: Don, (a song leader and Bible class teacher at Highway 62 West of Pocahontas, and Justice of the Peace who had conducted many marriage ceremonies), Michael (an educator, researcher in Restoration Movement history, and minister with Christian Churches); and Sheila Ann (b. Aug. 23, 1957). A grandson, John-Mark Wilson, preaches for Jonesboro area Churches of Christ. Other grandchildren are active members of New Testament churches. The Wilsons, Shavers, and other family members get together at Palestine's Annual Homecoming service each fourth Sunday in June. Don is in charge of the singing service.5 (5 Don House and Art Smith. co-editors of the Gospel Exhorter and intimate friends with the Wilson family, attended the memorial service and later wrote that Cecil Wilson was "loved by people of all faiths, but especially by his own brethren. See: "Cecil Wilson Dies: Preacher of the Gospel," Gospel Exhorter (Oct-Nov. 1984):3.)
-Dr. Michael L. Wilson, Arkansas Christians:A History of the Restoration Movement in Randolph County, Arkansas 1800-1995, c.1997, Delight: Gospel Light Publishing Co., page 432-435.
Directions To The Grave of J.C. Wilson
The old Palestine church of Christ Cemetery lies north of Pocahontas, Arkansas. Travel north on Hwy. 115 out of Pocahontas. Turn left on Co. Road 251. Go about eight miles and turn right onto Palestine Road. The road is a dirt road. Best to go on dry days. The road will make a couple of hard turns before coming to the church and cemetery. When entering the cemetery, continue toward the rear of the cemetery. The grave is located under the shade of a tree on the right side of the cemetery. While in the cemetery, be sure to visit the graves of other gospel preacher buried there such as A.B. Shaver, P.H. Shaver, Jake Waddle, and Dr. Michael L. Wilson, the writer of Arkansas Christians:A History of the Restoration Movement in Randolph County, Arkansas 1800-1995, c.1997, Delight: Gospel Light Publishing Co.
Photos Taken 11.14.2014
Webpage Produced 02.22.2015
Courtesy of Scott Harp
*Special thanks to Tom L. Childers and Charlie Wayne Kilpatrick for assisting in the burial location. They, alongwith your web editor, took a trip into northern Arkansas to find the graves of gospel preachers of yesteryear in November, 2014. We traveled together three days and located the final resting places of nearly forty preachers and their families. It was a great trip. Many of the personalities we researched were chronicled in Boyd E. Morgan's book, Arkansas Angels, or later in Dr. Michael L. Wilson's book, Arkansas Christians: A History of the Restoration Movement in Randolph County, 1800-1995.