|Before press time, Mrs. Elta Boyd went to be with her Lord on September 20, 1998, nine days short of her ninety-fourth birthday. Dr. Luder Whitlock, RTS President, preached the funeral sermon.|
or the first November in twenty-three years, the house at 296 Chewacla Drive in Auburn, Alabama, will be dark during the week before Thanksgiving. Elta Boyd's Annual Open House will be no more. No happy shoppers will enter her doors, wondering what irresistible craft Elta cooked up this year to tempt their pocketbooks. There'll be no unhurried visiting, with that second cup of tea, to mull over the week's happenings in their small part of the world.
Old and young alike in Auburn are mourning the passing of a virtual institution in their town -- an energetic little lady with a love for the Lord, a keen sense of humor, a sunny outlook, and a determination made of steel. RTS has lost a dear friend as well.
Elta and her husband Frank did not start off planning any global missionary strategy; they simply wanted to help train good, solidly biblical preachers. "Of all Frank's many interests, recalled Elta, " the one closest to his heart was the great need for thoroughly trained ministers of the Gospel. His first love was Reformed Theological Seminary."
But they have had an incalculable impact on the cause of Christ around the world. Since 1976 RTS students have benefited from the Frank E. Boyd Memorial Scholarship Fund and have fanned out across the world to reach thousands with the Gospel. And it all started with some beanbag frogs and fig preserves.
ELTA'S CRAFT FACTORY
When Frank's former pastor, Dr. Robert Strong, retired from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1973 to become a professor at RTS, Frank and Elta. knew that RTS must be "sound as a dollar" biblically, and they began giving everything they could to the seminary.
By 1974, the two (who were in their sixties) had dreamed up a part-time craft business to benefit RTS. "Frank bought all the materials, so we could have 100 per cent profit," chuckled Elta. "And I made him pay for anything he wanted to give away!"
She and two friends, the late Mildred Henry and the late Virginia Haggard, put their heads together to make frog bean bags, crayon aprons, and fig preserves from fig trees in the Boyds' backyard, sending the small sums they made to RTS to use as the school saw fit.
"I'll never forget the letter from the first student to benefit from our contributions," Elta remembered gleefully. "He wrote, 'I appreciate the money so much, but I feel a little guilty because I am not a Presbyterian. I don't think I could ever be a Presbyterian. I'm Baptist.' We told him that was all right; we knew some Baptist churches that could use a good preacher!"
The ladies had been working about a year when Frank went to be with the Lord suddenly in December, 1974. Encouraged by her pastor, in the spring of 1975, Elta set up the Frank E. Boyd Memorial Scholarship Fund with $1700 in memorials from Frank's funeral. Many years later she still joyfully showed the picture of the first student helped by the fund -- a senior with a wife and three children.
Undaunted by Frank's death, Elta and a continuous stream of friends offering part-time help kept right on making and selling the crafts, donating all the proceeds (no matter how small) to the fund. They became known as the Reformed Theological Seminary Committee. Elta bought all the materials and did most of the work.
As an Alabama Extension Service Family Life Specialist for thirty years, Elta knew her way around a sewing machine. Her handiwork was exquisitely beautiful. She and her friends either came up with designs themselves or copied them from stores. Most of their crafts could not be bought retail.
"My sewing machine never comes down," she always boasted -- and it was true! At almost any hour of the day or night, friends saw a light shining in her sewing room on Chewacla Drive.
Quality and low price were important to Elta. She maintained, "Giving the profits to a good cause is all the more reason to give people their money's worth." Customers knew that her crafts were better made than retail stores and cheaper by sometimes seventy-five per cent. Duck and cat pillows, kitchen towels, Christmas baskets -- all were priced low. Obviously she didn't count her time when the counted the cost of her crafts.
People didn't have to be able to hold a needle to help. Elta dubbed them her "merchandisers" -- people who took her to buy material and other sewing items when she became physically unable to go by herself.
The number of items grew every year as she continued full-tilt at the once part-time project. An open house during November each year became a tradition in the area. The ladies' goal was to raise the fund to $10,000 as, little by little, they added their profits.
The wide variety of items mushroomed through her house, spilling over from her living room to bedrooms and hallways. Diaper bags with cat faces, aprons, doormice, doorcats, crocheted pin cushions, knitted caps, crafts of all description peeked from virtually everywhere. Her stable of broom horses stood in the corner.
By far the most popular craft through the years has been the frogs, made from a variety of fabrics. The first ones were plain; later ones were blue and orange with AU on the rump. They sold by the thousands; Auburn University (her alma mater) had a standing order of twelve dozen a year. Year after year the small profits mounted, until, incredibly, the fund far surpassed the $10,000 mark.
Gradually the part-time project grew into a continuous year-long affair from Elta's home. Hardly a week went by that someone didn't come by either to buy something or just to look around and have a cup of tea and visit. Except for the one open house in November, all her business was by word-of-mouth from hundreds of satisfied customers. Some regulars did all their Christmas shopping with her. Out of town visitors took their purchases as far away as Portugal.
Each year another special item materialized. One year it was pound pups of all sizes and colors Another year it was stuffed Woebegone Hounds. Then it was stuffed reindeer, His and Hers Auburn aprons, and "darn it dolls" (for throwing hard when you're angry!). As the years rolled by, with needles and thread and a knitting needle or two, the fund balance mounted, bit by bit. Today, unbelievably, the total stands at nearly $100,000!
"THIS WON'T GET ME DOWN!"
Absolutely nothing kept Elta from her stitching or from holding her Open Houses. A bad fall a number of years ago put her in a wheelchair, but she never missed a stitch. Even as her bones crumbled with repeated back fractures when she reached her nineties, she cheerfully kept stitching. As she watched all of her fellow stitchers pass away, she never stopped. In recent years, she sewed in solitary, alternating between a wheelchair, walker, and cane.
Bonnie Schowalter, a friend who brought Elta sermon tapes from First Presbyterian Church for years, admired her indomitable spirit. "She was so upbeat and positive. Even flat on her back, she'd say, 'I'll be getting back up; this isn't going to get me down.'"
Elta and Frank were always impressed that foreign students came to RTS to earn degrees, then took that knowledge back to their own countries. Over the years, scholarship recipients have written to her from mission fields all over the world.
Pedro and Cecilia Tarquino, currently students at RTS from Colombia, benefited from the Boyd Scholarship from 1987-1990 while Pedro earned a Master of Divinity degree and Cecelia earned a Marriage and Family Therapy degree. Elta continued to keep up with them when they returned to their country. After pastoring there for seven years, Pedro is back at RTS to earn a Doctor of Missiology degree. He will return to Colombia and help start the first reformed seminary in his country.
Both of them felt Elta was a special lady. "She was an inspiration to me," says Cecelia. "When I returned to Colombia, I used her testimony in my church. What a beautiful life she lived!"
"Her vision," comments Pedro, "and its implication for world missions was quite significant. She was a blessing to the nations in building Christ's church."
When others would have sat down to rest, Elta never seemed satisfied, always reaching out to do more. Although very appreciative of her customers and helpers, she was always on the lookout for "new people" -- those with time on their hands to help or those needing that special gift for that special someone.
At an RTS graduation once she heard a graduate say, "I realized that if I was going to preach, I had to get the best training possible in the Scriptures to be true to my call." That made Elta even more determined to do what she could to help train ministers. Consequently, through the years she gave far more than her contributions to the scholarship fund. Because of her generosity, the main plaza of the new RTS/Orlando campus will be named the Frank E. Boyd Heritage Plaza.
RTS President Dr. Luder Whitlock comments, "What Elta Boyd cheerfully accomplished for the Lord with her limited resources and physical handicaps is one of the most remarkable examples of Christian stewardship I have ever encountered."
Perhaps Dr. Frank Covington, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Auburn and Elta's pastor, painted the best picture of this memorable lady at her funeral. "When her legs could no longer go, her mind, spirit, hands, and determination kept on racing. All her stuffed dolls, blankets, pillows, and fig preserves will continue to bear witness to her exemplary life. Anyone who has known her is better for having looked into those bright blue eyes, which revealed goodness and strength, and said, "Don't trifle with me!'"
The lights may be off at 296 Chewacla Drive, but Elta left thousands burning in the hearts of those she touched with her sweet ministry for the Lord.
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Last updated 12-30-98.