When she was six years old, Dorothy Hughes’ mother registered her for Sunday school at Woodlawn Methodist Church, not far from where they lived. They were not regular attendees, and in fact, they really knew no one, had no connections in the church. But when you ask Dorothy how she met Jesus, she will tell you she met Him because those women, who didn’t know her at all, welcomed her and loved her, and because they loved her, she knew Jesus’ love was real, too.
“the saints of that church ministered to me. Francis Jean Sunderland’s parents, the McCrelesses, Tom Harrison’s parents, Vicki Wheless’ grandparents, these and many others I hold in the highest esteem."
When she was 12, Dorothy and her mother became members of Woodlawn UMC on Mother’s Day. Dorothy says that in the days before and the days after, “the saints of that church ministered to me. Francis Jean Sunderland’s parents, the McCrelesses, Tom Harrison’s parents, Vicki Wheless’ grandparents, these and many others I hold in the highest esteem. They are the most loving people that you can imagine.” And drawn by that love, Dorothy’s life was centered at Woodlawn. Inside those walls, she married her husband, Mel, she baptized and raised her three children, and she lived life with the extended family she knew to be a gift from God.
In her twenties, Dorothy began the Slater Sunday school class, teaching and organizing folks in her age group. That was the 1940’s, and she is a woman. When I asked her if she ever felt tension, if it was a struggle to be a woman leading a class of men and women, she replied, “I felt called to do it. I wasn’t intimidated. That was what I could do. There were doctors, professors, attorneys, and they were men in a men’s world, but God prepared me. He prepares the called.”
By the early 70’s, the people of Woodlawn UMC began to feel a pull toward the outskirts of San Antonio, where so many of the young families of their church were moving. Theirs was an aging population, and their children’s Sunday school rooms were empty. They had tried to engage the young families in their area with family-centered fellowships, but many that had moved in were devoutly Catholic, and there was also a language barrier, one they tried to overcome by bringing a Spanish-speaking pastor to help connect them to their community. Eventually, because they desperately wanted to provide for others what had been given to them, the decision was made to move north to the current location of University United Methodist Church.
"There are couples that were in my newlyweds class that now have grandchildren—and I get to know them all."
Dorothy’s husband, Mel, helped find the property on De Zavala, and slowly but surely over the course of the next 30 years, the buildings and facilities that we enjoy today were added one by one. And from the first worship services, Sunday school meetings, and Mother’s Day Out that were offered in the humble farmhouse that was standing on the property when they purchased it, this church has grown. Dorothy, along with so many other saints, has been a part of it all. She continued to teach Sunday school, sometimes taking an absence from the Slaters to start a young couples’ class, sometimes to teach a group of children. She taught Sunday school of one kind or another for 60+ years, and when I asked her if there was ever a time she said ‘no’ to a call she felt from God, she replied, “No, I can’t think of one. And I’m so glad. If I hadn’t been here, doing what God asked of me, I wouldn’t have been blessed to know so many people. There are couples that were in my newlyweds class that now have grandchildren—and I get to know them all. I know three generations of Pam and Bill Schultz’ family, including those two precious grandbabies.”
When Dorothy lost her beloved husband of 55 years, she was in church the very next Sunday “because that was her family” and where she wanted to be. She was 79, and even though she hadn’t worked outside the home a day in her life, Dorothy took over her husband’s business, and still to this day, she goes into the office and works two days a week. Despite the fact that she was a “city girl,” she learned to manage her family’s cattle business and real estate holdings by learning from and relying on her husband’s employees.
Dorothy will tell you she is a fighter. And that much is not hard to see. At almost 95, she still drives herself to church every Sunday for the 11am Traditional worship service and every Wednesday for the Pastor’s Bible study. When you see her, you will likely see a smile on her face as she chats with someone she has known for 70 years or 7 days. Love radiates from this woman who has known and served the Lord so well for so long.
"I am the person I am because of those women who loved me all those years ago.”
And Dorothy wants us to know that there is a lesson here: “People who teach children’s Sunday school don’t realize the impact they have on a life. I am the person I am because of those women who loved me all those years ago.”