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When Danny and Nancy Johnson, of Johnson’s Orchards, got married in 1961, the Rev. Eugene Campbell performed the ceremony. When the Johnsons' son, Shannon, and his wife, Donna, exchanged their vows, the Rev. Eugene Campbell officiated. When the Johnsons' grandson, Jordon, and his wife, Lindsey, were married at the end of last year, the Rev. Eugene Campbell married them.
It helps to have a pastor in the family.
It turns out that the Rev. Campbell’s wife, Gwendolyn, is Danny Johnson’s sister, although there is a significant age difference between the siblings. She was the eldest of the children.
“We got married the year he (Danny) was born,” commented Campbell. “Danny was born in March and we were married in September.”
Campbell knew the Johnson family all his life. He grew up on a farm in Thaxton and he and his wife both graduated from Montvale High School. He graduated from high school in 1937.
“I thought I was going to farm all my life,” he recalled.
Things worked out differently as he came to realize he was called to be a pastor. His wife, in turn, decided to become a teacher and they both began the arduous task of working their way through college.
“It was tough,” he said. “We didn’t have any help with finances.”
It was hard, but it was doable back then.
“It didn’t cost like it does now,” he said. “It was expensive, but not like now. I tell you, college is astronomical now.”
They farmed, at one time milking 25 cows, and did whatever else they could do to earn money. Campbell recalls one particular cow from that time that he called “The Kicking Cow.” That’s because he had to be very careful with this one. Get behind it and give it an opportunity and it would deliver a good, swift kick.
“Why I kept that cow so long I don’t know,” he said.
They attended Lynchburg College and graduated together. In some cases, they even took the same classes together. He graduated with a degree in pre-ministerial studies and she earned a degree in Latin.
For Eugene Campbell, it was off to Southeastern Baptist Seminary where he earned a Master’s of Divinity degree.
He was ordained by his home church, Thaxton Baptist Church, in 1956.
“Any Baptist Church can ordain anybody they want to,” the Rev. Campbell explained.
The way this works, Campbell explained, is that the church calls together ministers and laymen from other Baptist churches. They privately examine the candidate for ordination, checking on his beliefs and knowledge about how basic Baptist church government works. Once they are satisfied, they recommend him for ordination and his church ordains him.
Prior to “retiring,” the Rev. Campbell pastored seven churches. His first was Mt. Hermon Baptist Church, in Cifax and his last was Big Island Baptist Church. He “retired” in 1981, but then spent 12 years as an interim pastor at another church. Then, he served another stint, at another church, as an interim pastor. This lasted 15 months.
Old pastors never really retire, they just slow down a bit, giving up active management of a congregation. The Rev. Campbell, who resides at the Elks National Home with his wife, still conducts a worship service there nearly every Thursday night. He also can fill in for a pastor who is on vacation, or on an emergency basis for a pastor who falls ill. Campbell notes that nearly 60 years in the ministry means he can develop a sermon on very short notice.
He also performs weddings from time to time and recently performed one at the Blue Ridge Parkway. One of his most memorable, however, was on Sharp Top. He was about to pronounce the couple man and wife when the fellow, who was supposed to provide the music, showed up with his guitar — very late.
“He played for a little while before he started to sing because he was out of breath,” the Rev. Campbell recalled.
His experience also includes a brief stint as an interim school teacher for half of a school year. It was at a school on Taylors Mountain and the Rev. Campbell had just graduated from Lynchburg College.
“It was a Presbyterian mission school, but it was operated by the county as well,” he said.
This was about 60 years ago and the school consisted of seven grades with two teachers. Campbell said none of these students ever went to high school, but most of them probably wouldn’t have gone to school at all if it wasn’t for this school. The two teachers were two ladies who originally started the school and one of them died in the middle of the school year. Campbell was asked to fill in.
“I really enjoyed teaching those kids,” he said.
By the way, the Rev. Campbell’s connection to the groom wasn’t the only reason why he was asked to officiate at Danny and Nancy Johnson’s wedding back in 1961. His wife and Nancy Johnson’s mother were high school classmates. Gwendolyn Johnson and Helen Nester were co-salutatorians for their Montvale High School graduating class.