Mt. Zion’s Christmas Story: Fourth Country Christmas Celebration

Mount Zion’s Fourth Country Christmas Celebration

By Deloris Gray Wood

Christmas Celebration

Mount Zion Church was all decked out for Christmas, with red bows in its windows, garland on the window sills, and a Christmas tree with lights, garland, and special ornaments gifted by family and friends for Mount Zion’s Fourth Country Christmas, Sunday, December 10, 2017, at 2 p.m.

Mount Zion is located on Highway K, on the hill, above Akers Ferry about a mile from the Current River in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR).

There were two Mount Zion ornament decorations that were illustrated by Jenni Chilton Dodson, a talented Shannon County artist from Eminence, MO. Jenni had painted Mount Zion ornaments for Judy Maggard Stewart, Jenni’s kindergarten teacher, for the previous celebrations and this year did a special one, like the ones she had just painted of historical structures of Missouri for the Missouri tree at the White House. Mount Zion was not one of the chosen ornaments, but one of the twelve painted ornaments was of Welch’s Spring which is hanging on the 2017 Missouri Tree. Welch Spring is two miles northwest of Mount Zion on the Current River. The author from, Mount Olive Baptist Church, Montauk, shared a gold colored ornament to hang also on the Mount Zion Christmas Tree.

Each year the visitors are different. Last year, it was the late Dorman Steelman’s brother and sisters who returned to the Upper Current River near Mount Zion at Akers, after 50 years.
This year it was the Taylor family. Ervin Taylor, Jr., gave the Christmas Message, and all his Taylor sisters: Verna, Teresa, Helen, and Donna were present except one sister, Winna Faye, living in North Carolina and Ronnie, deceased.

It was kind of eerie; again, a family was setting on the original church pews in the front row like the Steelman family did in 2016.

The Maggards: Judy Maggard Stewart and her brother Eugene Maggard opened the Celebration. Judy, Coordinator of Friends of Mount Zion serves as president of the Shannon County Museum Association did the welcome. She asked if anyone was new in attendance this year to the Mount Zion Country Christmas Celebration. More than half of those present raised their hands. Judy explained how her, and Eugene’s grandparents, George and Jane Purcell had donated the land to build the Church before the Park Service took their lands.

She said it had taken 10 years for her parents and community members to build the Mount Zion Church building, that was completed in 1948, while having services there. She said, ”four years ago, we were given the opportunity to clean the building and use it again 50 years later. That was the year we had our first celebration.” She said she was so glad that we can now use this beautiful building for this celebration, plus it can also be used for other services, weddings, reunions, parties etc.

She said, “this building is now on the maintenance list of the National Park Service (NPS-ONSR) who will now do small maintenance jobs such as fixing the roof and mold problem. We are getting a group organized so that we can do fundraising to pay for the bigger repairs of cracks in the structure.

Eugene also welcomed everyone. Then he asked everyone to share their connection to Mount Zion and the Akers Area. 

Eugene started with Dave Tobey, Interpretative Ranger for the Upper Current. Dave explained that everyone has a story to tell about special places along the river and people who lived here. We want to hear your story and help pass the message on about this special place. He explained that Bridget Stewart Liggett, Judy Maggard and John Stewart’s daughter told her story of her grandfather and what the connection means to her.

Then Eugene honored Carol Jordan by asking former students to stand. About five of his students from Rector and Oak Hill R-I were in attendance.

Then Steve Turner who had a birthday the day before, said he had been coming to Akers since 1971. He has reserved a spot in the Akers Cemetery but does not plan to use it soon.
Then it was Ervin Taylor, Jr., turn. He said his Great Grandpa Jason Boyet and his grandmother Ada gathered the stones and fitted the stones together using a trowel to set the stones on the Mount Zion Church. Mr. Boyet’s farm is where Jason’s Campground is located and Eugene named it in his honor. Ervin said, he retired from the Air Force along with one of his sisters, Teresa Taylor Bennett, who retired from the Air Force.

Irvin’s granddaughter Brittany Taylor was there with her father, Ty Taylor and Jeanine Case. Donna Taylor Culver’s daughter remembered camping on Current River.

Helen Taylor Wood said they would buy watermelons and put them in the River to cool by the ferry boat. Helen said she ate so much that she got burned out on them and it took her years to learn to like watermelons again. Helen’s husband, Mike Wood, remembered spending a lot of time with his grandparents who lived on Current River and owned a one man saw mill. Henry Wood, his grandpa helped build Alton Box Club, which is now Current River State Park. The lake and the dam where there is a road on top, above what was Alton Box Club’s structures was built by the author’s father, Lorse W. Gray and her brothers Edgar, Gary and Larry Gray, just before ONSR took over the care of the Upper Current River. MO DNR had planned to remove the road over the dam and the dam and make the area a camp ground, that was on displayed at an open house, before the state created Echo Bluff State Park. It is a beautiful spot on the Current that is worth the drive.

Verna Taylor Burkman, remembered swimming in the Current River below the ferry boat with Judy and her sister Donna.

The Taylors shared old pictures of their family and also gave Ranger Dave a picture of Jason and Ada Boyet to display at the Akers Visitor Center located at Highways K and KK at Akers’ Ferry. “After Jason Boyet died, the Taylor Grandmother Ada Boyt moved to Colorado to be close to her sons,” according to Verna Taylor Burkman. She said, “her dad and mom, “Ervin sr., and Wandul Taylor moved into their home with six of us kids, Ronnie, Ervin jr., Winnia, Donna, Verna, and Helen.”

Regina Van Patton is part of the Welch and Wofford families, who lived in the Welch’s Spring and Cave area. Regina’s great grandfather, John Calvin Welch and mother are buried in Akers Cemetery. Regina and her husband Mark now live in Lewis Hollow near Akers. Wofford is part of the author’s Mother, Eula Wofford Gray’s family.

Barbara Aspen is from Shannon County who said she works on the Riverways. Barbara, Judy, NPS Ranger Dave and the author, Deloris, served on the 10 year Interpretative Planning workshop held November 7, at NPS-ONSR Headquarters, in Van Buren.

Comments from the peanut gallery said that the outhouse is still there below (north side of) the Church. 

Two Mormon Missionaries serving in Salem were present. One was from Canada and one Utah.

Laura Wenchoever, for 25 years has vacationed in the Ozarks. She picked Salem to live only to learn that her grandfather had lived at High Gate north of St. James.

Mary Beth Cook, was there representing her grandparents as the Cook Farm starts the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The author added that Ely was blind but Lully Cook would allow him to drive. It was on the gravel road that went in front of the author’s childhood home that in the early 50’ became Highway YY, three-and-a-half miles North of Tan Vat and the former Cook property.

Erwin and Barbara Williams Taylor, live south on U. S. 63, in Texas County. He said he celebrates Christmas at Alley Spring where they roast a turkey at the pavilion. Someone asked, “Are we invited?” Then there was Tom Smith, not to be mistaken for Great Uncle Tom Smith (and Aunt Mary Schafer Smith) who lived up on K Highway at Dent County Road 6490, this Tom Smith said at the Country Christmas Celebration that he arrived from Georgia in 2001. His property is in Eminence that was passed down through his wife’s family (Kasingers) and Judy’s kids and grandkids call him “Uncle Tom.”

Joan Dix, whose family came from Canada and Chicago, said her father wanted to build an all-electric home in the middle of nowhere and found a place on Current River where he found a waterfall at Two Rivers where the Jacks Fork and Current meet. He built a lake to create electricity and just before the home was finished, the government “took the property.” They loved Current River so much that they stayed and raised their family. 

Eleanor Maggard said she and Eugene met at college and on her first visit to Akers she spent a very cold day in a canoe the day after Thanksgiving but did not turn over. Judy, (eight-years-old) and the dog went along.

Sandy Jadwin Bowers lived up on Highway 19 at the Highway B-K Junction and said she attend after reading the 2016 Mount Zion story in the Salem News, and wanted to attend. Sandy lived there at her grandmother Ms. Jadwin’s store. Sandy’s husband, Bill, has lived in Salem the past 43 years.

Susan Stewart Jordan, Judy’s sister-in law, shared that she grew up at Round Springs. Her husband, Carol Jordan told about coaching basketball at Oak Hill R-I Grade School, and how Sam Hodges, a member of the Rector School Board went before the board , saying “I think he could teach,” which started his teaching career. Carol had two years of college when he started teaching.

John Stewart, Judy’s husband, (both John and Judy are retired Eminence School Teachers), shared that John’s father grew up at Devil’s Elbow on the Big Piney River and that his great grandfather James Edie owned a big farm. He died at the beginning of the depression and the farm was divided between the three brothers, Frank, Glen, and Joe. During the depression the bank went broke and the family lost everything. John’s grandpa Joe worked as a fishing guide for the Blue Springs Lodge on the Big Piney where he had guided Dr. Henry Misner on fishing trips. Dr. Misner moved Joe and his family to the Minser place below Pulltite on the Current River. It is now known as the Gilliard place. After WWII, the family bought the Ira Carr farm on Jacks Fork of Spring Valley.

Cathy Branson McGee, Pacific, said she and her mother, Mary, came to the Country Christmas Celebration in memory of her father, Ron Branson, who passed this past year. Her father came to Akers years ago becoming good friends with Eugene, enjoying Current River. The ladies put a special ornament on the tree in his memory. Her mother Mary Branson shared how her husband loved the area and she wished to meet relatives like Leona Boyer Schafer who was not there. She said her husband’s aunts married into the Howell and Hodges families.

Eugene introduced his nephew Jonny and his wife, Jordan Stewart, their daughter Presley and his son Marcus’ family: Casey and Skylea Maggard and his niece Bridget, who provided the Christmas tree and assisted her mother, Judy, and others in decorating the church and the Christmas tree on Wednesday when the Friends of Mount Zion and the Riverways met to plan for the Christmas Celebration. Bridget’s son Garrett was also there.

Summerville photographer, Cloyce Puckett was taking pictures for the Summerville Beacon as he did last year.

Judy showed off a “Friends of Mount Zion” recognition Certificate that she received at a luncheon of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways recently. Judy is a very deserving leader. Finally, someone young, like Judy, is leading a drive to get more activities on the Upper Current River. She is supported by Dave Tobey, (ONSR) at Round Springs.

Joe Devall, married to Darlene Purcell Devall, whose grandfather, Orin Purcell, was a brother to George Purcell who gave the land for the church. Devall is from Gladden Baptist Church, who played the keyboard and led the Christmas Carols during the Worship Service including: Joy to the World, Away in a Manager, Do you Hear, Silent Night and The final song was the “Old Country Church.”

Like last year four tables were filled with food of all kinds – all types of Christmas cookies, fruit cakes, homemade candy, little sandwiches, snacks, snowmen decorated marshmallows, old fashioned cheese balls, and hot food like little smokes and chicken crisps. The author had not had lunch and got to taste much of the fare. The Taylor sisters had had a cookie exchange and much of the fudge, decorated cookies, Reindeer snacks, Russian Tea Cakes they brought and shared. The Taylors were still exchanging goodies after the Christmas Service and fellowship ended, laughing and enjoying their visit back to the “Old Country Church.”

Bridget Stewart Liggett, Judy’s daughter, supervised the hot coffee, chocolate and tea brewing to offset the feel of a Church in the days before electricity to help people warm their body at the Celebration and help warm the soul.

There was just enough electric power for Joe Devall to play his keyboard this year, a microphone and for a coffee brewer to make the hot drinks. The two doors were left open. A breeze could be felt on the north side from the west door of the church and people left their outer coats on as it was colder inside at first than it was outside. With about 50 in attendance the dampness of the closed-up building was changed and inside the old Church building was about the temperature as outside. The author kept on her hat and coat while taking notes and photographs. 

Dave Tobey, said to the author, Deloris, maybe something will get done on the Upper Current River. He knew that the goal of the author and the Dent County Historical Society proposed that the story of the Riverways be told on the roads above Upper Current River as most of the access roads have been closed. Thus, the way to tell the story of the River is from the main roads where there are access points to the River and then maybe telling the story, hopefully, will get more people to visit the Riverways and expand tourism in Dent County, Shannon County  and Riverways, especially with the opening of Echo Bluff State Park.

For example, at the Baptist Camp Road 2.5 miles from the Current River where the old Dent County Baptist Camp was located and the Duckworth family lived, is a pull-off on Dent County Road 6670, and landowner Tomi Anderson is willing to have the Upper Current River Story highlighted on her land beside the County Road. Other possible opportunities might be up the Road to the turn-off to Parker Ford and the Lower Parker School house. In the Jadwin Community at Highway ZZ is an opportunity to tell the Upper Current River story about Cedar Grove when it was a little hamlet. And at Tan Vat, below NPS Road 102, for example, interpretative panels can also be displayed, alongside the County Road and maybe panels on the Riverfront, like the new panel at Welch Spring, telling the story of the Upper Current River and the role the River played there in the Civil War, and even the 200th Birthday of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s visit to Saltpeter Cave, known also as, Ashley Cave, where he spent a couple of weeks recording the flora and fauna of the area. The Cave is located on private property, in Dent County, about a mile-and-a-half south of Mount Olive Baptist Church (on Highway VV). Maybe a panel could be added to the plan, about the next-door-neighbor, Montauk State Park and its story about trout fishing and camping as the panels will be copied and shared in and on social media and the idea that it is a vacation destination to go and have fun at the head of the Current River with kid friendly opportunities, camping, fishing, hiking, bike riding, playgrounds, places to eat and shop and a place to enjoy a vacation.

Akers is located four miles south of the Dent County line in Shannon County. It was on the dividing line when the rural schools were consolidated in the late 50s and early 60s, and families could choose where to send their children to school. Eugene went to Summerville Schools through 10th grade before going to Salem for his last two years of high school. Dwight, his and Judy’s brother, went to Summerville schools through eighth grade and attended Salem High School, while Judy attended Rector School through fourth grade and went to Oak Hill R-1, through eighth grade and then like her brothers graduated from Salem High School. The Wallace’s, Hurts, and Terrills sent their children to Eminence Schools. The Maggards, Blackwell’s, Griffith’s, Purcells, Lewis’s and Chrisco’s sent their children to Salem High School. All these families were neighbors living on near Highway K and KK in the Akers Community getting their education and socializing in Dent County with family and friends.

The Fifth Mount Zion Country Christmas Celebration is set for December 9, 2018, at Mount Zion Church. For more information about Friends of Mount Zion and the Riverways, contact Judy Maggard Stewart at 573-247-8706 or Dave Toby, Ozark National Scenic Riverways at Round Springs Park or Deloris Gray Wood, Society President at 573-729-2545. Check Facebook for details.

This year about 50 people were in attendance at Mount Zion’s Country Christmas Service. Ranger Dave said, he thought each person drove a car. He said that there were cars everywhere. Vehicles were even parked on the side of Highway K.

The Christmas Message

Only two cars passed the Church during the Service that slightly broke the silence of the people in attendance when the Christmas message started. Not a sound could be heard from those gathered, even with Ervin, using Joe’s microphone so all could hear him speak about Christmas.
It was like the people were hanging on to every word that Ervin spoke, and did not want to miss the Christmas message. His message was for all ages even for the few children present. One of Ervin’s sisters later said he was just a big kid, himself, and she knew he would include Santa Clause. Sure enough Erwin did talk about Santa Clause, St. Nick, and Saint Nicholas too.
Erwins’s message was in three parts. First, he read the Christmas Story from parts of Saint Luke, in Chapter 1 & 2. Second, he talked about Santa Clause and the joy and happiness at Christmas time with all the gifts were part of the Christmas Message. He said, Santa was also called St. Nick and Saint Nicholas who inherited wealth and was born in a Roman town in Turkey in 280 AD. He told about the September 21, 1897, editorial in a New York newspaper, The Sun, called “Is There a Santa Claus?” which has become the most reprinted newspaper editorial in the English language. The editor published: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause. Third, he told the meaning of the Christmas tree. He said it started in Ancient Egypt, then to Germany. In the middle ages he said there was hope that “Spring will come”. Then he said Martin Luther, said in 1500 that snow covered the woods and the light shimmer through the trees looked like decorated trees. Candles were used in Canada in trees. Then he finished with a poem, that has been truncated, from overseas, “The Soldier’s Poem,” written by Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt, that no copyright could be found, that started: “It was the night before Christmas, he lived all alone … in one room … with medals and badges, awards of all kinds…. Curled up in a poncho, the floor for a bed? … I dropped to my knees and started to cry …. He said: “Carry on Santa, it’s Christmas day, all is secure,” … “Merry Christmas my friend, and to all a good night.” Ervin is a retired from the United States Air Force, a Veteran who finished reading the long poem, with tears flowing down his cheek.

This is a guest piece from a friend of my mother’s.  If you enjoyed its banter and history you might also enjoy “I can hear Current River Cry: Her Story“!  It’s a great read!


Bridget Liggett- The Cowboy’s Wife

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