In 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent federal troops to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.
The Soviet Union stunned the world with the launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite.
And football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant decided to leave Texas A&M for his alma mater, Alabama, where he would win six national titles.
That same year, in Roanoke, 20-year-old Gerald Romine agreed to preach for the Roanoke Church of Christuntil the congregation could find a permanent minister.
“I tell them I reckon they’re still looking,” said Romine, now 85 and still filling the Roanoke church’s pulpit 65 years later.
Last month, a crowd of fellow Christians, relatives and community leaders — including Mayor Jill Patterson and Superintendent of Schools Gregory Foster— assembled at the red brick church building that Romine helped construct in 1966.
All came that Sunday afternoon to honor the beloved minister and his wife, Louise, for nearly two-thirds of a century of devoted service to their church family and neighbors.
“Brother Romine, he loves the Lord, and he has proved this to me over and over with his faithfulness and his trust in God and heaven above,” lifelong Roanoke member Bryan Kirby said. “He’s been in the Word so much that he’s gained a reputation over the years as a walking, talking Bible.”
‘I owe Gerald Romine a lot’
The 65-year-old Kirby was born Nov. 14, 1957 — three days before Gerald Romine preached the first of his thousands of sermons, weddings and funerals in Roanoke.
Another longtime member, Chuck Marcum, recalled a time decades ago when he had stopped attending worship regularly.
Romine sent Marcum, then the principal at Handley High School, a letter.
“If you know Gerald Romine, the letter was real short and to the point — no fluff,” said Marcum, now the chief of staff for the Alabama State Department of Education. “It basically said this: ‘Chuck, you know what’s right, and you’re not worshiping the Lord the way you need to be.’
“I was so mad,” Marcum added. “I wadded that paper up and threw it in the trash. … But because of that letter, my wife and I are active members here, and both of my kids were baptized here. So I owe Gerald Romine a lot.”
Other members praise the selfless dedication of Louise Romine.
“She supports her husband in all aspects of life,” said Jamie Heard, noting that Gerald Romine has baptized four generations of his family. “She is the image of the Proverbs 31 woman.”
Ministry in overalls
Known for wearing a suit on the Lord’s Day and overalls during the week, Gerald Romine has — for decades — mixed full-time ministry with part-time carpentry and contracting.
“Daddy has ministered to a lot of people in overalls,” said daughter Melanie Jenkins, a member of the Spring Meadows Church of Christ in Spring Hill, Tenn.
“A lot of times he’d go places such as the hospital, and he’d walk in, and if he didn’t have his overalls on, they didn’t know who he was,” she added with a laugh.
For daughter Regina Painter, a member of the Woodlawn Church of Christ in Florence, Ala., returning to Roanoke stirs precious memories.
“The people here looked out after us. We looked out after them,” said Painter, a nurse anesthetist. “Mother and Daddy were always going to help some of them.
“And when I come back down, I look at that auditorium and see where the empty seats are,” she added. “It’s like, I know who sat there for years and years. It’s just a lot of good people and a lot of good memories.”
The Romines’ son Paul, a retired EMT, still attends the Roanoke church. However, he tested positive for COVID-19 and could not attend the anniversary event.
Now the grandparents of seven and great-grandparents of 11, Gerald and Louise Romine married Sept. 8, 1957 — a few months before Romine’s first sermon in Roanoke.
“They’re so connected to the community and the people here,” Jenkins said. “They’ve been very involved with everything since I can remember.”
State Rep. Bob Fincher and state Sen. Randy Price spoke at Sunday’s event, and Gov. Kay Ivey sent a proclamation recognizing Gerald Romine’s milestone.
“Now I’ve known ministers who would do 65 years in the ministry or maybe 70,” Fincher said. “But I have never known one who was at one church for that length of time. It’s remarkable.”
When romance bloomed
Gerald Romine grew up on a farm in northwest Alabama and earned his high school diploma from Athens Bible School in 1955.
After graduating, he started preaching at a different church nearly every Sunday. He met his future wife when he gave a sermon at the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Athens.
“I invited his sisters home with me for lunch one day,” Louise Romine recalled. “I didn’t know he was going to come.
“And then that afternoon, he said, ‘We have a singing in Anderson. Would you like to go?’ I said, ‘I think I would.’ … And from there, I reckon it bloomed.”
That fall, Gerald Romine enrolled at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., then a two-year college. After finishing his associate’s degree in 1957, he returned to Alabama intent on pursuing an engineering degree at Auburn University.
But the call to ministry proved too strong. He never received a bachelor’s degree — and doesn’t regret it.
“I made it this far,” he said with a chuckle. “I guess I’ll let it go.”
‘What family is’
Starting in November 1957, the Romines commuted to Roanoke for a few months until church leaders made it clear they wanted the young couple to stick around.
Gerald and Louise moved to town in February 1958. All four of their children were born here, including the late Tim Romine.
“The same doctor delivered us all. He didn’t charge us a penny,” Jenkins said. “I think Dad built a treehouse for the doctor’s son as payment for one of us.”
Tim Romine, then 18, worshiped with his family one Sunday morning in 1983. Then he began his drive back to Freed-Hardeman to finish his freshman year.
He never arrived.
After stopping for Sunday night worship in Birmingham, Tim Romine died in a crash with a drunk driver along Interstate 65.
The Roanoke church rallied around the Romines, as the couple’s son-in-law Dale Jenkins, himself a longtime minister, recalled. Louise Romine later started a Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter in Roanoke.
“I remember those four or five days leading up to the funeral and how hard that was on all of us,” said Dale Jenkins, who started dating Melanie, a fellow Freed-Hardeman student, while serving as a youth ministry intern for the Roanoke church in 1981. “We cried until we couldn’t cry anymore. It was so difficult.”
But in that dark moment, as fellow Christians shared fond and even funny stories about Tim Romine’s life, Dale Jenkins said he “realized what family is.”
“You are and have been family for the Romines,” Jenkins told the Roanoke church during Sunday’s gathering. “On behalf of the family, I thank you for that.”
‘How much longer?’
For decades, a textile mill provided the economic backbone for the town.
But like many rural communities, Roanoke has seen its population decline in recent years — down to 5,311 in the 2020 census, a 12.5 percent decline from 6,074 in 2010.
The church has struggled numerically, too.
“Most of our young people grow up and go somewhere else for employment,” Gerald Romine said.
For a time starting in the 1980s, Sunday attendance averaged about 130.
But these days, that number is closer to 60.
At one time, the church had elders. But then one of the two remaining elders died a few years ago.
In 65 years with the Roanoke church — preaching twice each Sunday and teaching a Bible class each Wednesday night — Romine said he has never thought about leaving.
“I mean, I’ve been happy and satisfied and never saw any reason to leave,” he said.
Louise Romine echoed her husband: “It’s just been really good, and I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.”
Gerald Romine plans to keep preaching as long as he can.
“How much longer?” he said. “I guess as long as I last. I don’t know how long that’ll be, but the folks have been mighty good to me.”