By Johnny and Nanette Stringer
On October 19, 1946, a teenaged couple were united in marriage at the Limestone County Courthouse, Athens, Alabama. O.C. and Frances had kept their intentions secret from all family members except O.C.’s brother Phares and Frances’ sister Connie, who were the only witnesses of the wedding.
Thus, this couple began to share a life of devoted service to the Lord. During the first years of their life together, they worked as sharecroppers raising cotton once picking over 700 pounds in one day. In 1948 their first child, Nanette, was born. Their second, Gary, came along in 1952.
With the encouragement of A.J. Rollins, O.C. began preaching in 1953 for a little country church at Cool Springs, Tennessee. During the 30-45 minute drive to the assembly each Sunday, Frances, with Bible in hand, would help O.C. practice reciting passages so that he could quote them by memory in his sermon. This early practice was typical of the team approach they have always taken in meeting life’s challenges.
From 1954 to1956, O.C. preached for the churches at Cartwright and New Hope, Alabama, alternating between the two on Sundays, and having midweek services on Wednesday at one and Thursday at the other.
During the school year of 1955-56, O.C. drove the school bus from Rogersville to Athens Bible School, where he taught eighth-grade Bible. At the beginning of that year, Frances worked in the office at Athens Bible School. Then she suggested to brother Bennie Lee Fudge that O.C. could do her job as well as she could. Brother Fudge agreed, and this allowed her to stay home with Gary.
In 1956 the Birdwells left Alabama, moving to Marked Tree, Arkansas, where O.C. preached. To help make ends meet, they did odd jobs, including picking cotton and cleaning the church building. O.C. did some work in a dry goods store and Frances in a shirt factory. In addition, they gathered whatever was offered in other people’s gardens.
They moved to Alamo, Tennessee, in 1958. It was not long until O.C. was forced to take a firm stand against institutionalism, making it necessary to move to Lisbon, Ohio in 1959. From Lisbon they moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1960, where they remained until 1964. Their third child, Alan, was born in 1960.
After moving to Barberton, Ohio in 1964, the Birdwells agreed to do the mailing of Truth Magazine, which was edited by Cecil Willis. They moved a plate-making ma-chine, an Addressograph machine, and all the records into their basement. Frances did the bookkeeping, and the whole family worked making address plates and addressing the magazines.
It was soon determined that a mail-order bookstore would help support the magazine. O.C. built shelves, bought some books, and began managing Truth Magazine Bookstore in the Birdwell basement. This arrangement continued until 1967, when the Birdwells moved to Columbia, Tennessee, and Truth Magazine Book-store was moved to Indiana. The Birdwell’s fourth child, Lisa, was born in 1966. In 1972 they suffered the heart-breaking loss of Gary through an industrial accident.
The Birdwells spent 1972-80 in Cullman, Alabama and 1980-84 in Taylors, South Carolina. Then in 1984, the Guardian of Truth Foundation asked O.C. to become the company’s business manager. The bookstore that the Birdwells had begun in their basement was now moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and they moved there to operate the store. Alan, being trained in accounting and finance, joined them in this work. While in Bowling Green, O.C. preached in Caneyville, Kentucky, then for the Three Springs Road church in Bowling Green.
Finally, in 1990, O.C. and Frances returned to their roots in North Alabama. After the Guardian of Truth Foundation purchased the CEI Bookstore in Athens, the Birdwells built a house on their farm near Rogersville and began operating the CEI store. O.C. continued to manage the Foundation’s business, working out of the Athens store.
Presently, they stay busy, working three days a week in the business and the rest of the time on the farm they love raising registered Santa Gertrudas cattle, gardening, and taking care of their land. They derive much joy from five grandchildren: Cynthia (Stringer) Brewer, Ronald Stringer, Evan Crim, Alissa Crim, and Emily Birdwell. And there is another Crim on the way.
Through the years, O.C. and Frances Birdwell have been an example and an inspiration to all who know them, especially their children. They have demonstrated unwavering love and commitment to each other. Their children (including children-in-law) have learned from them and appreciate them for their love, generosity, and unfailing support.
This husband and wife are as devoted to each other as two people could be. We know that they are thankful for the 50 years they have had together, for they have been a blessing to each other; but many others are also thankful, for they have been a blessing to us also.
Fifty years is just a milestone that is passed as the marriage continues. The marriage will endure as long as they live, and we trust that will be for many more years.
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 24, p. 8-9
December 19, 1996