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Mount Zion Sunday school teacher reached a community

By Frank Corriher

Special to the Salisbury Post

The Deal family of China Grove lost an invaluable member on Jan. 9.

So did Mount Zion United Church of Christ in China Grove. Maxine Walters Deal will be missed by many, but both her personal family and her church family know that Maxine is irreplaceable. She was such an instrumental leader in both groups that it is difficult to say where the loss will be felt the most.

Maxine was a beloved wife, mother and grandmother. She was the matriarch of a close-knit family that consisted of her twin sons, their wives and children and two great-grandchildren. But to the people of Mount Zion, she was more.

Although not born into membership at Mount Zion, she nonetheless wholeheartedly embraced her new church and its work.

When Maxine Walters married Bernard Deal, a lifetime member of Mount Zion UCC (then Evangelical and Reformed) in 1948, she had already been working as a teacher in Mount Zion’s Sunday school for eight years. Maxine was probably influenced by Bernard’s active role at Mount Zion, where his family had been longtime members.

Maxine began her career in Christian education quietly, coming to Mount Zion in 1940 to assist Evelyn Atwell with her class of grade-school age children. A natural with children of all ages, “Miss Maxine” developed into the children’s teacher that others joining her in that capacity at Mount Zion aspired to be.

“She was like a magnet that drew children to her,” says her close friend, brother-in-law Bittle Deal. Although she began working with older students, she settled into the niche of pre-school age children, beginning to teach 3- and 4 year-olds in 1943 and finishing her career as the lead teacher in the three-year old classroom.

After Bernard’s death in 1989, Maxine devoted more of her time and talents to Mount Zion. In addition to her Sunday school teaching, Maxine became a church volunteer in several other important areas.

She could always be counted on to lead or help with vacation Bible school, as teacher of the pre-schoolers, but also as anything else from recruiter to cook to head of the clean-up crew. There was no job too difficult or menial for Maxine if it was to help her precious children.

“Maxine was one of the most giving persons I have ever known. That was what her life was all about. That’s what kept getting her up each morning. That’s what kept her going. That was her purpose in life,” said Mount Zion pastor William Campbell.

Mount Zion began to host a pre-school program in the 1980s. Before long, Maxine, though not formally a teacher in the program, became a regular in the classes.

She was extremely popular with the children, whether they were 2-, 3- or 4-year olds.

Campbell recalls, “Not only did those in her Sunday school class adore her, but the children in the preschool always looked forward to her coming into their rooms each morning to bring them a smile and to say hello. They knew her as ‘Miss Maxine.’ They loved her dearly, and she them.”

And according to Barbara Corriher, pre-school director and teacher at Mount Zion, “Mrs. Deal was a constant presence at Mount Zion and in our pre-school. When she walked into our classrooms, each child wanted to give her a big hug, and, of course, she beamed with each hug she received.”

“Maxine was one of the most gentle people I have ever known. There was always a loving smile on her face and a gentle tone in her voice. She had a way about her that children loved.” said Angela Waldo, another of Mount Zion’s pre-school teachers.

No doubt Miss Maxine will be missed by the children; however, others in the church will miss her, as well. For the past 16 years, Maxine has been at Mount Zion almost daily to offer her assistance in the day-to-day workings of the church.

Church secretary Patti Miller feels the loss personally. “Maxine started helping me at the church (after Bernard’s death), becoming my second mother and dearest friend. Much of the necessary work of my office was completed with her help and guidance. Her love, patience and friendship will be greatly missed now.”

“For those of us here at Mount Zion — myself, Patti, Barbara, Angie, Connie (another pre-school teacher), and all the others — she was like a member of the staff, but more than that. The only difference was that she didn’t receive any compensation for what she did. Nor did she ask for any. Whether it was helping Patti with the office chores or answering the phone when Patti could not be here, helping with the newsletter or bulletin, helping with the pre-school activities, or helping Bittle with some of the custodial and cleaning chores, she was here almost daily to do what she could. And she always came with a smile and a kind greeting.”

Perhaps the most telling testimony to Maxine’s life of devotion to her faith and her church comes from Miss Maxine’s former students, their parents, and her assistants. For ex-students Maxwell and Richard Brooke, both now college freshmen, Maxine made a lasting impression. “Maxine Deal was a great inspiration in my life not only as a teacher but as a person, too. Everywhere she went she lit up the room with her smile and her sincere love. Every child she taught in her life was taught to love everyone. Maxine taught me things that I will carry with me for the rest of my life,” says Maxwell.

Richard agrees, “Everyone Maxine met she touched in a nurturing and angelic way. She had the gift to make others realize the talents within themselves.”

“In every church there are those people that create the foundation. Maxine Deal was one of those members. She was the lady you could count on for a smile, a hug, and an ‘I love you.’ She was a great example of love and simple faith in God,” said Patti Miller, a product of Miss Maxine’s teaching.

Shelly Hunter, Mount Zion member and mother of former students Brent, Keith and Todd, remembers Maxine not only as her boys’ teacher but also as an adviser to Shelly after the birth of her twins. “We had a special connection, both being the mothers of twin boys. She was understanding about where I was and offered advice and compassion to me.”

“Not too long ago my daughter was having some separation anxiety about leaving Maxine’s Sunday school class because she had been promoted to another class,” said Sonia Cress, “and, therefore, I struggled with how to handle the situation. Upon discussing this with Maxine, she simply told me, ‘It doesn’t really matter which class she goes to just as long as she is happy at church, having fun, and learning about God.’ I remember thinking about her statement over and over and realizing this was her wisdom speaking and that she had a point,” she said. Cress was an assistant teacher with Maxine, as well as the parent of a student in her class.

And Anne Corriher, another assistant to Maxine as well as parent to two children who had Maxine as a teacher, has perhaps the perfect anecdote to describe Maxine Deal’s devotion to teaching children about the faith that was so important to her.

“Maxine thought children should know all about Jesus, so she stressed Jesus and everything about him in her Sunday school class. I remember one Sunday morning when Maxine had said the name Jesus for probably the 20th time and one 3-year old boy heaved a sigh and said, ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus — all we ever talk about in here is Jesus!’ ”

Today, as the members of Maxine Deal’s families, both biological and spiritual, struggle with her absence, she is smiling down from heaven and inspiring others to teach and love her precious children.

Maxine Deal left a legacy of Christian education that will not soon be forgotten or equaled at Mount Zion.

* * *

A related story on Maxine’s life as a Christian educator, written by Erin Boyd, was published July 29, 2003, in the Lifestyle section of the Salisbury Post.

* * *

Frank Corriher is a Salibsury resident.

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