Mountain Home, Ark. – Mountain Home resident Edith Mitchell, 101, has always had a passion for music and serving the Lord.
Born in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, on Dec. 24, 1921, Mitchell started piano lessons at the age of nine and later taught herself how to play the organ. In high school, she volunteered to play for her church’s services.
Mitchell went on to graduate from Flora MacDonald College, majoring in voice and music education and minored in Bible and piano. She took her first job teaching in Richlands, North Carolina.
“Then war started, and I felt like I needed to serve my country,” Mitchell said.
She enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in September 1943 and was sent to boot camp in what she called “the swamps” outside of Daytona Beach, Florida.
“It was in the swamps and rained most the time. We were all in tents. You’d lay there feeling that mist falling on your face,” she said.
Following boot camp, Mitchell traveled to her assignment at Camp Stoneman, California, a major staging area for troops bound for the Pacific Theater. She served as a chaplain’s assistant and had several responsibilities including writing letters for the chaplains and playing music at the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish services.
At one pre-embarkation service, Mitchell played the organ and sang the hymn “Ninety and Nine” – one of her favorites – before a chapel full of service members leaving for World War II operations. Her voice inspired some soldiers to make public professions of faith. She remembers the men walking up the gangplank with the water from their baptism dripping off their backpacks.
“That was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Mitchell said. “I have had the opportunity since then to win several other people to the Lord.”
Shortly after Mitchell’s arrival at Camp Stoneman, she said her mother wanted to do her duty and volunteered as a nurse’s aide at the hospital. Some of her patients included survivors of the Bataan Death March.
“They were nothing but a skeleton with skin stretched over it and they could hardly walk. Several of them could not walk. They were taken directly to the hospital,” Mitchell said. She noted her mother aided in nursing back to health Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, commander of the Army forces that had been captured in the Philippines.
After completing her military service, Mitchell used her GI Bill benefits to attend Columbia University where she earned a master’s degree in voice and public music. She eventually taught at Tift College in Forsythe, Georgia, and met the man who became her husband when he joined her choir at the First Baptist Church there. At the time, he was a student funeral director. He went on to graduate from Gupton-Jones College of Mortuary Sciences in Nashville.
“When he came back to take the test to be a funeral director in Georgia, he had the highest score that had ever been made. I was quite proud of him,” she said.
Married on Dec. 15, 1950, the couple eventually settled in Atlanta, where they lived for 21 years. When the couple retired, they relocated to Mountain Home to be near their granddaughter.
In Mountain Home, the couple continued to serve the Lord and stayed active in their church.
While in her 80’s, God fulfilled a dream Mitchell had since she was 15. She wanted to be a foreign missionary.
When a pastor in the county invited her on a missions trip to a province in Russia, though she wanted to go, Mitchell did not think it would be possible.
“I thought, I don’t have that money, I’m getting ready for hernia surgery, and I haven’t had the training that I need. I needed to update my training,” she said, noting her history of teaching English as a second language.
But God made it possible.
“It’s the only time that the Lord has spoken to me vocally. I heard, ‘You can do that,’” she said. “I said, all right, Lord. If you’ll take care of everything else, I’ll be glad to do it.”
Within three weeks, her doctor cleared her for the trip, she received an opportunity to update her training and, without her asking, people raised money to cover her financial costs for the trip.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways to allow us to perform,” she said. “Within those three weeks, everything had been taken care of that I was concerned about.”
So, at 85 years old, Mitchell finally fulfilled the dream she had at 15.
“I was just happy. It was such a marvelous experience. They were wonderful people, so receptive and so kind. It was a great experience and I still correspond with a few of those folks, and I pray for them every day,” Mitchell said.
At 101 years old, Mitchell continues to serve the Lord and to be involved in her church. She assists with first and second graders on Wednesday nights at First Baptist Church in Mountain Home and is also the facilitator for their WMU Bible study. She taught Sunday school until a few years ago.
“Every time the doors open, I’ve got to go to church,” Mitchell said with a laugh.
Mitchell stressed the importance of having family altar – a time for Bible study – every day. Born and raised in a Godly home in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, Mitchell said she cannot remember a day that they did not have family altar.
“Every single day, all my life, I have had that family altar. Even the last day that my husband was alive, I had that family altar and continued it since,” she said. “I don’t care how young or how old you are. You need to have family altar with your family.”
Mitchell said her favorite time for family altar is right after breakfast. She has two or three devotionals she likes to read and reads her Bible.
“I read my Bible through and when I get through, I start over again,” she said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve read it through.”
Mitchell has one daughter, two grandchildren and three great grandchildren. She has lived in Mountain Home since May 1993.