East Athens church loses its 'Mother,’ the county its oldest resident


Rosa Nell Howard

By Joe Johnson

Springfield Baptist Church in east Athens has lost its mother.

Mother is a title of respect the church gave to its oldest member and on Wednesday, 108-year-old Rosa Nell Howard passed away at a local nursing home.

She was also the oldest resident in Athens.

Howard was not just Mother at the church on Fourth Street that she attended for over 60 years, but was matriarch of the Hillside community in East Athens.

Those who knew and loved her said that Mrs. Howard’s kind nature and loving spirit will be greatly missed.

“She was my very first Sunday school teacher and second only to my grandmother when it came to baking, she baked the best cakes ever,” recalled Vanessa Gary-Johnson, who was born and raised in the Hillside community.

“Mrs. Rose Nell as she was affectionately called had the sweetest smile all the while telling you, you were doing something wrong.” Gary-Johnson said.” We need more like her nowadays."

Church member Lillie P. Stewart, a former neighbor of Mrs. Howard, remembered that when she was a young girl, Mrs. Howard paid her $1.25 to help around her house

There are stories in the community about how Mrs. Howard baked pound cakes that she shipped to local young men who were serving in the military overseas during the Vietnam War.

“By the time they got the cakes, they were crumbled,” Gary-Johnson said. “The guys would still fight over the crumbs because they were so delicious.”

Mrs. Howard was born on Feb. 24, 1911 in rural Wilkes County, the first born to Caroline and Ebb Smith, a farmer. She was the oldest of 10 children.

Mrs. Howard later moved to New York to work as a nanny before moving in 1933 to Athens, where she married Ellis Howard and lived in a house on Odd Street for most of her life.

In a story commemorating Mrs. Howard’s birthday this year, WXIA-TV in Atlanta reported how family members remembered her “riding the family horse many places.

“Family members said she was so petite that the store owner would help her off horse and into the store, and then helped her back on the horse after she'd gotten her groceries,” the television station reported.

Over the years, Mrs. Howard enjoyed catering cakes, fishing all day, gardening and quilting.

She was predeceased by her husband, had one son, a granddaughter, a great granddaughter and many nieces and nephews.

Visitation is scheduled for 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Winfrey Mutual Funeral Home Chapel, 390 Glenhaven Ave. in Athens.

Funeral services are scheduled for noon Monday at Springfield Baptist Church on Fourth Street.

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