A revelation of God’s plan for Frank Edward Coleman’s life came via the gentle touch of trembling fingertips. But it was another plan, The Plan, which enabled him to take his most decisive stride down the road to pastorship.
A 13-year-old at Oakland City’s Oak Grove General Baptist Church, Frank was one of about a dozen kids in a Sunday School class which suddenly found itself without an adult teacher.
“After a couple of weeks of just goofing off and watching TV in the youth room, there were several of us that thought we’d like to learn about the Bible,” said Frank, 31, the pastor at American Baptist East.
Frank and two young ladies began standing up and reading scripture in an open forum environment. A couple of weeks later while Frank was reading, there came a knock on the door. Reverend J.W. Creasey, a General Baptist minister in his 70s or 80s, barged in and asked, “Who was just reading the scriptures?”
Frank emitted a sheepish “I guess I was” and was told, “You come out in the hallway with me right now.” Then out in the hall Creasey motioned to another door and said, “Let’s go in this room.”
The teenager didn’t know what to think. “I was like, ‘What are we going in the empty room for? Did I say something wrong or whatever?’ ”
The aged pastor looked Frank in the eye and said, “No, you said everything right.” He reached into his blazer pocket and pulled out a small container of oil.
With trembling hands, he applied it to Frank’s forehead, saying, “I want you to know from this point forward that you are affirmed into the ministry of God. You will not accept this calling for a long time, but when you do, it will be because you don’t know what else to do with your life and you’ll know that it’s the only thing that you have left, the most important thing you have left. It’s going to keep you up at night and you’re not going to know what to do with yourself until you accept your calling.”
At the time, Frank didn’t understand why Creasey would say such a thing.
“There was something about that humble servant of God, that little trembling hand that he had and just the simple gesture of oil on my head,” Frank said. “It was so powerful and I didn’t understand the power behind that moment that it had in my life.”
It was one of Frank’s first defining moments. “Because of my dad, I knew that different people were called in different ways into the ministry,” he said. His father, Frank Allison Coleman, is currently the senior pastor at Ayrshire Valley General Baptist Church in Winslow, Ind. “Everyone knew dad. He was the state trooper in Pike County,” said Frank. “There were two or three other troopers, but back in those days dad would work as a detective in cases and he was pulling people over, but he was also a preacher.”
When you’re a preacher’s kid, being held to a higher standard of conduct is expected. Add in being the kid of a state trooper and it’s somewhat of a double whammy, isn’t it?
“If I’d have been just a preacher’s kid I would have been incredibly rebellious,” said Frank. “But then the policeman side of my dad would have come out and I would never have been rebellious at all because we had this thing called a paddle. “He wouldn’t use it on me too often but I remember there were a couple of times I said or did something wrong. “The thing is, I never saw hatred or malicious intent in my father’s eyes.”
Being a pastor’s son afforded Frank some unique opportunities, like delivering a sermon or two.
“I got to walk in his shoes in ministry even younger than 14 and watched as he did evangelistic work,” said Frank. “Seeing hundreds of people over the course of a week or two come to the Lord, and I’m sitting there thinking, ‘This is going to change the entire community.’ When I hear about someone giving their heart to Jesus, or multiple people giving their hearts to Jesus at one time, I’m thinking, ‘They don’t understand the impact that this is about to have on everyone that stays in contact with them. It changes everything. I love that phrase because Jesus changes everything for us.”
God certainly changed everything for the Colemans in 1986. “My mother was not medically able to have kids but I was that one in a million or one in a billion chance,” said Frank, whose parents were living in Indianapolis and were a bit concerned about potential hospital bills. They had no health insurance.
But the same day Mom learned of her pregnancy, his father found out that he had been accepted into the Indiana State Police Academy. “That meant health insurance kicked in on that day,” said Frank. “The doctor said, ‘I can’t believe that you’re pregnant. You’re unable to be pregnant. I don’t understand this.’ ”
His father preached in Newburgh, Wadesville and Poseyville at General Baptist churches. “He was a trouble shooter so he would come in after there was a big blowup or meltdown and try to rebuild them,” said Frank. “As a state trooper, my dad would arrest people who made bad decisions, put them in a squad car and then he would witness to them.”
Frank recalled the case of an elderly Vincennes man who had a couple of young kids break into his home to steal guns so that they could buy drugs. But they ended up killing him. When Frank’s dad arrived to transport them to jail, the two kids were in separate squad cars, both crying.
“Dad got in one squad car and said, ‘Why are you crying? The response was ‘Because of what we did to that old man. It wasn’t supposed to go down like that.’ Frank’s dad said, ‘You have a debt to pay to society, but God can forgive you for what you did.’ My dad led that kid in the sinner’s prayer and he gave his heart to Jesus in the back of that squad car on the way to prison.”
More than once, the young man wrote Frank’s dad from prison, telling him, “I just want you to know that I’ll always remember the conversation we had in the back of that squad car and that Jesus is the center of my life. Thank you.”
“It’s tough to be a Christian in those situations because you tend to see so much bad,” said Frank. “But in the midst of horrible sin, a light shines through. God just needs a light and a light breaks into the darkness. And my father was that light to so many families, witnessing while holding peoples’ hands while they take their last breath at an accident scene or interacting in the life of fellow officers.”
Frank needed a light to break into his own darkness in 2004-05. He was extremely overweight (330 pounds) and stuck in the depths of a video game addiction to games like Halo and Call Of Duty.
“I was making so much money playing on-line video games that I was paying for my college education outright with what I was making,” recalled Frank. “Play long enough, you have an account, you level a character up, then you go on eBay and you sell the account. I was selling accounts for $700 or $1,000 apiece.”
The price paid was far too high.
“I’d spend four or five days at a time with no sleep, destroying my body. It’s highly competitive and the only way to get good is to practice a lot, like with sports. I was drinking two four-packs of Red Bull a day to stay awake,” he said. “I’d drink coffee and consume Expresso beans by the handfuls to stay awake. Then I’d crash and sleep for two days at a time. I’d wake up with slight atrophy in my legs from being completely numb from not doing anything. It was horrible. I was just an ugly dude. I stunk, was socially inept, wasn’t confident and didn’t think I was worth anything.”
Frank testified to the strength of the addiction.
“A game that I will never touch again is World Of Warcraft. It’s one of the oldest on-line video games. I saw families shattered and people moving in with people who had paid for their subscription to this on-line game. Video games are more addictive than heroine. The about of dopamine released by the brain is higher than a heroine addict.”
Four years later, on June 6, 2009, Frank married Leagha.
“I was still into the video games but Leagha had kind of taken me away from it because I loved her so much. She distracted me from it,” said Frank. “But it was when I first saw the ultrasound of my son Isaac (now 5) that I realized something: I’m 330 pounds; my back hurts; my knees hurt; my feet hurt. I’m not going to make it to 40.”
At the time, Frank was working at the Rescue Mission downtown when Scott Wineinger, the director at Camp Reveal, walked up to him and said, “I can tell you’re struggling with something. I want to tell you about The Plan.”
The plan was to read the sound doctrine of Titus 2.
“I came home and I looked at my wife and said, ‘Honey, I realize what I need to do.’ ” He admitted to being unloving, a poor listener and uncompassionate. “I realized what I needed to do for the sake of my God and my family. I sat down with her that day and I read Titus 2 through and she teared up and said, ‘I’m glad that you finally understand what it means to be a man of God.’ She was so patient and kind with me.
“I write Titus 2 out, the entire chapter, every day. I’ve done that for the last 2 ½ years.” Titus is also the name of the Coleman’s four-month-old baby.
Raised in Petersburg, Ind., Frank graduated from Pike Central High School in 2004. He started college at Oakland City, transferred to the University of Evansville for 2 ½ years and then finished his bachelor’s degree at Oakland City. He’s currently attending Oakland City’s Chapman Seminary and is about halfway through a 90-hour Masters in Divinity program.
He is thankful for his first four months at ABE.
“Every member here at American Baptist East is making me a better person and a better pastor,” said Frank. “That’s how I know I’m walking in His will. I’m building relationships and am incredibly blessed.”
Frank lists his hobbies as Cincinnati Reds baseball, music and Star Wars. “There is a ton of theological meaning behind almost every character in Star Wars,” he said.
He has no siblings.
“I’m an only child, but there are two guys that I consider my brothers. Jared Pleuss and I are very close and very blunt with each other. And Dr. Donn Tiu Tuomg, a doctor at St. Mary’s, along with his wife Erin, have always been there for me, my wife and kids.”
Pastor Frank is excited about ABE’s future.
“We have a ton of love and hospitality. They’re our strongest traits,” he said. “I want to expand off of our strengths so we can get what it means to love God and love others. Then we’ll grow stronger together and united as a church body.
“And when a community sees that a church is united, that’s attractive to the world because the world is full of chaos, is not united and does not work well together with others. For a church to do that, it sets them apart from the norm. That’s exactly where we want to be.”
Instilled with a good work ethic as a young child, Sue Harkins was introduced to some of life’s finest amenities as a 10-year-old fifth-grader, then met the love of her life just a few years later.
Shortly after birth in Providence, Ky., in 1935, Sue and her family moved far out into the rural countryside of tiny Dawson Springs. “It was a small farm. Daddy gardened and worked in the coal mines, too,” said Sue, 82, a member at American Baptist East. “I helped Mama milk the cows. We had pigs and chickens, well water and a cistern.”
That all changed when Sue started fifth grade. When the family moved into town, she and sister Velma were beyond thrilled.
“We came up through hard times,” Sue said. “When we moved into town, Velma and I were so, so happy; Sis and I went running into the bathroom saying, “Oh my, running water … and a bathtub… and a commode!’ ” It was like they’d hit the lottery.
It was while going to high school that Sue met Harold Harkins. “Even though we went to the same high school, he was five years older,” she said. “Back in those years, when Uncle Sam needed more people, they were drafted.”
Sue and Harold had only been going together for about six months when Uncle Sam’s Army called for Harold’s service. “We communicated by letters every day while he was away, stationed in various places. Then he got permanently assigned to Fort Myer, Va., the post next to Arlington National Cemetery and The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” she said.
The couple got engaged during Christmastime of Sue’s senior year. At 17, she graduated in May and married Harold in June.
“We lived in Arlington and had a wonderful landlady,” Sue recalled. “I didn’t know how to cook, so every time I wanted to bake something, my landlady would tell me how and give me the pan to cook it in. Those were good times.”
The good times included going to free newly released movies on Tuesday nights, then dropping by the base’s Green Room.
“One of the men stationed with Harold was Eddie Fisher. He’d be at the Green Room sometimes and would sing. He’d sing, too, when they had boxing matches,” Sue said. “We got to know him back in his early years before he was popular and I got his autograph.”
It was the same Eddie Fisher who went into acting and became the most successful pop singles artist during the first half of the 1950s. Fisher divorced his first wife, actress Debbie Reynolds, to marry her best friend, actress Elizabeth Taylor. He later married singer/actress Connie Stevens. He was the father of late actress Carrie Fisher.
The couple returned to Kentucky when Harold was discharged from the service. “There wasn’t much to do in Kentucky except coal mining,” Sue said. “But my dad and Harold’s dad didn’t want him going into the mines.”
The Harkins moved to Evansville when Harold landed a job at Briggs. But quite literally, he didn’t really fit in.
“We started looking for a place to live and back then, in 1953, there were no apartment complexes,” Sue said. “There were only attic apartments in houses. Harold was tall (6-foot-4) and there weren’t any apartments that he could stand up in. My mother-in-law went looking every day and we ended up buying a trailer, 26 feet including the hitch. Most campers are larger than that.”
In the meantime, Sue said the Briggs and Chrysler plants “seemed to be laying off people more than hiring them.” But during layoffs, Harold didn’t settle for drawing unemployment.
“He didn’t want to do that,” said Sue. “He’d take any kind of a job, even though he made less money than he would by drawing unemployment, just so he could stay busy.”
Harold had yearned to become a barber, so when a barber school opened in Henderson, Ky., he worked night shift and went to school during the day. “He barbered for 13 years but then long hair came in and people weren’t getting haircuts very often,” Sue said.
Harold took a course in real estate. While barbering six days a week, he used his Wednesday day off to work for Kenny Newcomb and get his feet wet in the realty business.
Throughout it all, Sue was employed, including all the way through her high school years. During Harold’s time in the service at Fort Myer, she worked at Hires Turner Glass Company. Immediately upon moving into Evansville, she got a job at Majestic Fabricators for two years before going to work for Whirlpool-Seeger Corporation. When Whirlpool purchased the International Harvester plant, Sue went to work there before moving on to the Servel plant, then going to the Whirlpool plant on Highway 41.
“They started the product planning department and asked me if I’d be secretary to Bob Garvey,” said Sue. “I stayed there for 10 years and only left because I was expecting my first baby. Harold and I had been waiting for 13 long years for that baby.”
There had been complications and a major surgery for Sue before Kimberly was born in March 1965.
“She was a blessing. The doctor (Dr. Edgar Engle) was about as thrilled as we were,” Sue said. “When she was born, he was going down the hall telling everybody to look at his pretty baby. I retired because I didn’t want someone else doing Kim’s first steps, or hearing her first words. Even though we didn’t have a lot of money, I was home with her all the time.”
Sue earned her realtors license and went to work with Harold when they bought into Town and Country Realtors in 1972, doing all the books and helping all the real estate agents. But it didn’t quench Sue’s insatiable appetite to work.
“I got into being a military test administrator for the federal government. It was a nice out for me from the realty,” she said. “I moved from the federal building downtown to a reserve center, then to the National Guard Armory. I also gave tests in schools; I really enjoyed the kids and did that for 27 years.”
Sue has gone to church throughout her entire life, beginning at First Baptist Church in Dawson Springs.
“All of my girlfriends went to that church. When the doors were opened, we were there, on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, the Girls Auxiliary, church camp,” Sue said.
She gave her life to Christ during a revival at age 12.
“The Holy Spirit talked to me. It’s like you hear people say, ‘I was called to be a minister’ and then they put it off. All of a sudden, I realized, ‘This is it. I’ve got to do this.’ ”
In Evansville, the Harkins attended Keck Avenue Baptist, Washington Avenue Baptist and First Southern Baptist before becoming members at ABE in 2008. But it wasn’t as if they were strangers at ABE.
“We were familiar with the church because we had friends who came here when it was Eastern Heights,” said Sue. “Every time there was something special going on at Eastern Heights, we were there.”
The Harkins closed their realty office in 2001, but Sue didn’t retire from her government job until 2012 at the age of 77. In 2015, Harold passed away, ending a 63-year marriage.
“Pretty much all my life, 63 years. It was tough, really tough,” said Sue, the tears in her eyes a tell-tale sign of just how much she still misses him. She’s very close to sister Velma (21 months younger than Sue), who lives in Madisonville, Ky. Sue also values the time spent with fellow ABE member Betty Youngs. They’ve been friends since Betty and late husband Henry moved next door to the Harkins in 1956.
“The four of us had a lot of good times together. Henry liked to fish and they’d come visit when we had a place at Lake Barkley,” Sue said. “Betty’s like a sister to me. She helped me raise Kim and I helped her with her son.”
Sue lists John 3:16, Psalm 23 and several passages from Romans among her favorite scriptures. She served as a Pink Lady at Welborn Hospital for many years and has always enjoyed doing volunteer work.
And all the while, from her earliest days in the barn milking cows to the time she currently enjoys each Wednesday morning in a coloring class at ABE, God has motivated Sue and provided her with remarkably excellent health.
“Harold used to always ask me, ‘How come you never get sick?’ I told him I had to stay healthy to take care of him,” said Sue. “It’s been a good life; I’ve been so blessed.”
It wasn’t until Pat Smith figuratively warmed up to God that He literally warmed up to her, blanketing her with an assurance that everything was going to be OK. Pat, a member at American Baptist East, was 38 years old in 1968 when
she made multiple daily visits to Deaconess Hospital. She went to see 25-year-old brother Jay Allen, a diesel mechanic who had been involved in an explosion at Brandeis Machinery & Supply Company on US 41 North. In addition to suffering second- and third-degree burns over 75 percent of his body, he had a depressed brain concussion and an arm broken in two places.
“Once you smell burned flesh, you never forget it,” Pat said. “He had 19 skin grafts.” The difficulty of dealing with a loved one experiencing horrific pain drew Pat frequently into the hospital’s chapel. “I’d spend two and three times a day in the chapel praying to God,” she said. “I’d pray, ‘God, if my brother will be OK and it is your will, please let him live. But if he won’t be a person that can live a normal life, then God, please don’t let him live. Let it be your will.”
Usually Pat was accompanied by Jay’s wife, Jean, in the final visit to his room each night. One of those nights neither one of them will ever forget. “Five or seven doctors came into Jay’s room and said he wouldn’t live. And I had been talking with God all this time,” said Pat. “I was standing beside his bed and it was so cold in there. They had him in cold storage.
They kept him totally wet all the time, no clothes on, just all wet. I had on a sweater and a wool dress and I was freezing in there.
“All of a sudden, the room got real, real warm and I said to Jay, “Honey, you’re going to live and you’re going to be OK.”
Pat wondered if Jean, who had been standing on the other side of the bed, had experienced the warmth. “As we left his room, Jean started crying. That was the first time I’d seen her cry,” Pat said. “I asked her if she felt it and she said ‘Yes.’ It was right then and there that I became a real, true Christian.”
Pat didn’t attend church very much while growing up on a farm in Grandview, Ind., with her maternal grandparents. “My grandfather spent a lot of time at church when he was younger, but almost every Sunday we had company from Evansville,” said Pat, 86. “Anytime I did go, it was with Grandma (Dolly) Robinson.” Pat’s most influential male role model was undoubtedly her Grandpa (Doyle). He retired the day Pat was born and he constantly cared for Pat and her two younger sisters, Cora May and the late Carol, who died of leukemia at age 55. Pat said she feels his presence quite often.
“One day last week I was kind of down and I talked to Grandpa all morning,” said Pat, who plays the organ regularly on Sundays at ABE. “I’ll be just sitting here in my chair and I feel that someone is in the room with me. And it’s so strong that I even look up sometimes to see if someone is there. Maybe God has sent an angel to look over me.” Pat attended her first three years of high school in Chrisney before going to live with her grandmother and graduating from Rockport High School in 1948. Upon graduation, she went to work as a secretary at Reliable Office Machine Company in downtown Evansville. She has had her share of heartaches in life.
“I have a deep faith that with the things that I’ve been through that I would never have made it without God. He has watched over me like you would not believe,” she said. She was heartbroken teenager when her favorite uncle, Harold, went off to fight in Italy during World War II and was killed in action. “I always believed in God, but I was mad at Him, very mad,” Pat said. “My aunt in Louisville sat and talked to me quite a bit about that.” Pat said she always wanted to have two kids, but had trouble getting pregnant. After taking treatments, she finally gave birth to daughter Donna in July 1951. “Then we (Pat and husband Bernie) wanted to have another baby right away,” she said. But instead, she had four miscarriages.
“I was very unhappy about losing four babies and Dr. (Edgar) Engel told me, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but you’ll never be able to have another child.’ Then behold, I got pregnant with Kathy. Dr. Engel didn’t think it would happen, but he had always told me, ‘Pat, there’s a power above me.’ ” About two months before her due date in 1956, Pat told the doctor, ‘If everything goes OK, I’ll see you at your office. If not, I’ll see you in the emergency room.”
Everything went quite well. As Pat put it, “Kathy (ABE member Kathy Burgdorf) was perfect.” “I wanted two children and I got two children. Now that was God. He let me do that. I’ve always considered Donna and Kathy my gifts from Heaven.” When Kathy entered first grade, Pat began a 30-year career at the Atlas Van Lines national office in Evansville. She started in the filing department before moving into working with rates and tariffs. It was this experience with rates and tariffs that set the stage for her final 10 years at Atlas, immersing herself in responsibilities as the rate administrator for specialized transportation.
“I loved that job,” Pat said. “It was very, very interesting and I made friends all over the country. There are still a lot of people who ask about me and I’ve been gone from Atlas since 1992. “In fact, when I had my heart surgery four years ago, an agent in Oregon who I used to deal with called me in my room at the hospital. Can you imagine that?” Her job was complicated. In addition to talking with Atlas agents and drivers throughout the nation, she dealt with various companies’ CEOs and governmental agencies in Indianapolis and Washington, D.C. She had to know Interstate Commerce Commission regulations inside out. The job was so encompassing, it took somebody five years to study under Pat in order to take over the job upon her retirement. During the years Pat and Bernie were raising Donna and Kathy, the family spent a lot of time attending sporting events at North High School.
Bernie loved going to University of Evansville basketball games, put Indiana University on a pedestal and was a diehard Chicago Cubs fan. “We had such a good time. My dad was so much fun,” said Kathy. “He showed me how to have fun and mother taught me right from wrong. It was one way or another, nothing in between.” But at age 55, Bernie suffered a heart attack and went into a depression, spending three straight months in the hospital at one point. The time he spent in the military service during the latter part of World War II had taken its toll on him and he battled post-traumatic stress disorder. He died in 2004 after 56 years of marriage. “I feel so sorry for our military guys coming back from wars now,” Pat said. “I wish I could talk to the families of the guys coming back and let them know what they’re in for, what’s going on right under their nose and they don’t even know it. They need to know that these things can happen and will.”
In addition to the organ, Pat has an extensive musical background. Her earliest experience was learning to play the guitar by studying an instruction book. Her cousin, Mary Esther Therber took piano lessons, but Pat ended up with better expertise by learning the sheet music that was often left behind ather house. Eventually, she took violin lessons, learned how to play the clarinet and percussion instruments and won the school’s music in her senior year at Rockport. She didn’t sit down at the organ until she was 55 and took lessons for seven years.
Pat beams when talking about her grandchildren (Benjamin, Eric, Ruth and Nathan) and her great grandchildren (Chloe, August, Lex and Zachary). She regrets that her health prohibits her from doing the things she loved to do, like knitting Afghans, doing cross-stitching, quilting and making clothing and coats for her daughters. She uses a walker and has had problems falling in recent months. Since Bernie’s death, there has been back surgery, hip replacement, carpal tunnel, carotid artery surgery and open-heart surgery. “I’m really blessed,” she said. “When Bernie was sick, I asked God to please keep me healthy and get me through all of that. And God did that. He helped me all along. He always has.”
And as for brother Jay, the object of Pat’s fervent prayers so many years ago, he’s gone on to live a normal life. “Mudhead,” as Pat affectionately used to call him, is comfortable, and warm, living at the old family farm in Grandview. He talks, by telephone, with his prayerful sister every morning.