By Marla Ogletree
In every small town there are people everyone knows, if not personally, have at least heard of them. Reverend Gene McCullough is one of them.
Reverend Gene and the late Mrs. Mary Jean McCullough moved to Folkston in September of 1967. He began preaching at First Baptist Church of Folkston, where he remained for over 30 years until retiring in 1998.
The two were married June 27, 1957, and have three children: Howard (Cindy), Jr., John (Dawn), and Joy Lynn (Bedford) Boyce. They have seven grandchildren; Adam, Matthew, Dylan, Caleigh, Caroline, Ella, and Olivia; as well as four great-grandchildren, Jackson, Jude, Ezekiel, and Gabriel.
While studying for his profession, young Gene was suffering from appendicitis and was taken to the hospital by his brother. During his stay, his brother couldn’t make it to the hospital for his daily visit, but had an idea on who could – Mary Jean. From there, they fell in love and began their work in ministry together. Mary Jean passed away in 2013 after sharing a loving marriage for 56 year.
“She was a wonderful preacher’s wife. You couldn’t have asked for a better one,” stated Rev. McCullough. “I thank God for appendicitis every day,” he laughed.
In 52 years of service, “The Reverend” has baptized many new Christians, married countless couples, and presided over a number of funerals. The first wedding he performed in Folkston was the union between Randy and Donna Nance. During one particular wedding, he fondly recalled telling the groom to look at his bride as he recited his vows instead of him.
Those who have had the honor of Reverend McCullough presiding over their occasion still write to him to express their gratitude. Family and friends even gathered together recently for a Florida Gator party to celebrate his 90th birthday.
“They have blessed my life. It’s been wonderful,” said McCullough.
Through his work, he has become a staple in the community – someone on whom you could depend.
“He was there when my grandparents, and parents died,” commented Joe Allen. “He just thinks of others all the time and wants to help if he can”.
Because of his giving and loving nature, he has made many friends in Charlton County and has become a loved one many hold dear.
“He just sort of grows on you,” joked Gene Crews. “I have the utmost respect for him. He is a great friend”.
During his time behind the pulpit, Reverend McCullough stood strong in his faith while the world outside suffered through war, segregation, epidemics, and more. He leaned on the word of God to help the congregation through. He had to decide to stand for his beliefs in the Bible or to change with the culture.
“The church never had to battle, because they knew where he stood,” stated Dr. Randy Jacoby, current pastor of First Baptist Church. “Week after week he preached.”
If nothing else, members of the church could always count on their preacher to be there waiting to share the Word and tell his congregation about the love of God.
“He was always there and dedicated to his flock,” said Marion Allen. “He is special to us – always has been.”
Dr. Jacoby knew he had big shoes to fill when he stepped into the role of pastor for First Baptist, especially since The Reverend was still a member.
“It usually goes one of two ways. It happens, like with us, where the former pastor is supportive and encouraging; or they stay and begin to undermine decisions,” said Jacoby.
McCullough served as interim pastor for many churches, which gave time for Jacoby to become established without the added pressure.
“He never made ministry about himself, it was always about Christ,” added Jacoby. “It speaks loudly about his character and his ministry. He has the heart of a shepherd”.
To truly express how important Reverend and Mrs. McCullough became to the community, the two were honored by the City of Folkston. In 1998, Mayor Dixie McGurn declared March 7 as Gene and Mary Jean McCullough Day for their dedication and selfless services to the community.
McCullough said, “I couldn’t think of a better place but Folkston. It means so much to me.”
He was surprised by the honor, but believed his wife was very deserving.
“Mary Jean was the smart one,” he laughed. “She made a difference.”
First Baptist Church of Folkston and citizens of the city itself have been affected by the never-wavering faith of one man. He has used his calming nature, kind heart, and wonderful sense of humor to show others how to lead a life for the Lord.
“You can’t help but love him,” said Marion Allen, “because he loves God so good.”