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OKC, Kentucky Ave. blessed by nonagenarians

While many nonagenarians have either passed on to Glory, or have greatly slowed down their activity, Ed Courtney (93), Zeilah Harlin (91) and Harley King (93) are still going strong in their service for the Lord at Oklahoma City, Kentucky Ave.

Courtney, Sunday School director, said he has served in that position for “At least 60 years,” adding, “That’s a long time, isn’t it?” with a twinkle in his eye.

He said he has been a member of Kentucky Ave., located at 2702 S. Kentucky Ave., since he was mustered out of the U.S. Navy at the conclusion of World War II in 1945.

“My wife had been a member of the church since she was 16 years old. She turned 89 recently, so she’s been there a long time,” he added.

Courtney worked as a petroleum land man for three different oil companies and as an independent land man after the war.

“I think I worked for 26 companies in the next year, and then got the chance to work for Arkla Gas out of Shreveport, La. I did that for 29 years,” he said.

In addition to his duties as Sunday School director, he makes the announcements during the Sunday morning worship services and has been a deacon in the church since 1952.

Courtney is saddened by Kentucky Ave.’s declining membership in recent years.

“We had 619 record attendance a long time ago,” he reflected. “And we only have three deacons now; we had 18-20 at one time. “

Courtney and King, ironically, were born on the same day, May 2, 1921. King, the church organist for the past 13 years, also serves as the church’s deacon chairman.

He has been playing the organ for more than 40 years.

Born and reared in Norman, King said his father was one of the city’s first blacksmiths in the early 1900s. His mother, who gave birth to nine children—seven sons and two daughters—was a homemaker.

An educator, King devoted 34 years of his life to elementary education, 24 of them in the Oklahoma City Public Schools as principal at Lafayette, Rancho Village and Van Buren elementary schools. He then “retired,” and later worked at two funeral homes, directing funerals and playing the organ at times for services.

He was married to his wife, Ivette, for more than 65 years. She passed away eight years ago.

He got interested in the organ while directing music at Oklahoma City, Knob Hill, when he took his first lesson, and three months later, was playing in local churches.

“My favorite hymn today is probably “He Touched Me.” It’s a great hymn,” King said. “He Lives” is also fun to play on the organ; it has a lot of rhythm.”

He added that he also loves to play Gospel music.

Made of stout stuff, King had gall bladder surgery on March 24, about six weeks before he celebrated his 93rd birthday.

“That was my first surgery,” he stated matter-of-factly.

He is grateful God has allowed him to be consistent in his service to Him.

“I’ve averaged missing only one Sunday per year being at the organ at church, including the week I missed for the surgery,” he said.

King has a keen sense of humor. He shared the story of a funeral for which he played.

“I didn’t know the people, and they didn’t want a vocal solo, but they wanted two songs played—Roy Rogers’ and Dale Evans’ theme song, ‘Happy Trails to You,’ and ‘Rhinestone Cowboy.’

“Fortunately I had them in my repertoire!” he laughed.

Zeilah Harlin was half of a very special delivery for rural letter carrier Oscar Rogers and his wife, Ora, on June 11, 1923. She followed her older, identical sister, Leilah, into this world by a few minutes to their parents’ great surprise as they were born at their home in Newalla.

Zeilah, the pianist at Kentucky Ave., and Leilah, have virtually been inseparable for 91 years, and still to this day reside next door to each other.

The sisters’ lives paralleled each other so closely that each of them obtained music education degrees from Central State College in Edmond and had careers as educators for more than 35 years in the Mustang and Moore school districts.

They have traveled to every state in the Union and basically raised their families—two children each—together.

“The Lord’s been good to me,” Zeilah said. “We have had a rich life, and God has blessed me.”

They even married brothers, staging a double wedding at a private home in Mustang on D-Day, June 6, 1944!

“We got married on June 6, 1944,” Zeilah confirmed.  “Leilah’s husband, William Harlin, had been wounded as a member of the 45th Division during the invasion of Sicily in 1943, and had been discharged.

“My husband, Clyde, was headed to the South Pacific as an officer (Lt.) in the engineering corps. After the wedding, I didn’t see him for two years; never talked to him on the phone, nothing.”

After the war, the couples settled in Oklahoma City, and joined Kentucky Ave.

“Clyde also went to church with me and he said there’s some things you can do for the Lord, but I don’t want you to ever take a penny for your services in church and I want you to go ahead and play,” Zeilah said.

She said she began playing for the church around 1950.

“I have played for funerals and weddings and have never taken a cent for it,” she confirmed.

Keeping her fingers limber by playing the keyboard has paid off, Zeilah said.

“I have no problem with arthritis, and I still have my original teeth, too!” she laughed, glancing at Leilah, and adding, “The Lord meant, I guess, for us to be together all these years and we have been so happy.”

Transitional pastor Bob Ross loves working with Courtney, Harlin and King.

“They’re talented for any age,” he marveled. “If you couldn’t see them and heard them playing, you’d think they were in the prime of life. They’re amazing people, but then, this whole congregation is amazing, as well. At one time, this was a thriving congregation, and the church now is in decline, but they’re not giving up. We baptized two people on Aug. 3. One was 33 years old, and the other one was a 16-year-old who was saved at Falls Creek.”

Interim music director Charlanne Hampton, said Harlin and King, “Are very encouraging, especially because this is all new for me. It is a treat because they play very well, and it is a lot fun to work with them.

“At 91 and 93 they just play wonderfully. There is no question they have talent, and they are still being used by God. It’s personally encouraging because so many people think that when they reach retirement age it’s all over, or they have nothing to give. To me they’re proving that they do have something to give.

“It’s a pleasure and a treat to see them each week. Each of them has a precious story of serving the Lord. They’re awesome, and the Lord has blessed them in a special way.”

Bob Nigh

Author: Bob Nigh

View more articles by Bob Nigh.

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