By LIBBY CLUETT
R.B. Shiflet, 93, founding pastor of Eleventh Avenue Church and former Mineral Wells ISD principal, passed away early Wednesday morning.
He served others in so many capacities.
During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army and was present in the Philippines when liberated from Japan. Although he was trained to shoot down aircraft, Shiflet was recruited to serve as typist in Adjutant General’s office on Leyte, since they needed one and his single semester of high school typing made him the fastest typist in the battalion, according to his three children, Robert Shiflet, Vera Stilwell and Randy Shiflet.
This wasn’t the only time his education would prove valuable.
He married Lorena Goyne in 1944 and the couple moved from Alvarado to Mineral Wells, where he established Eleventh Avenue Church in 1950 and served as its pastor for several decades. He preached his last sermon in March of 2010 on the church’s 60th anniversary.
His children said he paid for college by working at the Mineral Wells News while studying at Texas Weslayan University to become a teacher.
Once he got his undergraduate degree, Shiflet began working for Mineral Wells ISD in 1953 as an English teacher for high school and junior high students. During summer school, he taught English as well as Bible classes, back when one could, according to his children.
Shiflet worked for MWISD until 1981. After he received his Master’s of Education degree from Texas Christian University, he served as principal at Lamar Elementary and Robert E. Lee Junior High.
Not only was he a teacher but Shiflet was a learner. He furthered his studies, taking courses at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.
Randy Shiflet called his father a “walking history book,” and said he could read and write before the first grade. He said his father didn’t start school until the second half of second grade, eventually graduating valedictorian of his class in 1936 from Alvarado High School.
R.B. Shiflet received a scholarship to Hill Junior College and, since his dad worked for Greyhound Bus, “He rode the bus from Alvarado to Hillsboro every day for the first two years to get his associate degree,” said his son, Randy.
He added that his father also served on the library board for many years, including when the board decided to build the new Boyce Ditto Public Library.
“His calling was the ministry. And, as Randy said, he taught school to feed us kids,” he added.
“He never drew a penny’s salary for preaching until he retired from the school system,” Robert Shiflet said. “The men at the church pretty well insisted on at least making up the difference between what his retirement pay was and what he had been drawing – a free-will love offering. His stipulation was, ‘I will take that as long as nobody’s ever pressured and understand that if the money’s not there, don’t worry about it.’”
“He performed thousands of weddings and funerals over the 60 years,” said Robert Shiflet.
“Generations – even, parents and their children,” added Stilwell.
“I remember one particular example where he married a couple, then married their daughter, then married her daughter,” Shiflet recalled of Johnny and Jean O’Bannon and their daughter and granddaughter. So that’s three generations.”
“That was mentioned by Paul Harvey,” Stilwell noted of this third-generation wedding Shiflet performed.
Robert Shiflet added that when Paul Harvey told the story on national news, he concluded by saying, “Pastor Shiflet, you tie a good knot.”
R.B. Shiflet’s children said many in the community called on him to perform funerals as well as weddings.
“Because he was here and touched the lives of people through the school system, then if they didn’t have a church affiliation they would ask for Brother Shiflet,” said Vera Stilwell. “And so he would do funerals of people he really didn’t know sometimes.”
Robert Shiflet recounted one story when someone died and the family was trying to decide who to preside over the funeral. “They said, ‘Momma was a Baptist and Daddy was a Presbyterian, let’s just get Brother Shiflet, he ain’t nothing,” he said and laughed.
R.B. Shiflet’s three children said humor was important to their father, even in recent years, and added that he was a prankster and loved a good laugh.
In fifth grade he studied Latin and learned to sing “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You” and the pledge to the Texas flag in Latin, according to his kids – something he did up until sometime this year. He also studied Greek and Hebrew to better understand original manuscripts.
Upon a trip to Washington, D.C., in recent years, his children learned that their father published two study guides – one each for the Bible epistles “Philippians” and “Ephesians” – which are in the Library of Congress.
Some of Shiflet’s legacies include “caring and compassion,” according to his son, Randy.
Robert Shiflet added, “honesty, whether it be with yourself or with others, your work ethic, your study ethic and the value of education.”
By LIBBY CLUETT
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