By Linda Bloom - United Methodist news Service
Theressa Hoover was the first and she made sure she was not the last.
The first African-American woman to become a top staff executive for The United Methodist Church was a mentor to many young women, promoted the leadership of laywomen and engineered a secure future for the women’s organization of the denomination during a period of tumultuous change.
Hoover led the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, the corporate body of United Methodist Women, for 22 years, from 1968 to 1990.
“She had a presence that could be larger than life, but she also had a presence that could be as soft and gentle as a dove,” said Andris Salter, a UMW executive who witnesssed how Hoover ministered to women struggling with issues such as physical and sexual abuse.
Hoover, 88, died Dec. 21 in Fayetteville, Ark., the hometown that had proclaimed May 30, 2008, as Theressa Hoover Day. Her funeral took place Dec. 30 at Sequoyah United Methodist Church, where she was a member.
One of five children born to James C. Hoover and Rissie Vaughn, Hoover’s options might have seemed limited in the segregated South, especially after her mother died when she was a small child. But her father, a city hospital orderly, taught her to be fearless and gave her the confidence to do what she needed to do.
A 1946 graduate of Philander Smith College, she helped the Little Rock Methodist Council, a coalition of 19 black and white Methodist congregations, convert a former turkey farm into Camp Aldersgate, dedicated in 1947 as a camp for African-American youth and a racially integrated training center.