The Rev. Nina J. Poage, a pastor, regional leader and former city manager of Richmond, died at her Madison County home on Monday of complications from leukemia.
Her lifetime of service also included missionary work in Jamaica.
"A lot of pastors and community workers see Nina as their mentor in regards to living in solidarity with the poor," said the Rev. Lon Oliver, director of the Disciples of Christ Kentucky Appalachian Ministry.
Born Aug. 13, 1936, in Hannibal, Mo., she was a daughter of Everett E. Lawson and Ruby Lawson of Monroe City, Mo.
She and her husband, The Rev. Bennet D. Poage, arrived in Lexington in 1964 so he could attend the Lexington Theological Seminary.
They later moved to Jamaica with the Disciples of Christ Overseas Ministries, helping churches there assist needy people in growing and canning food. She had to improvise to make the project work.
"She worked with the local women, but they didn't have any Mason jars to preserve the food," the Rev. Bennet D. Poage recalled. "But she got a bottling machine from Church World Service, pureed the food and helped the women can it in beer bottles."
Thus began a lifetime of service.
Returning from Jamaica, the Rev. Nina Poage helped organize MATCH, Inc., which worked in seven states to help 5,000 Appalachian craftsmen market their work. She was executive director of the organization from 1974 to 1983.
As a result of her work with MATCH, she was selected through a national scholarship to attend the University of Massachusetts, where she completed a master's degree in rural development and regional planning in 1985.
With credentials in hand, she was named city manager of Richmond. She served for four years, 1986 to 1990, and helped launch the city's recycling program and participating in other projects such as the development of Lake Reba.
In the early 1990s, she began to work as a community development director in Barbourville, helping to oversee the revitalization of the city's downtown, and working on similar projects in McCreary County.
Later that decade, she was volunteer coordinator with the Kentucky Ecumenical Empowerment Project (KEEP), helping family ministry centers in Casey, Lincoln and Garrard counties on a variety of projects such as collecting used clothes for needy residents.
Around 2000, another career blossomed when she began preaching at Richmond's historic Mount Zion Christian Church.
"She was a natural," her husband said. "She had never preached before. But we quickly discovered, I think as much to her surprise as mine, that she was excellent. She told stories, she told about her experiences in KEEP, and the congregation just loved her."
Already a licensed lay minister, she began attending the Lexington Theological Seminary part time. She ultimately was ordained as a minister, although illness prevented her from completing seminary.
The Mount Zion Christian Church named her its senior minister, capping her wide-ranging career.
The Rev. Nina Poage is survived by her husband, the Rev. Bennet D. Poage; two daughters, Nannett Poage-Prater and Wynn Dell Poage; and a grandson, Clayton Thomas Yancey.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to KEEP, Cladys Nabe, treasurer, 107 E. Maple Street, Lancaster, Ky., 40444; or Hospice Care Plus, 208 Kidd Drive, Berea, Ky., 40403.
A memorial service is scheduled for Oct. 4 at the Mount Zion Christian Church. The Combs, Parsons and Collins Funeral Home in Richmond is in charge of arrangements.