During her 108 years, Utha "Sally" Blackburn Deen wore out several Bibles. That's to be expected for a woman who taught Sunday School classes for 80 years.
"I read the Word every day," Mrs. Deen told a Herald-Leader reporter in 2006, when she was 100 and teaching a group of about a dozen women at Anchor Baptist Church in Lexington. "I don't care how long you've taught. I think it has to be fresh and from the heart."
When Mrs. Deen died Saturday, she left behind a legacy of caring. She was not just a reader, but an active doer in living out her faith.
Mrs. Deen was the first president of the auxiliary for Central Baptist Hospital, now known as Baptist Health Lexington. She became auxiliary president in 1948, six years before the hospital opened in 1954, said John Walker, director of volunteer services.
The auxiliary and its volunteers "were the liaison with the local churches to help raise money," Walker said. They held rallies and took up Sunday School collections in which attendees were asked to give 10 cents each week to add to the coffers for the new hospital. Mrs. Deen was also Kentucky president of the Women's Missionary Union years ago.
When Judy Powell, a "coal miner's daughter" from Tennessee, went to the University of Kentucky 50 years ago, Mrs. Deen and her husband, Encil, took her into their Arcadia Park home and secured the money for her education. Powell had met Utha Deen at Oneida Baptist Institute, the Clay County boarding school where Mrs. Deen was a board trustee.
"At her table I learned how to cook," said Powell, who now lives in Athens, Ala. "She set a beautiful table. Out of what I saw in her home, it taught me all the basic things about how to live a refined life. I learned to be a lady from that lady. How to engage in conversation around the table."
Granddaughter-in-law Michell Stull said Mrs. Deen had a ready answer when asked how she had lived so long. "Well, I'll tell you," Mrs. Deen said. "I love the Lord with all my heart and I eat food out of my garden, and that's what you need to be doing, too."
And then there were Sunday School classes at various churches. She taught for more than 50 years at Calvary Baptist in Lexington. The Rev. Hank Ellington, associate pastor of Calvary, said she was "very much a Bible scholar."
"She took her preparation to teach a Sunday School lesson as seriously as any pastor or preacher has taken the time to prepare a sermon," Ellington said.
When teaching from 2 Corinthians, Mrs. Deen spoke about how God "comforts us in all our troubles." She had needed that divine comfort as she watched her husband, Encil, slowly fade away after a series of debilitating strokes. A retired seed specialist for the UK College of Agriculture, he died in 1990 at age 93.
"There's a purpose in suffering," Utha Deen told the Anchor Baptist class in 2006. "God sends problems for a reason. It teaches us to endure. They make us sympathetic with other people's problems."
Three years ago, Mrs. Deen fell and broke her hip. She went to live with her grandson, Joe Stull, his wife, Michell, and great-granddaughter Grace in their Georgetown home. She was "Grams" to them.
"She went to church with us every Sunday," Michell Stull said. "Even though our church (Grace Christian) was a contemporary church, she got used to it, even though it wasn't her typical Baptist church. ... She actually went to church every Sunday up until July."
After a graveside service, a memorial service is to be held at noon Saturday at Calvary Baptist Church, 150 East High Street. The family requests expressions of sympathy in the form of donations to the church or charity of one's choice.