Rev. Daniel Keener (Brother Chris) Christenberry, 94, of Bay Minette died at home on Sept. 18, 2013.
He was born Feb. 11, 1919 on the Christenberry family farm in Stewart, Ala., the eighth child (six boys and seven girls) of Daniel Keener Christenberry Sr. and Eula Ethel Duncan Christenberry.
In 1937, Chris graduated from Akron High School in Hale County, Ala.
With the help of a scholarship from Sears Roebuck, he attended Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), where he graduated in 1941 with a bachelor of science in agricultural education. In 1952 he received his master’s of divinity from Duke University.
Chris earned a master’s degree in counseling and human development in 1979 from Troy State University, and certification in criminal justice in 1983 from Southwest Alabama Police Academy.
In 1940, the summer before he graduated from Auburn, Chris gathered with about 100 other students at the Methodist Youth Caravan Training Camp in Arcadia, Mo. There he met Mary Ellen Thaxton among the student delegation from the University of Texas.
Chris and Mary Ellen were assigned to the same team and appointed to work with youth for one week in each of eight churches in the Kansas Conference of the Methodist Church.
Both Chris and Mary Ellen have said, “We met in Missouri and fell in love in Kansas.” By the end of the summer, they decided they would spend the rest of their lives together.
After graduation from Auburn in 1941, Chris taught vocational agriculture at Newville High School in southeast Alabama, but for a few months. In October 1941, he was drafted into national Civilian Public Service for non-combat duty.
On Dec. 31, 1941, Chris and Mary Ellen were married at First Methodist Church in Mason, Texas. During their honeymoon, Chris and Mary Ellen were delighted by telegraphed orders received for an early transfer to Magnolia, Ark.
During World War II, Chris’ assignments included U.S. Park Service, building the Blue Ridge Parkway just north of Mt. Mitchell around Little Switzerland; U.S.D.A. Soil and Water Conservation, Camp Magnolia, Magnolia, Ark. While there, Chris volunteered himself for minimum-diet experiments to help the U.S. develop a food source that could rapidly be made available to war torn Europe; Assistant director, Lynchburg State Colony (now Central Virginia Training Center, a long-term home for the mentally ill). Chris was coach and manager of the baseball team there, which included both employees and patients. Paraphrasing Walt Whitman, Chris agreed, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — The American Game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.” While at Lynchburg, Chris volunteered for another portion of the government’s study to develop rapidly deployable food supplies by taking a vaccine for tularemia, also known as rabbit fever. On Feb. 15, 2009, Chris happily declared, “I haven’t developed tularemia yet.”; Director, Camp Belden Unit, U.S. Department of Forestry, Feather River Valley, Belden, Calif. His assignment was to fight forest fires around the Plumas National Forest, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of north central California. He was also tasked to close down the camp after the end of WWII.
Chris was honorably discharged from Civilian Public Service after 4½ years of dedicated service. While in CPS, Chris forged a connection with the Brethren Service Committee, which played a significant role in Chris’ and Mary Ellen’s next move to Newport News, Va. to work with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). Starting in 1946, Chris was the veterinary supply agent for the livestock branch of UNRRA under the Marshall Plan to replenish the livestock in war torn Europe after WWII. Chris examined a lot of U.S. mules to verify they were healthy, and helped load them aboard ships for the Atlantic Ocean crossing.
While working for UNRRA, Chris entered Duke University School of Divinity and accepted his first appointment to a five-church pastoral charge with the Methodist Church, on the South Halifax Charge in the Virginia Conference.
Following this appointment and after the UNRRA work was complete, Chris, Mary Ellen and their two children moved to Efland, N.C., to complete his studies. While at Efland, he served the Orange County Charge of five churches, closer to Duke University in Durham N.C.
In 1952, Brother Chris and Mary Ellen returned to Alabama to continue his ministry. From 1952 to 1993 Chris served the following eight churches in the Alabama–West Florida Conference of what has become the United Methodist Church: Centreville Methodist Church, Grove Hill Methodist Church, Brundidge Methodist Church, Ferry Pass Methodist Church, Pensacola, Normandale United Methodist Church, Montgomery, Ashland Place United Methodist Church, Mobile, First United Methodist Church, Bay Minette and Perdido United Methodist Church.
Chris’ official ministry providing pastoral care spanned 52 years. During his ministry his congregations saw the highest percentage membership gain in the conference.
He held many pastoral and leadership positions within the Alabama-West Florida Conference, including: Board of Missions and Church Extension, Board of Education, Board of the Ministry, co-chairman, Committee on Investigation, chairman, Social Concerns, Evangelism, and head teller for the Election of Delegates.
Chris’ many awards and exemplary activities include: Mason, more than 50 years of service, elected Citizen of the Year (1985) for service to the children of Baldwin County, elected Man of the Year (1987) in Bay Minette, Rotary - actively started effort to establish the Bay Minette Veteran’s facility, Lions Club, awarded the Paul Harris Fellow in Rotary International (1987), Baldwin County High School Football team chaplain for 23 years, voted a member of BCHS Hall of Fame, recognized by the Alabama governor and state legislature “For Creative Leadership and Service in Baldwin County,” author and researcher, “Psycho-Social Stress In The Cardiac Care Unit,” which was presented to medical professionals in Gadsden, Dothan, and Mobile, author and researcher, “Death & Dying,” presented to nursing professionals in Biloxi.
Adult leader and troop sponsor in the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of America, president of many PTAs, president of the Pensacola District Ministerial Association, Teacher of the Year in 1981-82 at Faulkner State Community College, elected Lifetime Secretary of Auburn University’s class of ’41, Wesley Foundation vice-president for two years and president his senior year Auburn University, initiated into three scholastic honorary fraternities at API/Auburn U.: Pi Tau Chi-students active in religious pursuits, Alpha Zeta and Kappa Delta Pi, Baldwin County United.
Chris worked as a counselor, teacher and chaplain at Faulkner State Community College in Bay Minette from 1977 to 1982. He joined the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy working at the Baldwin County Jail.
Subsequently Chris worked in community outreach throughout the county. From 1982 to 1986, Chris led programs supporting the Alabama Sheriff’s Youth Ranch, organized neighborhood watch programs and implemented drug resistance and awareness programs.
Chris completed his training when he was 63, setting a record at that time as the oldest person ever to graduate from the Southwest Alabama Police Academy.
Daniel K. Christenberry was a devoted husband to one beautiful woman, Mary Ellen Thaxton Christenberry, who in return, devoted herself to him. Together they shared a beautiful, engaged and authentic life, rich in real, loving relationships, and blessed by God.
His physical presence in our lives will be keenly missed. He is now soaring with the Eagles and the Angels, and we will rejoice when we meet again.
Chris is survived by his wife of nearly 72 years, Mary Ellen Thaxton Christenberry; one brother, Curtis C. Christenberry (Eva); nine children, Daniel K. Christenberry, III (Jenny), Deirdre Thaxton Christenberry, Lamar Thaxton Christenberry (Rebecca), Emily C. Douthat (Jim), Rebecca Ellen Christenberry, Mary C. Lott (Gus), D. Paul Christenberry (Amy), Samuel P. Christenberry (Camille) and Stephen Karl Christenberry; fourteen grandchildren, Conrad West, Laurie C. Harless (Kenneth), Mark Douthat and Anna C. D. Stockman (Manny), Carol Ortiz and José Ortiz and Adriana Ortiz, Gus K. Lott (Sarah) and Melissa C. Lott, Daniel Christenberry (Meredith) and Lucy Christenberry, Andrew Christenberry and Hannah Christenberry and Macy Marie Christenberry; five great-grandchildren, Haley Harless and Autumn Harless, Logan Thaxton Lott, Evelyn Douthat and Lamar Lott; many loving nieces, nephews, cousins; and friends.
Funeral services will be held Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, at 3 p.m., at the First United Methodist Church, with the Rev. Ed Deabler and the Rev. George Sedberrry officiating. Burial will follow at Bay Minette Cemetery.
The family will receive friends Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, from 1 until the 3 p.m. service time at the First United Methodist Church.
In lieu of flowers the family requests memorial contributions be made to the First United Methodist Church Building Fund, P.O. Box 338, Bay Minette, AL 36507.
Arrangements by Norris Funeral Home, Bay Minette.