James Shepherd was attending high school in Paden City, West Virginia, when he first began hearing God’s call to a spiritual life. That voice within brought about a change that would direct his life for more than half a century.
It began simple enough by donating time at their church, Saint Paul United Methodist. Before long, he was using lesson plans for teaching youth groups on Sunday mornings. His actions at school made him the unofficial homeroom chaplain in charge of leading prayer on different occasions.
Life began for Shepherd at Wetzel County Hospital in New Martinsville in 1944. He grew up in Paden City with two sisters and a twin brother, who was five minutes younger. The home of his youth, built in 1906, once used overhead gas lights. There was a small garden out back, but the biggest vegetable patch was a couple of miles away at Grandmother Stewart’s.
“The small garden we had at home pales when compared to the one our grandmother had,” Shepherd said. “Besides the work Bill and I did at home, there was more waiting at Granny’s. She loved raising turkeys, chickens and a big garden, but it was Bill and I who stayed busy cleaning up after those birds and taking care of her garden. When it came time for fall canning, there was enough food put away to last the entire winter.”
When time permitted, Shepherd enjoyed swimming at the pool in Bruce Park, unorganized neighborhood sports and hunting squirrels and rabbits with his three-shot 20-gauge Hawthorne bolt action shotgun from Montgomery Ward.
“We organized neighborhood hockey teams when winter froze the old Mill Pond,” Shepherd said. “The pond was located behind Paden City Pottery, and we used their discarded saucer rejects for pucks. Even without ice skates and using homemade sticks, the games were fierce.”
With the nearby Marx Toy manufacturing plant, Shepherd can only wish he still had those beautiful Marx Toys his father placed under the Christmas tree.
Grades 1-12 for the Shepherd kids were all in the same building a few blocks down the street. Their father thought the walk would be good for them, so for the next 12 years they all dressed according to the weather and walked to school. While attending high school, he somehow managed to maintain a newspaper route.
“I probably graduated 30th in my high school graduating class of 1962,” Shepherd said. “That was the year 29 seniors received their diplomas. I played right guard for the football team that won four games during my senior year. I enjoyed belonging to the Civil Air Patrol because of the occasional plane rides. That senior year, I also discovered God’s plans for me beyond high school.”
After high school, the two brothers lived with an uncle to attend West Virginia State at Institute for two years. After graduating, Bill decided on another course of study while James majored in religion and philosophy at West Liberty College near Wheeling. After graduation, he taught grade school for two years to pay college bills. In 1969, he enrolled in Methodist Theological Seminary in Delaware, Ohio. Four years later with his degree, he became a circuit pastor for eight churches within a hundred square miles of Hundred, West Virginia. In addition to his spiritual obligations, he also served as Wetzel County Commissioner for a few years.
“For 11 years, I pastored eight different churches,” Shepherd said. “One was once a month, two were every Sunday, and four were twice a month. Some Sundays were more hectic than others, but I made it work. Next I went to Ashby, West Virginia, where I pastored two churches for 10 years. That was followed by five years at Steele Memorial in Barboursville, where I bought a home. My last assignment ended after nine years at Oak Hill United Methodist because of a heart attack. We then returned to Barboursville.”
While singing in the choir at West Liberty College, Shepherd fell in love with a cute girl in the soprano section. He proposed on Valentine’s Day of 1965. They were married in 1967 in Mary Lou’s hometown of Cadiz, Ohio, and honeymooned at a lodge on Atwood Lake, Ohio. They have one daughter, Amy, and two grandchildren.
“I attempted golf until I damaged my shoulder,” Shepherd said. “Running after grandkids seems to be our forte, and we enjoy the active life style they perpetuate. I enjoy reading a good mystery, especially anything written by Clive Cussler.”
Shepherd looks back with satisfaction on his years as a church leader. He says that one of the most difficult things to accomplish was finding enough time in a day while avoiding stress and burnout.
Clyde Beal seeks out interesting stories from folks around the Tri-State. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.