Rutledge native Kermit Styron has served 18 years as a jail minister

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 12, 2005

Kermit Styron recalled when he marveled at the words coming out grandchildren's mouths:

"We can't go to sleep they'd say," Styron said. "And it would be 10 or 11 at night. I'd tell them you get up at 4:30 in the morning and then see how early you get to bed."

During the era of Styron's youth there were no radios or television so staying up well past dark made little sense. Had you wanted to catch a program or read a book, your body wouldn't have been willing. A farmer for much of his life, Styron said working the fields made sleep a welcome relief at the end of the day.

"When the sun come up, we knew it was time to get up. When it went down, it was time to go to bed," he said.

Styron was born in 1918 and has lived in Crenshaw County all of his life. He had a younger brother, Barney, who died last year at the age of 80. His parents were Tom and Ida May Styron. His father died when Styron was just 10-years-old.

"He was tall, six-foot, and slender," recalled Styron. "He died of an engorgement of the heart and liver. He and his brother Benny owned a sawmill together. They each had 80 acres of land and lived right by each other. We were all close."

A native of Rutledge, these days he keeps himself busy with frequent yard work, monthly meetings with his fellow Gideons and a weekly trip to the county jail with Ronald Davis and Rev. Maria Simmons.

Styron has been a jail minister since 1986.

He learned of the program at his church, Siloam Baptist. One Sunday, a former prisoner came to both Siloam and Chapel Hill Baptist and told about those who desperately needed salvation in the county jail. Styron was one of the first volunteers to go minister.

"I remember they told us not to wear a suit or tie, because they (the inmates) didn't like that," he said.

He also recalls feeling apprehensive.

"I was scared to death," he said. "I mean these were criminals. They'd done all sorts of bad things. But there were maybe three or four others who went with me, so I wasn't alone."

For the most part, Styron said the inmates accepted him and his fellow ministers. Souls were saved, testimonies were delivered and Bibles were handed out to those who desired the Scripture. The highlight was two years ago when the county moved the inmates into the new jail.

"We had over 26 people get saved," Styron said. "10 of those were women. I can't remember how many who re-dedicated their life to Jesus."

Styron has been a member of Siloam Baptist Church since 1936 and has attended the church all of his life.

"My wife and I both accepted Christ on the second Sunday of September in 1936," he said.

He and his wife, Thelma, were married for 54 years. She was one of seven sisters.

"I never thought I'd marry that woman," Styron remembered with a smile. "One day I just saw her and she looked nice. She'd grown up and was pretty. Next thing I knew we were in love and getting married."

Thelma died in 1990.

"She was good wife," said Styron.

One source of pride for Styron is the three children he and Thelma shared. There's Gerdon, Benny and Barbara. Gerdon drove a bus for 38 years with Trailways and never once was involved in an accident. All told, he had logged over two million miles on the road before his retirement. Benny is also retired, from the railroad, and Barbara works at Wal-Mart in Boaz.

And the Styron household is a big one come the holidays. Styron has 11 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandsons.

Although he does own a television now, Styron said the only channel he watches is TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network).

"I'll turn it to the weather occasionally. All the other is just junk," he said. "Some of what is said and some of what is shown should be outlawed."

The world has changed greatly in his 86 years, said Styron. Some for the better. Some for the worst.

"Cars were built better back in those days, but you couldn't get that many miles out of the motor," he said. "There have been lots of changes. I remember working for 25 cents a day in 1931. In 1933, I worked for $8 a month and that included a house and a garden."

He also finds a person's obsession with weight loss amusing.

"We didn't worry about gaining weight back then, because we burned it all off during the day," he said.