Trio of elders mentored generations of blacks in Elkhart

Theodis Hadley, Eula Young and Floretha Robinson all died within a few days of each other.

Posted on Aug. 7, 2014 at 7:45 p.m.

ELKHART — All three came from southern states and settled into new lives in Elkhart decades ago.

And once, they started establishing their own roots, the three — Floretha Robinson, Eula Young and Rev. Theodis Hadley — all began welcoming other African-Americans who were choosing to call Elkhart home.

Beginning Friday, Aug. 8, some of those who were welcomed by them, along with many others, will say goodbye in three separate funeral services at Canaan Baptist Church on Elkhart’s south side.

All three of the longtime church members died within four days of each other.

The Rev. Theodis Hadley, regarded as the premier African-American pastor in the community, died early Friday morning, Aug. 1, at his home at the age of 93.

Hours later, the church’s longtime choir director, Eula Young, 86, died at her residence.

Three days earlier, Floretha Robinson, a longtime member of the church and a member of the church’s missionary society, died at the age of 86.

“That was just a tremendous loss within a matter of three or four days,” said Curtis Brown, a deacon at Canaan Baptist Church.

Pastor McNeal Stewart, who will oversee services for all three, said he got to know them over the years and said their desire to help newcomers went far beyond just delivering a welcome cake.

What started out as simple insights into the city and tips about good fishing spots eventually turned into lifelong friendships, Stewart said.

“They were the community builders that helped people feel connected to Elkhart in a special way through those times when there was a lot of racial oppression.”

“They were all very influential in helping people come to get settled,” he said.

Those welcoming gestures came in the midst of an influx as African-Americans from southern states were attracted to the area by jobs with Miles Laboratory, the recreational vehicle industry and a handful of musical instrument makers.

Hadley was born in Alabama and served as a pastor in Michigan before setting in Elkhart more than 30 years ago.

Robinson, also born in Alabama, arrived in the 1960s. In addition to her church work, she served as a daycare provider and a den mother for the Cub and Boy Scouts of Elkhart and Jimtown.

Young moved to Elkhart as a child with her mother in 1944 from Florida. She was a longtime choir director and participated in the missionary society, a group which worked to check on the well-being of other church members.

Young also worked as a nanny and homemaker for many well known families in the community, said Wanda Young, a daughter-in-law who is married to Clifford Young.

The Young and Hadley families grew up together and were close, often sharing Sunday dinners together, Wanda Young said.

“It’s kind of been an ongoing joke that God’s chariot going home is going to be pretty full this week,” said Wanda Young. “He’s got some warriors going up there.”

■ Calling hours for Floretha Robinson were set for Thursday night at Hartzler-Gutermuth-Inman Funeral Home and an hour prior to services at noon Friday, Aug. 8, at Canaan Baptist Church, 933 Fieldhouse Ave, Elkhart.
■ Calling hours for Eula Young will be an hour prior to the noontime services set for Monday, Aug. 11, at the church.
■ A musical tribute and visitation for The Rev. Theodis Hadley will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. Additional calling will be an hour before the 11 a.m. services on Saturday at the church.

Deacon Brown, who moved to the area from Louisiana in 1968, said the welcoming nature of Hadley, Robinson and Young boosted what was already an emotional tie for many through geographical roots.

“It was just like a family because we all were southerners,” Brown said.

City council member Rod Roberson reflected on the passing of the three church members Monday night, suggesting the community — in just a matter of hours — “had lost a generation of mentors to a lot of children.”

“It’s like a generation that is starting to move on,” he said.

While Hadley might have cast a larger shadow, the other two, in their own way, “spoke volumes to the way to raise children and be present in the community in multiple different ways. Even if you didn’t know them, you’ve been impacted by something they’ve done,” Roberson said.


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