The year 1949, Robert and Dorothy Harris, already parents to six, found themselves preparing for their seventh child. On May 23 of that year they welcomed their third daughter home. Only this time Dorothy was without a name for the new baby girl. Just then, her “special boy” as she referred to him Joseph, came bouncing in the door from school and announced, “Momma, call her Charlene!” and so she became Charlene Arkana Stella Harris; Charlene after Josephs’ request, Arkana and Stella after her grandmothers.
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Charlene, affectionately known to family and close friends as “Bean” or “Beanie”, would often recount to those who would listen the joys of salvation as a young person at Wabash and later Zion Church of God in Christ. She would have fond memories of the saints and her late pastor, Superintendent M.H “Dad” Hawkins. As a girl she enjoyed participating in the Sunshine Band and Purity Class often sharing memories of her leaders, Mother Mildred Johnson and Bro. Nate Young. She always enjoyed when it was time to travel with the groups to Cleveland, Ohio for the State Meetings on the same bus that would break down on the side of the road year after year.
She regularly attended daytime prayer at the church with her mother while she would be home from school for lunch. Although many times, Charlene preferred playing with the ladybugs she would find under the benches or amusing herself by trying to guess which Mother she would hear ‘moaning in the spirit’ without looking. Every so often, she would feel a nudge from her mother followed by a stern rebuke saying, “Charlene, it’s time to pray. Men ought to always pray!”
One of her most favorite things as a child was traveling with her mother to Windsor, Canada to visit her aunt, Mother Matilda Morton, and playing with her cousins. Charlene enjoyed listening to her uncle, Bishop C.L. Morton and the Mt. Zion Radio Choir. She often recalled while looking at pictures the soul stirring choir songs lead by her Aunt Matilda “Tilly” and the sermons preached by Bishop Morton. At the untimely demise of Mother Morton, Charlene would enjoy hearing her Mother say, “I have to go to Canada and check on my sisters children.” For Charlene, that meant she would get a chance to see her birthday twin, Nancy and play with, as she called it, her “twin” cousin Gwen because they were so close in age.
Her zeal for the Lord carried into her young adult years at Libbey High School. Concerned with setting an example for her peers, she cofounded the “BFK” club (Business For the King) with her friends Jackie and Terry (now Bishop) Cook. She enjoyed retelling the stories of how they would stand on the corner in front of the school witnessing and compelling classmates to accept Jesus as Lord. They were on a mission and she was determined to see it to fruition.
Upon graduating from high school, she furthered her education at the University of Toledo studying bookkeeping and accounting and later Stautzenberger College finishing with an Associate in Business and Computer Management Systems.
Education and hard work were two things Charlene preached to her children, grandchildren and anyone else that would hear. She was big on encouraging members of her family to keep God first, live their dreams and be all they could be. Her years of preaching paid off as she was able to witness with joy a foretaste of those sermons being practiced by her children; she lived to see from her children the following accomplishments: her eldest daughter Antonette “Toni” return to school and graduate after raising her son, her second eldest, Cass, obtain a childhood dream, completing his CDL certification and driving trucks, Dorothy, as she called her, “Boo” own and operate her own hair salon and the baby boy, Harold, achieve success through his collegiate scholarship.
Always a hard worker as her father, Robert instilled, Charlene enjoyed her career in the private and public sector. She worked for the Lathrop Company and then Toledo Hospital. At Toledo Hospital she was assigned to the newest building project, the Harris-Jobst-McIntosh Tower. Year later, when passing the hospital she would remind whoever she was riding with, “I helped to build that building.” She also worked for the U.S Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Ohio and was a court reporter for Judge Carr along with other roles within the Federal Court System.
For a time, Charlene strayed away from her faith falling into a backslidden condition. Uneasy in her spirit about the course her life was on, she decided it was time to make a change. At the invitation of her sister, Mildred, one Friday night she found herself sitting in the pew at Pinewood Tabernacle listening to a sermon of then Elder Arvell Garrett. When sharing her story of God’s reclamation of her life, she would remark of the anxiousness she felt in her spirit and how she felt Elder Garrett was taking too long with the sermon; in fact she would say several times, she would be so restless that she almost jumped out of her seat making the altar call herself. Eventually, Elder Garrett opened up the altar and she was the first in line crying, “Lord Save Me” ; God saved her, filled her with the Holy Ghost and as she would testify, “He delivered me from smoking cigarettes because I was determined to live saved, sanctified and holy!”
After leaving the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Court, Charlene found better opportunities with the Lucas County Metropolitan Housing Authority (LMHA). It was at LMHA her passion for witnessing and soul winning perfectly paired married with her professional worth ethic. As a Property Manager for the Brand Whitlock Homes, Charles F. Weiler Homes and Spieker Terrace she would minister to young women on public assistance encouraging them to get an education, pursue better opportunities to take care of their children, and to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. She would often share with them her testimony of raising four children as a single mother, how God reclaimed her, transformed her life and made her way prosperous and easier.
She would often pick up many young women bringing them and their children to church with her. When they would get into her car with clothes she felt unsuitable for church, she would use it as a teaching moment admonishing them to present to God their best and respect His house. Then she would take them the store to shop, buying them clothes that were more appropriate for church. She would often instruct that every woman needed three things for church: a good pair of stockings, a slip, and a girdle, saying, “You need good support!”
Newly reconverted, Charlene answered the request of her sister Millie and joined Pinewood Tabernacle under the leadership of Bishop Arvell Garrett. While a member of Pinewood, she put into action skills she gained as a candy striper as a teenager joining the Nurses Guild. Like her mother, Dorothy, she enjoyed caring for guest ministers, looking after the ones no one else wanted. She was often asked by Bishop Garrett to make sure they were made comfortable and to fix them her ‘special’ juice when they were finished ministering. She gained such a reputation that every guest preacher would prefer her as their nurse, consistently asking, “Where is Sis. Charlene and is she going to make me her ‘special’ juice.”
She also served as a member of the Women’s Choir and Pastor’s Aide Committee, many times chartering and/or driving the church bus to St. Louis, MO for Bishop Garrett’s Anniversary services at the sister church or to other special functions to accompany him. She served with her sister, Millie, who was President of the local Women’s Department as the Treasurer. One of her favorite things to do at Pinewood was lead devotion and testimony service. She could always be expected to open up devotion with her favorite expression of thanksgiving, “Praise the Name of Jesus” or “Wonderful Jesus, Bless the Name of Jesus” shortly afterward she would belt out her favorite praise song, “So Glad I’m Here in Jesus Name” followed by “Lord I Just Want to Thank You.”
At Pinewood, Charlene grew in her faith and as a disciple becoming a licensed missionary. She helped instruct the Unity Girls as well as becoming an Intercessor leading the Noon Day Intercessory Prayer every Saturday. It was on these Saturday’s that she would carry on what her mother did for her to her grandson, Shaun, whom she affectionately referred to as her ‘Shaunboy’. Recognizing a call and God’s hand on his life, she would bring him with her to Noon Day Prayer, teach him how to pray, admonishing, “There will come a time soon where you will have to know how to call on Jesus for yourself.” She taught him the importance of prayer and how to pray many times by encouraging and others by forcing him to lead the entire prayer service himself.
Her work with her grandson was not in vain, he would go on to make her proud by delivering his first sermon at 8 years old. On May 15, 2005 she sat in pride at the St. James Holiness Church of God in Christ as she witnessed her ‘Shaunboy’ deliver his trial sermon becoming licensed as a minister at age 15. Once more she beamed with pride on August 17, 2013 at the Calvary Church of God in Christ in Cleveland, Ohio as she witnessed her childhood friend, Bishop Edward T. Cook, ordain her grandson as an Elder in the Church of God in Christ.
Charlene relocated her membership with her nephew, Jermaine, to New Bethel Church of God in Christ under the leadership of Bishop Rance L. Allen in 2007. She was elated to return to her roots in the COGIC church retaining her credentials as a Missionary. At New Bethel, she was a member of the Mass Choir as the lead tenor and an honorary nurse. She was commissioned by Bishop Allen to select and lead the Hymns during the Lord’s Supper Worship, a task she thoroughly enjoyed.
In 2009 she began to feel homesick, expressing a desire to return to the church of her birth. Thus she reunited with the now New Life Church of God in Christ under the leadership of Bishop Edward T. Cook. She was a faithful member and would regularly swell with pride as she thought about her Pastor remarking, “My friend Terry, the Bishop!” Shortly after reuniting, Bishop Cook appointed her to the Mother’s Board, a post once held in the same church by her mother Dorothy Harris and grandmother Stella Merriweather.
She diligently and proudly carried out any assignment Bishop Cook would give her as a Mother. When her health began to fail and she could no longer serve with the same strength and vigor, her commitment never faltered. Instead she would instruct her grandson, Elder Strong, by saying, “Come on, we need to find a way to help encourage the Bishop, he has a hard job.” She regularly prayed for him and his wife, even in the middle of the night, phoning upstairs to Elder Strong saying, “Bishop is heavy in my spirit” or “I sense Sis. Cook needs our prayers, come on let’s bombard heaven.” Although her health prevented her many times in the last two years from regularly attending service, she never failed to send her love, tithe, offerings, and special love tokens to church by way of Elder Strong.
At the beginning of the year, 2018, Mother Harris’ conversation began to change dramatically, much more than before. Once again she began to feel homesick, but this time it wasn’t for anything that could be satisfied on earth. As she would often quote of the old saints, she was, “bound for Mt. Zion way out on a hill,” determined that, “if anyone makes it, surely she will.” On December 25, 2018 at 7:17pm., after a lengthy illness, she bid farewell to every earthly sorrow, held her daughter’s hand and took her last breath; closing her eyes in time, waking up in eternity. Her prayers had finally been answered and she arrived safely home.
Left to continue telling the story of Mother Charlene A.S. Harris are her children: Antonette, Cass, Dorothy and Harold; #SuperGrandson and caregiver, Elder Shaun L. Strong; grandchildren: Clarissa, Erica, Keyontae, Stacey, Kortney, and Leslie; two great grandchildren, Zion and Zaire; siblings: Robert Jr., Michael (Patricia), Illene Sue, Sarah, Charles, Martin, Mack (Nicole) and Molly; a host of nieces, nephews and other relatives, special friend, Mrs. Eunice Sumbler of Clarksville, TN.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Robert Sr. & Dorothy Harris; siblings: Benjamin, Patricia, Mildred, Joseph and sister-in-law, Judith.