Marie Tyson Evans was a mother — in all kinds of ways.
Before she died last month, at 84, she was officially a member of the Mothers Board at the Evangelical Full Gospel Fellowship Church in Pleasantville. So that’s why, in her obituary, her family first identified her as “Evans, Mother Marie Tyson.” Later, they called her “Mother Marie” and “Mother Evans” in that short summary of her life.
“It’s a religious title,” explained Hope Gallagher, of Galloway Township, Evans’ daughter, who has a religious title of her own: She’s an evangelist in the same church.
But Evans, who moved to Atlantic City from Fort Benning, Ga., in 1978, also was a mother to 11 children — all of them girls, and all but one now mothers too. All those daughters gave her 25 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren, and lately three great-great-grandchildren, said Gallagher, the ninth among the 11.
Those daughters now range from about 47 to 64 — although the oldest, Shebarbara Snyder, of Atlantic City, died a few months before her mother did. (Another daughter, Charlotte Ray Evans, died as a girl.) And being mother of that extra-large, all-female family was something Evans heard plenty about.
“We would get teased as being a sorority house,” Gallagher said, laughing. “And people would always say, ‘All that estrogen under one roof.’ But there were no catfights. My mother was very strict, very old-school. We would all have to be home, in the house, by 5 o’clock. I think it was because she was a single mother, she tried to protect us.”
Evans was a single mother because after she had her three oldest girls — in three years — her first husband died. Then she got married again and started having more children, only not a boy among them.
“But she got divorced,” said Gallagher, 49. “Our father was in the military, and they were divorced when I was very young.”
After that, this mother moved her younger girls and herself to Atlantic City, where her oldest daughter had already gone to live.
But Evans didn’t change when she moved to a city that was just working its way into its fast-moving, freewheeling casino era. She was what was known as a P.K. — for “pastor’s kid” — and her church was always an anchor in her life.
“My grandfather (the Rev. Robert Lee) was a pastor in Columbus, Ga.,” Gallagher said. “And when I was young, we would go to church all day on Sunday. About 3 o’clock, we’d go under a tent to have some dinner — and then go right back into church after we ate. We’d probably get home at about 8 at night.”
So as soon as she got to Atlantic City, Evans found her family a church, now the Westminister Christian Worship Center. Some of her earliest friends and neighbors in New Jersey were Bishop Luke Witherspoon Sr. and the Rev. Juanita Witherspoon, the bishop’s wife and a minister in the church. Juanita Witherspoon said that even though she wasn’t one of Mother Evans’ daughters, she was always treated as family.
But when Gallagher, who would become her mom’s caretaker, moved out of the city, her mother joined her at the church in Pleasantville. Evans was appointed to the Mothers Board in 2009, at the same time her daughter was ordained an evangelist.
“It’s the idea of being elderly mothers in the church,” said Sylvia Jerkins, the wife of Bishop Fred Jerkins Jr., the pastor of Evangelical Full Gospel Fellowship Church, describing the role of the church women formally called “Mother” there. “If young women need advice, they can come to one of the mothers on the board.”
Sylvia Jerkins knew her friend, Mother Evans, about 20 years, and said she was “always smiling, she always had encouraging words to say to you. She had a lot of children, so she was very experienced with what goes on in life.”
When she wasn’t in church, Evans had several jobs, including in health care at the King David Convalescent Center and in housekeeping at Caesars Atlantic City and the old Sands Casino Hotel.
But maybe her favorite job ever was one she never got paid for. When she was retired from the Sands and a few of her grandchildren went to Atlantic City’s Our Lady Star of the Sea School, Evans started showing up to help out at the Catholic school.
“She came to volunteer in our cafeteria. It was supposed to be maybe two hours a day,” said Sister Shamus Zehrer, the school’s principal. “But for Marie, it became a full-time job. She’d come in at 7:30 in the morning and still be here” when school let out.
“I haven’t met anyone like her — and I have been teaching for 55 years,” added the principal, who said that schedule went on for close to 10 years, and didn’t end when Evans’ own grandchildren graduated. It also didn’t end in 2010, when she was diagnosed with cancer.
And at Star of the Sea, Mother Evans got a promotion in her title — to honorary “classroom grandma,” said her daughter, Gallagher.
Sister Shamus said no matter what anyone called her, “She enjoyed the children, and the children loved her. ... She was just a big loss to us.”
But when it comes to this mother, lots of people can say that — and not just all those daughters.
Contact Martin DeAngelis: