Grissom leaves Wesley House after 40 years

9/20/2006

By Steve Swogetinsky

The Meridian Star
 

MERIDIAN — For once, Nell Grissom was speechless.
 

Well, almost.

 

The first floor of Central United Methodist Church’s sanctuary was filled the afternoon of Sept. 7 as friends, family and well-wishers gathered to honor her 40 years of service as the director of the Wesley House.

 

When she started, she was only going to work at Wesley House for a few weeks to keep it going — she never left.

 

Her passion was always for the children and families that Wesley House served. She has spent many a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day delivering toys and food. And food and clothes are always available, year-round.

 

She became an advocate for abused women and children, and fought the battles of those who could not help themselves.

 

Under her leadership, Wesley House grew into more than 30 social programs, including a medical clinic to serve those in need that is still growing.

 

Long-time board member and former Wesley House board president Maurice Hall remembered the times he wondered how Wesley House could take on one more task.

 

“Nell would always say, ‘God always provides a way,’” Hall said.

 

Grissom recently retired as executive director of Wesley House and the “Celebration of Service” was to recognize her work.

 

Gov. Haley Barbour praised her longevity at Wesley House, helping those in need and the abused. Congressman Chip Pickering’s words of praise that he spoke on the floor of the U.S. Capitol were read. Mayor John Robert Smith announced that the city is renaming the street in front of Wesley House, “Nell Grissom Drive.”

 

One person who watched Nell Grissom in action during many of her long days and nights at Wesley House was retired staff member Rush Gordon.

 

“There are so many stories,” said Gordon, who retired several years ago but never quit going to work. “We used to work all day and all night. You would leave at two in the morning and meet yourself coming back.”

 

Gordon joined Grissom and helped her help others.

 

“One night, we got a call about a family with a newborn baby who didn’t have heat in the house,” Gordon said. “She said for me to take four electric heaters to their house.

 

“We went way up into Russell that night. I finally found the house and got the heaters in there. The lady came back several years later with her children who had grown up, and thanked her.”

 

Gordon remembered that Grissom also used tough love to help some people.

“A lady came into the center, and Mrs. Grissom had literally been feeding her (for weeks). Every time we looked up, she was there for food,” Gordon said. “Mrs. Grissom came out and said, ‘you need to get a job and go to work.’”

 

A little later, someone came in looking for a sitter for an elderly family member. Gordon and Grissom matched them up and the lady went to work.

 

“After about a month, she came in the center, all excited,” Gordon recalled. “She wanted to see Mrs. Grissom. She said, ‘For the first time in my life, I feel like a whole person. I got paid. I’ve bought things for my family and bought groceries. I’m taking care of myself and I just feel good.’”

 

Ginger Stevens followed her mother as executive director at Wesley House. She, her father, Harold Grissom, her sister, Barbara, and her brother, Harold Grissom Jr., spent many an hour at Christmas time helping prepare the red Santa Claus bags for the Wesley House children.

 

Stevens said that the Wesley House mission will live on. “It will continue to serve the needs of the community, and as the community changes, and the needs change, we will, too.” Stevens said.

 

There is no doubt in Gordon’s mind that the work will go on, even if he and Grissom are not there every day. “The spirit is there. If you go there, you will feel it,” Gordon said.

 

At the end of the “Celebration of Service,” Mrs. Grissom talked about the people who helped her over the years.

 

“I wasn’t prepared when I started (at Wesley House), but God said, ‘you are my hands,’” Grissom said. “He has provided for Wesley House. (These years) have been a privilege and a blessing.”

 

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