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Hester, Herschel Odell H.O. comment (0)

December 10, 2009

Retired Alabama Baptist leader Herschel Odell “H.O.” Hester died Dec. 2. He was 97.

Director of the then Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions’ (SBOM) office of special missions (1961–1977) — a position jointly funded by the then-Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) and the SBOM — Hester is best remembered for his work in race relations.

He was one of the key people in starting the SBOM’s Human Relations Conference held annually at Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega, which focuses on racial reconciliation.

He also preached at the dedication service of the rebuilding of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, on June 7, 1964, after it was bombed Sept. 15, 1963.

Billy Nutt, retired director of the SBOM’s associational missions office (now associational missions and church planting, which includes the position Hester held), worked with Hester during his time at the SBOM.

Hester was a “pioneer in racial reconciliation between National and Southern Baptists,” Nutt said.

“During the days of the civil rights movement, H.O. was able to move among blacks and whites — often times in black pulpits,” Nutt said.

“The No. 1 thing on his agenda was (building) race relations. He played a major role in keeping communication among white and black Baptists opened at the leadership level.”

His SBOM role also included work with Native Americans, the hearing impaired, the developmentally challenged and others.

A native of Colbert County, Hester graduated from Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Hester served as pastor of Berney Points Baptist Church, Hoover, in Birmingham Baptist Association; Avoca Baptist Church, Avoca, Ind.; and First Baptist Church, Dania, Fla., before landing his nearly 20-year pastorate at 85th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham (now Deerfoot Baptist Church, Trussville).

During his time at 85th Street (1942–1961), Hester served on the Alabama Baptist State Convention’s board of ministerial education (1945–60), managing the ministerial assistance fund for Howard. He also received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Howard.

After Hester’s retirement from the SBOM in 1977, he served as interim pastor at 18 churches in Alabama and North Carolina. He also penned an autobiography in 2006 called “My Day: Memories of an Alabama Baptist Minister.”

Hester is preceded in death by his wife of 67 years, Annie Mae.

He is survived by two children — Jerry Herschel Hester and James Michael Hester; 10 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

Visitation for Hester will be Dec. 12, 10 a.m., at First Baptist Church, Montgomery, in Montgomery Baptist Association. A memorial service will follow at the church at 11 a.m.

At 3 p.m., another memorial service will be held at Deerfoot Baptist and a burial service will follow at 4 p.m. at Jefferson Memorial Gardens in Birmingham. (TAB)

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