Dublin First UMC Sunday school class surprises Jack and Ruthanne Key with $25,000 endowment


As an expression of their love and appreciation for “Brother Jack” and “Miz Ruthanne” Key, members of the Dublin First UMC Key Sunday school class and the Dublin, Ga. community pooled their resources to establish a $25,000 legacy gift in their honor. Jack, the former pastor of Dublin First UMC, is one of the longest-serving ministers in the history of the South Georgia Conference.

The Georgia United Methodist Foundation manages the endowment fund, which is to be used to further the Christian ideals upon which Jack and Ruthanne have based their life and worldwide ministry.

Long-time Dublin First UMC member, Bill Brown, Jr., took the initiative to raise the funds needed to establish the endowment. “Jack and Ruthanne are so endearing, so unselfish, and bring such a warm message of the positive Christian side of life,” he said. “By doing this now while they are still alive and vibrant, they have a say-so in giving away money to support the causes they believe in. I started off thinking we would raise the minimum of $5,000, but everyone I turned to wanted to contribute.”

Foundation Senior Vice President Wayne Racz surprised 92-year-old Jack and 88-year-old Ruthanne with this enduring tribute during a visit to the Key Sunday school class. “My connection with the Keys goes back to when I was in elementary school, and Jack served as my pastor,” he said. “It was an honor to be involved in the presentation and the process as they got the donations together for this legacy gift that will continue on in perpetuity.”

“Wayne did so well in presenting what was going on,” Ruthanne said. “He quoted by heart the song by Ray Boltz, “Thank You for Giving to the Lord.”

Jack adds, “The Dublin folks have been so good to us, it’s almost embarrassing. We can hardly believe it. We would like the fund to be used wherever the need is greatest, whether it helps people who don’t have the basic needs of life, or young people who want to go to college, but don’t have the money.”

Jack and Ruthanne have been partners in ministry for 67 years. They married in December 1947, six months after he was ordained in The United Methodist Church and received his first appointment.

Jack is quick to share a testimony on how the Lord has led in his wife’s life.

“Ruthanne was one of six children when her mother died at 34-years-of age in 1932. Her biological father was a school janitor in the depths of the depression,” he said. “She was put in The Soldiers & Sailors Children’s Home in Knightstown, Ind. where she was adopted by a couple from Greentown, Ind. who had lost a daughter in an automobile accident. The minister of her church was instrumental in her going to Asbury University in Wilmore, Ky. We met while I was attending Asbury Theological Seminary, which is just across the street.”

From 1947 to 1988, the Keys shared the love of Christ in churches throughout South Georgia. In five years, Jack served a four-point circuit in Washington County that included Deepstep UMC in Sandersville; Tabernacle UMC and Piney Mount UMC in Tennille; and Bay Springs UMC in Oconee. Next, he was sent to Macon to help erect Hillcrest UMC.

Jack was a highly sought-after pastor. He also served churches in Nashville and Cordele before being appointed to Porterfield Memorial UMC in Albany. His next pastorate was at Vineville UMC in Macon. During this time, he earned a doctor of ministry degree from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. From Macon, the Keys journeyed to Wynnton UMC in Columbus.

In 1983, Jack received his final appointment, which was to Dublin First UMC. They stayed five years before retiring in 1988 during annual conference. “We enjoyed our ministry and loved every place we served,” Ruthanne said.

Traveling to China to teach English in 1988 was a highlight of their ministry. “We were caught by the Tiananmen Square uprising and had to come home,” Jack said. “We also spent a year pastoring an English-speaking church in Guayaquil, which is the largest and most populous city in Ecuador.”

Jack has “retired” four or five times. “I just got through pastoring Evergreen UMC in Dublin in June 2013. I was supposed to stay for a few months, but stayed 14 years,” he said. “I’m now on staff at Dublin First UMC where we visit with folks who are homebound or bedbound.”

Dublin First UMC pastor Rev. Thad Haygood said, “Rev. Jack is a constant encourager. He is my best advocate to the congregation and the community. Ruthanne is always by his side. She is a sweet spirit, a quiet servant, a very knowledgeable teacher of the Bible, and the epitome of a pastor’s wife. Jack and Ruthanne are “doers of the word.” They impact lives by being the presence of Christ. They spend four or five days a week visiting the sick in the hospitals, sitting with the shut-ins, hugging on families, and spreading love wherever they go.

“Jack writes a column for the local newspaper, and they are constantly sharing little nuggets of wisdom with other people. People around here call him “The Bishop of Laurens County.” They just check-in on people all the time, and they are always ready with a scripture or a personal prayer.”

Bill adds, “Jack is the most Christ-like person I have ever met. He is very active at our Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin and identifies with everyone from the World War II era to today’s Iran-Iraq veterans.”

It comes as no surprise that 15 families, so far, have contributed to the Keys’ endowment.

Key Sunday School members, Louie and Ann Curry, were happy to help financially. “Everyone looks to Jack and Ruthanne as the spiritual ambassadors for our whole community,” Louie said. “I imagine Jack has preached at more funerals than any other preacher around, whether it has been in Methodist, Baptist, or Catholic churches.”

“I would like the ecumenical spirit to take hold of the churches and for people to remember us as Methodists with a little “m,” Jack said. “I think the tragedy of churches is that they are so divided.”

Joanne Hilburn was an active volunteer at Dublin First UMC when Jack served as her pastor. “I contributed to the endowment because Jack is the most loveable, encouraging, inspiring, and forgiving person I have ever met,” she said. “I am one of hundreds of thousands of lives that he has touched. He meets you just where you are and makes you feel so special.”

Although Jack received the Harry Denman Evangelism award in 1985 and was named Senior Citizen of the Year by the Dublin Lions Club in 2009, he is uncomfortable with any praise.

“I grew up in the depression, and I don’t want to come through as anything that’s great. My daddy, Morris Key, went four years to school between plowings,” Jack said. “If anything, we have been used, and I want to give the good Lord and other people all of the credit.”

When asked about the legacy they hope to leave behind, Jack replies, “There are two things that are of primary importance. I believe Jesus Christ is who John’s Gospel says He is, “The Word became flesh.” I also believe that the Bible contains the Word of God. It’s a precious book.”

Ruthanne shares, “Our legacy is our Christian faith that lives on through our family. Our three children, Evangeline, Stanley, and Christina, have given us 12 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. Vangie, our oldest, is nearing retirement in Montgomery, Ala. and is sort of an expert on computers. Stanley has been a missionary to Paris, France. He came home and pastored a church near Albany, N.Y. for 18 years. About two years ago, he was called back to Wilmore, Ky. and is now president of The Francis Asbury Society. Christina, our youngest, is going on her 12th trip to Uganda. She has helped raise $750,000 to build an orphanage that has 500 children.”

“I have a burning desire for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be more than casual Christians, and they seem to be turning out that way,” Jack said. “We began to pray for them before they got here, and we gave them all to our Lord. They are all very active in churches and mission work.”

The Keys’ legacy of fighting to expose social injustice and prejudice is being passed on to the next three generations.

“We lived through the civil rights, women’s lib and all these big changes from living in rural communities to Macon, the largest town in our conference,” Jack reflects. “The one thing we feel most is gratitude. Our life has been so good. I’d like to be remembered as a pastor and for people to know that we are genuine Christians.”

Jack closes by quoting a hymn that shines a light on the heart of their ministry, “Jesus is all the world to me: My life, my joy, my all.”

This article was originally published in the Winter 2015 edition of Faith & Money, a publication of the Georgia United Methodist Foundation.