Giessen, Thelma Fish (Mrs. Charles)


Nov. 19, 1912 - Sept. 29, 2009

Thelma Fish Giessen, 96, widow of the late Rev. Charles H. Giessen, died Tuesday, September 29, 2009 , in Monticello , Arkansas . Until her husband's death in 1972, she served faithfully as a partner in ministry with Rev. Giessen, an elder in full connection in the Little Rock and Louisiana Conferences of the MEC South/Methodist/UMC for forty years. Their ministry together took them to six communities in Arkansas and eight in Louisiana .

Born November 19, 1912 , at her maternal grandparents' home in Waterproof, Louisiana , she was the oldest child of the late George Dudley Fish and Jessie Guice Hunter Fish. After living in Idaho until age five, she and her parents moved to southeast Arkansas where her father owned and operated Fish Drug Company. She attended school in Monticello , Arkansas , and graduated with honors from Monticello High School in 1930.

Having committed herself to full-time Christian service on the mission field, she planned to enroll in Methodist-related Hendrix College , Conway , Arkansas . However, when the local bank holding her family's money failed in 1930, her college savings disappeared. Working and living at home, she attended Arkansas A. & M. College (now University of Arkansas at Monticello ) and received an L.I. degree in 1932 and an A.B. degree in 1934 as a member of the first four-year graduating class at Arkansas A. & M. One summer she attended Hendrix and took Bible classes.

In the school year 1934-1935 she taught at Drew Central High School located on the Arkansas A. & M. campus. She attended Scarritt College for Christian Workers and received an M.A. degree from George Peabody College for Teachers (now part of Vanderbilt University ) in Nashville , Tennessee , in 1938. From 1938 to 1940, she served as a missionary to Japan under the Woman's Division of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. She taught foods and nutrition at Hiroshima Jo Gakuin College (now Hiroshima Jogakuin University ), a Christian school and one of the few educational institutions for young women at that time. However, she was forced to return, on forty-eight-hour notice, to the United States during World War II.

The following three years she worked for the National Youth Administration, supervising a U.S. government program which served disadvantaged young women in 21 counties of southern Arkansas . She was proud that she received the same salary as her male counterpart who supervised a similar program for young men.

During these years she also traveled the state, sharing her experiences in Japan . On the recommendation of several preacher friends, Rev. Giessen wrote a letter, inviting her to speak about missions at his church. Sometime later, on August 11, 1942 , they were married in the First Methodist Church in Monticello , Arkansas . To this union, three children were born and educated. Each of them earned a bachelor's degree at Methodist-related Centenary College of Louisiana as well as one or more graduate degrees in his field of study.

Having been nurtured by a loving, Christian family with strong ties to Methodism, Mrs. Giessen was a life-long member of the United Methodist Church or its predecessor organizations. In WSCS and UMW, she held many leadership roles at the district, conference, and jurisdictional levels. She especially promoted mission training and activities with youth.

For twenty years Mrs. Giessen taught in public elementary schools in various Louisiana communities and volunteered as a "cross- over” teacher when schools in Louisiana were being integrated. Her last eight years as a public school teacher, she taught kindergarten children in a pilot program in Minden , Louisiana . She retired in 1980 and returned to her hometown of Monticello , Arkansas .

In addition to her parents and husband, she was preceded in death by two brothers, Hunter Fish and Dudley E. Fish. Survivors include three children and their spouses, Helen Giessen Guenter and husband Joe of Monticello, Arkansas, C. Henry Giessen Jr. and wife Cathy of Overland Park, Kansas, and Paul D. Giessen and wife Ruth of Tulsa, Oklahoma; two sisters, Mary Fish McCauley of Sherwood, Arkansas and JoAnne Fish Robbins of Hampton, Virginia.; seven grandchildren, Laura Burson Fernandes of Manhattan Beach, California, Alicia Burson Riding of Aliso Viejo, California, Marlene Giessen of Overland Park, Kansas, Rachel Giessen Heyduck of Waco, Texas, and Frances Giessen, Charles Giessen, and Mary Claire Giessen, all of Tulsa; and three great-grandchildren, Natasha Riding, Devon Fernandes, and Hudson Fernandes.

In different places and in different ways, Thelma Fish Giessen lived a life of faithful, joyful service to others and for her Lord. To some degree she was a person “before her time” as demonstrated by her early interest in global issues, the importance of education, peace with justice, the empowerment of women, and the protection of God's creation.

Remembering fondly her days as a missionary teacher in Hiroshima , she was devastated by the death and destruction of the atomic bombs in World War II, and she took seriously the poet's advice: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” With boundless energy and in spite of failing eyesight in later years, she was tireless in helping others and in challenging those around her to find joy in service to others. She had a zest for life and valued the little things done lovingly in His name. She enjoyed a special relationship with children and they with her…sitting on the floor together, exercising and stretching, reading stories, practicing addition or multiplication facts, asking questions, watching insects, fixing snacks, and sharing flowers and vegetables from her garden. But she also was adept at organizing mission projects, teaching a Bible class, preparing delicious and nutritious food, entertaining family and friends, and writing purposeful letters to family and friends around the world. Throughout the years she kept in touch with her many friends who were recognized as national and world leaders in the Methodist Church . She was a devoted wife and a wise, loving mother and grandmother. She is greatly missed.

At the close of the memorial service held Oct. 5, 2009, at First United Methodist Church in Monticello, Arkansas, her pastor, Rev. William A. Eason, said: “In these moments as we gather in memory of a faithful saint who has departed from us, let us hear the words of the Master as he welcomes her home: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.'”

Helen Giessen Guenter, daughter

Source: Louisiana Conference Journal, 2010

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