Evelyn Ezell bridged the watershed date of 1956 when women gained full clergy rights. She began pastoral ministry when women only had partial clergy rights, which meant women could attend school, attain degrees, and be ordained as ministers, but the bishop was not required to appoint them. If the bishop did appoint them, they might not be paid proportionately to their male counterparts and did not receive the pension and benefits male clergy received. In addition, women clergy were lay members rather than clergy members to the annual conference — even though they were clergy. Because they were lay members, these women could not vote on the clergy issues that affected them. These circumstances probably deterred some women, but others persevered through this difficult time for female clergy. Evelyn was one of those who persevered.
Evelyn Evermont Saar was born on April 9, 1924, to Stanley E. and Hazel (Corley) Saar. After graduating from King City High School, she took a few classes at Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph, Missouri, while working several jobs in King City and Kansas City. On June 11, 1952, she married Richard Ezell, a Methodist pastor. Evelyn became a licensed minister and accepted a supply pastor in the Methodist church in 1953. She then entered the Approved Pastor’s School at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, majoring in Religion and Administration. In 1957, Richard drove to Dallas, Texas, for her graduation. Until 1960, Evelyn was appointed as associate pastor to Richard’s charges in northern Missouri. From 1960-65, she served Mt. Olive Methodist Church in rural Chillicothe, Missouri and in December of 1964, The Missouri Farmer wrote a short article about Evelyn and that church.
Mt. Olive Methodist Church is located 9 miles northwest of Chillicothe, off Highway 170, near the rural community of Sampsel. It was organized in 1865 in a schoolhouse near the location of the present building. The original structure was erected in 1901 but burned and was rebuilt in 1904. Mt. Olive is modern, with running water, restrooms and a divided chancel. These improvements have been added in the last five years under the pastorate of Rev. Mrs. Evelyn Ezell. Rev. Ezell drives more than 200 miles each Sunday from her home in Stanberry to serve the church…Current plans for the church call for further improvements and a centennial celebration in 1965.
Marcia Moss was a teenager when Evelyn served at Mt. Olive. Marcia remembers Evelyn being a petite woman who always wore high heels. She was also stylish, with shoes, handbags, and accessories to match every outfit. Evelyn encouraged the junior and senior high students to be in a church choir, and they occupied an area right next to the pulpit. “She could have reached out and touched us!” Marcia exclaimed. Marcia’s brother now owns the former Mt. Olive Methodist Church. At times, driving over 200 miles in a day could prove treacherous.
The Rev. Mrs. Evelyn Ezell was uninjured when the car she was driving overturned Sunday morning on State Route 170, and she could continue to conduct church services at Mt. Olive. The accident occurred at 8:45, seven miles northwest of Chillicothe, on a section of road that was recently oiled and on which rain had fallen that morning. The State Highway Patrol said Mrs. Ezell was driving west. The 1962 Valiant station wagon ran off the road on the right side, went into a grader ditch, came out again, went to the left side of the highway, and overturned. The vehicle…was extensively damaged.
One wonders if the long drive and this accident had any bearing on Evelyn returning to associate status. “Mrs. Evelyn Ezell has resigned from her church in the Chillicothe District and will fill in and help Rev. Richard Ezell with the Stanberry-Darlington charge the rest of this year.” She continued as associate pastor in this capacity until 1967. She was the bookkeeper at their businesses, R & L Truck Lines and R & E Enterprises, and the bookkeeper for K. M. Bakery in Stanberry until 1976. From 1972 until 1980, she aired a five-minute radio broadcast three times a week over KNIM radio in Maryville, reporting the happenings in the Stanberry community.
When Richard died on Valentine’s Day 1985, Evelyn returned to active ministry serving Wesley Chapel UMC in Harrison County, UMC of Pattonsburg, and UMC of Skidmore. A story was shared with Evelyn’s daughter, Joyce, regarding her time at Wesley Chapel. A young mother said her three-year-old daughter was running around the pulpit while Evelyn was preaching. Evelyn just continued as if nothing unusual was happening!
In 1993, Pattonsburg (where Evelyn was serving at the time) flooded so severely that the town eventually had to be moved. Evelyn and her pets rowed out in a boat to higher ground. The State Highway Patrol radioed the Harrison County Sheriff, who contacted her grandson to come and get her. He left work, rescued her, and took her to Joyce’s house in Albany. When Joyce took Evelyn back to Pattonsburg, the water had receded enough that they could get to the parsonage in a four-wheel drive pickup. Unfortunately, the water in the basement was just below the furnace’s floor grates. Joyce says it felt funny to see it and realize how close it came to being in the living quarters.
In addition to being a victim of the flood, Evelyn was a post-flood volunteer helping others get needed supplies and offering pastoral care during that trying time. Evelyn received this touching note:
I want to thank you and any of your people who have helped me in any way. You will never know how much I appreciate what you have done for…me. I cried on your shoulder because I was so sick and didn’t know what to do. I have never had help before. I have always tried to help everyone else. I am so grateful for God’s people like you all. So many of us would not have had much without your help and concern during the flood and since returning home.
Evelyn created a scrapbook about the flood with pictures, thank you cards, and letters (many containing donations) from California, Oklahoma, Texas and many other states. Groups from near and far came to help with flood clean-up, and Evelyn made many new friends. One group came from Abingdon, Virginia. Three years later, in 1996, Evelyn retired as a Methodist pastor.
In addition to pastoral ministry, Evelyn was an active volunteer and participated in many activities and organizations. She served as an active member, board member, or volunteer for clubs and organizations such as Stanberry Chamber of Commerce, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, 4-H, Community Betterment Organization, Gentry County Federation of Republican Women, United Methodist Church, General Federation of Women’s Club, Inc. of Missouri
Evelyn was very proud of her 73-year membership in the American Legion Auxiliary. Every time she and Richard were re-appointed by the Conference, she would transfer her membership. She held every office and chairmanship at the local unit and district level and worked her way up in the state to be Department President in 1973-74. She held several offices in the Third District for years after being Department President. She also had a chairmanship in the National American Legion Auxiliary.
She was the VA Hospital American Legion Auxiliary representative for the Eisenhower VA facility for about fifteen years. One of her duties was to oversee the Christmas Gift Shop for the veteran patients. This involved helping them select gifts for their families and ensuring they were wrapped. Even though it was a lot of work, Evelyn thoroughly enjoyed managing the gift shop.
Evelyn died on November 23, 2020, at the age of ninety-six. One wonders how Evelyn celebrated when full clergy rights for women were granted by the General Conference in 1956. However, Evelyn’s tenacity during a challenging time for female clergy is admirable and cemented her place in history in the Methodist Church in Missouri.