Sarah Reeves leaves a legacy of caring and contribution

Jul. 14, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

Today, generations of people are enjoying the benefits of a Lee County woman who cared enough to contribute immensely for several decades to make her home a better place to grow up and to live. Sarah Frances Crosby Reeves, an extraordinary woman and dedicated citizen who took pride in her community and responded to its needs, died peacefully at home June 26.

Mrs. Reeves and her husband Charles left a legacy through their time, talents and tithes to many people and places, including the Suzanne Reeves Library, the Kiwanis Park, the Boys and Girls Clubs and local scouts organizations. They contributed greatly to the artistic growth and business development of this community and North Carolina.

Sarah Frances Crosby was born May 29, 1919, to the late David and Pearl Myers Crosby of Chester, S.C. She graduated in theater from Brenau University in Gainesville, Ga., in 1939.

While taking advanced courses in theater at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Sarah met Charles Mercer Reeves Jr. of Sanford. They married in 1940 and moved to New York City where her short career in theater was interrupted by Charlie’s service as a U.S. Navy pilot in World War II.

Mrs. Reeves returned to North Carolina to stay with family. Later she and her husband reared three children: Charles M. “Terry” Reeves III, David and Suzanne, on Gulf Street. In 1949 Reeves established Motor Credit Corporation, the forerunner of First Provident Financial, which was later sold to South Carolina National.

REEVES RIDGE FARM

In 1950, the Reeves couple purchased land off Wicker Street and began creating their beloved Reeves Ridge Farm. They celebrated their first Christmas in their large two-story Colonial brick home in 1951.

“Mom thrived as she focused on her role as a mother and her pursuits in farming,” son Terry recalled.

She added a fourth child, John Reeves, in 1954.

While Terry’s father ran the business downtown, his mother managed the farm.

“Mom was graceful and charming even with her Wellingtons…muddy boots…on,” he said.

The four children, along with chickens, geese, one goat, pigs, horses and cattle made for a busy life at home. Mrs. Reeves took her egg route very seriously, according to Terry, who worked as her assistant.

A glimpse at Sanford history is noted in Mrs. Reeves’ handwriting in her 1952 delivery book: Shelton Wicker, 3 dozen eggs @ 65¢ each, ½ gallon milk @ 25¢, ½ lb. butter @ 35¢.

There were also entries for well-known citizens such as Flossie Harris, John Davenport, Eric Cotter, Dr. Oelrich, Jack Kenton, Ed Bynum, Ed Hubbard, O.T. Sloan, A.M. Hubbard, Banks Wilkins and Stanley Winborne.

“Through the years, the house became a home filled with family, books, art and memories from their travels,” David noted.

In 1953 Walter and Cleo Martin moved to Reeves Ridge Farm. They reared their large family there and “assisted with farm and household responsibilities contributed memorable moments, such as gospel music at Christmas,” John Reeves recalled.

“The wonderful life at the farm was due to the extraordinary connection we two families had … a relationship that existed because of mom’s ability to read, understand and relate to people,” John said.

CHURCH

Sarah Reeves served on many committees at Steele Street Methodist Church in downtown Sanford, which later became St. Luke United Methodist Church. Sanford native David Clegg was first touched by her service to the church as a Sunday School teacher in the 1960s.

“I was captivated by Mrs. Reeves’ style and intellect,” Clegg said. “I remember her bringing stacks of large coffee table-sized books of Mesopotamian art to Sunday school to make religious history real to the class. Her theatrical talents brought vibrance and excitement to Bible stories. It was a pleasure to help her carry the books after Sunday School. Even as a child I was a car fanatic and loved her Cadillac with the N.C. ARTS license plate,” Clegg said.

The Rev. Vernon Tyson, pastor of the church in the early ‘90s, said Mrs. Reeves was a leader in the church for many years and became a close friend.

“I went more than once to sit, have conversation, drink iced tea and to pray,” he recalled. “In such moments, we come to know why we all like to sing ‘Blest Be the Ties That Bind.’ Sarah Frances Reeves was a grand lady and lived a beautiful, useful life. The next time I see her, I will tell her so.”

ARTS

Throughout her life, Mrs. Reeves devoted a lot of time and energy locally and statewide to create opportunities for others to experience artistic endeavors.

“Mother was passionately devoted to the arts in a broad and inclusive manner in Sanford, in Raleigh, and in North Carolina,” Suzanne said. “She loved the visual and performing arts. She found great joy in sharing that love with others, constantly encouraging all those she encountered to experience and support art any way we could.”

Mrs. Reeves held leadership positions with the N.C. Arts Council, N.C. Museum of Art, N.C. Museum of History and N.C. Symphony.

The Reeveses played a significant role in the creation of the Suzanne Reeves Library, located on Hawkins Avenue, in honor of Charlie’s mother. Through the Suzanne Reeves Literary Club, she shared her love of books with a group of friends. She was also active in the Lee County Historical Society.

COMMUNITY

The couple believed assisting young people to become better citizens would help secure a better future. Both supported the Boys and Girls Clubs of Sanford.

Bo Hedrick, the clubs’ executive director, said Mrs. Reeves contributed more than time and money, she gave compassion and concern as well.

“Sarah was committed whole-heartedly to the children that we serve,” he said.

Hedrick said during the early years of the club Mrs. Reeves hosted an event at her home to help raise support for our O.T. Sloan facility.

“Sarah was one of those very few that I could call on when I felt there was nowhere else to turn or when I felt a bit beat up by the work around me,” he said. “She would always listen intently, give me her advice (when solicited), and always, always conclude with encouraging support. She would remind me that we were about God’s work of protecting the children and opening their eyes to new opportunities. She was one who embodied many great qualities but mostly strength, intelligence and grace.  To me, she caused the people around her to want to be better people.”

Scout troops were another group Mr. and Mrs. Reeves supported. Girls Scouts camped annually on the farm.

Reeves was instrumental in the purchase of more than 2,000 acres of land that created Camp Durant and Camp Reeves in Moore County. Camp Durant is the primary summer camping facility of the Occoneechee Council with 14 campsites. Camp Reeves provides primitive facilities for unit and district camping and features several large Jamboree-style camping fields.

EDUCATION AND BUSINESS

Mrs. Reeves’ interest in the promotion of higher education began at Brenau University and she served as a long-time trustee there. She and her husband served as members of the Methodist University Board of Trustees in Fayetteville while Reeves continued his various business ventures. After selling Provident Finance Company in 1973, he was a director of South Carolina National, chairman of First Carolina Bank in Sanford, Chairman and CEO of the Atlantic & Western Railroad, and involved in private equity ventures.

Demonstrating his belief in the American free enterprise system, Mr. Reeves offered a generous endowment to Methodist University (then Methodist College) in 1986. This led to the establishment of the Charles M. Reeves School of Business and Economics.

Reeves is described by his son Terry as “a classic entrepreneur who sees opportunities and then works hard to translate visions into realities.”

TENNIS

The Reeves loved playing tennis and installed a court at the farm. Along with well-known tennis players, such as Mary Lou Jones (N.C. Tennis Hall of Fame) and Lindy Mace (founder of the Campbell University tennis team), they invited rising tennis star Michael Yarborough to play with them in 1974 when he was only 14 years old.

Yarborough recalled, “I would play doubles with Mr. Reeves, Mary Lou and Lindy …. I felt honored. Mr. Reeves made me run after all the balls that went over his head.”

After Mr. Reeves died in 1994, Mrs. Reeves asked Yarborough to use the courts to teach tennis, and he continues to offer lessons there.

Eventually Yarborough moved into the guest house where he lived for 16 years.

“Mrs. Reeves became like a second mother to me. I visited her often and valued her attentive ear and good advice,” Yarborough said.

Mrs. Reeves always focused on others.

Yarborough said: “Often she would ask me, ‘How are you doing and how can I help you?’”

DECLINE IN HEALTH

Though Mrs. Reeves became sight impaired about 15 years ago, according to Terry, she continued to feed her mind at every opportunity. Suzanne said “she read voraciously and challenged all who visited her to speak their minds with candor and defend their beliefs without reservation. She was gracious in sharing her own love of life with all who came through her door.”

As Mrs. Reeves’ health declined, Martin family members and others took care of her.

MEMORIAL SERVICE

During the memorial service celebrating Mrs. Reeves’ life at Saint Luke United Methodist Church, her oldest grandson Jimbo Parrott described her: “She was someone deeply connected to her roots who had great pride and sensitivity for where she came from, for her family, her heritage. But through her passion for knowledge, for a deeper understanding of the world around her, she transcended those roots, first by traveling the world with Big Daddy (Charlie), in planes big and small, and later by traversing it again through the lives of her kids and grandkids and of course through the pages of books, so many books.”

The memorial service was followed by lunch at the Reeves Farm with most of the food provided for 200 guests by St. Luke UMC. Visitors enjoyed sharing stories of Sarah Frances Crosby Reeves.

LEGACY

Mrs. Reeves leaves behind four children and their spouses: Terry and Sarah Reeves of Raleigh; David and Lou Reeves of Hendersonville; Suzanne and Frank Brooks of Raleigh; and John and Margaret Reeves of Durham. Surviving grandchildren and spouses include: Jimbo and Elizabeth Parrott; Dave Reeves; Josh and Hillary Parrott; Rachael Reeves; Sarah Madeline Reeves; Caroline Reeves; Rebekah Reeves; and Mercer Reeves, and six great-grandchildren.

Her heritage lives on in the contributions of her offspring, in the experiences of her students from Sunday School, in the lives of young girls and boys, in the activities at Kiwanis Park (where they donated a portion of the land) and in the growth of arts and business.

Mrs. Reeves’ generosity and genius continues to vitalize the lives of the many people she touched and others who will benefit from her contributions. She has left a legacy that will be felt in this community and far beyond for many generations to come.

AlexSandra Lett is a professional speaker and the author of “Natural Living, From Stress to Rest;” “A Timeless Place, Lett’s Set a Spell at the Country Store;” “Timeless Moons, Seasons of the Fields and Matters of the Heart;” “Timeless Recipes and Remedies, Country Cooking, Customs, and Cures;” and “Coming Home to my Country Heart, Timeless Reflections about Work, Family, Health, and Spirit.” Lett can be reached at (919) 258-9299 or LettsSetaSpell@aol.com.