Articles & Stories

Madge Carter Fell In Love

With Missionary Work In Lee City

Missionaries Have Touched The Lives Of Many Kentuckians

Editor's Note: Judy Centers of Montgomery, Alabama, feels this article regarding the missionaries of Lee City, Wolfe County, Kentucky, will evoke a great deal of reader response, since they worked in Kentucky for 47 years and surely must have touched the lives of thousands of people. Patsy Woodfin of Mt. Carmel High School provided Judy with photos and the booklet "Pioneer Pastor of the Kentucky Mountain Holiness Association," by Eunice Kirk, from which excerpts have been taken.

By Judy Centers - 2004

The Calling
In early 1929, God spoke to a young Ohio girl named Miss Madge Ellen Carter saying, "Go. I have work for you." She arrived at Mt Carmel in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky with only a pocketful of money, plus a purpose to hold out as long as it lasted. By the time the little money was gone, she had fallen in love with the mountain people and her missionary work. She made a pact with God: "I'll stay as long as You provide for me." He never failed, and she never left.

Miss Madge Ellen Carter, indomitable missionary to the mountain people for 47 years, once said that if she ever wrote a book it would be named On Foot, because there were so many paths up the creeks to be crossed and roads were poor. This photo was taken in the 1940s. (Photo courtesy of Patsy Woodfin, Vancleve, Kentucky)

Miss Mary Paulo, who looked small and frail, proved to be resilient and shared equally in the missionary work for 47 years. She played the organ and accordion while Miss Carter preached. This photo was taken in the 1940s.

(Photo courtesy of Patsy Woodfin, Mt. Carmel High School, Vancleve, Kentucky.)


Her first summer appointment was to Malaga in Wolfe County, with Miss Dorothy Choko and a Mt Carmel teacher. In the fall she was transferred to Lee City. Here her helpers were Misses Minnie Knecht and Ethel Stevens. When summer came these ladies went elsewhere, but a cousin of Madge's filled in and Miss Frances Beard helped for a few weeks. All these changes drove Miss Carter to a desperate prayer. She must have a permanent co-worker, one who could sing and play.
God had begun answering Miss Carter's prayer before she uttered it. At Asbury College a timid young lady from Akron, Ohio, was ready for God's will. A great shining light in the person of Miss Lela G. McConnell of Mt. Carmel crossed her path several times. "Would you have a place in your work for such as I?" Mary Paulo inquired. Miss McConnell's reply letter came stating, "Come. A cabin door is open for you."
On a fall day in 1930, with two well-loaded suitcases weighing her down, Mary Paulo entered the mountains, riding on the old narrow gauge O. & K. Railroad. Coming from the city she could scarcely take her eyes off the fascinating beauties so new to her. She landed at Frozen at 10:00 a.m. But, no one was there to meet her. She, carrying her luggage alone, crept across the narrow trestle spanning the North Fork of the Kentucky River. The two miles from Frozen along the river were a mere path. Grasshoppers sounded to her like snakes in the tall growth. When she heard a bell ringing in the distance she knew it must come from Mt. Carmel. What a joy when the school on the hill came into view! But the river was between. She had heard of the swinging bridge. Somehow she managed to hold on to the jiggly side wires and her two suitcases. They kept her at the school for two weeks of "seasoning" before sending her on to Lee City to try out with Miss Carter.
The Meeting
When Miss Carter caught sight of how frail Mary looked, a mere 96 pounds, her heart sank. "This is no rugged pastor," she thought, never dreaming that Mary would be her devoted helper through 47 years of labor, and even to the end of her life.
When Mary got her first glimpse of the one that was to be her leader, well, she looked again. She was queen-size with a shock of auburn hair, which was neatly curled and braided, but never cut, she had a sagging goiter and drooping shoulders and wore crudely half-soled shoes, looking like wooden ones from Holland. Miss Madge Ellen Carter made a most impressive appearance.
The Mission
Pleas from Lee City parents united with the heavenly vision. In the summer of 1935 the two missionaries canvassed the community for donations. By fall a two-room mission grade school in the heart of Lee City was opened. The property joined the post office and one store. An old dwelling was purchased by faith and on time. This was to make living quarters for the teachers. Two classrooms and a chapel occupied the rest of the building.
Miss Carter was the business manager and kept the records. Tuition began at $1.50, but increased to $2 per month. Teachers averaged $10 monthly. Eunice Kirk recalled, as a teacher, how they would cook a pot of soup beans on top of the heating stove on Saturdays and those beans would last most of the next week.
Heaven alone records the godly influence on the lives of the many students who enjoyed a Christian education during the 32 years the school existed. The school produced a number who have been used in Christian work. Among those were: Bertha Patrick (Patton), Retha Patrick (Moran), Helen Patrick (Hill), Mildred Nickell (Warren), Donald Nickell, Naomi Arnett (Dunn), Charleen Prater (McDonald), Kathleen Wooten (Ebright), and Adrian Kash. All went to Mt. Carmel and most to the Kentucky Mountain Bible Institute at Vancleve, Kentucky.
The teachers were as follows: Misses Lewis and Bitler, Faye Holman, Eunice Kirk, Irene Baird, Mary Powell, Edith Glenk (Powdrill), Teressa Brayton, Margie Foster, Helen Ann Halusehak, and Lorene Clayton.
Miss Carter once said that if she ever wrote a book it would be named, On Foot, because there were so many paths up the creeks to be crossed, and roads were poor. During her first year they carried on services at three stations: Lee City; Helechawa, two-and-a-half miles away; and Rose Fork, three miles in the other direction. For the next seven years the schedule ran as follows: preaching at Lee City on Saturday night, morning and afternoon Sunday schools at Lee City and Helechawa schoolhouse, and night preaching back at Lee City. All this they accomplished with missing only one Sunday for deep snow. Occasionally, they held a service in Greenbriar schoolhouse, another three miles away. They became a trio for eight years by the addition of Miss Minnie Pearl Humphrey (Keyser). Her preaching, teaching and singing abilities united well with theirs.
The missionaries often were called upon to visit the sick and dying. Many a body Miss Carter laid out, while Miss Paulo made the shroud. One time at a hill-top funeral there fell from Miss Carter's lips such tender words of compassion that there was no doubt but that she was divinely inspired.
Joseph H. Smith was coming for an all day meeting. Many guests were expected. How were they to be fed? On the wall of their home hung the motto from Philippians 4:19: "My God shall supply all your needs." Madge added works to her faith and picked blackberries for pies. Singing the doxology over the empty grocery purse proved productive. Fifty cents per week was its allotment, per person. Neighbor Willie Arnett owned the local gristmill. He offered all the fresh ground corn meal they could use. Somehow the food stretched to feed all.

Lee City (Wolfe County, Kentucky) Mission Sunday School class mothers and babies in 1936. Mabel Centers is on the far right, holding James Elzie (Buzz). Photo courtesy of Judy Centers, [email protected]

Sometimes they were low on fuel. The ladies would pick up coal along the tracks. At first this was quite humiliating to city-bred Mary Paulo. They collected it in a pile. Then it had to be carried three-quarters of a mile up to their new home. Sometimes they bartered with a Watson boy to cart it for them. Once as a very special kindness a friend shoved off the train a huge lump of cannel coal right into their yard. They broke it up and it lasted long. Cannel coal is especially hard and easily ignited. It threw out intense heat and once they endangered their new house by putting in too much.
The Devil Tries To Intervene
Miss Carter's preaching against tobacco, liquor, playing cards, and black guarding produced die-hard enemies. Some ruffians were hired to stone the ladies one night on their way home from up one peticular branch. God protected them by directing them like the wise men of old to "depart another way." They picked their way around the hill, through briars and barbed wire fences and made it safely home. As the years passed that very branch produced three who have been greatly used by God.
Miss Carter was teaching adult Sunday School class in the old Lee City church house. A moonshiner had come to sell his product among the young men. Such goings-on disturbed the meeting. Mr. Sank Robbins tried to handle the fellow. By afternoon service at Helechawa schoolhouse, Mr. Robbins and the moonshiner were both armed to settle the issue. Miss Carter was up front teaching the class. When Mr. Robbins rose for the sake of order, the moonshiner leveled his gun on him. Quick as a flash, Miss Carter jumped between, demanding, "Shoot me! I'm ready to die and he's not." Amazed at her courage, the moonshiner dropped his weapon.
Mighty Works
Soon God touched the hearts of many to provide for the two missionary ladies. Rev. Russell Moore of Harrisville, Ohio, was a faithful giver. Truckloads of food and necessities, besides money for expenses, came from God through him. His reward will be great. Mr. Ben McCary brought in so many supplies in his car that Miss Carter prayed the car would not break down.
Sometimes Miss Carter was asked if she had any children. She never did, but there was one she fondly called, "My son, Timothy." Roy Turner was from Breathitt County but was working in New York City and often visited his kinfolk in Lee City. Miss Carter became burdened for him. When he left she sent him a songbook and some tracts. Through these he got saved at the age of 18. When he returned to Lee City she persuaded him to work his way through Mt. Carmel High School and then through the Kentucky Mountain Bible Institute. For years he was a Holiness preacher, mainly in Floyd County. Miss Carter's prayers followed him continually.
There were several outstanding revivals at Lee City. Under Brother L. O. Florence such conviction fell that many men trembled and wept. When Mr. Willie Arnett got saved there was not a dry eye in the house. Lee City being on the headwaters, Red River was used for baptizing.
Mr. Arnett's baptism was special. He came up out of the river shouting, "The prayer of the righteous availeth much."
The Rev. Karl Paulo came to his sister's church to plead for souls. Mr. and Mrs. Kelse Risner were among the converts. Holiness came next. They were led to take tobacco out of their store and give up their secret orders. Oh, what a change! The evangelistic spirit gripped them. They helped the pastor at Rose Fork for a time. The schoolhouse was crowded out until Mr. Risner had to make seats out in the front yard.
Faithful Unto Death
In 1973 Miss Carter became an invalid. Falls broke both hips at different times. With the second fracture Mt. Carmel retired workers' cottage became her final earthly home. There for five years she received all the love and tender care which were her due. She went to meet her Lord in 1978. While her dust remains in the Lawson graveyard at Mt Carmel, her spirit is elsewhere, still preaching holiness.
(This material kindly submitted by Miss Eunice Kirk, 1907-1996, from the memories of Miss Mary Paulo, 1908-1997.)
Editor's Note: Be sure to watch next month for the article on the Centers Family, and discover the effect these missionaries of Lee City had on two little girls.

Judy Centers shares this article with our readers. She invites anyone who would like to learn more about the lady missionaries to visit her website, "Kentucky Missionaries" at or she can be reached via email at [email protected], or 1918 Yancey Avenue, Montgomery, AL 36107.

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