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One Monticello Life: Shay and Sherrie Gillespie

September 12th, 2010 by

Growing up in a single-parent home, Shay Gillespie never could have dreamed all that he would accomplish in his future. Raised by his mother and grandmother, he was taught to work hard and to trust God to provide everything he needed.

“Growing up we were poor, but we didn’t know we were poor. Back then everyone in the community raised you… and made sure you had everything you needed.” – Rev. Gillespie

Shay Gillespie became a trailblazer, starting at a very young age.

“When I was in the fifth grade I was part of the group that integrated Mitchell Elementary School in Little Rock.” That was in 1965, and previous to this new school, Shay had always attended schools with only African American children and excelled at the top of his class. The new, mostly white school, proved to be a very different experience than anything Shay had ever gone through.

“They put me in speech therapy because they said they couldn’t understand me when I spoke. I remember it was really only black children in that speech class. I said after that I’d never be in a situation where people could say they couldn’t understand me again.”

Mr. Gillespie graduated from Little Rock Central High School in 1973 and then headed to UAM on a baseball scholarship. He graduated from UAM in 1978 with a double major – Physical Education and Speech Education and Dramatic Arts. He also left a legacy as being UAM’s first black sports editor for the yearbook and the newspaper. Later on in life he would become the local newspaper’s first black sports editor as well.

He chose these two majors based on his passions. Physical Education due to his love of sports and his desire to become a head coach. Speech Education and Dramatic Arts was important for him to accomplish due to his experiences in early life and his ambition to never have trouble speaking in public. He points to last week’s One Monticello Life interveriewee, David Ray, as a big part of his life.

“That’s how I came into contact with David Ray. He’s been very instrumental in me doing a lot of the things that I’ve done, like being able to stand up and talk about it.”

After graduating from UAM Shay began seeking out coaching positions.

“It was 1978 and there weren’t a lot of people handing out coaching jobs to black males, so I became very versatile and worked in other areas.”

A year after graduating college, his life made a big change when he needed to call AT&T for assistance with some telephone issues. The repair man sent to his house turned out to be quite unconventional. It was a repair woman.

“I met him when I went to repair his telephone and my life has been busy ever since!” – Sherrie Gillespie

Sherrie was one of 10 children and all were raised to be hard workers.

“We were taught to work for what we wanted.”

She stayed true to that teaching in life, retiring from AT&T in 2008 after 34 years of working many different jobs for the company.  Since she “retired”, she has worked full-time for Head of the Class.

Sherrie recalls becoming an installation tech, and stated that she was the first woman, and the first African American, to hold this as a job.

“It was very unusual at the time to see a woman, much less a black woman, climbing poles and such. When I’d walk into people’s houses to fix their phones, the first thing they’d always ask is, “Do you know what you’re doing?””

Together the couple struck out to not just make a life together, but to make an influential life together. They wanted to help change their community.

They have had many firsts in their lives, such as being the first black man and woman to hold City Council seats in Monticello. Shay served on the council from 1990-1996, and Sherrie was voted in the very next term. She is still on the council today.

Sherrie Gillespie was president of Drew County Little League in the mid 80’s and that was the first year they went to the State Tournament.

The Gillespie’s were also honored as Drew County’s Man and Woman of the year in 2009.

One of the biggest ways they continue to impact lives is through their school and childcare center – Head of the Class.

They opened Head of the Class in 1998. They started out with 36 children and 6 employees. Today, they have 160 children and 45 employees.

“Our goal when we first started was to provide adequate childcare and make sure that we included poor and at-risk kids. Now it’s come full circle because we have all kinds of kids involved in the program.”

The Gillespie’s spoke of four programs that their school takes part in to help any child attend that wants. “We’ve made it as accessible as we can for any child that wants to attend.”

Shay has a special calling to help young boys learn.

“I kind of zero in on some of the guys,” he said, as he talked about the unfair stereotypes today that boys cannot learn as well as girls. He strives to make sure that none of them are allowed to fall behind.

Head of the Class received the Business of the Year Award in 2008.

Head of the Class may not have become quite as successful if it wasn’t for a terrible sickness that caused Shay to stop traveling to Pine Bluff for work. He was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension and blood clots in his lungs that nearly ended his life. It was then that he decided to stay home and run the business.

Sherrie spoke of the 5 hospitals and 3 states, including California, that the disease took them. She said that there were 3 times that they called code blue and couldn’t find a pulse.

“It was during that time that I experienced how good God is, and when it’s too hard for the doctors, it’s just right for God. For him to be as well as he is today, it’s just amazing.” – Sherrie Gillespie

Shay reflected on that time and how it helped further shape his relationship with God.

“It was one of those situations that I had been used to being in control of things, and I wasn’t in control of that. Once I just gave it to the Lord, that’s when I saw a change.”

Today Rev. Gillespie will be installed as Pastor at Mt. Tabor MBC. He said that he never thought he wanted to be a preacher growing up.

“I didn’t think that I wanted to be a preacher… I’ll tell anyone that that decision isn’t up to you. If the Lord wants you, he knows where to find you.”

Shay preached his first sermon in March of 2003 and was ordained as a pastor in January of 2005. The Gillespie’s said that they were very much looking forward to the challenge of accepting the pastor position at Mt. Tabor.

FAVORITES———–Shay —————–Sherrie
Restaurant ———Piggy Sue’s——-Piggy Sue’s
Food —————-Steak & Fish ——–Soul Food
Music —————–All Kinds ———–Gospel
TV Show ————-Old Westerns ——Lifetime
Movie ——————Ali ———————none
Book —————–Bible —————Anything Child-Care Related
                     “And the Little Child Shall Lead Them” by: Shay Gillespie—-both
                         “The Long Shadow of Little Rock” by: Daisy Bates—Shay

3 Responses to “One Monticello Life: Shay and Sherrie Gillespie”

  1. SM says:

    Shay was my son’s Little League coach years & years ago (I’m dating us Shay!) he was always fair and set a great example for ALL the kids!! I’m proud to know him & Sherrie! You both are doing a great job!!

  2. Eric Davis says:

    Congratulations Mr. Gillespie,
    You and your wife Sherrie are just examples of two determined people to affect and change peoples lives in a very positive way.
    By the way, I have heard you speak on radio and I had no problem understanding exactly what you said.LOL.
    Sincerely,
    Eric “Carolina” Davis

  3. Ruby Freeman says:

    Congratulations Rev. and Mrs. Gillespie on the great work you are doing in the Monticello area, and your calling to pastor Mount Tabor MB Church.Blessings and lots of success to both of you as you go forth in your ministry.

    Ruby Freeman

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