pastor brenda ray_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

WEST PALM BEACH — Pastor Brenda Ray, the first lady and co-pastor of Redemptive Life Fellowship Church in West Palm Beach, said God called her to honor women. As part of her answer to that call, she hosted the first “Five Star” Mother’s Day Honors on Saturday, paying tribute to 10 women.

Collectively, the honorees have overcome strokes and cancer, worked 18 hour days, suffered the loss of a child, or moved across country to get a child away from dope pushers – many while raising children as single parents.

This night, it was their time to shine as they got the royal treatment.

“I’m floored!” exclaimed Juaneva Jordan, 78. She doesn’t know who nominated her. It wasn’t either of her daughters, she said, both of whom live out of state.

Sharolyn LeBlanc, also 78, saw the honor as a blessing in her life. When she lost her only son last year at age 44, living without him was the greatest challenge she had ever faced, she said, and it was her pastors and the church that helped her through it.  Despite her loss, she helps the church and others tirelessly.

So too does Eleanor Simpson-Spann, 74, who also had to cope with the loss of a beloved son. She said she is humbled and grateful to be recognized for just being a mother. “I love my family very much,” she said.

Fern Miles, 66, was a single parent who sometimes worked 18 hours a day to provide for her family, refusing to accept county or federal aid.  She was left to care for a very sickly child on her own and showed dignified strength when her own daughter became pregnant at age 16.

Miles moved across several states after she learned from school officials that her young son’s school had drug pushers in the classroom.

Mothers like these were deserving of the honor, said Angela Rose, coordinator of the event and the church’s social director. Her own mother, Layhunice Rose, 84, a stalwart in the church and community, was among the honorees.

“Seeing all of them honored and blessed and happy – it knocked my socks off. It was just meant to be and the perfect ladies were selected. It was all about giving back,” Angela Rose said.

A total of 34 women were nominated and the Five Star Mothers were chosen by a committee, Rose said. They included Josephine Taylor Allen,  Bettye Collier, Floria Garbutt, Gertrude Gaskins, Juaneva Jordan, Sharolyn LeBlanc, Fern Miles, Layhunice Rose, Barbara Ann Finney Williams and Eleanor Simpson-Spann.  Each received $50, a dozen long-stemmed roses, a “Five Star” award certificate, an oversized gift basket full of perfume, cologne, cosmetics and other delights, plus jewelry and certificates.

The winners will also be treated to an elaborate dinner with the Rays.

Josephine Allen, 69, the first winner to be announced, said she got so many gifts that at first she assumed some were to be shared with the other honorees.  “I couldn’t imagine all of those gifts were just for me,” she said.

“I wish I could’ve given each of you $50,000 each instead of $50,” Ray told the honorees. “One day we will be able to. This is just the beginning.”

The pastor, the mother of two and grandmother of three, said it was necessary to celebrate mothers. “Every mother is a five-star mother to me,” she said. “The Lord laid it on my heart to celebrate and honor them.”

Ray refused to accept a money tree that was presented to her as a “thank you” by the coordinating committee during the celebration. She insisted the money be given to the children of the church or to those who worked behind the scenes.

The joyful celebration took an unexpected turn when Ray learned, at the conclusion of the affair, that her mother-in-law, Earlene Ray, mother of Bishop Harold Ray, of Joliet, Illinois had died. She suffered a heart attack the night before and was hospitalized in critical condition.  She last visited her son and the church during the Christmas holidays, as she did each year.

Ray and her siblings were close to their own mother, Willie Curtis, of Abilene, Texas, who died in September 2006.

She used the occasion to remind her audience to love their mothers unconditionally and to show them affection while “they’re still with us.”

Daphne Taylor may be reached at daphnetaylor_49@hotmail.com.