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County flock loses its shepherd

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If there was anyone that personified the spirit of Madison County, and at the same time the definition of love, it was Lanier Stevens.

One of his best friends, John Hardy, said he was an individual that was loved by everyone, which was pretty unique, and that Madisonville lost a great Christian gentleman.

“Usually, there’s somebody that doesn’t like you, but I’ve been here 80 years and never met anyone that didn’t like Lanier,” he said.

The 76-year-old Church of Christ pastor died Sunday afternoon. His son, Jon Stevens, said his father passed following worship service and fellowship at his church, Midway Church of Christ.

“He was the definition of a servant,” Stevens said of his father. “For the last 52-55 years, he has been a Church of Christ pastor in the area. He was the county’s preacher. You think about someone that loves the Lord, and wants you to love the Lord, it was him.”

Stevens was in every sense a pillar of the community, and anyone that knew him would agree. Even the city of Midway declared May 24 as Lanier Stevens Day.

Wade Phillips of 3in1 Ministries said Lanier was a pastor’s pastor, and the community owes him a debt that could only be repaid “if we pick up the torch he carried and continue his legacy of loving people.”

But it wasn’t just through the church that Lanier showed his love; his daughter, Karen Altom, said he was loving on a personal level, too.

“He was my go-to guy; I was fortunate to be the only daughter,” she said. “He was a jack of all trades — he could do anything, and I always believed he could do anything. He was the best daddy a little girl could have.”

Altom said her father also was a mailman, and she rode with him on numerous occasions.

Phillips said Lanier was a friend he loved very much.

“I loved his drive for helping people who were in need,” he said. “He always gave the best of himself for others even if that meant him putting his self on the back burner.”

Altom said Lanier was someone who was fun just to be around.

“There was this truck he had, and he would stick a coin into the radio, and then had me believing it was a magic radio, because it would give me money if I banged on the dashboard,” she said. “When I turned to look out the window, he’d stick another coin in there. He always made things memorable.”

Jon Stevens said his father loved everybody, and even if he didn’t know you, when he met you, he loved you too.

“He was the best role model, and the best influence in my life,” he said.

Altom called him a knight in shining armor.

“When my husband Wes and I were building our home, I was pregnant with our first child, and between the time we closed on the home and began construction, the L.A. Earthquake hit, and lumber costs rose 40 percent, and we could no longer afford to build our house,” she said. “I called daddy, and he said don’t worry about it. He and my father-in-law Harold handled the rest of the construction.

“Those stories go on and on,” she said. “He would do anything for anybody.”

Jon said Lanier would give away his last dime.

“What he wanted more than anything is for people to know the Lord and for all of us to just unite as Christians, not worrying about unimportant stuff,” he said; even though Lanier had battled some health issues over the last 15 years, “he kept plugging away.”

Writer and business owner Gala Nettles said that if Lanier didn't “marry ’em, he baptized ’em or buried ’em or preached to ’em or delivered their mail — or wrote songs about ’em.

“He was diabetic and could be a little devilish with that diet,” she said. “He loved a Reuben sandwich and devoured them at Walkers. (Owner) Angela (Culbreth) said they may have to change the name to the Lanier Rueben.”

Jon said that his father’s passions, aside from Madison County, also included fishing, and especially playing golf with his boys.

But in addition to those passions, Lanier was an exceptional gospel singer, even performing with an a capella group Sounds of Joy Quartet.

“He had more than 22 albums of gospel music,” Altom said. “The only time he wanted to travel was with the quartet.”

Jon Stevens said he father toured the country spreading the gospel through song.

Phillips said that Lanier’s favorite saying was “if you ever leave Madison County you were just camping out.”

He also said that Lanier was one of the most talented guitar players and singers he ever had the pleasure of singing with.

“He used to always accuse me of stealing the sweet notes when would do harmony together on a song,” Phillips quipped.

But most importantly, Lanier was a soul winner and he loved people, especially those who struggled in life, Phillips said.

“He had a heart for those that most people didn’t care about,” he said.

Jon Stevens said that the vision of the House of Hope was Lanier’s, who even purchased an old school to begin the program before turning it over to people who run it now.

Hardy said that he and Lanier would visit high-school teams to inspire them — to train harder — and we would run with them, or attempted to run.

“This was in the summertime, just before school would start, and he looked over at me and said, ‘John, you’re so red, I think we’re going to drop dead running,’” he said.

Jon Stevens said his father preached at the Midway Church of Christ for many years, then preached at the North Madison Church of Christ, and then back to Midway.

“He preached the morning he passed away,” he said. “I got to eat lunch with him at the church dinner, he was laughing and cutting up, went home and took a nap and passed away.”

Hardy said Lanier was an outstanding Christian guy.

“Usually, there’s somebody that doesn’t like you, but I’ve been here 80 years and never met anyone that didn’t like Lanier,” he said.

Visitation was held Tuesday evening, and services are scheduled for 1 p.m. today at Madisonville Christian Fellowship.

Memorial contributions may be made to Midway Church of Christ.

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