BRIDGETON -- Betty Cox will make history when she steps up as trustee chair for the Missouri Baptist Children's Home -- a spot no woman has filled in 70 years.
The MBCH began because women, particularly Mrs. Joseph Thompson and Mrs. William Page, believed God wanted an orphanage in Missouri to care for infants. The then-Orphans' Home Association officially opened on April 1, 1886, with a house on Morgan Street and five children -- and an all-women board of trustees. The women agreed to hire a man to oversee daily operations as a concession to churches that would not support the effort unless a man was involved.
The Home's governing documents excluded men from serving on the board, and women continued to lead until 1939. Hard-hit by the Depression, the Home struggled to emerge from the economic effects. Because the institution still floundered in 1936, several pastors and other individuals, who believed men were more capable in business matters than were women, urged allowing men to serve on the institution's board.
The bylaws were changed in 1936, and in 1937, 14 men became board members. At the time, Eunice Ewing served as board chair. She stepped aside in 1939, and Orron D. "O.D." Evans was elected. No woman has served as MBCH chair since Ewing, even though women have continued to serve as trustees.
Under the institution's current governing documents, a trustee may serve two consecutive three-year terms and then must rotate off for a year before being allowed on the board again.
First elected as a trustee in 1975, Cox served six years at a stretch consistently until about 10 years ago. In the last 10 years, she has served on two MBCH subsidiary boards, its foundation board and its professional development institute board. As a trustee, she had served as chair of the children and family ministry committee before separate boards were formed.
Cox sees her longtime service and background as a natural fit. "Being a schoolteacher, I was interested in kids...and thought kids and their needs was something I knew about," she explained. "I decided it was a way I could serve the state.... The Children's Home board is a hands-on ministry."
With a degree in education, she taught in Kansas before she and her husband, the late Robert "Bob" Cox, moved to Cape Girardeau where Bob joined the industrial technology faculty at Southeast Missouri State University. In 1970, he began directing the Baptist Student Union choir and later became bivocational minister of music at Illmo Baptist Church in Scott City.
Betty taught part-time at the junior high school in Cape Girardeau and substituted. Then she became a full-time teacher for 15 years at a Catholic high school, teaching accounting and typing and later adding English to her responsibilities.
Cox jumped at the opportunity to serve through MBCH when the director of missions submitted her name.
Though she admits she's a bit nervous about her new role, she already has thought about goals she would like to see accomplished during her tenure.
One need the Children's Home faces is "finding a way to give raises," she explained. "Through the years, raises have not come easily...and from time to time, we lose good people.... Through the years, many times staff did not get raises and that has been demoralizing.... We have good staff."
Betty's second goal relates to the first -- to get the word out about the MBCH's ministry so that Baptists around the state will become more aware of needs and might give to alleviate those needs.
"My goal is to get the message out about what we do...and the great need in the state of Missouri...not orphaned kids but abused kids," she explained.
Cox pointed out that the MBCH plays an expanded role in today's society. The Children's Home provides education and support for single mothers. Currently, three homes on the Bridgeton campus are set aside for single moms-to-be. They are taught daily-living and childcare skills and about health issues.
Betty is already gifted in awareness and fundraising efforts, skills she plans to ramp up a bit as chair. For the last few years, she has asked every pastor and minister of education she has met: "Does your church take up a birthday offering?" If not, she then asks for the opportunity to visit with them about the Children's Home and its ministry.
Many churches encourage members to donate money on their birthdays, which then is contributed to the Children's Home. The concept began early in the MBCH's history, and now includes the optional "Mugger's Club" in which the honored individual can receive a birthday mug from the institution by contributing a dollar for each year of age. Betty also promotes the Mugger's Club.
She plans to promote the MBCH summer camp program for children from the agency's three campuses. The cost of about $100 per child is not included in the annual budget, so the program must be actively promoted, Cox said.
Above all, Betty encourages church groups and individuals to pray for the ministry. But she's always ready to talk about the MBCH and its needs. "I'm more than happy to come share with anyone who wants to learn more."