Life Lessons from Eleanora Anderson, the Longest Serving Sunday School Teacher at the Same Institution of all Time

My dad called me yesterday with a bittersweet message: that Eleanora Anderson, my grandfather’s 92-year-old cousin from Valmeyer, Ill., passed away in her sleep Saturday morning.

“It’s a sad thing to lose her,” he said, “But to die in your sleep at home with all your faculties at age 92, you’ve lived a pretty darn good life.”

For Eleanora Anderson of Valmeyer, Ill., that “pretty darn good life” was a pretty darn inspiring one. Eleanora is one of the most awe-inspiring, admirable, humble, and God-fearing women I have had the privilege to meet for a variety of reasons–the most intriguing one being her commitment to faith and service in the church. When we visited her home last Christmas, I realized not only is she caring, compassionate, thoughtful, prayerful, and sharp (she had a bunch of family stories to share from the present and ages past), but she also knows a whole lot about faith and commitment. So much so, that she’s recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Longest Serving Sunday School Teacher at the Same Institution of all time. Here’s the excerpt from her Guinness Book entry:

The longest serving Sunday School teacher is Eleanora Anderson (USA), who has taught at St. John United Church of Christ in Valmeyer, Illinois, USA, since 1941. She is still teaching at the church, after 70 years of service. Eleanora is 89 years of age and has no plans to retire.

Being the journalist I am, I decided to interview her over Christmas last year, on December 26th, in Valmeyer. where she told me all about what commitment means and looks like to her and how important faith and family are:

Why did you start teaching Sunday school?

I was the only one still going to Sunday school in my class. A class of girls one after the other dropped out I was the only one left. This one lady, a relative of yours, was teaching, and she quit teaching. Then they asked me to teach and I started. It was in 1941 that was. I had graduated from high school in May and this was August that same year.

What’s the biggest class you’ve ever taught?

I’d say seven or eight people. I wish I would have kept track of all the people I taught, but I didn’t –I didn’t know I was going to teach that long [laughs].

What’s your favorite part of teaching?

I love to hear the children sing. I also love to tell them that God is always with them, always watching over them. We usually have a prayer every Sunday with them when I’m there.

What’s your favorite song to sing with the kids?

“Jesus Loves Me” and “How Great Thou Art.”

What’s your favorite story from the Bible? 

Let the little children come to me [Mark 10:13-16].

What’s your advice for Sunday school teachers everywhere?

Study your lessons. I always did it on Saturday night, and this summer we didn’t have any Sunday school in summer. I fought that when I went to the meetings all the time because I thought Sunday school should go through the summer too, then finally last year they decided not to, then I didn’t know what to do with myself on Saturday nights. When Harry [my former husband] was here, he’d watch me read my lessons.

I miss you, Eleanora, but am so thankful for your encouraging words and know we’ll be together again when Christ comes in glory–I am also thankful you’re resting and singing with Him now! 🙂

Eleanora (center) with my cousins and me at her home in Valmeyer, Ill.; Christmas 2013.
From left: my mom, dad, cousin Angela with Eleanora, Christmas 2013.
From left: my mom, dad, and cousin Angela with Eleanora, Christmas 2013.

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