Whether baptizing babies in the sunny shallows of the Kalamazoo River or offering communion in the tiny white-clapboard house that serves as their church, Barbara Bradford, 76, and her 58-year-old daughter Barbara Gladney share an uncommon bond in a town which began celebrating Mothers Day three decades before it was a national holiday.
Both are ordained ministers, serving side by side in the Missionary Outreach Church for Christ, which Bradford started in 1981, and both are devoted to helping others in their hometown of Albion, Mich. (pop. 10,000).
Since early childhood, Gladney has followed in her mothers footsteps. When young Barbara tried out for high school cheerleading, it was her mom who showed her, in the middle of the living room, how to turn cartwheels.
“My heel clipped the ceiling lightwhich Mom never replacedbut I made the squad,” Gladney recalls.
Today the two live only a block apart and remain close. The impact of their partnership extends far beyond their non-denominational churchs 75-member congregation. Bradford takes an energetic, can-do approach to community problems such as hunger and poverty, and her daughter gets involved in every project.
When Bradford persuaded local farmers to donate excess produce to the needy, her daughter knelt beside her for hours in the fields, gleaning vegetables they distributed to area housing projects. When Bradford started a combination food pantry/clothing ministryin her garageGladney unloaded grocery cartons and washed dresses. When Bradford opened Albions first soup kitchen, her daughter joined other volunteers to serve 80 to 100 people five days a week.
“Barbara Bradford is a community treasure,” says Pat West, director of the Albion Community Action Agency (ACAA). The agency refers at least 30 people a month to the food pantry, while another 10 receive emergency funding from the church for rent, electricity, medicine, and transportation.
“Its amazing what each (woman) does in her own different way,” West adds. “Pastor Bradford gets more involved in meeting food and clothing needs, whereas Barbara (Gladney) meets spiritual needs through uplifting and encouraging people. Together, they form a balanced team.”
Inspired by her mothers example, Gladneys contributions to Albion range from serving two terms on the school board to chairing the towns Big Brother/Big Sister Council. Once a director of ACAA herself, she organized a 1998 celebration commemorating the 25th anniversary of Albions selection as an “All-America City” by the National Municipal League.
They also share other interests, including a love of family (the widowed Bradford has five children, while Gladney and her husband have one son, 35-year-old Thomas Gladney Jr.). Both have written and appeared in plays together, including Lonas Bloodline, the story of Bradfords feisty grandmother (a former slave who saved enough money to eventually buy plots of land for all 14 of her children). And when Bradford wrote the song, “Albion Is Our Town,” her mother encouraged her to record and copyright it. Both were delighted when the city council in March voted it the towns official song.
The song refers to Albions role in originating Mothers Day in 1877. On Sunday, May 13 of that year, the minister of the Methodist-Episcopal Church was too overcome with emotion over a family matter to continue his sermon, so congregation member Juliet Calhoun Blakeley stepped into the pulpit to finish it for him. Blakeleys sons were so moved by her actions that they persuaded the church to set aside the second Sunday in May as an annual tribute to mothers. The idea caught on, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson designated Mothers Day an official holiday.
“She (Blakeley) reminds me of my own mom,” says Gladney. “My mother is courageous. She is an initiator. If nobody starts but her, shell do it herself because she knows that down the road help will come. Ill never be her equal, but thats OK. Shell always be someone I can look up to.”