Editor’s Note: This story is part of a News Journal series in appreciation of Black History Month.
It is not often that one comes across a person who approximates the altruism taught by Jesus and the Old Testament prophets, but they do exist! At one time this person was a student of mine and her commitment to helping those in need cannot be exaggerated.
Tammy (Wilson) Rollins graduated from Wilmington College in 1977 and worked briefly with Project Talents at Wilmington College.
Project Talents was a very successful Wilmington College (WC) educational prison program for inmates at Lebanon Correctional Institute (LCI) and later at Warren Correctional Institute.
At one time there were some 400 inmates taking courses at these facilities as official full-time Wilmington College students. Faculty were primarily recruited from the WC faculty.
She moved to Dayton and worked at the Montgomery County Job and Family Services, where her title was income maintenance worker. She then worked at the Ohio Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation and later returned to Project Talents as Career Development instructor for several years.
Her final position in Dayton was at the Alvis House Cope Center Halfway House, a “residential community-corrections program … Family-focused reentry program that begins while an individual is incarcerated and continues through the transition to the community.”
It also provides career-oriented employability skills training. In 1992 she moved to the Solutions program here in Wilmington where she worked as a case manager until she retired in 1999.
In 1978 she married Fred Rollins, thus initiating a relationship with the Gist Settlement in Highland County, just outside of New Vienna.
The Gist Settlement was initially settled by some 200 slaves from Virginia beginning in 1815. This was one of three settlements, the other two being in Brown County (there was also a brief settlement in northern Ohio).
Samuel Gist was a British plantation owner who stated in his last will and testament that his slaves were to be freed and taken to southwest Ohio. There he purchased land and in several waves the slaves were brought to this general area accompanied by federal troops.
The Rollins family was part of the initial group of slaves and the Rollins name appears on the historic marker at the site.
In addition to the Rollins name are several names local people would recognize such as Turner, Cumberland, Fields, Henry, Peale, etc. There are 47 residents buried in the Highland County Gist Settlement Cemetery.
Because of this relationship to the Gist Settlement, Tammy’s mother became the minister of the Carthagenia Full Gospel Church there, a position she held for 23 years, beginning in 1974. She was known as Pastor Garnette “Sister Merle” Wilson McKee. The church was fully racially integrated and served many parishioners from the area.
Professor T. Canby Jones of Wilmington College offered a course for several years referred to as the Ecumenical Traveling Class.
The class was structured to expose students and local people to various approaches to faith and worship. It was a very popular class and always included a trip to Sister Merle’s church – the class and the visits continued for several years.
Tammy served as minister of music at the church assisting her mother for 23 years. Her music ministry, however, was not limited to that venue.
As an excellent musician and especially soloist she has provided music for church services, weddings, funerals, dinners/social events and programs throughout Clinton, Highland, Greene, Fayette, Clark and Montgomery counties as well as several out-of-state locations.
In our society, when we speak about people who contribute to our community, we too often think of their financial standing – “someone did well.”
This would be a totally inappropriate way to speak of Tammy — more appropriate would be a similar phrase, ‘Tammy did good.”
And she did it for those in need and in trouble.
Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus of Wilmington College.