ROCKINGHAM — For 30 years, “Preacher Frank” McQuage prayed with sheriff’s deputies who suffered from depression, who had been hurt on the job or who just wanted “to unload.” He attended funerals when they lost family members. And, 20 years ago, he organized a breakfast so law officers countywide could come together monthly in prayer.
Doing those things, he says, was just an extension of his main ministry to the flock of Maple Street Freewill Baptist Church on Airport Road. A child of the defunct Hannah Pickett Mill in the same neighborhood as his church, McQuage now has retired to East Rockingham, where he sits on the screened porch with a view of wife Raymel’s flourishing dusty-red roses.
Sometimes, he still preaches. But that’s likely to taper off now that he has hit 90.
“He has been such a great religious leader in this community,” state Rep. Ken Goodman said Tuesday, explaining why he was able to present McQuage with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine at his 90th-birthday party last weekend.
“He just has done so many things for this community.”
And for the state.
McQuage was a founding member of the N.C. Chaplains Association, which since 1964 has worked to bring together and provide assistance for chaplains in health care, police and fire departments, prisons and community programs. For that work, McQuage was also was named a “master chaplain” Saturday.
On Tuesday, he still was learning about the Order of the Long Leaf Pine He knew it was a big deal because of who nominated him for it: Goodman, former Rockingham Mayor Gene McLaurin and Richmond County Sheriff James Clemmons.
“(But) I’m not familiar with the award,” McQuage said Tuesday. “I’m just beginning to learn about it. I didn’t know how big it was till after I got it.”
Often given when an individual retires or hits another milestone, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine is among the most prestigious awards presented by the governor of North Carolina and recognizes those who have provided extraordinary service to the state. When McQuage’s daughter, Wanda Clark, told him that the Rev. Billy Graham had been awarded it, he was “just blown away,” she said.
Pastor Frank’s “extraordinary service” wasn’t planned. He just happened to like what he was doing and wanted to stay where he was happy.
McQuage began preaching at 24, ministering at a number of churches for 10 years before going to Maple Street. His nickname was earned early on because children couldn’t pronounce “McQuage.”
He shepherded his flock at Maple Street for 40 years, before retiring at age 65, and then continued preaching as an associate pastor at a handful of churches until he reached 79. Then he cut back to visiting hospitals and the ailing, and saying the occasional funeral.
“A simple man,” daughter Wanda said Tuesday, McQuage also inspired 27 people from Maple Street to enter the ministry. Many now lead churches in Richmond County.
What propelled McQuage toward receiving the Order of the Long Leaf Pine occurred during his ministry at Maple Street: Sheriff R.W. Goodman asked whether McQuage would be interested in being chaplain for the Sheriff’s Office. McQuage didn’t know Goodman that well but had invested $100 in furniture from Goodman’s department store when he and his first wife, Ida, had married in 1945.
He was about to get to know the sheriff much better, even persuading him to have the open-heart surgery that prolonged his life and tenure as sheriff to 92 and 45 years, respectively.
“Goodman stopped me one day and asked me if I would serve as chaplain,” McQuage remembered Tuesday. McQuage answered that “I’ve got a good-sized church that keeps me busy, but I’ll pray on it.”
He talked with his deacons, who gave the go-ahead.
Thus started 30 years of service through the administration of three sheriffs. When he retired, McQuage said, Clemmons replaced him with three chaplains in rotation,
“My life’s work has been Richmond County,” McQuage said. “I was very blessed being raised here, born here. I knew about everyone in East Rockingham (at one time).
“I just enjoy loving people and helping (them) any way I can — being a friend when somebody needs a friend.
“I’ve had a good life.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]