Phyllis Alexander of Rapid City, South Dakota, says she asks the Lord to open doors for her, but to not let her walk through them before she says a word for Him. However, things were not always this way.
In 1932, Alexander was born to an Adventist family in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, weighing 3 pounds, 2 ounces. She was barely breathing and turning blue as her father prayed, “Thank you for giving us this child for the short time we have her.” But that short time turned into years, as Alexander took a deep breath of life.
As she grew up, Alexander’s parents provided her with an Adventist education when it was available. She attended Bethel Academy’s final year before its closure, then went to Wisconsin Academy’s first year of operation, where she graduated in 1950.
“I wanted to be a doctor after I graduated,” she says, “but I knew it would be too expensive, so I decided to become a nurse.” Even becoming a nurse was difficult, so she began by working for a doctor and took LPN classes by correspondence.
She trained for her bachelor’s degree at Hinsdale, but had some unpleasant experiences. “I was very hurt,” says Alexander of her experience at Hinsdale.
While working the evening shift, she saw actor Jack Paar on the black and white television saying, “If you want to be loved, wanted and needed, join the Air Force.” So Alexander did just that. “I went to Chicago on the Burlington Railroad and joined the Air Force. I loved everything about it,” she says.
However, her lifestyle changed, and she gave up on the Adventist Church. During this time, Alexander met her husband and married in March of 1959.
I want to know more about that
Thirty-seven years later, Alexander rediscovered her relationship with the Lord. “My husband came down with leukemia in 1991,” she explains. He had retired after 26 years in the Air Force, and they were stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base outside of Rapid City, South Dakota.
He was in and out of treatments and remission, but he eventually said to her, “We have to find a church so we can find a pastor to do my funeral service.” They visited several Sunday churches, but each time he would say, “There is something about that I don’t like.” Alexander said she was directed by the Lord to say, “How about I call the Adventist pastor?”
As soon as she said it, she was upset with herself for saying it. She wanted nothing to do with the Adventist Church.
They ended up contacting the Adventist pastor, and he came and left a Bible. Her husband’s reaction was, “I want to know more about that.” Pastor Dennis Shafter became their pastor, providing hope on her husband’s deathbed.
One day while visiting her husband in the hospital, Alexander told her son and daughter to hold their father’s hand and recite the Lord’s Prayer. Alexander had not repeated the Lord’s Prayer in over 35 years. She had never taught it to her children, but they recited it. “When we said, ‘Amen,’ he took his last breath,” says Alexander.
Alexander says she would attend church once in a while, but because she smoked three packs a day, she would want to leave before the service was over. However, Pastor Shafter did not give up encouraging her.
It also happened that Shafter’s wife worked with Alexander at the hospital and they were good friends. The pastor asked if his wife could practice giving Alexander Bible studies. Alexander agreed. “By the fourth Bible study, I fell in love with Jesus—just like that. He was mine. He had taken care of me all those years.”
Several months later, Alexander invited her mother for a visit. When her mother arrived at Alexander’s home, she asked, “What is wrong here? There’s something different.” Alexander explained that she was going to be baptized the next day. At the baptism, Alexander sang Mother’s Prayers Have Followed Me to her mother.
In everything, a witness for Christ
After she was baptized, the pastor asked Alexander what she would like to do in the church. “Just make something for potluck,” she responded.
Before long, though, she became much more involved. She learned about Adventist Community Services Disaster Response and became the federation president. Then she went to the Red Cross and asked about training and becoming a volunteer. There she became acquainted with the mayor, treasurer and emergency managers of the city. Soon she was invited to their conferences and became involved with the state as well, where she became friends with the governor and vice-governor.
She also became involved with several other organizations, including Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster and FEMA. The state of South Dakota even sent her to classes three times a year. “In all these places I got to be a witness for Christ,” says Alexander.
After 21 years, Alexander retired as an RN in 1993 and began working full time with ACSDR. She became the director in the Dakota Conference and worked in Spencer, South Dakota, after a tornado; twice in Bismarck, North Dakota, after flooding; in Pierre, South Dakota, dealing with the aftermath of flooding; and spent six weeks in Keene, Texas. She also returned to work at the hospital in medical records, retiring again in 2017 due to health concerns.
“Not being on site is one of the hardest things for me,” says Alexander. “But I am able to be a consultant for ACSDR.” She is grateful to Pastor Bob Forbes II, who has taken over the physical demands.
There are things in life you wish you didn’t do
Alexander lives independently but is restricted to an electric wheelchair. “Gradually, I have had to put all these things in the Lord’s hands,” says Alexander. “I have COPD because of all my smoking. There are things in life you wish you didn’t do.”
In April, she spent a month in the hospital fighting three different pneumonias. “My children were called to my bedside. The doctor said I would not live. I was very calm. In my mind I thought, Next thing when I open my eyes, I will see You. Well, He apparently still has something for me to do,” says Alexander.
Alexander received the Excellence in Action Award for Compassion from the Regional Health Hospital in Rapid City in 2016. In June 2019 she was honored for having served in ACSDR 27 years, receiving a plaque from the Dakota Conference, appreciation cards, and emails from people serving in ACSDR, FEMA, North Dakota and South Dakota government Voluntary Agency Liaisons, and South Dakota Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.
Thank you, Phyllis, for your faithful ministry to those in need.