Today, I want to share a special connection involving my friend Candis Rodgers Hicks and Brownwood, the place I called home for more than 10 years.
Candis and I share – obviously – first names. Spelled differently, but pronounced the same, and when we’re in the same place at the same time, each of us are happy to be recognized as the “other Candace.”
But we’re also in a sort of mutual admiration partnership for one another, even though I have a bit more to admire. Candis and I had been acquaintances for years, but became friends last spring. In getting to know one another, one of the first things she told me, knowing I’d moved back to San Angelo from Brownwood, was that she had graduated from Howard Payne.
Maybe you know Candis from that connection. Candis is HPU’s 2017 Distinguished Alumna. Wave at her for me, if she passes you by at this week’s homecoming parade. If you’re present at homecoming festivities, you’ll likely learn Candis is a retired teacher and public school principal, a music teacher, a volunteer extraordinaire, a supporter of the arts. I can assure you she is a doer; a thinker; a dreamer; and a believer.
If given the mic, she will tell you attending and graduating from HPU (Class of 1978) was one of the greatest gifts and accomplishments of her life. Mic on or off, she will tell you her greatest gift and accomplishment is to be son, Hunter Rodgers Hicks’ mother.
There probably won’t be time or space, to tell of a lot of other accomplishments, but I want to share a bit of a back story about Candis’s Christian gift offering to our community. Candis and I reconnected last spring when the Standard-Times sent me to cover a story of a blessing box dedication in the courtyard of First United Methodist Church, downtown San Angelo.
Candis, the founder of Rusty’s Ministry, an outreach to the city’s homeless, hungry or indigent, had been the one who initiated having a box set up so those who are able might leave nonperishable foods, toiletries and such items and those who are in need might open the cabinet-like box and find food for a meal, a little hope in their hopelessness.
The plaque below the FUMC’s Blessing Box is this: “Take what you need. Leave what you can. Above all, be blessed.”
The “Somebody’s Rusty” ministry is named in memory of Rusty Wells, who died Aug. 5, 2013, from acute cirrhosis of the liver in a home for the indigent.
Candis and Rusty’s friendship began in kindergarten and throughout their school days they were dear friends. In telling their story, Candis passionately remembers Rusty was charismatic, handsome, and charming. He excelled in sports, shined in academics; had a wonderful family; and a promising future. After their 1974 graduation from Central High School, they lost touch, except Rusty, Candis said, “was etched in my spirit and being.”
It was almost 30 years before the classmates were reunited. Rusty’s life had spiraled unbelievably downward and out of control. He was struggling to get off the streets, but Candis, blinded by the beautiful memories of their youth, believed the person Rusty promised to be then must surely exist. They were married before she realized her love could not diminish the scars and flaws Rusty’s choices and hard-lived life had caused. The original Rusty was no more.
Sometime after Rusty was gone from their lives, Candis and Hunter passed by an indigent man “hanging a sign,” as they say on the streets.
“That’s somebody’s Rusty,” Hunter told his mom.
The simple statement spoke volumes and touched Candis so deeply, she considers it God-sent, inspiring a ministry that reaches out to and serves those considered “the least of these.”
That person “hanging a sign” didn’t start out that way, Candis said. Somewhere there are family members worried about their loved one’s welfare. Families, who, perhaps, have tried to help and had to give up; friends and classmates who wonder what happened and why. In moments of anguish, people of their pasts have prayed their Rusty will be OK for another day; that he isn’t hungry or sick; that he is safe.
This world’s problems may seem overwhelming; the issues confounding and complicated. But how often the smallest, simplest things make a difference.
Thank you HPU for honoring a friend of mine, someone who verified for me Hebrews 13:2.
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.