By Virginia Ross
The event came together after three of the sisters were hospitalized at the same time.
BOARDMAN — Quoting the Bible’s 31st Proverb, Jackie Carter asked family and friends, “Who can find a virtuous woman?”
As she continued reciting the Scripture, which identifies the biblical ideal of a woman, Carter motioned to the four women seated at the table in the front of the room.
“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also and he praises her.”
On Saturday, close to 100 family and friends gathered at the Holiday Inn in Boardman to honor “The Boatwright Sisters” — Helen Suber, Frances Allen, Sara Jane Johnson and Lucille McMullen — for the contributions they’ve made to their community over several decades. The women, all in their 80s, have each donated numerous hours to various efforts and organizations throughout the city.
Family members said they chose July 4 to celebrate the lives and legacy of “Four Sisters on the Fourth.” Family and friends traveled from as far away as Mexico, California, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia to participate in the “Sisters Celebration.”
“These are all very special women,” said Hope Allen, a Youngstown native now living in New York. “They deserve to be recognized. They’ve given so much of themselves to their communities, and we wanted to recognize them for that.”
Hope Allen, who helped organize the event to honor her great-grandmother and three great-aunts, said although the family started planning the celebration several months ago, the sisters learned about the event a few days ago. A few years back, the family talked about getting something together to honor the matriarchs, but it was after three of the sisters were hospitalized at the same time that the group agreed to act on their desires.
“They were ill, and we knew we needed to do something to let them know how much we appreciate them and that we needed to do it as soon as possible because we really don’t know how much longer we’ll have them, that’s the sad reality,” she said. “We’re very blessed to have all of them now, and that’s what we want to focus on.”
Invitations were sent to relatives, church members, neighbors and friends. The luncheon included tributes to the sisters, a slide show featuring family photographs and a poem by Gerald Allen. The children of the family presented roses to the friends and caregivers who have taken care of their great-grandmothers and great-aunts in recent years.
The sisters repeatedly thanked their offspring for their efforts and generosity.
“This is very special they would do this,” said McMullen. “We knew for a while they wanted to. But this is wonderful. We are very blessed.”
The oldest to the youngest members of the family contributed their own thoughts and appreciation for the sisters, including 9-year-old Brock Allen, who traveled with his parents and two younger brothers from Charlotte, N.C., to honor his great-grandmother, Frances Allen.
“It’s neat to be here and see all the people who love her,” he said. “She’s special. She always sends me a birthday card, no matter what. And when I see her she shows me pictures of my dad and other people and tells me stories about them. It’s nice.”
Jackie Carter, daughter of Suber, said because the sisters have been such a blessings to their families and community, the family has desired to be a blessing to them.
“It was just time,” she said. “We’ve been wanting to do this, and we knew it was time. They deserve every praise and honor and recognition they get. They have given so much to so many people. As a community and as a family, we are truly blessed because of them, and we really can’t thank them enough.”
Sara Jane Johnson, 84. Married Albert Johnson Sr. (deceased). Three children: Albert Jr., Linda Johnson-Clady, Joy Johnson-Burton. Member of Price Memorial AME Zion Church since 1947, where she served as usher, cook, and distributor of government food. Retired from Strouss’ department store after 30 years of service. East High School voting precinct poll worker for several decades and member of Decamettes Social Club. A 1943 graduate of Struthers High School. Played a mean game of baseball and always wore Bermuda shorts. Loves planted flowers and is an avid cook.
Frances Allen, 86. Married Eugene Allen Jr. (deceased). Has lived in Youngstown 66 years. Graduate of Lowellville High School. Served as secretary of Triumph Church for more than 20 years. Arranged flowers for Goldie’s Flowers for many years and worked as a house parent for Steel Valley Home for Boys. Began a non-profit organization called Freewill Charities, which provided clothes and food to residents needing assistance, including those who had lost their homes to fire. For her efforts she was awarded the John Chase Humanitarian Award by the city of Youngstown. She and her husband owned High Hill Orchard Farm in Pennsylvania.
Helen Suber, 88. Married Larke D. Suber Sr. (deceased). Graduate of Lowellville High School. Retired after serving both the West Federal Street and Champion Street YMCA for 38 years. Two children, Larke Jr. and Jackie Carter. Member of St. Andrews AME Church for 60 years, where she was the Young People’s Missionary Youth Guild Supervisor and membership chairwoman for Church Women United, is a life member of its Missionary Society and serves on the Steward Board and as secretary of the Quarterly Conference. Her hobbies are reading, feeding birds and sending cards to people.
Lucille McMullen, 80. Married Herbert McMullen in 1952 after meeting him while they attended Youngstown College (now Youngstown State University). Graduate of Struthers High School. Two children, Karen and Herbert Jr. Lived in Germany for four years while her husband served as a lieutenant in the Army. Upon their return to Youngstown, she was an active leader at the Kathryn Kuhlman Ministries at Stambaugh Auditorium. Created and led an outreach ministry for 37 years that included a food pantry, clothing donations and visiting the sick in hospitals. Studied early childhood development, served as a teacher’s aide and was known as the aide most requested by all the teachers. While living in Kimmel Brooks housing development, conducted a home Bible study program that expanded to homes throughout the Youngstown area. Her hobbies are reading and flowers