When Tom Woldert returned to Tyler, he was searching for a Sunday school class.
He visited multiple classes, but ended up in the Friendly Bible Class at Marvin United Methodist Church — the same class his father and grandfather had attended.
Woldert, 59, said it was "the teaching and the people" that drew him in, and it is that Bible-grounded teaching and fellowship that has kept him in the class for more than two decades.
Similar sentiments about the class were shared Friday as it celebrated 85 years.
An estimated 100 people gathered at the church for the occasion, which included a group photo, dinner, the singing of the class theme song, "Help Somebody Today," and a program.
"It's kind of like a homecoming in a way," class member Edwina Bulman said as attendees ate.
During the program, members spoke about the class and their family's history with the church. The Calvin N. Clyde Jr. Discipleship Award also was presented to class teacher and dentist Dr. David Nichols.
Nichols, who is in his 21st year as the teacher, has done a lot of mission work, including numerous trips to Belize, and has reached out to many people over the years, Ms. Bulman said. Nichols also has been involved with Bethesda Health Clinic and Texas Mission of Mercy.
Before presenting the award, Clyde's son, Thomas Clyde, described Nichols as someone who is "always helping someone or planning the opportunity to do so" and "never too tired to preach."
"Like Mr. (Calvin) Clyde, (Dr. Nichols) has given so much time to the community," Ms. Bulman said. Mr. Clyde, who passed away earlier this year, had "been a faithful member. … When something was needed, he was there and supportive of (the class) mission, so we felt like David Nichols represented the spirit Mr. Clyde gave."
The award plaque also describes Calvin Clyde as "an exemplary witness for his Christian faith and devotion to God, country, family, and friends."
"A man of wisdom and also wit, he was a leader with rare insight in business, community and civic endeavors. His extensive philanthropic efforts generously included investing in others for the advancement of Christ's kingdom," the award plaque reads.
The Friendly Bible Class began in 1928 "as a small gathering of young men for mutual encouragement and Bible study," and since "has turned out to be nothing less than an institution," according to a history of the class.
"For the members, who for many years were only men, it was the place to be on Sunday morning. Whatever the felt needs of those early class pioneers, the meeting struck a chord that has resonated clear into the 21st century," according to the history.
The class has met "in whatever spaces were available," according to the history. But today, Woldert said the class takes place in an all-purpose room at the church.
Women started to attend in the 1950s, "about the time the old Fellowship Hall was completed," and famous visitors include moviemaker Cecil B. DeMille, comedian Harold Lloyd, football hero Red Grange and war hero Jimmy Doolittle.
Ms. Bulman said the class theme song, "Help Somebody Today," exemplifies the spirit of the class.
She said the Bible-oriented class, which averages 75 to 80 attendees each week, reaches out to various missions and has been on the radio since the 1930s.
"To me it's called the Friendly Bible Class, so there's a real sense of friendship. There's a real sense of growing in our faith," she said.
Ms. Bulman, 67, said she grew up knowing about the class but was part of other classes before joining the Friendly Bible Class.
"Now, at this point, I look forward to seeing people. I look forward to hearing (a) message each Sunday. I'm glad I can contribute through the class to missions," she said.
Ms. Bulman, who has been in the class about 15 years, said it has diversified throughout the years. It's primarily an "older group," she said, but the class has recently attracted younger people and both single people and couples attend.
Ms. Bulman said members may not see each other each week on a social level, but the love of Jesus and Bible teachings bind them.
She said the class holds parties during the year, and this year, they started ladies' brunches, so women can become better acquainted.
Class member Rick Murphey, 62, said everyone in the class "looks out for each other."
"Everybody serves and gets along. There's just a diversity to the class," he said.
Violet Rhodes, who played piano on Friday as attendees sang along, has been a member for more than 30 years.
The 88-year-old said she was in a ladies class, and when that disbanded, she joined the Friendly Bible Class.
"It's just really a wonderful group of people," she said.
Class member Elizabeth Sutton, 82, said she finds the whole experience of the class uplifting, from the wonderful lessons and camaraderie to the missions and music.
Of the 85th birthday, she said, "It's an opportunity we shouldn't miss to celebrate."
Reaves Murphey, 83, who joined the Friendly Bible Class in 1953, said, "It's a wonderful class. You couldn't beat it."
Class president Donna Dahms described the class as one that is "passed down from one generation to the next" and has supportive members, along with "prayer warriors that are faithful and true."
One of the newest members, 28-year-old Chantelle Farr, started coming about two months ago. She said the people are nice, and she loves that they're so involved in each other's lives.
And Nichols, who called the class "one of the main things that blesses my life," quipped to Friday's audience, "It's a wonderful class, and we do have a lesson prepared for Sunday."