The youngest man ever to serve as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Nacogdoches was Roe Thomas Holleman, in 1907 and 1908. He was born on September 27, 1884, in the Oak Flat community between Mt. Enterprise and Laneville, Rusk County, Texas. His parents were Robert H. Holleman and Nancy Jane Vaughn.
Roe Holleman attended rural schools in Rusk County, and graduated from high school at Cushing, Nacogdoches County.[ii] He felt the divine call to preach at the age of seventeen. He was licensed by Smyrna Baptist in March 1901. In the March conference Smyrna church elected a committee “to investigate the matter in regard to Brethren Roe Holleman and Edwin Stanford’s application to preach.” The committee retired forthwith, evidently in consultation with the prospective ministers, came back and made their report in the same meeting, and the two were given “the privilege to preach.” Roe Holleman began preaching in rural churches in Rusk County.
Roe Holleman conducted divine services in the Smyrna Church conference of July 1901, and again in August. He enrolled in Jacksonville Baptist College, and seems to have attended there 1902-1904. On October 18, 1902, Smyrna Church considered the request of W. B. Perry, representing Mt. Enon Church, for ordination of Bro. R. T. Holleman to the full work of the ministry. Ordination of Brethren J. W. Bryan and J. A. Jones to the deaconship was already pending, the first date for the deaconship service not having been kept “on account of Providential hinderance (sic) in the form of rain.” Consequently, the two deacons and the minister were all ordained on December 21, 1902. Bro. J. A. Lee preached the ordination sermon; other members of the presbytery were Elders E. C. Rice, M. L. Vaughn, Wm. M. Pruitt, V. T. Vaughn, Jas. A. Long, and J. J. Burks.
In 1906-1907, he served as pastor of both the Sacul Baptist Church in Sacul and the Central Baptist Church in Cushing, both in Nacogdoches County. His reputation as a preacher soon spread to the town of Nacogdoches, where the First Baptist Church secured his services as pastor. After resigning his Nacogdoches pastorate, he returned to Cushing where he again served as pastor for a time.
In his earliest ministry, Roe Holleman apparently maintained his membership for the most part of the time in the Smyrna Church, though he was pastoring elsewhere. His ministry began in turbulent times for associational Baptists in Texas. Disgruntled members (and possibly some non-members) of the Baptist General Convention of Texas – often designated as the “church-party” – formed the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas in 1900. Smyrna Church supported the “church-party” and the BMA of Texas. Supporters of the BGT of Texas were termed the “board-party.” Roe Holleman struggled with his affiliation. In February 1905, the church voted to “receive the credentials of Bro. R. T. Holleman for the present by his request to wait for further developments.” Subsequently the church voted to restore the credentials of Brother Holleman on July 15 of the same year. This circumstance likely was related to the division and his attempt to find his place in it. Eventually Roe Holleman cast his lot with board-party (Convention) Baptists.[iii]
Roe Holleman married Ola Menefee of Huntsville, Texas on December 30, 1908, who was at that time teaching in the Cushing High school. To this union were born two sons, Irvin Thomas Holleman and Samuel Brooks Holleman. At some point, he enrolled in and attended Baylor University, with 1911-12 being his senior year. Roe Holleman died during that senior year on January 18, 1912, of cerebral meningitis. While attending Baylor, he had an appointment once a month at Cushing. He had traveled from Waco, filled his appointment at Cushing on Sunday morning January 14, and then went to his parents’ home in the Oak Flat Community. He became sick Sunday afternoon, and suffered greatly from what was diagnosed as spinal meningitis. He died on Thursday in the home of his parents.[iv]
Roe Thomas Holleman was considered a very brilliant young preacher, who, had he lived a longer life, might have become one of the foremost preachers in Texas.[v] From the two sources we know that Roe Holleman pastored at least these churches: Central Baptist, Cushing, Nacogdoches County; First Baptist, Nacogdoches, Nacogdoches County; Mt. Enon Baptist, Rusk County; Sacul Baptist, Sacul, Nacogdoches County.
This biography combines information from Seventy-five Years in Nacogdoches by William Tellis Parmer, Centennial + 5 by James Wyatt Griffith, East Texas Family Records, and family information passed down.
[i] Roe also had three first cousins on the Vaughn side who were Baptist preachers, Robert Raymond Scruggs, Benjamin Lewis Vaughn, and William Wyatt Vaughn.
[ii] Likely because the rural schools did not have as many grades as the schools in towns. Even in the 1930s when by parents were in high school, Oak Flat had 10 grades, and both went to other schools to attend the 11th grade.
[iii] Planning a simple memorial service for Roe Holleman was not so simple. The following incident reminds us of the super-strained feelings from the Baptist division of 1900. “Unended bitterness resulted from this schism of Baptists. Especially was there strong feeling in the beginning. The most apparent case in the Smyrna Church was that involving Bro. Roe Holleman. After the untimely death of Bro. Holleman January 18, 1912 some desired to hold a memorial service in the Smyrna Church building, with Bro. Leland Malone, a Convention pastor, giving the message. This was not allowed until, on March 12, ‘on motion the church granted Elder Leland Malone the use of the church house to hold Bro. Roe Holleman’s funeral service the third Sunday in April, 1912.’” Centennial + 5: History of Smyrna Baptist Church of Rusk County, Texas, 1873-1978, J. W. Griffith, Henderson, TX: , 1978, p. 18.
[iv] There are some conflicts on his death date. Seventy-five Years in Nacogdoches gives January 17. An obituary reproduced in East Texas Family Records (Vol. 7, No. 2, Summer 1983, p. 29) says he died “Friday morning at 7 o’clock” – which would have been the 19th of January. Engraved on his tombstone is January 18, 1912, which I have accepted as correct and consistent with our family records.
[v] Seventy-five Years in Nacogdoches: a History of the First Baptist Church, 1884-1959, William Tellis Parmer, Dallas, TX: Dorsey Company, 1959, pp. 207-208. His widow, Mrs. Ola Parker, gave some of the biographical information given by William T. Parmer.