PALMETTO -- For the 12th year running, Presiding Elder Theodore Tillis and Deaconess Mary Tillis of House of God Keith Dominion Church in Palmetto will honor a group of citizens for being unsung heroes in the community.
And, as is usual, the nine to be honored at the House of God Community Honors Program at 3 p.m. Oct. 21 will be lured to the church at 123 17th Street E., Palmetto, while having no idea they are to be in the spotlight.
The public is urged to share in the recognition of fellow residents who do good deeds, the Tillis said.
"We do this because we see there are people who have given so much of their service and we would like to thank them publicly," Deaconess Mary Tillis said. "We contact family members or friends of the ones we honor and come up with ways to get them to the church."
Many people offer suggestions during the year for people to honor, perhaps because of their grace in taking the elderly to doctor appointments or food shopping, Mary Tillis said.
Mary Tillis does a lot of the investigation herself.
"I am a Palmetto native so I know the community," Mary Tillis said. "For the most part, those we honor are ordinary people."
For Ted Tillis, the reward is in seeing an ordinary person light up with pride.
"Seeing their unexpected joy and the tears start flowing after receiving their honor is my most profound memory of these programs," Elder Ted Tillis said.
While 2012 promises to be as exciting as past years on Community Honors day, there are two people admired for their service to the church who will never be on the list this year or any year. But church members, like Elders Dovie Murray and Vernette Smith, who will sing solos on Oct. 21, would be thrilled if the Tillis themselves could be honored on Oct. 21 for the example they have set for others as a happy, loving couple.
59 years and counting
The Tillises will celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary on Oct. 29. The pair have been House of God leaders for more than 30 years.
"Love and commitment to each other while putting God in front," Mary Tillis said when asked why their marriage has worked so well.
It also helps, perhaps, that Ted Tillis is a self-admitted clean freak who doesn't leave dirty dishes in the sink or clothes flung on chairs.
"But I wouldn't mind if he did," Mary Tillis said. "That's no big deal. There are no perfect people."
Except, perhaps, for Ted Tillis.
Mary Tillis said they have had nary an argument in nearly 60 years of marriage.
"I can't think of one time," she said. "I think we have mutual respect and commitment to one another. As Christians, we learn to love and show others how to love."
They met when they were teenage sweethearts attending the old Lincoln Memorial High, she from Palmetto and he from Bradenton.
"He was very handsome, well dressed and intelligent," Mary Tillis said of her husband, who was schooled at Florida A&M University and taught biology and chemistry at Lincoln Middle, Manatee High and Southeast High, each for 10 years.
"He is really a family man through and through," Mary Tillis said. "He's a great husband and father."
Of course, it takes two for a marriage to work and Ted Tillis said he still admires the woman he married.
"She is very committed to helping others," Ted Tillis said of his wife, who taught for 33 years in Manatee County, most notably at Palmetto Elementary. "She's unselfish. She puts the concerns of others before herself."
It seems the Tillises have been been bestowing honor upon each other and others who know them for 59 years without realizing it.