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  • Ellen Bierlein

A celebration of the life of Fern Dannelley Goree

MIDLAND, TX – Fern Heath Dannelley Goree used Jesus’ example and listened to each individual at their core. All who knew her were enhanced and blessed, and all are lessened because of our loss.

Fern Heath was raised in Andrews County, TX. She did well in school which allowed her a WWII wartime opportunity to graduate from high school a year early, and begin college the summer before regular students would attend. She arrived at Howard Payne University as a 16-year-old freshman. She and the other early starter students found a church to attend, pastored by a young man who had just graduated from college himself, Jay Dannelley.

There came a time when Pastor Jay was ready to look for a wife, and his eye was on a young woman who had a heart for mission. He noticed a maturing in her spirit and Christianity. He also thought she was very beautiful. By 19 she was a mother, a pastor’s wife and a student. It was a glimpse of her life to come.

Husband Jay took other pastorates, and Fern moved their children and life wherever God led. She made friends, raised children and worked in the church. During these early Texas days, she also took classes to work on that college degree wherever she was.

Edgar Roberts came to Texas to make a plea. He came from Michigan, where there had been a great influx of people from the South to fill the manufacturing jobs in the Detroit area. He asked pastors to pray about God leading them to come to Michigan to start new Southern Baptist churches for the Southerners moving to Michigan. It sounded like a million miles away from Texas, home, and extended family. And in some ways, it was. Jay Dannelley answered that call.

They packed up their 3 children, Jay Jr, Deborah, and Bekah, and moved to Detroit in 1956, and began building a church. When that church got stronger, they moved to another neighborhood and built up another small church. At every place, Fern dedicated herself to her family, and to the church: developing children’s programs, women’s ministries and making lasting friendships. Eventually, she was pregnant again, and baby Ellen came into their lives.

The Southern Baptist Convention of Michigan was a “becoming” entity led by its dynamic Director, Fred Hubbs. He was a mover, a shaker, and a finder.

At one point, he found a campground near Roscommon. He shared his vision for what that camp could mean to their state work, and to individual children and adults in spiritual growth and training. They stood on the land in a circle, held hands and prayed. Fred Hubbs asked for a $100 commitment from each family to provide the downpayment for the property. Jay and Fern were there. They made the commitment and followed through with their $100 contribution. Thousands of lives have been changed at Bambi Lake Baptist Camp.

By this time, Jay Sr. was a Director of Missions in the Central area of Michigan, and Fern, having finished her bachelor’s degree, was a teacher. She soon began working on her Masters to become a school social worker. The family watched her walk across the Michigan State fields accepting her Master’s Degree.

For many years, Fern was a school social worker. First in Holt, and later in Bay City, when they moved to Midland, MI for Jay Sr. to take the Director of Missions position in the Bay Area Association.

In the early 70’s Fern and Jay Sr. found an opportunity to do global missions. There was a need for a Bible teacher at a Baptist Seminary in Arusha, Tanzania. It began the family’s love affair with East Africa. Each person in the Dannelley family has lived or done mission trips in Kenya since that time. It was their heart-home.

While living in Midland, MI, Jay Sr. developed a brain tumor and died quickly in 1975. Fern’s experience of strength through the day, and tears through the night were the examples she displayed. She pastored all the heartbroken people who came to her, even though her heart was the most broken.

While continuing to work in schools to help children and educators, she became more active in Michigan Baptist’s work, and was honored by being elected First Vice President of the Michigan State Baptists. She was the first woman to ever have that position.

Fern was involved in women’s work and missions in every way at the local church and state level. The Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention asked her to be on their board of trustees.

The call to Africa was always on her heart. Gaborone, Botswana became her home as she became a single missionary at the age of 55. She once again set to work making relationships, creating a welcoming home, and developing and implementing the Bible Way Program. It was a study for those wanting to grow in relationship and ministry with the Lord, even though they were far away from a Christian educational center. Fern was in Botswana for 10 years before she retired and returned to the USA. Her mother and family needed her, so she moved to West Texas to live in Midland, TX.

At the age of 70, Fern married long-time friend from Howard Payne, Bill Goree, who she first met when she was 16. She and Bill lived in Midland, TX and did many extensive mission trips to Southern Africa. They continued to enjoy family and work in ministries as their health allowed.

Fern passed August 22, 2023 at the age of 95. Her funeral and interment were held at Walnut Creek Baptist Church, 12062 N. Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753 on September 3, 2023.



Ellen Bierlein is the youngest daughter of Fern Dannelley Goree.


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