For decades, Ann Easter traveled with her husband’s popular Southern gospel group, The Easter Brothers, to churches and venues across the region.
Now that it’s time for her to stay home – he passed away last year, and she is 87 years old – she can’t, because her house was severely damaged in a flood in the spring.
Her homeowners insurance won’t cover the costs of repairs, which have been estimated at between $50,000 and $70,000. She has been staying with various family members for spells at a time, but meanwhile, supporters are working to get her house repaired, for her to live safely and comfortably.
Friend Lisa Spencer started a campaign to get Easter’s house repaired. Her fundraising efforts have netted about $8,700 so far – and some men from the Woolwine area volunteered to do all the work for free, as long as materials were supplied.
Easter “is the picture of Christianity, the best Christian I have ever known,” Spencer said.
“She lost her two sons, her husband and her house all within a two-year time frame … even through all of this … she says she’s blessed.”
Edd Easter was one of the popular trio Easter Brothers – with James and Russell -- who performed together for more than 60 years. He did the recitations and played mandolin.
The trio recorded at least two dozen albums and had that many successful singles, including “They’re Holding Up The Ladder” and “Thank You Lord For Your Blessings.”
Of the remaining Easter Brothers, James still has the Easter Brothers Music Store in Mount Airy, N.C., and Russell, the oldest, is in a nursing home. “Before this COVID thing, they were going to get him and take him to the singings,” said Edd and Ann Easter’s daughter, Margaret Rakes.
Another rendition of the musical family lives on: James Easter’s son, Jeff Easter, married Sheri Lewis of The Lewis Family in 1985. They sing and record as Jeff & Sheri Easter, including performing many Easter Brother hits.
Ann and Edd Easter met the way they lived their life.
The Easter Brothers were singing at Buffalo Ridge Church of God of Prophecy (as Buffalo Ridge Pentecostal Holiness Church then was called) on a Saturday night in the early 1960s. Edd invited Ann to hear them sing at another church the next morning.
A year or two later, in the mid-1960s, they married, combining two families: His Bobby was about 4, Billy was 5. and Eddie was around 8, said Rakes, who just had turned 13 at the time. The children all melded into one family, where both parents were considered parents, not stepparents, she said.
The family moved into a traditional-style house just outside Fairy Stone State Park in Patrick County in 1975.
Ann Easter worked at Bassett Walker for 35 years. Edd Easter worked at Bassett Mirror, and he ran Easter’s Music Shop in Bassett, where he gave lessons.
The couple spent weekend traveling all over the country for the Easter Brothers. In later years, after he had had some mini-strokes and her mother had retired, she started doing the driving on those trips.
“She has been a good supporter for him,” Rakes said.
Totally joined together
Kenneth Terry is the pastor of Buffalo Ridge Pentecostal Holiness Church, where Ann Easter has been a member since 1955.
Ann and Edd Easter “were joined not [only] at the hip but at the heart, at the shoulders, all the way down,” Terry said. “They were one, as God intended for them to be. When you saw him, you usually saw Miss Ann, and when you saw Miss Ann you usually saw him.”
In September 2018, when the couple went to “a big singing in Mount Airy,” N.C., he choked during a meal. A few days later “he started getting sick, and he never was the same,” Rakes said.
Edd Easter stayed for some time at Stanleytown Health and Rehab, and his wife was with him from early morning until near bedtime.
In January 2019, he was took him back to the house and brought in hospice care.
“I had a wonderful husband, 51 years together,” Easter said. “He wrote and sang songs all of our marriage.”
She recited the one that he wrote to her and sang to her every day:
“I know that someday we’ll have to part
“But I know I’ll always keep you in my heart
“Should I leave you before you do
“You know that you’ll be coming too
“Look for me; I’ll be waiting for you.”
Said Rakes: “When he got to where he couldn’t sing it to her, he would move his mouth. No sound would come off. She would sing it to him.”
The couple’s son Bobby Easter already had passed away, and then Bill died on Jan. 4, 2019.
On Jan. 30, 2019, Edd Easter “passed away right here in the living room,” Easter said.
“He asked me to pray for him to go home because he was hurting so bad, and I said, ‘I can’t pray that prayer because I don’t want to lose you.’”
But then she found peace, and she told her husband, “‘It won’t be long before I go, too, so you go ahead.”
“My mom has give and give and give all her life and never asked for anything,” Rakes said. “My mama has had a rough three years.”
Easter wasn’t at home when the house was damaged. Because of the pandemic restrictions, “I had asked her to come stay with me a couple of months, so that I could make sure she got groceries and stuff like that,” Rakes said.
Easter recalled hearing the news: Her granddaughter, who had been staying at the house, “called me in the night and said, ‘Grandma, your house is caving in.”
She went with her daughter and a granddaughter the next day to see it.
“A landslide from up in the mountain came down,” she said. “It pulled trees. The trees were still in the ground, but it brought them downhill.”
The underground mass of dirt “came up under the grass. All the grass was sort of just curled up around the house, way up on the gas tank.”
Rakes recalled her mother’s reaction: “She just collapsed in the yard,” Rakes said. “She said, ‘I don’t have time to mourn – two boys to die, and then Papa.’”
Her church family at Buffalo Ridge stepped right in to help her.
She’s done it all at church, Terry said, including Sunday school teacher, president of the Ladies’ Auxiliary and over the Girls’ Auxiliary. “This lady here has been one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever served as pastor, and she always gives God the glory,” he said.
The men working on the house do not give their names publicly, but among those who know them, they have a reputation for helping people in need with construction and repairs. They came well recommended, said Spencer and Terry.
The men said that they are replacing the bathroom, porch and den and having to shore it up differently than it had been before.
They expect to get the bathroom and closet done within a few weeks, then get the den and overhang finished within a couple of months.
Spencer said she is worried the workers will run out of building materials, then have to move on to other projects before Easter’s house is finished. She’s hoping enough donations, both of materials and money, will come in to keep them busy until the house is finished.
The men estimated that the total cost of materials may be around $10,000 to $15,000.
“We need concrete,” Spencer interjected, “and just the Dumpster was $900.”
Plus, the land will need to be graded again, she added.
Buffalo Ridge members already chipped in to clear the avalanche of dirt from the site, which cost thousands of dollars.
New Hope Church of the Brethren will have a barbecue dinner on Sept. 26 to raise money for materials.
New Hope members have been good to her mother, Rakes said. “I cry when I think about this, because they didn’t have to do this.”
Rakes has started a second fundraiser called the Ann Easter Emergency Fund, which accepts mailed donations or online giving through Facebook.
“I’ve been through three deaths recently, two sons and my husband, and I said, ‘This is not as bad as death,’” Easter said. “I didn’t know what I would do, because thanks God, God used people to help me.”
Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.
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