They've Got Fish to Fry

Alumni // December 2, 2015

They've Got Fish to Fry.

For more than 30 years, folks in Lewis County, Tennessee, have been frying fish for a good cause. In 1982, two graduates of Freed-Hardeman, Jeff "Boo" Spears and Seth Chandler, returned to Hohenwald with the idea that other students should be able to enjoy what they had just experienced—a Christian education.

That idea was the genesis of GYIDE, Giving Youth Invaluable Devout Education. The nonprofit organization was designed to help send young men and women from Lewis County to a Christian school. Maryland "Yogie" Spears chaired the first board of directors. Other board members were Carlos Gunter, King McCarver, Jerry Durham and Elton Jackson. Yogie Spears remains active in the annual event.

Originally, they sought donations for the fund. Although they were able to award two scholarships for the 1982-83 school year, they wanted to do more.

"When you hang around people like Yogie Spears or his son Boo, you learn to give back," Chandler said. "I'm pretty sure the whole scholarship thing was Yogie's idea (as most of the good stuff was). His idea was to combine some of his favorite things--helping students attend FHU and frying fish!  Our goal was to help at least one new student each year."

"It's kind of funny," Jeff Spears said. "We couldn't raise enough money from contributions, but we could get them to donate food, volunteer to cook and then buy a ticket to eat it."

In the three decades since, 67 students have received scholarships. The amount of the scholarship is determined by how much money they raise and how many students apply. The most they have helped in a single year is 14.

The first Saturday in May is Fish Fry Day in Hohenwald. The menu has expanded far beyond the original catfish; now it also includes frog legs, shrimp, gumbo, chicken, slaw, white beans, hush puppies, French fries and dessert. It's all you can eat and the price is $10 per person. Small wonder that folks come from miles around to eat and visit.  This spring's event fed 868 people and raised more than $8,000.

All of the food is donated and the workers are all volunteers. Scholarship recipients serve the meal. The 13 Lewis County congregations of the Church of Christ come together for the event. Members prepare the sides and desserts and a team of men cooks the fish. It is also a community and area-wide event. Guests come from all over the county and from as far away as Nashville and Waverly, Tennessee.

Hosting a fish fry worked well. However, seeing a need for more funds to help more students, the group added a fall barbecue dinner. The last Saturday in September is the day to get pulled pork, baked beans, slaw, dessert and drink. Both the fish fry and the barbecue dinner are held at the offices of Yogie's Purity Milk.

Although Mylie Williams McKissack graduated too soon to benefit from the scholarship, other members of her family have been recipients. Her brother Scott Williams and Jan Armstrong were the first two recipients. Her daughter Nychelle McKissack received the scholarship for four years. She graduated in 2013 and now teaches school in Centerville. Her second daughter Morgan has the scholarship this fall for her freshman year.

"My daughters and I continue to help serve at the fish fry and barbecue to say thank you for our gift and to pay it forward for future students," McKissack said.

"This program has been, and continues to be a blessing to our community. Our goal in life is to reach heaven and we want to ensure that our children achieve the same goal. Attending a Christian university is a wonderful "guide" to help them on the path to this goal," she said.

Jeff Spears credits his father Yogie with keeping the fish fry going for so many years. "Daddy is the one who has kept it going," he said. And, there's another thing. "When you get those letters from students and they tell you what it meant for them to go to FHU and how much the scholarship helped, that keeps you going."

"I continue to be inspired by the love and dedication so many have for our students. They work so hard to ensure students receive the help they need to obtain a Christian education. Lives are being changed and treasures are being stored up in heaven by the efforts of the folks in Lewis County," Dave Clouse, FHU vice president for advancement, said.