George “Heck” McAlister and Kirby Dellinger met at the Rock Spring Methodist Camp Meeting more than half a century ago. During the 1940s, the campground served as a prowling location for the teenage pranksters and a spot for budding romance since both men met their future wives, each named Mary, at the annual religious event.
Dellinger met his wife in 1949 and married her a year later, he said. The two, who reside in Lincolnton, celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary earlier this month. McAlister met his wife in 1948 and also married a year later on Valentine’s Day. Mary Dellinger has been attending the Rock Spring revival every year since she was born, she told the Times-News Tuesday. This is her 85th year.
The seasoned revivalists have resided in neighboring cabins on the Denver property for a number of years and look forward to attending the yearly two-week camp meeting event to catch up on their life-long friendship and spend time with their children and grandchildren.
Kirby Dellinger even remembered attending the revival prior to “getting saved” in 1967.
Over the years, the two have even encountered health problems, with McAlister undergoing heart surgery last year. Due to his failing health, he wasn’t convinced he’d return to this year’s event.
Dellinger joked that he wouldn’t let his camp meeting crony miss a year.
“He (McAlister) tried to say he wouldn’t come back, but I pressed him,” he said.
McAlister did return and sat tall and strong in one of the wooden pews Tuesday morning, singing age-old hymns from The Cokesbury Hymnal and listening closely to a message preached by Duke Seminary student Benson McGlone, from San Antonio, Texas.
He also commented on the week’s unseasonably, cool temperatures ushered in by the rain.
“It’s the coolest time we’ve had,” he said, thinking back to the hot, muggy days of years past.
“I told him (McAlister), ‘God takes care of the weather,’ “ Dellinger said.
McGlone, who’s serving his second year as an intern at Denver United Methodist Church, volunteered to preach a revival message after Denver UMC’s associate pastor Tim Killian had to cancel.
The Rev. Tony Matthews, of Bethel United Methodist Church in Catawba Springs, is serving his fourth year as the camp meeting’s host pastor. Regardless of the heat, cool or rain, the campground and historic arbor draw people to the area to hear God’s word, he said.
“People are ready to come … with a spirit ready to meet and be in fellowship,” Matthews said.
McAlister and Dellinger are just two of the hundreds of faithful attendants of the Rock Spring Camp Meeting. Through the years, they’ve shown their dedication to the event, even helping to rebuild half of the more than 200 cabins destroyed by a blaze in the 1970s, pouring the concrete on which their log cabins, #36 and #37, now sit.
While both men have already left a legacy at the historic site, they’ve shown no signs of abandoning their favorite annual event anytime soon.
After Tuesday’s morning worship service, McAlister joked and played cards with his grandchildren, while just feet away, Dellinger sat side-by-side with his wife, rocking on their cabin porch, looking forward to another evening of faith-filled worship.