Dad’s wisdom leads to Mission Arlington

By Tillie Burgin
Executive Director
Mission Arlington/Mission Metroplex

It all began for me Aug. 24, 1936, here in Arlington. Arlington has always been a very special place. At that time it was a small town, with small businesses. It was a hometown setting with people with big hearts.

Bonnie and Erman Lester, my parents, operated a Gulf Service Station on Pecan and Abram Streets for 40 years. They served this community well. Erman and Bonnie passed away a few years ago now.

It was not unusual for me to hear on a regular basis how much Erman Lester meant to the people of Arlington. I hear statements like, “He gave me my first credit,” per Harold Patterson, or “He always came when I called him because I could not start my car,” per Dr. Zack Bobo, and “He loaned me money when he knew I could not pay him back,” per Harry Lawing.

As a kid I would wait for Daddy to come home at night.  He would always be running late and the hour would be close to 9 p.m. each evening.  I remember asking, “Why is it always so late when you get home?” His response was, “Honey, there is always one more car to fill up.” As he would try to close up the station to come home, someone would call and say, “I have a flat,” or “I need a battery,” or there would be some other need in a person’s life. He never asked if they could pay. He always went with no questions asked.

I can remember how upset Dad became when I told him Bob and I were taking his grandsons Jim and Rick to Korea to be missionaries.  He could not understand why I thought Korea needed church and Christian work more than the people in Arlington.  He did his best to get us not to go.

Our return from Korea 10 years later was significant because I could still remember Dad’s thought of “why can’t you do missions in Arlington?” So the thought continued that if you can do missions in Korea, you can do missions in Arlington. I think Dad was pleased, because from the beginning of our missionary service, he wanted Mission Arlington.

At Erman’s funeral, the First Baptist Church was packed with citizens from the community who had their tires aired up after the station was closed, and Dad stayed to help, or he went out with a gas can because a car had run out of gas, or a battery when a car would not start. There were so many times I went with him on what he called “service calls” in the small red pickup.

The church was full of people who recognized the friend he was to them. He had hired many of their children to work after school just to help keep a young person out of trouble. (I don’t think I ever got paid.) His grandson, Jim Burgin, gave tribute at his funeral to a very special granddad who represented truth and love and hard work. He said, “Erman Lester was respected by all. Not one unkind word did he ever speak.”

As the six former mayors of this city walked out of the church as pallbearers, I thought as I watched, what a testimony to a man who did make a difference. I never saw Erman in a suit (he was always in a Gulf uniform), he didn’t attend church very often, he never went to the golf course and on rare occasions he took his family on a vacation. Most of his life was devoted to giving away his life so others would be OK.

We, who knew him, stand to applaud the heritage he left and the love he had for us all.

Thanks, Dad