Longtime Baptist campus minister Marshall Kerlin is a man of numbers.
On July 31 he will turn 56 years old. Add to that 29 years with the Georgia Baptist Convention and he qualifies for retirement benefits.
So on Aug. 1, in the words of former Braves announcer Ernie Johnson Sr.: “This one is…outta here!”
Marshall served students in and around Americus, Ga., for 27 years before being reassigned to Middle Georgia College two years ago. He looks forward to being back closer to his family and church family soon.
Marshall and his wife, Becky (a public school music teacher) taught preschoolers and lent their good voices to the choir and a quartet at First Baptist Church in Americus for more than a quarter-century. Their return will feel like a homecoming for both them and the congregation.
Their son, Scott, is a minister of music, youth and children in nearby Dawson, Ga. He and his wife, Meagan, just celebrated their first anniversary.
Daughter Christi owns and runs (with Becky’s after-school help) a dance studio in Americus. She and husband, Chris, will give Marshall and Becky their first grandchild in early December.
No one could possibly add up the number of students Marshall has positively influenced through 29 years of ministry. At least 60 of them are now serving in some form of vocational ministry.
Four of his former students have followed in Marshall’s footsteps and serve as Baptist campus ministers: Lee Sullens at the University of North Carolina, John Ridley at East Carolina, Bill Grissett at Dalton State College and Chris Fuller at Mercer University.
Tuesday night, some family and friends gathered at The Bullpen sports bar next to Turner Field in Atlanta for a celebration of Marshall’s impending retirement. There is no place he would rather be than at a Braves game (and you don’t have to drag me there either).
Marshall and I have seen hundreds of games over the last 25 years or so. Most were at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the current Turner Field or spring training facilities in Florida.
Although he jabbers endlessly about every possible scenario and statistic — the game never gets boring when he is around. And when I give out with the bantering after about six innings, he finds some stranger seated nearby with whom to carry on the conversation.
Together we could out-manage any manager in baseball — in our minds.
In retirement, Marshall plans to be a substitute teacher and to play a lot of bridge. Speaking of numbers, Marshall is a gold life master bridge player. He ranks number 60 out of 11,000 contract bridge players in Georgia.
The teaching money will fund his trips to various bridge tournaments around the country where he can rake in more points.
But his retirement plans also call for a return to the ballpark. As a student, Marshall worked three years (as an usher and on the grounds crew) for the Braves.
His first night on the job was April 8, 1974, when Hank Aaron hit number 715 to surpass Babe Ruth as the all-time home run champion.
(And, yes, Marshall has reminded me at least monthly for nearly 30 years that he saw it live and I did not. Of course, I was just a young high school senior in Ringgold, Ga., at the time.)
So Marshall is submitting his resume to the Atlanta Braves this week in hopes of securing a seasonal job upon retirement this summer. They would be wise to put him somewhere in view of the game and where the answer to any possible Braves trivia question would be helpful and appreciated.
While I must continue laboring for many more years, I look forward to being with my old buddy Marshall whenever possible. He keeps me feeling younger.
No one has ever entered retirement with so much vigor and childlike enthusiasm for even the simple things of life. It is a perspective needed by us all.
Best wishes, my friend.