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Faith drives passion for higher education

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Ernest McKinley Tramel (Photo submitted)

Dennis and Ralph Tramel, of Murfreesboro, have fond memories of their father who was a longtime Methodist minister.

Being a man of the cloth, Ernest McKinley Tramel took his calling seriously and accepted the fact that moving regularly was all part of doing God’s work.

With nothing else to be considered, the family moved from one side of Tennessee to the other with many stops in between, even serving churches in neighboring Kentucky.

Born in DeKalb County as the second child in a family with 12 other siblings, the Ernest Tramel was reared in a modest environment that meant survival by sweat of the brow. During his time as a teenager, he felt the call to enter the ministry but resisted the idea.

In 1923, when he was 18 years old, his mother was near death with typhoid fever.

One day while plowing on a rocky hillside, Ernest Tramel used the plow handles as his altar to accept God’s call into the ministry with a promise to follow the Lord wholeheartedly if his mother would be healed.

She was and he made good on his promise.

Realizing that his limited education would not take him far as a pastor and evangelist, he walked from the hills of DeKalb County to Silver Point in Putnam County, caught a train, and traveled on to Baxter Seminary with a determined attitude to get a good education.

He was told by Harry L. Upperman, who saw something special in him, a strong back and positive attitude would go a long way in earning his degree. That meant tending a farm on the school campus, doing maintenance on buildings, and even helping to construct some future facilities.

Being a co-ed school, Ernst Tramel’s attention was also drawn to a young lady by the name of Maggie Ann Peavyhouse, who worked in the kitchen.

While Dennis Tramel said his parents were not in love at first sight, but over a period of time, they had thoughts of romance.

They were married on Oct. 5, 1935, and from that union came three sons, Dennis, Bill, who is now deceased, and Ralph.

During a recent interview with the two surviving sons, I was told that their father had a passion for education. He not only graduated from Baxter Seminary near Cookeville, but also from Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens and attended East Tennessee State College in Johnson City.

During 52 years of preaching the gospel, Ernest Tramel only missed two Sunday appointments; once when he suffered from pneumonia and one when there was a death in the family.

In the early years of his ministry, he either walked or rode a bicycle several miles to serve a circuit, which could include up to five different churches. He also was paid on some occasions by his parishioners with fresh garden produce and molasses.

Even after his formal retirement, Ernest Tramel wanted to continue sharing his Christian faith. He was asked to be minister of visitation at St. Mark’s Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, where he ultimately served in that role for 14 years.

Being the sons of a Methodist preacher brought several challenges to his sons.

“We had to always be on our best behavior, which sometimes was a little difficult,” Dennis Tramel remarked. “We were told that a preacher was evaluated by how his children behaved.”

Another challenge was changing schools and having to make new friends since a Methodist minister could be transferred about every three years.

“I always felt that I had to prove myself with new classmates, which meant that I got into a few scuffles proving that I was tough - not just a softy preacher’s child,” Ralph Tramel added.

Dennis Tramel, now 76, is much like his father in wanting to excel in education. He earned his doctorate and has taught in elementary and high schools and at the university level.

Ralph Tramel, age 70, spent several years in the U.S. Army as a Green Beret, worked at the Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tullahoma, and later retired from the Alvin C. York Veterans Administration Hospital after 26 years.

Tagged under  DeKalb County, Education, Ernest McKinley Tramel, Family, History, Murfreesboro, Religion, Rutherford County

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