Born in abject poverty in the hills of eastern Kentucky on March 5, 1935, Grace Maxine (Conley) Bates was the ultimate middle child, as the 7th out of 13 children born to Max and Virgie Conley of Hager Hill, Kentucky. Life was tough during her childhood years, often with little food on the table in those days which predated food assistance programs. The Conley children stuck together, though, and looked out for one another, a practice that would continue a lifetime until each of their last days.
Grace took her studies in school seriously and graduated as valedictorian of her small high school class in Paintsville, Kentucky. Determined to make a better life, she traveled north with a friend to the booming manufacturing town of Dayton, Ohio, where economic opportunity awaited anyone willing to work hard. She moved into a boarding house in nearby Fairborn, Ohio, and quickly found work at a local furniture store. Next door to her lived an ambitious and restless young man, Charles Bates. They married in 1955. Son Ed followed in 1956, and Ron in 1957. Chuck was a heavy equipment operator, who had served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Korea during the waning days of the Korean War. Though hard work, they quickly established households in Fairborn, first on Haddix Road, followed by a home on Garland Avenue. A third son, David, was born in 1962.
The couple dedicated their lives to God and became life-long members of First Baptist Church in Fairborn. Early on, Dr. Charles Stanley, who was then pastor of FBC, said, “Miss Grace, would you be willing to teach a class of 2nd graders?” Grace said yes, which was followed by many years of teaching Sunday School, serving on multiple committees, and serving as the church secretary.
Son Andy was born in 1969 during a brief period of living in Texas. After returning to Ohio, Grace worked for the Greene County Health Dept for a lengthy period, prior to retiring in 1995. Following retirement, she volunteered in a number of positions, including traveling with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief program to numerous disaster areas. She later volunteered with the Clothes Closet ministry at FBC.
Grace stayed true to her eastern Kentucky roots her entire life, returning often to visit her family. Hard working, the Conleys were proud of their Irish heritage and remained close knit throughout their entire lives, with frequent family reunions, despite having relocated all across the county. The Conley children overcame numerous tragedies in the extended family, including the death of two of the children shortly after childbirth, alcoholism, domestic abuse, a suicide, and numerous cases of cancer. Despite the tragedies, and despite the tremendous hardships of their childhood, the remarkable part of the story is how many of the Conley children were able to overcome all the hardships and tragedies and live full, productive lives and raise remarkable, productive children. In that sense, the Conley children represent American families all over the country. As the ultimate middle child, Grace was the peace keeper, bridging the 31 year divide between the birth of the first and last children of Virgie and Max. She also made sure her own children always had the things her own childhood lacked.
Grace went to be with her savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, on January 11, 2020. Grace was preceded in death by her husband Chuck, son David, her parents, and nine of her brothers and sisters. She is survived by sons Ed, of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Ron of Anchorage, Alaska, and Andy of Jackson, Wyoming, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, along with sister Lois of Kentucky and brothers Lowell of Georgia and Philip of Ohio.
A funeral service will be held on Tuesday January 21, 2020 at 11:00 A.M. at the First Baptist Church Fairborn, 1167 Highview Dr., Fairborn, Pastor Matt Williams officiating. The family will receive friends from 9:30 A.M. until the time of service. Burial will follow at the Byron Cemetery.
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