The Oregon couple said they responded to a call to go and serve where the need was greater to search for the Lord’s sheep. That search led them to Cleveland where George and Gladys made Bradley County their permanent home.
The amiable couple will be married 64 years in October and are still active in gardening, attending Christian meetings and engaging in a volunteer ministry of preaching and teaching — a work they were familiar with their entire lives, even before they knew each other.
George was raised in Wyoming. Gladys was raised in Ohio. He was the oldest of five children. She was the oldest of six. Both did farming as children in the 1930s. Both also had fathers who took the lead in spiritual matters.
Although hard times made it difficult for some parents to take the time to attend church regularly during the Great Depression era, many rural families welcomed at-home visits from traveling ministers. George and Gladys’ families were among the welcoming recipients.
According to George, a man, his wife and another young man, “serving as pioneers,” would come through their Wyoming area with a small trailer and stay for several days teaching the Bible.
“My grandmother had a small grocery store and they parked there where we lived,” he said. “She accepted some literature when they came through. She didn’t pay any attention to it. But my dad saw it and started reading it.
“He said, ‘This is the truth!’ and started preaching to everyone who came in the grocery store. Some of the neighbors thought he had gone crazy with religion, but some of them came into the truth.”
“My dad was like that too,” said Gladys, who lived more than 1,000 miles away. “Dad was sick and in bed a lot. But everyone who came to visit him, he talked about what he had learned.”
“The closest congregation was in Casper — 100 miles away from where my family lived,” George said. “The brothers would drive down from Casper once a month and have a meeting in a two-room school house. I was about 11. We left there when I was 13 and moved to Roseburg, Ore., in 1936.”
Gladys was still living in Ohio. Both said their parents learned the Bible’s message this way and shared it with them, although neither recall any regular family Bible study in their homes. George was baptized in 1939 as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
According to the Mayborns, In 1941 the two teenagers attended the same assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Louis, neither knowing the other was among the estimated 115,000 in attendance.
Both recall a touching scene on Sunday morning, which was “Children’s Day.” When the morning session opened, 15,000 children between the ages of 5 to 18 were gathered in the main arena in front of the platform.
According to George, all 15,000 children listened as the speaker encouraged them to take their stand on the side of God, His kingdom and Christ Jesus. The youths agreed to tell the world about God’s kingdom. Everyone received a copy of a new book titled “Children.”
The following year Gladys was baptized and soon thereafter entered the full-time preaching work. George was already in the full-time ministry. But both said that special Sunday morning program in St. Louis in 1941 made a lasting impression on many youths, including them.
In 1946, Gladys moved to Roseburg and attended the same congregation as George and his family. With all their similarities, the two found each other’s company very easy to enjoy.
“I was still pioneering when we met,” George said. “Gladys was keeping house for a family who had two kids.”
The couple hit it off instantly and a year later, George, 25, and Gladys, 22, married and made Roseburg their home. They said they had “plenty to do in the work of the Lord” and enjoyed spreading the good news together.
“I don’t think Roseburg is half as big as Cleveland, but it has five congregations there now,” George said. In 1958, the couple relocated to Cleveland where even fewer people knew about the Witnesses.
“At that time they were calling on Witnesses to go where the need was great,” George said.
“There were hardly any Witnesses here in Cleveland,” Gladys added.
“They were having meetings, but there were only about 15 people attending at the time,” said George, who served as an elder in the Cleveland Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses for many years.
“We rented an upstairs room in a building on the corner near the square in downtown Cleveland on First Street.”
The couple said the growth of the Witnesses in and around Cleveland has been remarkable, especially in recent years.
“It’s amazing, really, because we were a relatively small group back in those days,” George said. “Now we have an English and Spanish-speaking congregation in Cleveland. There is talk of the English congregation splitting into two congregations here.”
The magazine the Mayborns have been reading and distributing for more than six decades, The Watchtower, is the most widely read magazine in the world, according to Newsmax.com.
With more than 42 million copies printed each month in 188 languages, its closest competitor is its companion magazine, Awake! which averages nearly 40 million magazines each month, followed by AARP The Magazine with approximately 24 million readers and Reader’s Digest at 17 million.
George, 88, says when his health and circumstances allow, he prefers to offer the magazines door-to-door during evening hours when more people are home and relaxing. Many people still welcome his short visits, he said.
“Like it said in the book of Acts, when the brothers were preaching the good news the disciples increased rapidly, because Jehovah’s spirit was behind it,” George said.
Both Gladys and George commented how they still recall a time of persecution of the Witnesses in America in the 1940s, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in their favor on several landmark decisions of First Amendment law to protect the freedom of all religions.
The couple said as they watch other countries like Russia, Armenia and South Korea struggle with similar issues of religious freedom, they are praying that recent rulings in favor of the Witnesses by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights are enforced as fundamental rights of all people.
After experiencing several health issues in the past decade, including a heart-attack, shingles, a hernia operation and intestinal surgery in 2010, George, a construction worker his whole married life, moves at a slower pace, although his work ethic remains impressive.
“I just finished mowing the lawn this morning,” he said. “I also had to rebuild our storage house after one of the tornadoes destroyed it in April. It fell on our lettuce patch.”
“We still do a lot for our age,” Gladys added. “We work our garden which has tomatoes, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, beans and squash. I get up at 6 a.m. and study the Bible. George gets up at 7.”
Through it all, George and Gladys, hard workers and warmhearted people, said they are glad they made the sacrifices they did for God, His kingdom and Christ Jesus. They added they are glad they also found each other. Their secret to a lasting marriage, they say, has been to practice what the Bible says a husband and wife should do.
“We get along well,” Gladys said. “He’s happy all the time and smiling.”
George let out a loud yell of a laugh, then softly added, “Gladys is a loyal wife. She’s loyal to me, to the family and to Jehovah.”
The Cleveland transplants have two children, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.