Remembering Polk County’s own Mother Teresa

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Thermal Belt Outreach founder dies at 98

TRYON — Known for her life of generosity and service to others, Polk County’s own Mother Teresa, Eloise Thompson Thwing, passed away last Thursday. She was 98.

A celebration of life is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday at White Oak Manor in Tryon, where Thwing spent her final years.

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Born in Florida, Thwing grew up in a Christian home and had a heart of service from an early age. This gift led her to become a registered nurse, as she graduated from the University of Miami’s Jackson Memorial School of Nursing in 1942.

She worked as a nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital until her family moved to New York, where she continued her career in nursing.

Thwing worked as a volunteer as director of the Long Island Juvenile Protection Board and served as director of Long Island Educational Leadership conference.

Eloise Thwing

In 1981, she and her husband, Richard Thwing Sr., moved to Polk County, where she served as chair of the Imperative Program to Research Poverty in Polk County prior to opening Thermal Belt Outreach in 1991.

What started in the basement at the Columbus United Methodist Church as a food pantry grew into Thermal Belt Outreach, located on White Drive in Columbus, which today serves thousands annually. The building now bears Thwing’s name.

Thwing served as the Thermal Belt Outreach Board’s first president, and was the executive director from 1991-2010. She retired at the end of 2010 at the age of 90.

Her husband was also instrumental in starting Outreach before his death shortly after the organization began.

Cynthia Terwilliger, lay leader at Columbus United Methodist Church, said Thwing had a rich and full life before she came to Polk County as a registered nurse and an accomplished artist who had worked on a cruise ship.

“But, when she came to Polk County, she felt a new calling,” Terwilliger said. “And aren’t we blessed that she did?”

Terwilliger said Thwing is surely the most influential woman Polk County has ever had, and her dedication to living a life of generosity and service has impacted the lives of thousands in the county.

“We are all so grateful for the life of Eloise Thwing and the major impact she continues to have in Polk County,” Terwilliger said. “Her vision, faith and tenacity made Thermal Belt Outreach what it is today. We are all better for having known her and having had her as an exemplar of Christian living.

“Her Columbus United Methodist Church family mourns her passing and celebrates her remarkable life.”

Terwilliger noted that Thwing had Matthew 25:35-36 framed and hanging in a prominent place in her office, and truly lived by those verses.

Thwing (second from right) and others break ground at the site of Collins Dental Service in Columbus. (Submitted photo)

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me,” Terwilliger said, quoting the verses. “This is the heart of Eloise and the legacy she has left us.”

Former Columbus United Methodist Church pastor and former Thermal Belt Outreach Board President the Rev. Tony Sayer spoke of the study on poverty the Church Women United conducted that Thwing was involved in, and her persistence in helping those in need.

Sayer said Ashley Meadows was another of Thwing’s projects, and he once told her that Outreach did not have the capacity to take on the affordable housing project.

“And she said we need to develop the capacity to do that,” Sayer said.

Thwing was known for not taking “no” for an answer and having the ability to pool people and resources to help people in need.

“My deepest and fondest memories of Eloise center on her remarkable ability to pull people together into a community of caring,” Sayer said. “And her remarkable ability to confront real problems that many people, perhaps most people, really don’t want to see or acknowledge. She is one of the most remarkable people I have ever known, and it was a great honor to be her pastor. I have loved all the people that I have pastored, but she is someone who called forth from me the best that I had to offer.”

Retired Outreach Administrative Assistant Ann Carswell said there are so many wonderful words to describe Thwing, including awesome, one of a kind, caring and a very special lady with a big heart. She said a friend described Thwing as a great planner.

“Without being a great planner, or organizer, Outreach Ministry would not have been born to deliver the many services and support for the people in Polk County,” Carswell said. “This ‘Super Woman’ saw a need and went to work.”

Former neighbor of the Thwings and former Outreach board member Phil Feagan said She was one of the sweetest, most genuine, caring people he has ever known.

“She truly knew that being a Christian meant forgetting herself and serving others, and that’s what she did,” Feagan said. “There’s no question without Eloise there would be no Outreach and look at all the things it has done.”

Kenneth “Casey” Day, who worked with Thwing for 15 years in the early years of the ministry, said Thwing was totally devoted to her vision of pulling together a community outreach.

“Eloise was a very determined person, driven by her compassion to help those in need,” Day said. “And ‘No’ was just not a word that she acknowledged to any need.”

Eloise Johnson, her friend and former Outreach board member, said Thwing was someone special, who was full of love and determination.

“Her work made a difference in the lives of others,” Johnson said. “She liked feeding the multitude. She took what organizations, churches and individuals gave and made it go much further than individuals or groups could.

“Only words of beauty can describe her because she was an incredible woman. She was always empathetic and encouraging to those she helped.”

Former Outreach Executive Director Carol Newton said so many Polk County residents from all walks of life have been touched by Thwing.

“She pursued a calling, surmounted the challenge, and educated residents about the condition of some of our neighbors,” Newton said. “She left the gift of Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry.”

Current Thermal Belt Outreach Executive Director George Alley said what strikes him about Thwing’s legacy is the scope of what she accomplished during a period in life when most people are looking to retire.

“In her late 60s, she spearheaded a poverty study in the county, which led to the creation of Outreach,” Alley said. “During her tenure as executive director, the organization grew from several hundred customer visits in the basement of the Columbus United Methodist Church to more than 3,800 customer visits in a 6,500-square-foot complex that bears her name. Along the way, she raised millions of dollars, helped build Ashley Meadows and Collins Dental; and created many programs to help children, adults and seniors.

“I have always been awed by her achievements, and trust that Outreach can continue to build on the solid foundation she provided.”

“Eloise had a gift; she was not afraid to share her idea and be rejected and most times than not she always got what she needed when it came to Outreach,” said Michelle Reedy, client services manager with Outreach. “She was a candle that shined bright in this community and was a beacon of hope to all those who ever had the privilege of meeting her.”

Terwilliger said our greatest honor to her is in continuing to support her work and in following Jesus’ commandment.

“We are certain in 100 years, Eloise Thwing will be remembered, Thermal Belt will continue to serve and lives will be better because she came our way,” Terwilliger said.

Thwing leaves behind a son, Richard Thwing Jr., of Florida; two granddaughters; and three great-grandsons.

Memorials to Thwing can be made to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, 1990 Augusta St. Suite 600, Greenville, SC 29605.