In 1950, a small wooden church began to take shape on Killeen’s horizon.
On top of its foundation stood four walls, some windows and rows of pews with a simple, strong-peaked roof that reached for the heavens.
For 64 years, Killeen’s oldest historically African-American church, Simmonsville Missionary Baptist, has served as a spiritual trailblazer representing hope, healing and refuge in the community.
The church, originally named Long Star Community Baptist, stands on land donated by William “Bill” Simmons, a
property owner and the son of a Baptist preacher. Simmons, who was white, played a significant role in the founding of the church, according to Melba Olean Davis, 85, the last surviving charter member.
She recently recalled the influence Simmons had on the church. “We didn’t have enough votes for a quorum and that was a problem. Mr. Simmons became a temporary church member in order to cast his vote to build the church for blacks.”
Davis said Simmons was a “very good Christian” for helping the church get started.
In return for his good deed, the congregation honored Simmons and his family in 1954 by changing the church’s name to Simmonsville Missionary Baptist.
Four pastors have served the church since its inception, including J.W. Bosier from 1951 to 1953 and A.R.D. Hubbard from 1954 to 1971.
When Hubbard retired in 1971, H.E. Debose Sr., then an assistant pastor at Marlboro Heights Missionary Baptist Church, filled in until a new pastor, Eddie B. Coppage Jr., arrived in 1973.
Coppage Jr. served until 1983, when DeBose took over. DeBose still serves as pastor today.
The church purchased an Army barracks in 1954 and moved it to 3314 Todd St., where it was remodeled into a larger sanctuary. A strong community effort completed renovations, installing paneling on the inside, siding on the exterior, and a brick front entrance. That building is now used as the Junior Church.
In 1973, the current church building opened at 509 S. 42nd St.
When DeBose, also a retired X-ray technician, took over in 1983, the church only had 47 members and 23 teenagers.
A year later, the congregation had grown to 203 and now boasts more than 700 members.
DeBose credits the military community for helping the church grow and spreading the church’s message around the world.
“The Lord just added to the church, it was all him,” he said. “We just carry out his mission.” DeBose and his wife, Mildred B. DeBose, have been married for 58 years.
Mildred DeBose, a quiet woman who walks in her faith, was also a trailblazer in Killeen’s black community. In the 1950s, she and her older sister, Ardella, were bused from Fort Hood to T.B. Harris High School in Belton because Killeen High School was not integrated. After segregation ended, she became the first black student to graduate from Killeen High, in 1958.
“We can make it with the Lord in our lives and helping us when we don’t know how to do for ourselves,” said the pastor’s wife, recalling her school days.
Marisa Nichols, the DeBoses’ oldest daughter and manager of her mom’s La Mil Beauty Salon, takes pride in her mother’s accomplishments.
“My mother’s a virtuous woman, and she was always persistent saying, ‘You can do it, just pray,’’ Nichols said.
More than 60 years after its inception, Simmonsville Missionary Baptist Church is still a small community church. But with multiple ministries, a Sunday school, and a foreign mission led by the pastor to Belize each year, the church’s spiritual outreach is wide.
“Our church is about saving souls, leading people to Christ and giving them a sense of direction,” the pastor said. “It’s about how to serve them.”