Woman, 97, made impact in Africa before enriching East texas
Published on Tuesday, 31 March 2015 23:03 - Written by CORY MCCOY, comccoy_at_tylerpaper.com
Arlena Mahaffy, 97, has touched hearts all over the world. Mrs. Mahaffy is a lifelong educator, who spent decades as a missionary in Massawa, Eritrea, which was part of Ethiopia at the time of her service.
Mahaffy’s first job as an educator came in 1938, where she taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Ashton, Illinois. She would eventually leave to finish her degree at Wheaton College, just outside of Chicago, before marrying her fianc￩.
“She’s a very determined woman,” daughter Mary Bonner said. “There isn’t much she puts her mind to that she hasn’t done.”
Arlena married Francis Mahaffy, an Orthodox Presbyterian pastor, in 1944 before the couple left for Africa. During WWII, it had become next to impossible for civilians to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
After a long search, they finally secured passage on an anti-aircraft boat that would protect a fleet of merchant ships. The couple worried that their passage might be delayed again when their boat was held in harbor overnight. They left the next day under strict blackout conditions, on what would become known as V.E. Day, May 8, 1945.
“I felt the Lord’s protection,” Mrs. Mahaffy said of the dangerous voyage and the sometimes harsh conditions of their mission work.
The couple would disembark in Egypt and travel down the Suez Canal to Massawa, where they would stay for more than 20 years. All seven of Mrs. Mahaffy’s children were born in Eritrea; the youngest, Elizabeth, was 8 years old when they returned to Illinois.
“She has such a heart for others and especially for students,” son Peter Mahaffy said. “For the students who get left behind by the school systems.”
The Mahaffys were the first people to put the Saho tribe’s language into writing, helping them learn the phonetics and translating parts of the bible.
Mrs. Mahaffy instilled her children with an appreciation for the importance of education. All of her children went on to pursue higher education and most earned advanced degrees.
After returning to the United States in 1968, the Mahaffy’s settled in Illinois, where Arlena taught at Christian Liberty in Arlington Heights. After Francis passed away in 1980, her children encouraged her to move to Texas, where Mary was working as a nurse.
The Mahaffys continued to welcome Ethiopians and Eritreans into their home. Recently Mahaffy found herself tutoring a group of Ethiopian siblings adopted by an East Texas family.
In the mid-80s Mrs. Mahaffy began teaching at Good Shepherd School in Tyler. Mrs. Mahaffy’s passion has been working with students who need extra care and attention. She retired in May 2014, but kept tutoring until early March when she was admitted to the hospital for kidney failure. The doctors sent Mahaffy home where they believe she will be more comfortable, saying they could do no more for her.
“She told us that she couldn’t find anywhere in the bible that told her to retire,” Mary said.
Mrs. Mahaffy’s latest project is the Jog-a-Thon hosted by Good Shepherd School. 2015 marks the 30th consecutive year that she has volunteered her time and raised money. With the help of her grandson Jesse Bonner, she aims to attend this year.
Good Shepherd is also raising money to remodel a playground named in Mahaffy’s honor. They intend to equip it with activities that boost motor skills function, which Mahaffy says is the key to dealing with learning disabilities or impairments.
Even at 97, Mahaffy can quickly discern what is causing a student to have communication and learning issues, thanks to her expert knowledge of how motor skills correlate with learning.
“She believes in kids,” Peter said. “And especially believes that no one has to fail.”
For more information about donating to the Jog-a-Thon or the Arlena Mahaffy playground, email Mary Bonner at bonnermom_at_gmail.com or call Good Shepherd School at 903-592-4045.
The Mahaffy family in Eritrea, 1964 From left to right, starting in back – Paul, Francis , Arlena, James, then front, also left to right Samuel, Elizabeth, Mary, and Peter (brother John had left to go to College in the US) (Courtest of Peter Mahaffy)
Received on Wed Apr 01 2015 - 05:00:49 EDT