The Seventh-day Adventist church that now sits on the beautiful campus of Bass Memorial Academy has its roots in the tiny community of Talowah, just 2 miles south of BMA.
As far as can be ascertained, the first Adventist in the area was Mr. J.L. Waller, a literature evangelist working in Hattiesburg. As he came upon the sparse community of Talowah, he envisioned a school, a church, and possibly a sanatorium. He began to promote the idea everywhere he went. In Hattiesburg he sold a book, Bible Footlights, to Mr. W.E. Cooper, who accepted the message of the book, was baptized and carried the message to his sister, Mrs. F.E. McKee who was living near Philadelphia, MS. She passed the message on to others. Late in 1920, Mr. Will Coble, Mr. Tom Coble and Mr. Commodore Hendershot moved to Talowah, followed shortly thereafter by the Turner, McKee, Hasting and Wells families. Before long a meeting was held to organize the first Sabbath School. The date of this organization was July 31, 1922.
This first group of believers had no building in which to hold services, so the Methodist congregation of Talowah very generously offered the use of their church. In the Spring of 1923 a schoolhouse/church combination was completed and occupied. In its heyday this church school boasted an enrollment of more than 100 students in grades 1-10.
In the early days seldom did the church have the privilege of the services of an ordained minister, but that was not considered a hardship, for the local brethren did a very good job of “feeding the flock”.
About 1936 or 1937 a new church building was erected and was used until Bass Memorial Academy was built, however enrollment in the school and membership in the church began to decline in the late ‘30s. The reasons were few; mainly, the need to find employment and the need to further the children’s education. Many of the charter families moved to the Collegedale, TN area so that their children could obtain an Adventist college education.
Ralph Hendershot was one of the charter pupils of the first church school in Talowah and through the years had carried a love of those old days in his heart and a dream that he might yet see an Adventist academy firmly established in the area. Ralph and his wife, Minnie came back to live in Talowah in the early ‘40s and supported the small church whole-heartedly.
Around this time Ralph developed a friendship with Mr. I.H. Bass, known locally as “the pecan man”, which lasted until Mr. Bass’ death. Mr. Bass, one of Lamar County’s most prosperous and influential residents at the time, had purchased approximately 25,000 acres of cut-over land during the Depression when land sold for $1 or less per acre. He and his family built a cattle, pecan and nursery empire that was world- renowned and was the salvation of the Lumberton area’s economy.
Many times Ralph sought Mr. Bass’ financial support for the work of the Adventist Church, to no avail. Mr. Bass informed Ralph that he had no interest in supporting the work of the church, but if their educational system was any good he would gladly support it. Since Mr. Bass worked for many years on his own land, he liked and heartily approved of the idea of young people working their way through school.
Ralph presented Mr. Bass with an overview of the Adventist educational system, along with photographs of Madison Academy and College in Madison, TN. Within a week Mr. Bass contacted Ralph, telling him to call his Conference officials to come visit him so they could receive his firm commitment of substantial aid to build a boarding school in Lamar County.
Ralph relayed the message to the Conference officials and on May 21, 1957, the brethren came down. Mr. Bass escorted them over much of the world’s largest pecan nursery and his many acres of pastures and they were delighted when he informed them that they could have any parcel of land they had viewed, suggesting, however, that they take the choicest parcel of acreage they had been shown. In all, there are now about 450 acres belonging to the school—all a gift from the Bass family.
The academy opened to students in the fall of 1961, and the small congregation meeting at Talowah merged with the BMA church, meeting in the academy Chapel. Nineteen seventy-four saw the beginning of a new church on the Bass Memorial Academy campus—a far more attractive place of worship than the old Talowah members had, but certainly no more, if as much, beloved.
The current church building had undergone few changes until the year 2000 when the membership voted to begin a major remodeling project. This project, still a work in progress, had to be re-thought and revised after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.