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Frances (left) with her daughter, Angela
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Frances Niven Gamble has seen many changes in Roanoke over the years, remembering many of them as though it were yesterday. As she celebrates turning 100, she recalls the days before technology or shopping malls.
Born in 1916 and originally from Waxer, North Carolina, Frances graduated at 15 years old. She and her husband, who’d met in grade school, married in 1939; she was only 23, and Harry was finishing up seminary school. They lived first in Kentucky, eventually moving to North Carolina. In March of 1946, he received a new job offer that would last the rest of his life, moving his young family to Virginia. As the war had just ended, the church was having trouble. Harry Gamble would be just the right person to bring it all back together.
“Roanoke wasn’t a real big city then,” Gamble explains. “We thought it would be a nice move. We stayed at the Patrick Henry Hotel for two weeks before moving into our home.”
Harry served as the senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Roanoke for over 30 years. An active member in the local community’s religious life, he retired in 1978, serving for an extended time as interim pastor of Virginia Heights Baptist Church. He was a frequent guest preacher at many Roanoke-area churches and spoke to many civic and religious groups. Many touted Harry as having “the voice of God,” given his booming sermons and commanding tone.
Church members included the Kinsey family (best known for creation of the Mill Mountain Star), John Will Creasy (a watercolor painter and artist) and Mayor A.R. Minton. Numerous others from over 2,300 congregation members made it, at one time, the largest church in Virginia.
In that day, Roanoke had streetcars and Frances recollects visits to the S.H. Heironimus Company, an American department store chain based in Roanoke (its first store opened downtown in 1890). It was a railroad town then, with most citizens working for Norfolk & Western.
Frances worked as the secretary for S&W Cafeteria, as well as served on the board of the Children’s Home in Salem & YWCA. Her daughter Angela was part of the first graduating class at Patrick Henry High School.
Frances recalls her memorable days with Harry before he passed. They went to Archie’s after church on Sundays, as well as ate at the Roanoke-renowned Texas Tavern; the Oasis; and Roanoker Restaurant. Frances recalls the Lee Highway Drive-in and American Theatre on Jefferson Street as great ways to stay entertained.
When Frances and Harry first moved, the church put them in a home in South Roanoke. Frances would go down to Lipes and Tinnell’s Finer Foods. Since there were no malls, they had stores such as Davidson’s, Heironimus, Sydney Weinstein’s and Lazarus.
Now in her home of 37 years, Frances reflects positively on her time in Roanoke.
“I don’t do much now, but Roanoke has come a long way,” she says. “It’s a lovely place.”
To hear Dr. Harry Y. Gamble preach during the 1977 Easter Sunrise Service view the video below:
1977 Easter Sunrise Service from Natural Bridge VA
1977 Easter Sunrise Service from Natural Bridge VA.
Date recorded: April 10, 1977
Speaker: Dr. Harry Y. Gamble