Naomi Mae Merryman, a longtime Ventura resident and a founder of the Bethel Baptist Church in Ventura, died Thursday in a local care center after a brief illness. She was 96.
Merryman, a full-blooded Choctaw, was born Oct. 25, 1900, in a part of the Oklahoma Indian Territory known as Howe. She attended school in the area and later was sent to an all-girl boarding school in Kansas, said her son, Sam Merryman of Ventura.
Oklahoma had been a state for 14 years when Merryman married her husband, Ezra, in 1921, in a town called Hugo. Ezra was one-sixteenth Choctaw. "That makes us children just a little over one-half Indian," said their son, Sam.
An avid organ player, Merryman played for the Mount View Baptist Church. She passed along the love of music to her children, who in the early 1930s started a singing group called the Merryman Quartet.
"We used to sing gospel for different functions," said Sam Merryman. The oldest brother, Paul, sang bass; Ezra Jr. sang tenor; Sam sang alto; and Norma, who died in the late 1970s, sang soprano. "People enjoyed it, little kids doing things like that," Sam said.
The family moved to Point Richmond, Calif., in 1942, and Ezra Sr. and his son Paul went to work in the Kaiser Ship Yard. "They were building liberty ships," Sam said.
While visiting Ventura to see relatives, Ezra and Naomi fell in love with the city, according to Sam. They moved to Ventura in 1945.
Soon after, they founded the Bethel Baptist Church, on Ventura Avenue. Ezra went to work for Shell Oil and Naomi got a job as a seamstress with Carl Bates Domestic Cleaners & Laundry in Ventura. Ezra retired from Shell in 1963; he died in 1979. Naomi remained a widow until the time of her death.
Merryman is survived by three sons, Ezra Merryman, Paul Merryman and Sam Merryman, all of Ventura; daughter Hazel Merryman of Ventura; 13 grandchildren; 24 great-grandchildren; two great-great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Friends may call Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. at Ted Mayr Funeral Home, Ventura.
Services will be Monday at 11 a.m. at the funeral home with Pastor Donald Loomer of First Baptist Church of Ventura officiating. Burial will follow in Ivy Lawn Memorial Park, Ventura. Arrangements are under the direction of Ted Mayr Funeral Home.