Marvin Sloan learned the significance of helping others early on.
Raised by his mother Pauline, he watched how she single-handedly managed a home and four children after her husband died in an automobile accident.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” the 76-year-old said.
Wife Cheryl Sloan described his mother’s altruistic nature.
“I think she always worked at the church, being involved and always helping people,” she said. “It’s what he was modeled. And my parents were the same way. We learned it from them and, hopefully, our kids have learned the same thing.”
The couple met when Marvin managed a Winn Dixie grocery next to a pharmacy where Cheryl’s aunt Nolie Crosby and mother Julia Braddock worked in the Lake Forest neighborhood of Jacksonville. Marvin frequented the pharmacy and took a liking to Cheryl who worked behind the food counter.
“He was my first date,” she said.
They were married on Aug. 29, 1964. They have four children, Marvin Jr., Cynthia, Brian and Stephen, and 10 grandchildren.
“I don’t know what we’d do without our family,” Cheryl said. “Our kids are here whenever we need them.”
Marvin agreed, saying, “Could not get along without them.”
The couple has persevered through several health challenges in recent years. Cheryl had a stroke a couple years ago and Marvin suffered a stroke in July that affected his left side. He now needs assistance with mobility.
Before his stroke, he sang in the First United Methodist Church of Callahan choir, performed maintenance duties at the church and parsonage, mowed the grass, served meals and assisted on any church-related outreach projects, including the Red Bird Mission in Kentucky. Cheryl was at his side assisting where she could.
The couple was recently honored at the church along with several other longtime members, receiving a plaque of appreciation. They have attended the church since 1973.
“It seems like Marvin was on every committee except the women’s committee,” fellow church member Susie Bass said, adding that she and husband Ken have attended the church since 1976.
“Every time you were at the church, he was there busy with stuff,” Bass recalled.
Cheryl also supported his military and professional efforts throughout their marriage.
Marvin served in the U.S. Navy from 1964-66 in active duty. He served another seven years training reservists. He was already an experienced leader from his years of employment at Winn Dixie, starting as a bagger at 16 in 1959.
The company became a mainstay as Sloan ascended to management.
He was the store manager in Callahan, Fernandina Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville and Hilliard before retiring in 2010 after 51 years of employment.
“You’ve got to love your job and stay with it and care for the people you work with,” Sloan said. “I’ve always tried to treat my employees as family.”
His church family recently pitched in to help the couple. Church members came out to clean and organize the home before Marvin returned home after the stroke.
“We couldn’t have done it without our church family and friends,” Cheryl said.
Randy Zakrzewski befriended the couple when he attended FUMC. He now lives next door.
“They’re role models as parents and the love they show to anyone and everyone,” he said. “As my parents said when they came down here, They have three loves in their lives. Their family and their camping, and their 100 percent total dedication to their church.”
Zakrzewski is equally inspired by the couple’s willingness to help others.
“Don’t ask for anything in return,” he said. “Just do it. A hug is good enough – a smile is good enough. They always say in church that, ‘We are the hands and feet of God.’
Marvin epitomizes that. He is a true disciple.”
Faith in God has helped the couple throughout their lives.
“I’ve just always known He’s with me,” Marvin said.
Cheryl added, “He’s got us through a lot. We couldn’t do it without Him. I don’t see how people that don’t have God in their lives make it, because He’s helped us so much. He’s there all the time.”
A chili cook-off is planned March 7 at FUMC, with proceeds benefiting the Sloans so that modifications to their home can accommodate mobility. Entries are $10 each. It costs $5 to judge. The cook-off begins at 3 p.m. Dinner follows for $15. To enter, call Gerry Snipes at 766-9996 before Feb. 29.