Elwood Doss proposed to college sweetheart Denise Barnes
They spent a lifetime away from each other. They’ll spend the rest of their lives together.
Elwood Doss, who works in the music department at UT Martin and in the ministry at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, planned out a somewhat unique engagement for Denise Barnes on Saturday, taking the occasion of the UTM women’s basketball to carry out the proposal.
During a media time-out in the first half of the afternoon game against SIU-Edwardsville, Elwood escorted Denise to the court, where she thought she had been chosen to answer a UT Martin basketball trivia question.
As she faced three cheerleaders, presumably there to help with the answer, Elwood dropped to one knee with the engagement ring in hand. The cheerleaders then revealed a sign for Denise to turn around, where Elwood then asked for her hand.
An enthusiastic “yes” followed, bringing a relationship that began in junior high around full circle.
The two first met at South Fulton Middle School, riding the bus together.
While she stayed at South Fulton for high school, he moved on to Obion County Central.
The pair then began college apart as well, she attending Union University and he moving on to Georgetown (Ky.) College.
They began dating during the Christmas break of their freshman year, each eventually transferring to UT Martin where their romance grew and appeared headed down the aisle before Denise, believing God had a different path for both, broke up with Elwood.
She returned his senior ring and went to live with her uncle and aunt for a year while attending Indiana State University.
Elwood began singing with a gospel group, where he met and married Carolyn Sims. The two had three children – Chuck, Deborah and Daniel.
Elwood and Carolyn became active in their churches and revivals in their area and then formed the Doss Family Singers with their children.
While Elwood was living a very fulfilling life in the ministry with his family, Denise had moved on to a successful and rewarding life as well, although she had never married.
Into her 30s, Denise began to feel she had made a mistake by breaking up with Elwood, that is until long-ime friend Aletha Tegethoff Slayden, a classmate of the two at South Fulton, sent her a newspaper clipping of the Doss Family Singers.
Seeing that, she realized God’s plan was still in place. Unable to have children and not as musically talented as Carolyn, Denise understood what would have been denied, not only Elwood, but the people whose lives he and his family had touched through the ministry, had they been married as college sweethearts.
At peace with her life into her 40s, Denise taught first grade for 21 years and speech therapy for 16 years while remaining active in her church and close to younger sister Tammy and brother John.
When her father passed away in 1993, Denise moved herself and mother into a ranch-style house. John eventually moved in to help out until their mother’s death in 2007.
Denise retired from teaching a year later. A visit to friend JoAnn denBroeder at a retirement community in Florida led Denise to buy a place there and spend five to six months during the coldest part of the year there.
Meanwhile, Elwood and Carolyn served at First Baptist Church in Martin for 18 years and then at Fulton First Baptist for two.
He was hired at UTM as a piano technician and also served as part-time worship leader at Pleasant Hill.
Carolyn was diagnosed with stage 4 gall bladder cancer in November 2007 and battled the disease for four years before dying Nov. 16, 2010.
It was not long after that the paths of Elwood and Denise crossed again in a very 21st Century way – social media.
After accepting a “friend request” on Facebook, Elwood noticed Denise’s name, took a chance and sent a request to her. She accepted, and the feelings they had for each other a lifetime ago began to surface again.
It had been in May of 2010 when Denise had three identical dreams, a voice telling her she was getting married.
The two carried on a long-distance relationship until recently, when she moved into an apartment in Dresden. They have seen each other every day since.
Elwood and Denise have enjoyed reconnecting and discovering how many similarities they have.
They are currently waiting to see where God’s path will lead them.