Why this 82-year-old rocks a stunning new outfit every Sunday for virtual church
La Verne Ford Wimberly of Tulsa, Okla., hasn't repeated a church outfit once in the last 52 weeks
La Verne Ford Wimberly wasn't about to let a pandemic stop her from dressing in her Sunday best.
When the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Tulsa, Okla., switched to virtual services a year ago, many parishioners were happy to watch the weekly livestreams in their PJs and sweats — but not Wimberly.
The 82-year-old has been rocking elaborate, colour co-ordinated outfits every Sunday for the last 52 weeks.
"I had been dressing up, going to church on Sunday, all of my life. So it was not unusual for me to do that. And I did not want to get out of the habit, so I just continued it," Wimberly told As It Happens host Carol off.
"Plus, I felt it gave me a little motivation just to be happy and loving it, because I just like fashion."
After every church service, she posts a picture of herself on Facebook. Those Sunday selfies have been a balm to the parishioners who had grown accustomed to seeing Wimberly serve up incredible looks in the church aisles.
"If anyone is feeling downtrodden, they just look at her [Facebook] page and immediately feel uplifted," Robin Watkins, 54, the church's executive office assistant, told the Washington Post. "Her heart is as beautiful as each outfit she has shared with us."
Wimberly said the positive responses keep her motivated. And since the local news station WVLT picked up her story, she's been feeling the love from all over the world.
"After I started receiving all of these complimentary remarks, I thought, hmm, maybe I'm providing a service because most of the people talked about how those messages were inspiring or it was something [they] needed. They were going through something. And some, of course, had lost family members as a result of COVID and they were feeling down and it just kind of lifted their spirits and gave them a little hope," she said.
"So I thought, well, maybe I need to continue to do that. And that's why I did it — not only for myself, but also for others as well."
Wimberly hasn't repeated the same outfit twice in the last 52 weeks. She's even worn a different hat every Sunday. She's lost count of how many she owns, but said all three bedroom closets in her house are stacked with hatboxes.
"Remember I am 82 years old, so I just did not start collecting all this," she said.
She started building her wardrobe when she was a young adult, inspired by her former schoolteachers.
"There were several female teachers at my school, Carver Junior High, and they always looked so beautiful every day with their colour co-ordinated sweaters, skirts whatever they had on," she said. "And I thought, oh, that's just so pretty. And then when I finish high school and get out of college and everything, I'm going to start dressing just like them."
She eventually became a teacher herself, and made sure to dress to the nines every day in class, using a calendar to make sure she never repeated an outfit in the same month.
"I thought if [my teachers] could have had that much effect on me, maybe my dressing for [my students] would also have an effect on them and they'd want go ahead and finish school and get good jobs, have nice careers and be successful," she said.
"So I made it a point to look nice so they would be inspired to move on and know that they could do some great things as well."
And she continues to inspire today. Her pastor, Ray Owens, told the Post that her "impressive hat collection" is "merely an outer expression of her inner wisdom, wit and grace."
Wimberly said hearing those kind words from her pastor gives her a "warm-hearted feeling."
"I try to be encouraging to everyone .... If I have been an inspiration to anybody, that would certainly make me feel good," she said, before adding: "Perhaps, too, he may have said it because I'm the chairman of the board of trustees at the church."
She chuckled. "But no, I think he was sincere. I was just teasing."
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes.