Historic Elmwood Cemetery & Foundation

Historic Elmwood Cemetery & Foundation

Where Detroit's History Endures
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Mother Charleszetta Waddles

For nearly four decades, the Reverend Charleszetta Waddles known as “Mother Waddles” devoted her life to providing food, hope and human dignity to downtrodden and disadvantaged people in Detroit. She was born Charleszetta Lena Campbell on October 7, 1912 in St. Louis, Missouri. She was the eldest of seven children and taking care of others came naturally to her since she took care of her brothers, sisters and neighbors. She dropped out of school at the age of 12 to help support her family. She was married at the age of 14. Her first husband Clifford Walker died in 1926; she married again and divorced her second husband in 1933. She had moved to Detroit with the hope that her husband could find a better job. What welfare did not provide she managed to scrape together on her own. She would sell barbeque to raise money for her family. Charleszetta met her third husband Payton Waddles while she was selling barbeque at a church fund raiser.

As a child, Charleszetta had witnessed poverty when her father had lost his barbers job because he had gotten a skin disease from a customer. His business was ruined overnight and he was never able to make a decent living again. He would stand on street corners for hours at a time. When he died few church members attended his funeral. She would identify this as one of the most traumatic experiences of her childhood. This period would influence the course of her life and of her work.

Charleszetta Waddles was 36 years old and the mother of ten children when she began her mission against poverty. She had learned that a neighbor with two children was going to lose her home. Mrs. Waddles collected donations of food and money to help her neighbor save her home. This was only one of her early acts of community concern. In the late 1940’s, Charleszetta began holding prayer meetings in her home for small groups of ladies. She emphasized practical, charitable actions rather than religious rhetoric. “No one,” she told her friends, “is too poor to help those who are less fortunate.” She advised each one to take a single can of food from her own shelf and give it to someone in need.

Following a period of diligent bible study, Charleszetta Waddles became an ordained as a minister in the First Pentecostal Church. She was later re-ordained, in the International Association of Universal Truth. In 1950, her religious teachings gave shape and inspiration to the founding of the Helping Hand Restaurant. In Detroit’s skid row surrounded by flophouses she offered meals for as little as 35 cents. Unlike the “soup Kitchens” of the depression era, where the destitute lined up with a tin cup for a handout, Mother Waddles’ establishment boasted of white tablecloths, a flower on every table and uniformed waitresses. Those who could not pay could eat for free, while those who could afford to often paid as much as three dollars for a cup of coffee. At first Mother waddles did all the cooking, dishwashing and laundry herself, but as time went by, dozens of dedicated volunteers joined her. The restaurant remained open until 1984 when a fire forced its closure.

In 1956 Waddles convinced an inner-city landlord to let her use a vacant storefront at no cost. It was at this property, located in a crime-ridden area of Detroit that she established, Mother Waddles Perpetual Mission for Saving Souls of All Nations. Its name was later shortened to: Mother Waddles Perpetual Mission. Fires, financial setbacks and other problems forced the mission to move several times over the years, but its spirit and goals remained the same. Thousands of needy people walked through the doors of the mission. At times over 200 volunteers were available to help provide for and assist the needy.

In addition to helping people, Mother Waddles, started innovative programs for the disadvantaged. Classes in typing, dressmaking, machine operation, upholstery and cooking were among those thought at the centers. A free medical clinic, job counseling and placement were available through the mission.

Mother Charleszetta Waddles received numerous city, state and national honors during her lifetime. She was motivated with the desire to love and help people. “…anyone can lose their job and need assistance…” It happened to her, but it did not keep her down. She worked 12 hour days until she was 82 years old. Mother Waddles died on July 12, 2001 at the age of 88.

Born: October 7, 1912
Died: July 12, 2001
Buried: Section S, Lot 109