It’s been 13 years since the Rev. Joseph Boles was pastor at St. John Church on Tacoma’s Hilltop.
But no one there has forgotten him.
On Saturday, more than 600 people packed the Baptist church on South J Street for an emotional memorial to Boles, praising him as a gifted spiritual leader and mentor and one of Tacoma’s most effective advocates for civil rights in the 20th century.
“The greatness of a man or woman is not measured by what he or she gains in life but by what he leaves behind after he is gone,” said the Rev. Lee Madison, the pastor who took over at St. John when Boles retired in 2000. “It is measured by the lives he has impacted for eternity.”
Boles died Sept. 23 at his home in Jackson, Tenn. He was 90.
Boles founded St. John Church with eight charter members in 1952 and steered its development into one of the city’s largest and most active African American congregations.
Several of those who spoke at Saturday’s memorial spoke of Boles as a father figure and credited him with having led them into the ministry.
According to Madison, 158 young black men — sometimes referred to in the church as “sons of St. John” — joined the ministry as a result of Boles’ charisma and leadership.
“In my life, he modeled coaching and teaching,” Madison said.
All three of Boles’ sons — Eric, Anthony and Joseph Jr. — chose the ministry as a career, and each made presentations Saturday, praising their father’s faith and urging those in attendance to carry on with his convictions about fellowship and helping others.
His father founded St. John but didn’t build it by himself, said Joseph Boles. “God put him in place, but he surrounded himself with beautiful people.”
Bishop Curtis Montgomery, the founding pastor of Tacoma’s Greater Christ Temple Church, praised Boles for his effectiveness in “building fellowship.”
“He was a man of the people,” Montgomery said. “He loved God and he loved people.”
Thomas Dixon, the first executive director of the Tacoma Urban League, praised Boles for taking on a conservative city council in the 1960s and helping secure a multimillion-dollar “model cities grant” for the Hilltop area.
During his 48 years in Tacoma, Boles was a consistent supporter of the Urban League and the NAACP. He marched, protested and spoke out against racism, poverty and discrimination in employment, housing and criminal justice.
At his core, though, was a simpler value, Boles’ son Eric told those gathered at the memorial.
“Pop was about love,” he said, “and you all know that.”
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693