CUYAHOGA FALLS: Hundreds flowed through the doors of the former Cathedral of Tomorrow on Saturday to pay respects to the revivalist preacher who pioneered television evangelism.
At the height of the Rev. Rex Humbard‘s popularity, an estimated 25 million people worldwide on 2,000 stations watched his Sunday sermons from the Cathedral of Tomorrow.
In 1999, he was heralded by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 25 architects of the modern era.
”I grew up in this church. My parents came to Christ through Rex’s ministry,” said Elizabeth Bandy of Akron. ”His legacy is so touching. He’s made such a difference in this community and his ministry worldwide is so overwhelming. When I look around and see the faces of all these people who came to say goodbye, I realize the one common thread is Rex’s ministry.”
Humbard, who died Sept. 21 at a Florida hospital, lay in state Saturday afternoon at what is now Ernest Angley’s Grace Cathedral.
Humbard’s funeral is at 4:30 p.m. today at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, 714 N. Portage Path in Akron. A private burial will be Monday.
Just like family
The Humbard children Rex Jr., Don, Aimee Elizabeth (Darling) and Charles decided to have public services for their father because they consider the people who have been touched by their father’s ministry as family.
”He was more than a preacher,” Don Humbard said. ”He was a spiritual father, not just to us and his grandkids, but to many people in this community, around the country and around the world. They are family.”
Before the doors of the cathedral opened to the public at 2 p.m., Angley met with family members to express his condolences and offer his support and prayers.
”He did a great work and helped a lot of people,” Angley said of Humbard. ”He will be greatly missed.”
About 500 people walked across the stage at Grace Cathedral, where Humbard lay in state. Many shed tears and shared hugs and memories as Southern gospel music played.
Raye and Nancy Zacharias drove from Fort Worth, Texas, for the calling hours and funeral service. The couple worked in Humbard’s education ministry for four years beginning in 1968.
”He was just an amazing guy and we wanted to be here because he meant so much to us,” Raye Zacharias said. ”Sometimes I think people forget there was a local ministry here. We had a really good church. We had a strong Sunday school, youth programs and seniors programs. It was more than a television ministry.”
Nancy Zacharias added that they wanted to be with the Humbard family in their time of grief.
”Our respect and love for him and his family are something that we wanted to share with the children this weekend,” Nancy Zacharias said. ”We love them and we want them to know that.”
Humbard born Alpha Rex Emmanuel Humbard on Aug. 13, 1919, in Little Rock, Ark., was the son of evangelists. He evolved his ministry from revivals across the country to one of the most widely followed nondenominational ministries worldwide.
He belonged to the first and least controversial generation of televangelists. His contemporaries include Billy Graham and Oral Roberts. He avoided political messages and chose to focus his ministry on God. He once said if Jesus were preaching today, ”He would never get into politics.”
While his television ministry flourished, his business ventures were less successful. In the early 1970s he owned businesses including Mackinac College in Michigan, the Real Form Girdle Co. in Brooklyn, N.Y., an advertising agency, a plastics company and a 23-story office building in downtown Akron. He also owned a 52-seat jet.
By the mid-1970s, federal authorities accused him of selling unregistered securities to members of his congregation. His ministry was forced to sell off most of its assets, and in 1982 Humbard moved to south Florida, hoping to establish a new operation in Latin America.
But Humbard maintained his integrity with his followers and others. His down-home, folksy style appealed to many, including Sylvia Stauffer of Norton.
”Nobody is perfect, but Rex taught us how to live for God by the way he lived. I am here to give honor to whom honor is due. Rex deserves honor for the countless number of people he led to God,” Stauffer said. ”I still live by the principles he taught us. Rex taught us that if we believe in God and live for him that God would take care of us and no weapon formed against us would prosper.”
During the Depression, Humbard’s family traveled nationwide as a group of gospel singers. The Humbard Singers were well known on radio. Humbard served as master of ceremonies and strummed the guitar.
Things changed for Humbard one summer day in 1952 in downtown Akron, where his family had pitched a revival tent at the local airport. While watching a crowd standing outside an O’Neil’s Department Store window in downtown Akron, watching a Major League Baseball game on a new gizmo called television, he was inspired to use the new medium to spread the word of God.
Humbard decided to leave the family ministry and make Akron his home. His Sunday services were televised by 1953. The broadcast featured a mixture of preaching and music. Humbard’s wife, Maude Aimee, an accomplished gospel singer, their children, and the Cathedral Quartet performed regularly.
He purchased the former Copley Road Theater, christened it Calvary Temple and began broadcasting in 1953. As he gained popularity, services were moved to the Ohio Theater on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls.
In 1958, Calvary Temple opened a $4 million, 5,400-seat church farther north on State Road in what was then Northampton Township. The church changed its corporate name to Cathedral of Tomorrow in 1959. Services included prayer for the sick and anointing with oil.
The Cathedral of Tomorrow was sold for $2.5 million in 1994 and became home to evangelist Angley’s Grace Cathedral.
Alma Robinson of Ravenna remembers when Humbard signed the papers to build the church, a forerunner to megachurches that are now a trademark of American televangelism. The signing took place at the dining room table in her parents’ home on North Hill.
Her parents John and Myrtle Hood, known affectionately as ”Daddy Hood” and ”Mama Hood” in the church befriended Humbard while attending revival meetings at their tent.
”I remember my dad telling (Humbard) you have to stay here in Akron. We need good Gospel preaching here in Akron,” Robinson said. ”Rex was a special man. He was a humble man who just cared about people and loved them.”
In addition to his wife and children, Humbard is survived by a brother, Clement; two sisters, Leona Jones of Frankfort, Mich., and Juanita Banker of Deland, Fla.; 10 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.