Larry Humphrey died on Thanksgiving morning at age 57. It took several services to commemorate his life.
Two of the services occurred at Messiah Lutheran Church in Detroit. Friday night, mementos of Humphrey decked the interior of the church, displaying the scope of his multifaceted life: high school football and wrestling photographs, blown glass beads and vases, bird-watching books and binoculars, an East Detroit High School yearbook, countless snapshots of friends and family, and a slew of framed certificates: Advanced Wilderness First Aid, Amateur Radio License, Parachuting Service First Sport Jump, and Coach of the Year, Tennis, Spring 1997. Most revealing was a well-worn Bible on display, with passages underlined. Larry Humphrey as pilot-teacher-contractor-missionary to Liberia-glass blower-birder-athlete-coach is secondary to Larry Humphrey as a lover of people and a man of Christian faith.
“He wasn’t ashamed of the Gospel,” says Mary Lee, who taught Sunday school at Messiah to Humphrey’s three daughters — Alycia, Erica, and Rachelle.
Humphrey’s compassion was affirmed by testimony after testimony, as family, friends, and neighbors took turns sharing “Larry stories” at the pulpit.
Sandra Carolan described Humphrey as “one of my father’s dearest friends and one of the only men he ever called upon for help in time of emergency.”
Lee Tilson, Humphrey’s neighbor, said Humphrey was a “superman” who was ready to help with difficult household projects.
Longtime friend Gary Carpenter’s anecdote involved Humphrey carrying him on his shoulders through a sinkhole on a hunting trip because Carpenter did not want to get his gun wet. Humphrey was also best man at his wedding. “He really was the best man,” Carpenter says.
Humphrey, a retired biology teacher from East Detroit High School, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in June 2003. Marilyn, his wife of 35 years, and daughter Rachelle, who lives at home, took care of Humphrey as the illness advanced. Friends lent constant support through prepared meals and regular overnight vigils at the Humphrey house.
Tilson said in a phone interview that one of the Humphreys’ “great acts of generosity was to let the neighborhood come in and be part of the process.”
Carolan recalls Humphrey’s strength at a prayer meeting he attended after his diagnosis. “I remember rejoicing to see a man who could step beyond his own understanding and release himself into the hands of the Lord,” she says.
Humphrey was greatly admired by his nephew Jarred Durkee, who said, “You can find inspiration in many things, but I find inspiration in my uncle.”
He was also an unabashed lover of fast food, according to friend and fellow birding enthusiast Michael Carlson.
Wife Marilyn called Humphrey a man of “horrible puns and practical jokes.” He allegedly demonstrated odor circulation to his high school students by placing skunk oil in the back of his classroom.
One Tuesday, Dec. 16, East Detroit High School students and faculty shared their own Larry stories at a service hosted by Students Taking Action Together in Christ (STATIC), a group Humphrey founded. Humphrey was said to be notorious for wearing a pair of loud red, white, and blue pants and for his penchant for collecting road kill for dissection in his biology class.
Teacher George Saboonjian recalled two qualities he found memorable in Humphrey: his acceptance of other people, and his ability to set goals and dedicate himself to their achievement. “He inspired us. He was an amazing individual in terms of what he’s done.”
Retired teacher Stewart McMillin said, “One of the highlights of my life was that day a few years ago when he took me on a flight around Detroit, seeing the inside of Tiger Stadium, going up to the Detroit River, flying over Elmwood Cemetery, and especially seeing those four churches in a row on Canfield Street.”
McMillin said he’ll remember Humphrey’s “wonderful gregarious smile.”
Students like Sarah Anderson agreed. “His hugs, smiles, and kind words could radiate a room,” she said.
Larry Humphrey met his wife in the sixth grade, in their hometown of Williamston. According to Marilyn, Larry claimed to recognize her as his future wife from the beginning. They married in 1968.
The Humphreys raised their daughters in the Woodbridge neighborhood of Detroit. Humphrey attended Wayne State University and had taught in the East Detroit Public Schools since 1976.
Larry Humphrey embraced his faith at age 8, and never wavered from it. The outpouring of memories and support at East Detroit High School and Messiah Lutheran Church is proof. Humphrey’s life transformed his community, and the “best part of Larry’s stories,” says his widow, “is that we’re in them.”Joanna Galuszka is a Metro Times editorial intern. E-mail [email protected]