Televangelist Humbard remembered for focus on saving souls
AKRON, Ohio (AP) -- The Rev. Rex Humbard was remembered Sunday at a memorial service for a ministry that grew from revival tents to the new medium of television, a pioneer who reached a worldwide audience larger than an evangelist in the 1970s.
About 550 people gathered for Humbard's "Home Going Celebration" at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, just a few miles from the Cathedral of Tomorrow, a 5,000-seat nondenominational where he broadcast Sunday services.
"Rex was focused on one thing: to tell people they need to be saved," said Humbard's brother-in-law Wayne Jones, who worked in the televangelist's ministry.
Humbard, 88, died of natural causes Sept. 21 at a South Florida hospital near his Lantana home.
The last time Jones saw Humbard, he was in a weakened state and said: "I told the Lord when I can't win any souls it's time to go home."
The memorial service was outdoors held under a large white tent, a fitting setting for the former itinerant preacher.
"Man, I'm glad I didn't have to put this thing up. I put up tents for years," said Jones, drawing laughter.
After a decade preaching on the road, Humbard settled in Akron in 1952, the same year he saw one of the first television programs broadcast live in northeast Ohio. He watched a Cleveland Indians-New York Yankees baseball game through the window of a downtown department store and was inspired.
The son of Pentecostal evangelists, Humbard saw the power of television, Jones said, recalling how Humbard visited a TV station manager a dozen times -- refusing to give up on his vision -- before he agreed to put him on the air.
"Rex had a faith like I'd never seen," Jones said. "It was a gift."
Humbard began with a renovated theater in 1953 and later the $4 million domed Cathedral of Tomorrow, which included velvet drapes, a hydraulic stage and a cross covered with thousands of red, white and blue light bulbs.
The broadcast, also called "Cathedral of Tomorrow," developed into a mixture of preaching and music, with Humbard's wife, Maude Aimee, an accomplished gospel singer, and the Cathedral Quartet as regular performers. The Humbards' children also performed.
By 1979, the show was broadcast in the United States, Canada, Europe, the Middle East, Far East, Australia and Latin America. His syndicated program appeared on more TV stations in America than any other program by 1970.
Humbard's memorial service was filled with a mixture of tears, laughter and song with Larry Gatlin performing "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and "I'll Fly Away," which had the audience clapping and singing along.
The preacher's rose-covered casket was carried in to a bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace," and televangelist Benny Hinn led the funeral service, calling Humbard's family onto the stage to sing "Alleluia."
"What a saint of God," Hinn said. "He lived his life with such purity."
Hinn recalled once asking Humbard how much of his day he spends in prayer. Humbard told him: "Benny, my life is a prayer."
Richard Roberts, son of preacher Oral Roberts, spoke and thanked the Humbard family for what they've meant to his family. A letter from Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson was read in which he noted that Humbard, at the height of his popularity, was "America's preacher."
Elizabeth Humbard spoke of her father's love for his family and recalled as a child sitting in his office in her pajamas on Saturday evenings as he prepared his sermon for the next day.
"His heart always thought about the people that were waking up Sunday morning in a situation, they needed to know God loved them," she said.
She spoke of the love her father and mother shared all the way through their 65th anniversary in August, which they celebrated holding hands in the hospital.
Humbard is survived by his wife, who was not well enough to attend the funeral, and their four children Rex Jr., Don, Charles, and Elizabeth.
Private burial was planned for Monday at Rose Hill Burial Park in Akron.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)