Loving people is highlight of couple’s ministry
Loving people has been the focus of the Rev. Eugene Singleton’s ministry in Spokane since his ordination in 1988 at New Hope Baptist Church, where he served several years.
Tina and Eugene Singleton at their home on E. 21st Ave. look forward to retirement.
In September, he retired as pastor of St. Matthew’s Institutional Baptist Church, after completing 20 years there. This December, he and his wife, Tina, will celebrate 51 years of marriage.
Recently Eugene and Tina reflected on their lives, offering insights into their backgrounds and Spokane’s history over the years.
Tina said her family moved to Spokane from Arkansas in 1949, when she was nine years old. Her uncle was the first in the area to come to work with Work Projects Administration (WPA) projects that employed millions of unemployed people to do public works projects like Coulee Dam and Hanford. Once he was established, he brought more family.
“We were third in the wave of the family to come,” said Tina of her parents, Charles and Gladys McNeary.
Tina attended Lincoln Grade School in a neighborhood with Asian-American families and five other African-American children.
In her experiences at school and at work, she felt accepted. She recalled only one experience of being “ignored,” waiting a long time to be served at a hot dog stand downtown.
Eugene grew up with his mother in a small farm town in Alabama and lived in Mobile and Mississippi. He drove a school bus in order to earn money for tuition to attend a private high school in Chocktaw and Millers Ferry, Ala. His mother, who earned $12 a week, could not afford to pay for the tuition, but “was able to provide the necessities,” he said.
After graduating from high school in 1959, he joined the Army and then the Air Force, coming to Fairchild in 1961, and serving tours to Vietnam in 1966 and 1967.
Tina’s uncle worked evenings as a janitor at Fairchild’s hospital. Her cousin, who often helped him, met Eugene, a medic, and thought Tina should meet him. Tina, who had been married before and had two sons, worked days with her aunt at the Sacred Heart kitchen.
“So I went out one evening to help clean,” Tina said. “In those days, you did not just meet and date. He first had to come to my house to meet my parents. We met in June 1962 and married in December 1962.”
Eugene had no thought of going into ministry then. In fact, he wasn’t even attending church, but Tina sang in the choir at New Hope Baptist Church.
Soon after they married, Eugene brought his mother to live with them.
“She was a diehard church-goer, so every Sunday, she made sure I got up and went to church,” said Eugene.
After leaving the military in 1969, he worked 18 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture until the Spokane office closed.
Tina left her work at Sacred Heart after they married. She cleaned homes and cared for children of some affluent women, then worked at Bernard’s Women’s Apparel from 1968 to 1973.
Then she worked as a lab technician at Hollister-Stier Laboratories, which supplies allergy products. She stayed with Hollister Stier as it was bought out by three companies, but continued in business. In 1999, she retired.
Now she’s a full-time grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great grandmother.
As Eugene began experiencing problems with his eyesight, hearing, kidneys, heart and diabetes, he went on disability because the problems were related to his exposure to Agent Orange, he said.
“The disabilities made me closer to the Lord,” Eugene said of his move to study for the ministry.
In 1983, he began training to be a deacon with the Rev. Jim Sims Sr. and the Rev. J.W. Echols Jr.
After two years of study with them, he became a deacon. He was licensed as a minister in 1987, the same year he graduated from Eastern Washington University. He was ordained in 1988.
Although Tina had thought pastors’ wives should act a certain way, she didn’t feel different when she became a minister’s wife.
“I felt uncomfortable that the pastor’s wife is called the First Lady, but I don’t think I changed. I was who I was,” she said.
For many years, she was active in church mission work, making bandages or gathering school supplies to send overseas.
In 1993, Eugene began in ministry at St. Matthew’s, when it was at the corner of S. Arthur and E. Hartson in a deteriorating 1918 former Presbyterian church.
In 2006, Pastor Dale Jenkins of the former Sunset Heights Baptist Church offered Eugene his church. St. Matthew’s moved to 2815 W. Sunset Blvd., in West Spokane, its present location.
“I said, ‘Our income is skimpy. It’s hard for us to pay our utilities.’
“He said he wasn’t asking us for money. He wanted to give us the church,” said Eugene, overwhelmed at the offer.
They met at the church, and Eugene saw it was in good condition.
“We just had to move our congregation in,” he said.
They didn’t even have to pay to transfer the title. The only stipulation was if the church decided to dissolve or sell, it would give Pastor Jenkins first option to buy it.
Eugene found the location is not conducive to church growth.
“Many people come in and out of the church. It’s a transient neighborhood. Participation rises and falls. About 20 to 30 are in the congregation. Many are still the old members,” he said.
When Whitworth University offered classes to African-American pastors in Spokane, he participated. At Whitworth. he met the Rev. James Singleton, a former pastor at Whitworth Presbyterian Church. Eugene’s father’s name was James, so they talked of being brothers. That was the first white church where Eugene preached.
Over the years, he did pulpit exchanges with many other churches to build relationships among the clergy and congregations across racial differences.
As Eugene retires, the church has found a new pastor. The Rev. André Dove has moved to the area from Indiana.
“Spokane has been a beautiful place to raise a family,” Eugene and Tina agreed.
In the 1960s, it was safe for them to walk, even at night, to Natatorium Park, an amusement park that operated along the Spokane River in West Central Spokane for 78 years until 1967. Now it would not be safe, he said.
In retirement, Eugene and Tina will visit different churches and use their free time to visit nearby lakes in their RV so he can fish.For information, call 534-0811 or email e–email@example.com.
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