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By John Harte/ The Californian
BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Rev. Tyree Toliver was the longest-serving pastor of the St. John Missionary Baptist Church and played key roles in the civil rights movement locally, in establishing senior housing and a southeast library branch and in growing the church's congregants from about 100 to more than 2,500.
That's why members of the church are behind an effort to change part of Hayes Street that ends at the church to Tyree Toliver Street. The four-block segment would stretch from Virginia Avenue to East Brundage Lane if the Bakersfield Planning Commission and Bakersfield City Council approve the change.
The planning commission is set to consider the proposal Thursday.
Toliver died in 2008 at age 85. He had led St. John for 50 years, longer than any other pastor for the church, said Pastor Antonio Alfred, the church's current spiritual leader.
"We wanted to do something in honor of all his years of service," Alfred said. "He was definitely a leader of the people. Not only was he a pastor of St. John Missionary Baptist Church, he was a pastor of the community."
Alfred noted Toliver's leadership as the congregation built and moved to a much larger church across East Brundage Lane.
"He was definitely a man of action. (When) he saw a need, he wasn't afraid of getting involved," such as with the civil rights movement locally and in helping the St. John Manor senior apartments get off the ground, Alfred said. "It was hard not to admire him as a leader."
Toliver was born in Arkansas in 1923 and served as a U.S. Army corporal in Germany during World War II. In the early 1960s, he was instrumental in the civil rights and anti-poverty movement in Bakersfield, leading marches and meeting with Martin Luther King Jr. when the famous civil rights leader came to Bakersfield.
In the 1970s, he pushed the Kern County Board of Supervisors to build a library, the Holloway-Gonzales Branch on East Brundage Lane, because he thought children in southeast Bakersfield were losing out on educational opportunities and quality books, according to a biography of Toliver from St. John Missionary Baptist Church. He also served two years on the President's Advisory Board of Cal State Bakersfield and was awarded a posthumous honorary doctorate of humane letters from the school.
Daughter Brenda Prince said she wasn't surprised by the effort to honor her father, given his stature in the community.
Toliver did so much for the community, Prince said, that she had a hard time listing all of his accomplishments. Nevertheless, she said, "he was a very humble man, very likeable, very easy to talk to ... He didn't brag or boast. That's just the way he was."
Among his contributions to the church were helping to develop a family assistance ministry, substance abuse counseling, marriage counseling, vacation Bible school, a church orchestra and a tutoring program.
"He believed in helping families, and he saw people's needs and he saw that they got met," Prince said. "He was a shepherd that cared about his flock. They were his friends ... Everyone was special with him."
"He had so many ideas," Prince said. One of those ideas was regular trips to the ocean, or to the mountains for church members to play in the snow. "He would charter a bus (for those trips) because a lot of people didn't get the chance to do that kind of thing, they couldn't afford it or never really got out of town. ... It was a great idea."
Danny O'Neal heads the church committee that worked for a year to contact about 80 homeowners up and down the street to get them on board with the name change. Toliver was his pastor for 20 years, he said.
"We wanted to recognize our pastor for putting in years of hard labor," O'Neal said. "He marched with Martin Luther King and did a lot of things in the southeast (of Bakersfield). ... We really wanted to give him some recognition with having the name change, and we thought it would be an honor."
"Just the way he cared about his congregation and the people in his community, that's what stands out," O'Neal said. "He was just a loving father (and) grandfather figure to all of us."