James E. Henry Jr., 75, served city for 40 years

MOST PEOPLE would take two or three lifetimes to accomplish as much as James Edwin Henry Jr. packed into one.

He was a 40-year employee of the city, starting as a lifeguard, moving on to firefighting, then as a recreation director. He also was employed over the years in various jobs by the school district and the Postal Service.

20110531_dn_g1henr31o
Henry

He was a builder who renovated a number of homes in the city "from shell to finish," and helped design and build a new church for Grace Tabernacle Christian in West Philadelphia.

He coached a winning swim team.

And he was an ordained minister at Grace Tabernacle Christian, where he also was a lifestyle leader of the Men's Upper Room Fellowship.

He died May 20 at the age of 75.

James was born in Philadelphia the oldest of the eight children of James E. Henry Sr. and Josephine Lee Henry. He graduated from West Philadelphia High School in 1954.

He attended Cheyney State University, but when he received a swimming scholarship, he transferred to Central State College, in Wilberforce, Ohio, where he majored in physical education and recreation. He graduated in 1956.

From 1956 to 1958, James was the coach and swim director for the Christian Street YMCA, where he developed swimmers who competed citywide.

Ironically, his team of African-American swimmers competed - and won - at a meet at Girard College in the days when blacks were not allowed to attend the school.

James was employed as the city's first African-American lifeguard from 1951 to 1956.

In 1958, he married the former Ruth Russell.

James joined the Fire Department in 1959 and served until 1961. During his brief time as a firefighter, he managed to emerge unscathed from three major fires.

He then transferred to the Department of Recreation, where he served as recreation director.

While he was renovating houses, he continued his education at Antioch University, from which he received a bachelor's degree in human services in 1983.

James was a devoted member of Grace Tabernacle Christian Church at 1509 S. 52nd St., where he studied the Bible under Pastor Benjamin Tolbert. He was ordained on June 11, 1995.

In addition to being lifestyle leader of the Men's Upper Room Fellowship, he was chairman of the Site Development Committee, for which he helped design the new church building on 52nd Street and became the general contractor in its construction.

"He was a quiet and approachable man," said his wife. "He was very peaceful."

Besides his wife, he is survived by two sons, James Edwin Henry III and Maynard Henry Sr.; two daughters, Gina Henry and Morgana Henry Labrador; a sister, Rosetta Anthony; three brothers, Leon, Paul and Kevin, and six grandchildren.

Services: Were Saturday. Burial was in Westminster Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd.