Reverend Dr. Frank Cates
We left Saturday for Nebraska to visit MIL. I turned off my cell phone as the only one who normally calls it is grinnygranny. We arrived Sunday night and on Monday I went out to golf and turned my cellphone back on. I had a voicemail. It was a message that Reverend Cates had passed away. The call was sent Saturday. I called Mom and let her know. I don't know how Dad will take the news it's sure to hit him hard especially not being able to be there for the funeral. Telling the story of what Dr. Cates meant to me will be rather lengthy.
I left for College in the fall of 1972. Dad was teaching 4th grade and that school year he team taught with Josephine (Jo) Cates. A marvelous African American woman. She found out Dad was a licensed Baptist minister and introduced Mom and Dad to her family. Frank was associate minister at New Hope Baptist Church at the time. He was finishing up his military career in the Air Force and was working on his Doctorate in Theology. They became close friends from that time onward. Even discovering they were born on the same day.
When I came home for Christmas after my first semester at Wayland we went to their church for Christmas eve services. The Cates had five daughters. Maria was a little older and attending UNM, Queenie was a senior in high school, the twins Debbie and Brenda were sophomores and Annie was still in elementary school. After services the girls wanted to know if I'd like to see the Christmas lights with them and in total ignorance said yes. I entered the back seat of the car between Queenie, Debbie and Brenda. While driving they discovered I was ticklish. I never laughed so hard or had such sore ribs in my life by the time we got out. Debbie started writing me letters and I would reply. It was nice getting letters from home while you're away, and she could show off the letters of her college man at school.
When the school year ended and it was time to come home I was a little disappointed. I had applied to numerous places as a summer missionary and didn't get accepted. I got a phone call from a little church in Rio Rancho. The pastor knew someone who knew someone who knew someone that recommended me to help them out that summer. The church today is bursting at the seams and is huge, but back then it had one little building and an average attendance of maybe 25 on Sundays and no one played piano.
I was there for Sunday services and took over the Sunday school class for the three teenagers in the departments. I also set up a bible study for Wednesday evenings and planned some Saturday events. When looking for someone to help on those Saturday evening I needed a piano player and Mom said call up Queenie that she was a good piano player. So I did. Wound up spending a week helping out with their church's vacation bible school, but I had a piano player.
She played for me as I sang a number of solos over that summer. It was the summer of Andre Crouch. Everybody was singing My Tribute, and naturally so did I. While singing that particular song Queenie noticed on the high notes I was going flat, so being the excellent piano player that she is raised half a note higher on the piano. Over thirty years later whenever we meet she always reminds me about that because she knows my answer is always “She only did that because she wanted to see me turn blue.”
There was an eight year old girl in their church that summer in the hospital and Jo asked me to come along with her to visit. It was hard seeing a child that age suffering, and her funeral was the most traumatic I've ever attended. Sickle cell anemia is a truly horrible disease. Afterwards as we were driving I heard the girls talking about how they were all afraid of getting the illness and being on constant alert for the symptoms. It was an eye opening experience for what it meant to be African American apart from what I'd seen on the news or read in books during the struggle for civil rights.
Towards the end of that summer there was a Logos Festival at the convention center. It was three days from six in the evening until ten with numerous Christian bands, but the big name was Andre Crouch and the Disciples on that Saturday. I got tickets for the teenagers at my church and for all the Cates girls. That was a lot of tickets. I remember picking them up in my '64 Oldsmobile and driving up to Rio Rancho, getting everyone in the church van and driving back to the convention center all three nights. Talk about nearly causing accidents on the road. Just try being the only white guy in a car with five black women. Some of the drivers that drove by us must have gotten whiplash.
The last night Andre Crouch was supposed to perform at ten, but they were late. The promoter kept dragging the other groups back on the keep everyone there. Andre's bus didn't get in until eleven thirty and they had to set up. They didn't start until midnight. By this time almost everyone there was getting really tired. When the curtain came up and they started singing Thank You Lord it was like someone had thrown a switch and the past six hours never happened. The energy was amazing. They only sang three songs, but everyone left more than satisfied. I didn't get them dropped off at their house until after two in the morning, but on the drive they were live wires so excited to have actually seen Andre.
They all came out to the church in Rio Rancho just before I left to go back to college and the pastor graciously allowed me to preach. I didn't know it at the time, but it caused quite a stir for Frank. Brenda heard me preach, and I don't know how or why, but she decided that she wanted to become a preacher too. I went back to college unaware of this. A few years later Brenda was ordained as a minister and Frank told me that when she approached him about it he studied the Bible and everything it said on the matter and came to the conclusion that there was nothing in it against a woman preaching. She came to be a great help to him when he left New Hope to pastor Mount Zion Baptist Church on the west side of Albuquerque.
Meanwhile Dad started teaching middle school art and Jo kept teaching elementary students. When grinnygranny and I married during our first year Mom insisted we go with them to Frank's church. Whenever there I was always Reverend Prescott, and they insisted I sit up on stage with all the other Reverends. Grinnygranny wasn't too sure about it, but it was and still is an honor to be up on that stage even if you're not the one preaching. Maria and Debbie had moved out of state, but Queenie, Brenda and Annie were still there. They had formed a singing group with some others in the church and toured the state singing in other small National Baptist churches. It was good to see everyone again. All of them were mothers and had boys. Frank may have fathered daughters, but he had lots of grandsons to play with. Brenda was nine months pregnant and was leaning up against everything in sight. She kept saying that the baby could come at anytime and none too soon.
I started teaching Jo was teaching at a feeder school to the middle school where I taught and I'd see her at cluster in-services where she'd catch me up on what everyone was doing.
Mom and Dad moved to the west side and they didn't like the church's there so they joined Mount Zion. Frank let Dad preach from time to time, even ordaining him which greatly pleased Dad and occasionally he called me and asked me to fill in for him. It was always a pleasure. You never saw anyone more proud than when he was with his daughters.
Jo passed away a few years ago and they couldn't hold the services in their small church. The respect for her in the African American community was tremendous. It was good to see all the girls together again, and hard to know that in my mind's eye they are still teenagers though now grandmothers. I wish I could be there for the send off they'll have for Frank it's sure to be something. The African American community of Albuquerque has lost a truly great leader.