John Harris Sr., who dedicated his life to mentoring Norwalk youth through boxing, music and worshipping God for more than three decades, was remembered last Saturday for his "indomitable spirit" and life of service.
"Probably less than a handful of people knew what my father did for a living," John Harris Jr. said toward the end of his father's funeral service at Grace Baptist Church on West Avenue. "Very few people knew that my father was a machinist.
"That's important today, under service, because he was just a machinist who decided to serve, just like you can decide to serve. He chose a life of service."
Harris said his family appreciated the condolences on the loss of his father and added, to the city of Norwalk, "We offer you our condolences for your loss."
Harris, who died Aug. 12 at the age of 85, founded a boxing club in Norwalk -- which would produce more than 30 Golden Gloves champions -- and the Norwalk Youth Community Concert Choir. He also served as a deacon at Grace Baptist Church and visited hospitals and nursing homes to minister to the ill and homebound. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
Fred Kitt, a member of the John Harris Boxing Club, said Harris never took money for coaching boxers and driving them home from practices and competitions. Kitt said Harris, who was a former Golden Gloves boxer, was humble, always giving credit to God, and taught his boxers how to be men without saying a word.
"You would teach us silent lessons by how you lived your life -- humble, treat people with respect and get right with God," Kitt said. "I am proud to say many of us have followed your lead and have committed ourselves to God."
David Salinas, also one of Harris' boxers, said, "He showed me how to be a man, and I'm sure he showed plenty of guys how to be men, and I love him for that. We all love him for that."
Demietris McElveen said he was in elementary school when he met Harris and that he gravitated to Harris' boxing club because he could fight, but wasn't good at other sports. He said Harris became a father figure to him.
"He inspired so many people, just like me. ... I really hate to see him go," he said.
Shakha Moore, also one of Harris' boxers, said Harris told him he would be successful in life if he had respect and discipline and that Harris, to him, was "a father figure, a mentor and a boxing coach, all in one."
George Albano, associate sports editor at The Hour newspaper, recalled meeting Harris about 30 years ago when Harris told him about a boxing club that he was starting. Albano said the John Harris Boxing Club moved to at least five different locations over the years, but Harris never threw in the towel.
"Whatever he did, it was always with the same goal in mind and that was to keep kids off the streets ... put something positive in their lives," Albano said.
State Rep. Rev. Bruce V. Morris, D-Norwalk, said Harris had children of his own to raise, but still found time to raise the community's children, as well.
"Deacon Harris was a one-man mentor program, all by himself," Morris said, before reading a citation to Harris from the state General Assembly. "He kept fighting for our kids regardless of who was with him and who wasn't, who was patting him on the back and who wasn't."
The Rev. Sonya Merrill-Williams, who officiated at Harris' funeral, said, "Through him, foundations were laid."
Merrill-Williams said Harris shaped the talents of city children and led them to God.
"Deacon Harris loved to pray, and, if you did not know how to pray, he would write you a prayer and teach you how to pray, and he would not leave you alone but would join hands," she said. "He exemplified how to be a Christian, a man that delighted himself in the Lord."
Albano said he'd always remember the hat that Harris wore that said, "Jesus is my boss."
"Mr. John Harris not only wore those words on his hat, he lived them every day of his life," Albano said.
Bishop Designate Derik Calhoun from New Vision International Ministries in Bridgeport, who delivered the eulogy, said Harris possessed "an indomitable spirit" through his belief in Jesus Christ and that Harris "never forsook the call ... to affect change in the life of his sheep."
Several speakers at Harris' funeral said his good works would continue through the lives of those he impacted.
Albano said, "The legacy of John Harris will always be alive."