Bishop Cecil A. Malone didn’t take vacations from helping people and loving the Lord.
“Family vacations turned into working trips,” said his son, Amos Malone. “It didn’t matter where we were at.If he saw a need he helped out.”
The City of Ithaca declared February 9 to 15, 2015 to be Bishop Cecil A. Malone Memorial Week in honor of the Bishop’s legacy of loving-kindness. On Sunday, Feb. 15, family and friends formed a motorcade that went from Cecil A. Malone Drive, the location of his church, to the Southside Community Center to honor his memory. Before his untimely death at age 50 in 1980, Malone became known in Ithaca and places far-flung as Florida and Arizona for his dedication to helping anyone who needed a meal or a place to stay.
“There were always extra people sleeping in the house,” Amos Malone said. “Somebody would come, and he’d say ‘get out your bed, get on the floor.’ He didn’t just tell us to do this. He would do it first. That was the way him and my mother was. It was normal for us.”
Malone and his wife Ruby founded the Bethlehem Church of Jesus Christ in 1962, now located along Cecil A. Malone Drive, renamed for him in 2000. Malone also founded churches in Elmira; Geneva; Cantonment, Fla.; Huachuca City, Ariz.; and Enterprise, Ala., where he, his family, and his fellow ministers often visited.
Jerome Reeves was part of the Ministerial Alliance that Malone founded.
“The Alliance was staffed by ministers raised under Bishop Malone’s direction,” Reeves said. “Our job was to go out and instill in the other communities the same things he was doing in the city of Ithaca.”
The Bethlehem Church grew its membership through the dedication of prayer groups that walked house to house around Ithaca, Reeves said.
“People who didn’t have a home church were given an opportunity to come visit with us,” Reeves said. “The majority of them came and stayed. We also did prison work in Clinton Correctional, Auburn, Elmira, the county jail.”
Reeves says his wife Shirley ministered to inmates in the Tompkins County Jail for 15 years, during which time the sheriff, Bob Howard, gave permission for inmates to visit Bethlehem Church for baptism if they decided to accept the Lord.
Bible classes in other towns like Kingston and Monticello and visiting nursing homes were other parts of the rounds for the Alliance’s ministers, Reeves said, besides visiting the churches the Bishop planted.
“He didn’t want ministers raised under him sitting at home waiting for the opportunity to minister, to preach,” Reeves said. “His vision was to send us out so we can touch the lives of not just folks in the city but in other areas.”
Taking the gospel to the South and West sometimes meant new faces coming to Ithaca.
“He initiated bringing some of the indigenous people from [Enterprise] to here,” Amos Malone remembers. “They were working in slave-type conditions, in the early ‘70s.”
When the Bishop moved his family out of the city to five acres in Danby, his children and church brethren worked under far freer conditions than prevailed in the South to raise their own animals and grow their own food.
“We were doing sustainable living before it was popular,” Malone’s daughter Eloise Barrett said. “We did a lot of farming and had chickens, not only for us, but for members of the church who came out and helped. We had apple orchards, and made jelly and applesauce. The food was distributed, at no cost either, everybody just came out and helped and everybody benefited from the harvest.”
Barrett says that her current work with Ithaca Youth Bureau coordinating tutoring and mentoring programs for students in grades 6 through 12 is an extension of her father’s work in education, particularly the Special Personal Learning Lab (SPELL).
“SPELL was for people to help children and adults, help them learn to read and write,” Amos Malone said. “To further their self in the community. He would teach. I would have to teach. We’d all take hands in helping. Everybody joined in to help volunteer.”
Her father’s dream of expanding his church’s educational ventures from the after-school SPELL program to a full-grown school never happened due to his early death, Barrett said. She hopes the Bishop’s legacy of “work to develop community” lives on in her work for the city.
“The Bishop was always the kind of person who could be reached as far as touching the lives of other folks, particularly people who were of a poorer nature,” Reeves said. “The people most affected by him were the mentally challenged or emotionally challenged. Bishop Malone took time out with these people. They loved coming to church. The Bishop had so much love and compassion it was hard for them to resist.” •