A lifelong Inwood resident who is a lifetime member of his church, Charles Ashby is revered by the people who know him. To show Ashby their appreciation they celebrated his 100th birthday on May 11, a day after he was born in 1919.
Ashby’s party at Antun’s in Queens included many of the people who know him through the Bethel A.M.E. Church in Far Rockaway. A member of the African Methodist Episcopal house of worship since he was a baby, Ashby has held nearly every position except for pastor and is the church’s historian. Church members described him as “the man with the sultry voices” who “continues to tantalize all who hears him.” Despite lacking professional training he sang with all of the church’s choirs and organized and served as the first president of the Junior Choir.
“He was raised in Bethel and is our oldest member,” said parishioner Renee Shivers, who has known Ashby since 1995, when she returned to worship at the church and drives him home from his Inwood apartment to the church every Sunday. “He’s our parliamentarian and is full of history, as he’s been there forever.”
Ashby, along with fellow Inwood resident Jeff Burns Sr., was a member of the famed 761st Tank Battalion in World War II, also known as the Black Panthers, the unit the tank corps was commanded by Gen. George Patton. The two other black tank battalions were the 758th and the 784th. At the time, the military was segregated. Ashby served as a non-commissioned officer and was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service and several letters of commendation. Burns died in 1988.
Appointed pastor of Bethel A.M.E Church last year, Rev. James Booker has known Ashby for nearly a year, and quickly learned that he had in his words a walking “Wikipedia” of knowledge. “When I have a question on the history of the church I know who to go to, he is a great source of information,” Booker said, noting Ashby’s “extremely shard mind.” “He’s the type of person who loves the church and type of person, especially with his background, he’s the type that when he commits to something his word is his bond. He’s a lifer.”
After the war, he continued in the military and was employed as a auditor and a finance technician for the Army, Navy and Air Force. Ashby later worked for Evelyn Pearson Inc., a women’s apparel company, until he retired in 1992.
His civic involvement extended to serving as the president and board chairman of the Nassau County Economic Commission, and on the boards of the Five Towns Community Center, the Inwood-Nassau Community Health Center and the Peninsula Counseling Center.
Marion Johnson, 91, has known Ashby through the Bethel A.M.E. Church since she was 10-years-old. Growing up with Ashby and singing with him in church, Johnson said that he is a “wonderful, very generous person.” “Anything the church needed or wanted, and he is very generous to people also,” she said, adding that he is a dapper dresser. “Whenever he is needed he does best. My birthday wish is that he has lived to 100 years old and has many more years to come.”