LIMA — Furl Williams arrived in Lima in 1937, fought against the ingrained segregation he found here, became a labor leader and, in 1961, when he was elected to city council, became Lima’s first black legislator.
On a stifling August night in 1993, Lima turned out to mark the passing of the quietly determined man Lima Mayor David Berger described as “a true Lima patriarch.”
On that night at Veterans Memorial Civic Center, the young pastor of Philippian Missionary Baptist Church challenged Lima’s leaders of all races, including himself, to continue Williams’ legacy of community service. “Furl, it’s time to pass the baton, and LaMont Monford is willing to take it and run with it,” he declared.
Monford has been running with it ever since. In the years since that night in 1993, Monford, who remains the spiritual leader for the more than 1,000 members of Philippian, has been a consoling voice in times of tragedy and a unifying voice in times of divisiveness. He was the driving force behind Lima’s first charter school and, with his brother, Bruce Monford, opened Mary Alice’s House for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
Born on Aug. 25, 1966, Monford and his brother were raised on Lima’s south side by his mother Mary Alice Mosley, the namesake of the Mary Alice House. Monford’s parents separated when he was very young, although, he told The Lima News in 1995, his father, Bobby Monford, remained close to his children.
“LaMont Monford’s calling into the ministry came at age 13, following an encounter with Jesus Christ,” the News wrote April 16, 1995. “But not all was good news, for at age 14 his mother was violently murdered.” Mary Alice Mosley’s life had descended into substance abuse and prostitution and, in the early morning of Feb. 8, 1981, the 32-year-old was fatally stabbed while struggling with a man in a parking lot near Pennsylvania Avenue. The case remains unsolved.
“My mother was murdered by what we found out later was a white person,” Monford told the News in 1995. “That’s the only thing the witnesses knew. They never found out who did it.”
An embittered Monford moved in with his father and stepmother, Mary Monford, and began attending Perry High School, struggling in the wake of his mother’s death. “When I went into my senior year, I kind of made a change,” he told the News.
The catalyst for that change was Philippian Missionary Baptist Church where, he told the News, he began renewing his relationship with God. “If the church could take that hate away from me, then it can do it for anybody,” he said.
In the meantime, the calling to the ministry he’d felt as a 13-year-old returned. After graduation from Perry in 1984, he attended Bible classes at Northwestern School of the Bible in Lima. “He preached his first sermon at Philippian in June of 1984.
The Rev. H. Frank Taylor, who pastored Philippian from 1982 to 1990, recalled that first sermon. “He was extremely filled with the spirit that morning,” Taylor told the news in 1995, adding, “you could see that the Lord certainly called him and had laid his hands upon him.”
By 1989, Monford had completed his course of study at the Lima school, married his high school sweetheart Teresa Humphries and began attending classes at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1991, before he’d completed his studies in pastoral counseling and theological studies, Philippian called on him to be its pastor. “His last semester in school, Monford would fly to Lima on weekends to preach at Philippian,” the News wrote in 1995. “By 11 a.m. Monday he’d be back in Nashville for classes.”
The church to which he returned had a problem — a dwindling, mostly older, congregation. “Monford hit the pavement and began recruiting young men, attempting to counteract their apathy with a call to action,” the News noted. That strategy, along with a lot of prayer, worked.
“The church has to become a place of education, a place of community activity for young people, a place that exposes young people to college education,” Monford told the News in 1995. “Church just needs to be a holistic place.”
In August 1998, Monford began attempting to organize Lima’s first charter school, an effort opposed by the Lima school district because of state funding that would follow students to the new charter schools. “It’s only about dollars,” Monford told the News on Aug. 15, 1998. “It bothers me that we have not talked about the children.”
After a two-year struggle, his efforts paid off with the founding of Quest Academy Community School at the church at 190 E. Eighth St. in August 2000. The school closed in March of 2013.
On Feb. 11, 2002, almost exactly 21 years after the death of his mother, Monford and his brother opened Mary Alice’s House. “I deliberately named it after my mother because I didn’t want to name it after a person who had never struggled,” Monford told the News in 2016 as he celebrated his 25th anniversary at Philippian. “Whatever drugs did to my mother, deep down she was a beautiful person. I want to help others maintain that beauty.”
Monford has reached out to the community in a variety of ways. He’s often called on to comfort those who, like himself, have been touched by tragedy. On a raw January afternoon in 2002, he spoke at the funeral of 3-year-old Jala C’Mone Grant, who, along with 17-year-old Leneshia Williams, was killed when gunmen opened fire on them and six relatives in an apparent robbery attempt. “I must admit that today is the roughest day of my preaching life. I don’t believe it was God’s perfect plan to let Jala be taken away from us,” he told them.
And, on another January day six years later, Monford called for community unity in the wake of the shooting death of Tarika Wilson by a city policeman during a raid on her home. “This little small city in northwest Ohio will have a beacon of light that illuminates from within the midst of the darkness of our country and let the world know that when the people of God stand up and come together, there is nothing that we cannot do,” Monford told those attending a healing service at Philippian on Jan. 12, 2008.
When the officer involved in the shooting was acquitted in August 2008, Monford expressed outrage, but added, “Do I think there’s going to be violence in the community? No. We understand the importance of rebuilding the community. However, the reality is there are some serious issues that need to be addressed.” Monford has never backed away from addressing those issues. In December 2014, with tensions again high between police and the community, Monford said, “I don’t think we got it right with the Tarika Wilson case. If we’re going to respect the police, police officers have to respect us.”
He also has reached out to other denominations, swapping pulpits with Methodist ministers and Catholic priests. He’s chaired the ministerial alliance and the metropolitan housing authority and received numerous awards for his work in the community. He has received master’s and doctorate degrees from Winebrenner Theological Seminary in Findlay.
Monford and his wife, Teresa, are the parents of four children, Brian Jr., Brandon, Brianna and Brandi.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.