Fort Wayne’s Al Stiles dies at 91

NewsChannel 15 spoke with Al Stiles during an Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. in 2013

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Al Stiles had many accolades, including singer, dancer, published author, community leader, recording artist, and veteran.

Stiles shared some of the world’s biggest stages with stars like Josephine Baker and Sammy Davis Jr.

Entertaining was something he continued years after his time on Broadway. He performed for the troops while also serving his country. It was the military that eventually led him to the Summit City.

 

Where an empty lot now sits on the corner of Anthony and Wayne once stood a Fort Wayne landmark- Al Stiles World’s Best Shoe Shine. He opened the shop in 1971.  For years, Stiles ran a program in the back of the shop teaching inner city youth theater classes. In 2007, he sat down with NewsChannel 15 to share his message for youth.

“We’ve got so many young people who aren’t dependable, and they don’t realize what dependability does for your character.  It props you up, it takes you places you never go before. People don’t care how much you know until they find out how much you care,” said Stiles.

Stiles also traveled on the Honor Flight last May along with 70 other World War 2 veterans. During the trip, he told NewsChannel 15 he “enjoyed every bit of it.”

While Stiles accomplishments are many, perhaps what is most remarkable about the man is his character.

“He was a very nice man, intelligent, and did what he could for anybody,” said Annie Brooks, longtime friend of Stiles.

In 2006, he moved into a retirement community on the city’s southeast side. There, he met and became fast friends with Brooks. She told NewsChannel 15 about her the first time she met Stiles.

“Like meeting someone I’ve wanted to meet. I’d known so much about him, and I wanted to meet him and I did,” said Brooks.

Entertaining and performing was something Stiles continued to do throughout his life.  Brooks said he had a daily routine whenever he would enter a room.

“He use to like to dance, and when he would come out the door, he would get to dancing. We’d laugh and go ‘Come on Mr. Stiles, and he’d get to dancing.”

Stiles only lived at the home three and a half years, but his legacy is something that will never be forgotten.

“I will never forget him, never, he just that type of man,” said Brooks.

Al Stiles was 91 years old, or as he probably would’ve said 91 years young.

 

Stiles’ biography is below. 

Fort Wayne’s Albert Bernard Stiles, known as Al Stiles, died at the age of 91 on Thursday, January 2, in Carmel Indiana.

Stiles was born in Florence, South Carolina on August 13, 1922. He was raised in Tampa Florida and came to Fort Wayne in the 1940s.

He was an accomplished performer and entertainer. Stile started his entertainment career when he hopped on a bus to New York City at age 12 with his nine-year-old jug band partner, Nathaniel Reese. Unbeknownst to their parents, the two auditioned for CBS Radio’s Major Bowes Amateur Hour and ended up winning the contest. Thus began his career as a professional entertainer.

In 1939 Stiles and Reese performed at New York’s Apollo Theater and at New York World’s Fair. He performed with such stars as Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sammy Davis Jr. and played at the Cotton Club and the Blue Note.

He was drafted in the U.S. Army during World War II and stationed outside Fort Wayne at Baer Field (now Fort Wayne International Airport)

Stiles liked Fort Wayne so much he decided to stay after marrying his wife, Maxine, in 1944.

He opened Al Stiles World’s Best Shoe Shine in the 1970′s and ran it for over 30 years. He also started the Talent Factory program in the 1980s to teach inner-city youth the theater arts.

Stiles was honored by the Apollo Theater by being declared a living legend. In 2007, he received the Ove W. Jorgensen Spirit of Leadership Award from Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana for his service to area youth.

His service will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, at Pilgrim Baptist Church, 1331 Gay St. led by The Rev. Sam Shade, Senior Pastor.

Calling is from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, at Ellis Funeral Home, 1021 E. Lewis St. Pastor James Morehead, Pasadena Height Church of God, Indianapolis, Ind. will officiate.

Surviving are his two sons, Dr. Reginald B. (Delois) Stiles and Ronald B. (Mary Ann) Stiles; and brother, William George Stiles. He was preceded in death by his wife, Maxine Stiles; and two sisters, Christine Kinsey and Kathryn Stiles.

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