RACINE — Even at 86 years old, the Rev. Dr. Charles Everton Thornhill was a crackling bundle of spiritual energy.
He tirelessly preached, taught and educated for more than six decades, including 24 visible and influential years as pastor at Racine’s Greater Mount Eagle Baptist Church, 929 State St., from 1971 to 1995.
“He had energy like no one I ever saw,” said the Rev. Keith T. Evans, who became pastor at Mount Eagle in 2002. “He told me he never was going to stop until God said so.”
God called his servant home April 1, when Thornhill died at the age of 86.
During his tenure at Mount Eagle, Thornhill planted the seeds of a church expansion, finished in 2011, and created fellowships with other denominations, most notably St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Evans said.
Thornhill also served on numerous boards, including the Racine County Planning Council, the Family Services Board of Racine and the Racine Clergy Association. He taught at the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education and the Wisconsin General Baptist State Congress of Christian Education.
“He was truly woven into the fabric of the church and the community,” Evans said. “He was always a Christian gentleman. Always dapper, always polite.”
Racine Police Chief Art Howell, a long-time member of Greater Mount Eagle, called the loss of Thornhill personal and close to home.
“Pastor Thornhill was highly respected and beloved throughout southeastern Wisconsin and beyond. He was a leader among leaders,” Howell said. “His passing will leave a major void in the community; however, his life of humble service serves as an example for myself and others to follow.”
Influence also felt in Milwaukee
Before coming to Racine, Thornhill served as assistant pastor at Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee for 12 years. He went back to Mount Moriah to serve as pastor in 1995, after the previous pastor on his deathbed asked Thornhill to return.
At Mount Moriah, he oversaw the construction of a new chapel which held its first service in January 2015. Shortly after the chapel was finished, the road the chapel was on got the honorary name of Rev. C.E. Thornhill Lane.
Thornhill always returned to Racine to help celebrate every milestone at Mount Eagle, Evans said. He was there in June 2011 when the church officially opened a 15,000-square-foot addition.
“There might be some who would be bothered to hear the name of their predecessor so much,” Evans said. “To me, being mentioned in the same sentence as him was an honor itself. He was an excellent man of God.”
Thornhill was born April 9, 1929 in Cambridge, Mass., and educated at Cambridge public schools. He was married for 58 years to Mary Catherine (Merritt) Thornhill of Louisville, Kentucky.
Thornhill graduated from Zion Bible College in East Providence, R.I. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from St. Martin’s College and Seminary and a doctorate of ministry from St. Martin’s College and Seminary. He received his doctorate of divinity degree from Urban Bible College in Detroit.
His first church was Zion Mission in Hyannis, Mass. He then served at Beulah Temple in Louisville, Ky., for four years before going to Mt. Moriah.
In April 2014, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, honored Thornhill on his 85th birthday by reading his accomplishments into the Congressional Record.
“To us, he was Daddy Thornhill. We rolled out the red carpet and took him right to the pulpit,” Evans said.
There will be a visitation from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Greater Mount Eagle Baptist, with Evans presiding. Other services and interment will follow Friday and Saturday.