James Edward Cherry Sr., who owned and operated an upholstery firm in downtown Baltimore for more than 50 years and was an active member of Leadenhall Baptist Church for even longer, died of cancer Aug. 13 at his Pikesville home. He was 97.
Born and raised in Suffolk, Va., Mr. Cherry came to Baltimore in 1937.
"A man taught him upholstering, and in 1940 he established Cherry's Upholstering Co. in the 1100 block of Pennsylvania Ave.," said a daughter, Sandra Williams of Catonsville.
He later relocated the business to North Gay Street and finally to the corner of Lexington and Greene streets, where it remained for more than 20 years.
"I grew up in the business, and when I was able to walk and talk, he had me in it," said a son, James E. Cherry Jr., who lives in Baltimore and now owns his own upholstery business.
"He had high standards, and you had to live up to them. He taught my brother and I upholstery and [also taught] a whole lot of other people, and he expected the best out of you," he said.
"He was a human alarm clock. Every morning, after getting out of bed, he'd walk down the hallway singing the old spiritual, 'All Things Are Possible If You Only Believe,' and then I knew it was time to get up," the son said. "Also, that song really describes who my father was."
After working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in his shop, he then would spend hours calling on customers, giving them estimates on work to be done.
"He was a happy man - always smiling - no matter what was going on," his son said. "He thoroughly enjoyed his work."
The elder Mr. Cherry retired in 1992, and he occasionally visited his two sons' upholstery businesses.
"He was still driving well into his 90s," his son said.
Mr. Cherry, who lived for many years in Randallstown before moving to Pikesville in 2000, was a lifelong member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and was a 32nd-degree Mason.
He was an active member of Leadenhall Baptist Church, which he had joined in 1937, and he was a longtime church deacon. He also founded the church's Businessman's Association.
In 1990, he established the noon Wednesday service at the historic African-American church that dates to 1872
"One of his favorite hymns was 'Glory To His Name,' which he had incorporated into the service and is sung every week," said Tanya Dawson, church secretary.
"Mr. Cherry was always quoting the Bible from memory, and he was such an inspiration to youth. He said that 'faith and belief and keeping out of trouble would pay off one day,'" she said.
The Rev. Alvin J. Gwynn Jr., the church's pastor, praised Cherry's many contributions.
"He served long and ably here and was a monument in South Baltimore. His legacy will be long standing and he was loved by all," Mr. Gwynn said yesterday.
"The noon service was his passion, and that's why we're having his funeral on Wednesday. It will be a tribute to him," he said.
"He had a strong conviction and a silent strength. And when he spoke, he had lots of profound wisdom," Mr. Gwynn said. "He was also a man who had a good sense of humor and was just a lovely person to be around."
Mr. Cherry also enjoyed reading and spending time with his family.
"He believed in education and was always encouraging young people to stay in school," Mrs. Williams said.
Services will be held at noon today at the church, 1021 Leadenhall St.
Also surviving are his wife of eight years, the former Florine Allen; two other sons, Wilbert Cherry and Donald Cherry, both of Baltimore; a stepson, Montford Brown Jr. of Columbia; four other daughters, Sister Brenda Cherry, OSP, and Vera Lumpkins, both of Catonsville, Barbara Lumpkins of Rosedale and Dorothy Clinkscales of Mapleton, Ga.; a stepdaughter, Theresa Cook of Baltimore; a sister, Sarah Francis Bailey of Suffolk, Va.; 25 grandchildren; 39 great-grandchildren; and three great-great grandchildren. Two earlier marriages ended in divorce.