A life of service

Growing up on the streets of Chicago and fighting a bloody war could have hardened Charles Harlow. Instead, the retired Congregationalist minister is known these days for his big smile and his small gifts to children.

After nearly a half of a century in God's service, Harlow now takes the time to enjoy simple interactions with people. Residents of this small town, and friends from the church he attends, talk of seeing him carefully folding sheets of paper or dollar bills into shapes like frogs or elephants as gifts for the children he meets.

But life wasn't always so simple for the 82-year-old retired minister. His history includes fighting to put himself through school, surviving life as a Marine, and getting to know a young man on a path to greatness: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Born in Waukegan, Illinois in 1925, Harlow grew up in Chicago from the age of seven until he was 14. Then at just 16, Harlow lied about his age so he could join the Marine Corps in response to the outbreak of World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He stayed in the Marine Corps until after the surrender of Japan.

It was while overseas that he first felt a pull towards the ministry. Soldiers were being served communion by the church and Harlow decided to join them, yet was turned away.

"I couldn't figure out why," said Harlow. "I wasn't that bad. Okay, I was raised in the streets and okay, I did this and I did that"&

166; but I was not that bad that they couldn't serve me communion. And that stuck in my mind."

While overseas, Harlow became sick and was moved to a hospital in San Diego, Calif. There he met the woman that would become his wife of 63 years. Because neither Harlow nor his young wife, Marion, had gone to high school, they decided it was important to go to college. Harlow first went to Washington State Junior College, then Linfield College in Oregon, before graduating from Crozer Theological School in Chester, Penn.

"I am so divine it's pathetic," said Harlow. "I've got bachelors in divinity, masters in divinity, and a doctorate in divinity. Now how divine can you be?"

Friends with history

When Harlow first stepped off the bus onto the Crozer campus where he would spend the next three years studying theology, a man walked towards him and asked, "Can I help you?" That man was Martin Luther King Jr. King picked up Harlow's luggage and walked him to the registration office, and then even helped him move into his apartment.

"That's the kind of guy he was," said Harlow of how he remembers King. "He was always willing to help out. He cared, and that was my relationship with him."

Harlow's wife remembers her husband staying with King when the weather was too bad for him to get home from school. She recalls them drinking homemade hard-cider in Martin's room, and having an all around good time.

"Well, of course we did a few other things," said Harlow laughing. "He was a fun guy."

Last year on King's birthday, Harlow turned down invitations to speak at numerous celebrations. Instead he watched the celebrations, somewhat disappointed in the depictions of his friend's life.

"I almost cried, in fact I did a little bit, because they talked about who he was, about his education, about his children, everything," said Harlow. "But the bottom line for Martin and his wife was non-violence, and it wasn't mentioned."

Harlow will always remember King fondly for who he was and what he stood for.

Serving the community

Today, the Harlows attend the First Congregational Church in Ashland. They volunteer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. These days Harlow can often be found around Ashland, his fingers indulging in their favorite past-time: origami. He was first taught the art of paper folding in the 1970s while on a visit to China. China was just one stop as Harlow traveled many parts of the world on a quest to understand other religious points of view. Now he folds his paper, or a dollar into paper creations, which he often passes to children for the pleasure of seeing them smile.

With his open heart and religious beliefs, Harlow has been a teacher and a mentor to many over the years. Pam Shepherd, the reverend at the Ashland First Congregational Church, has been just one of his many students.

"He is an inspiration to people today for what it looks like to give your life away, to give your life to god and to live joyfully," said Shepherd. "He is a very special human being, and we are lucky to have him in the Rogue Valley."

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