It all began in July, 1916 when Lee A. Tolbert Sr. was born to Toney and Annie Hawkins Tolbert in Tchula, Mississippi. Lee was the 5th of 10 children. Growing up, Lee’s family would get up for breakfast before 5 a.m.; his mother and sisters were making 100 biscuits as part of their daily breakfast ritual before heading for a long, hot day of work in the cotton fields.
The Tolbert children got their work ethic as a generational blessing, trained by God’s pioneers, their grandparents, Toney and Annie Hawkins Tolbert. Their sons, in addition to working the farm, worked odd jobs to support the family. Lee was an entrepreneur before the word was invented. He drove a truck and often earned over a hundred dollars a day making deliveries and hauling for several stores and farmers. He turned over all the money made to his father daily.
The Tolbert family has always been a praying family. Lee received his call to the ministry at age 17 during a service being held at the Tolbert’s family home. Being a young man, he was unwilling to yield to the calling because his focus was on trying to make money. His mother then told him of a dream she had about him. She said she saw him standing as a pastor in a large church building. Lee continued to resist the call and pursue his entrepreneurial activities.
One of Lee’s ultimate tests of faith took place in 1942 when his family returned to Arkansas. He awoke one morning and found himself partially paralyzed. At age 25, he had suffered a stroke. After several months of being bedridden, his dad wanted to seek medical attention for his son, against their religious teachings. His mother, Annie Hawkins Tolbert, instead brought the family together in prayer and a miracle took place that day. Lee A. Tolbert was healed- demonstrated by his leaping from his sick bed in a holy dance. It was now time to yield to the call to the ministry.
Lee A. Tolbert was chosen by God to travel to San Antonio, Texas to serve as a caretaker for Pastor William Wilkerson, who was recovering from a stroke. Being a stroke victim himself, Lee knew that through the power of prayer God could heal and deliver. While on divine assignment in San Antonio at Lincoln Park Church, Lee recognized another divine assignment when he met his wife, Lorene Vivian Dibrell. After being in San Antonio for one year, Lee went home to visit his mother with a picture of Lorene in his wallet that she had given him for Christmas. When his mother saw the picture she said, “That’s the one”. Upon Lee’s return to San Antonio, he asked her father for her hand in marriage. On Mother’s Day, May 14, 1944, Lee A. Tolbert Sr. and Lorene Vivian Dibrell, were joined in Holy Matrimony and went back to evening service that Sunday night before retreating to the honeymoon.
They began their new life together and relocated to Parsons, Kansas where Lee found a job with Katy Railroad. While living in Parsons, Kansas, their first child, Lee Jr., was born. The Lord led them to move us to Kansas City, MO in 1946 where Lee Sr. became associate minister at Christ Temple under the pastorate of Elder Walter Scott.
Pastor was added to Lee Tolbert, Sr. title in 1968, a year after District Elder Walter Scott departed this life. Two years later, he moved the congregation from a church that seated 175 to the church at our present location that seats well over 1200. During his 23 years as pastor, Elder Tolbert continued to rise and strive toward higher heights in the Lord. He made and followed through on tough decisions while many stood by and took his meekness for weakness. Because of his strong faith, the mortgage on the former Beth Shalom Synagogue was paid off, interest free, in one year after purchase.
As the ministry grew, so did his family over the years. Together, he and his wife raised six children, Lee Jr., Wendell, Vivian, Carol, Mark, and Aaron. In addition to having fun and traveling with his family, gardening was his passion. He always had a vegetable garden and loved working with flowers. The Tolbert home always had a beautiful array of flowers, including peonies, tulips, and roses. His huge vegetable garden produced tomatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, okra, cabbage, and other vegetables. The garden was bordered with fruit trees and grape vines. At harvest time, he always shared the home-grown produce with saints and neighbors.
One of Lee’s favorite things to do at Christmas was to prepare hundreds of Christmas gift bags filled with fruit, nuts and candy. The contents were purchased from a fruit wholesaler and then hours were spent filling the bags. In later years, he recruited a small crew to assist his benevolent efforts. Everyone at Christ Temple always looked forward to receiving Christmas bags, distributed traditionally at the end of the church’s Christmas program. The title of Suffragan Bishop was bestowed upon District Elder Tolbert, in 1990 at the General Convention of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. Because of his increasing age and declining health, he officially retired from the pastorate that same year, entrusting the furtherance of the work to their third son, now Bishop Mark C. Tolbert.
As a tribute to his legacy of outstanding moral character, work ethic, and strong faith, a charter school was founded in his name in 1999. The Academy currently serves 500+ kindergarten through eighth grade students.
Suffragan Bishop Lee A. Tolbert, Emeritus passed away on Wednesday, December 20, 2006. Bishop Tolbert leaves to continue his legacy his loving wife of 62 years, Lorene; four sons: Bishop Lee A. Tolbert, Jr. (Gaile), Waterloo, IA; Elder Wendell A. Tolbert (Doris), Bishop Mark C. Tolbert (Emelda), and Aaron Tolbert (Orene), all of Kansas City, MO; two daughters: Vivian (John) Roper, KCMO, and Carol (Gary) Fowler, Las Vegas, NV; as well as a host of grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, relatives, and church family.