God’s Heavenly Choir added one more voice when He invited Wayne Fenley to join His celestial assemblage. Fenley died Sept. 15, a day after he collapsed and was found in a grove in or around Leesburg, working on its irrigation system, according to an unconfirmed source.
And while Fenley’s voice assuredly must be a welcome addition, his absence here on earth is acutely felt by those who knew and loved him, especially those who had the privilege and opportunity to sing and play alongside him as members and guests of Souls Afire, a local gospel collection of musicians that entertained and inspired many.
One of those who looked upon with fondness of Fenley’s memory was Jack Luebcke, who has been a part of Souls Afire for almost four-to-five years.
“I knew him at church. I approached him one time and I asked if I could play bass,” said Luebcke. “He welcomed me with open arms.”
The number of musicians who compose Souls Afire varies, said Luebcke, and not all of them perform all the time and all at the same time; it is a fluid arrangement. Yet Fenley held the group together, and Fenley rehearsed and directed the numerous members with grace and style.
“Working with him, he was easy going. There are 13 members in the group, and all brought different talents.” said Luebcke, who added that recently, Fenley, whose health was declining, raised concerns about Souls Afire. “When he got sick, he said, ‘I want to know now, is the band going to go on?’ and we said yes.”
Luebcke said that while he and others miss their dear friend and mentor, that their hearts are not heavy.
“I know for a fact, Wayne wouldn’t want us to be sad,” he said. “We’re doing what Wayne would want us to do, absolutely, and there isn’t any one of us who wouldn’t do what he wanted us to do.”
Even those who are not musicians in the band spoke with kindness about Fenley.
“I was his pastor for seven years,” said Joe Kennedy, currently the pastor at Revival Tabernacle, in Lake Wales. Kennedy was in the pulpit at Grenelefe River of Life Worship Center when he was Fenley’s pastor. “He was a great guy.
Fenley’s love for people knew few bounds, according to Kennedy. Fenley, who owned an irrigation and landscaping business, sometimes would call Kennedy and ask if Kennedy wanted to help on some assignments. Kennedy always welcomed the opportunity and invitation.
“He was a great provider for his family,” continued Kennedy. “He was a giver, giver, giver.”
Like Luebcke, who said Fenley had recently asked whether Souls Afire would continue after he was gone, Kennedy said Fenley had a premonition. For the past several years, according to those who knew him, Fenley had a heart condition that was worsening.
“He knew in the back of his mind he was in bad shape,” said Kennedy. “But he never stopped. He just kept on going, and giving.”
He had suffered a heart attack several years ago, said Richard Smith, who heads Solid Rock Promotions, a gospel musice booking and promotions agency headquartered in Mulberry.
“Most recently, he was hospitalized and was in ICU for several days. His heart was only functioning at limited capacity,” said Richard Smith, who added he almost did not pull through. “The next time I saw him he was at Haines City Church of God, singing.”
Fenley was laid to rest Tuesday, Sept. 20.