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Freeport's Rev. Eugene Purvis dies at 97

WW II hero, community leader

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The Rev. Eugene Purvis, 97, of Freeport, died on Feb. 5. He was the beloved husband of Dr. Sylvia Purvis, and loving father of Alexius, David and Eugene Jr. 

Purvis was a World War II veteran and active member of Freeport Cares, a community group that works with the Freeport School District and Village of Freeport to promote programs and activities for local families. 

Schools Superintendent Dr. Kishore Kuncham, a fellow member of Freeport Cares and long-time friend of Purvis, noted that Purvis never missed a meeting with the group in more than 20 years, despite his age.

“His presence, incredible positivity, love of life and unconditional care for others has left a mark on me and others,” Kuncham said. “He will always be remembered.”

Purvis often described himself to the Herald as a “simple country boy,” born in South Carolina in 1923. He joined the U.S. military just before his 20th birthday, and was assigned to the 435th Aviation Squadron, a unit of African-American soldiers within the 20th Army Air Corps.  

His unit served on the Pacific front, on the island of Saipan, where they were under constant fire from Japanese bomber planes. Although Purvis and his fellow Black soldiers faced discrimination during his time in the military, he said he never held any hatred towards anyone. 

He said that it was his faith in God, love for others and commitment to following the rules that led him to live a long and happy life, despite the hardships he faced. 

“I never got angry at anybody,” Purvis said. “When you live long enough, you find the truths in life… and I do feel sorry for those who hate others.”  

Among his memories of the war, Purvis used to tell others of his commanding officers instructing him to hide from the Japanese bomber planes whenever the alarms sounded at his camp. 

Purvis said every time he heard that alarm, he dove into a nearby foxhole, regardless of the constant false alarms that came throughout the days. He said the main reason he did so was because his commanders had entrusted him to do so.

Then one day, when the alarms rang, Purvis urged his friends in the unit to join him in the foxhole, but he said they had become tired of the false alarms and attributed this latest one to another dud. Purvis said his friends died that day in the bombing, and since then, his faith in following the rules was ironclad.   

He earned the rank of master sergeant.  

After the war, Purvis moved to New York in 1946, and a few years later, he settled in Freeport with his wife. A devout believer all his life, Purvis became an ordained minister and served at the Brownsville AME Zion Church in Brooklyn, Lakeville AME Zion Church in Manhasset, Shaw Temple A.M.E. Zion Church in Amityville and Naomi Temple AME Zion Church in Roosevelt, where he was pastor for 30 years.  

The couple spent their lives in service to others, including founding the local, private Children’s World Montessori School for students in grades pre-kindergarten to three.  

When the pandemic struck last year, the elderly Purvis couple began to see their home fall into disrepair as the aging infrastructure crumbled and trash piled up in their backyard. 

The members of Freeport Cares took turns watching over the couple. During the pandemic, they delivered meals when they saw the state of the house. 

Christine Waters, of East Meadow, was among the members of Freeport Cares who helped look after Purvis. She worked with her local Economic Opportunity for All Youth Committee and the Copiague-based nonprofit, Promise of Hope Foundation, to bring dozens of local volunteers to repair Purvis’s home. 

They installed a handicapped-accessible bathroom on the home’s first floor and fixed its plumbing issues.

Prior to the fix-up event, local leaders and friends gathered outside Purvis’s home to wish him a happy 97th birthday, and he was given several honors from local and state officials.  

“It was a nice time to get to share my story, again,” Purvis told the Herald.