At Random McKinley
The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

CLINTON — Pastor McKinley Lee is head counselor with Victory Center Ministries, Inc., 505 Ninth Ave. South, and mission chaplain at Gateway Free Clinic.

Lee was born in Yancy, Ky., just north of the Kentucky-Tennessee state line, a few miles west of Kingsport, Tenn.

“We lived in Yancy about two years then moved to Winchester, Kentucky,” he said. “I went to Oliver elementary and high school graduating in December 1950. I passed a couple of grades (seventh and eighth) and graduated when I was 16.

“My dad tried to tell them I wasn’t ready to pass through grades but they wouldn’t put me back,” said Lee. “They gave me a test in front of dad to show I was eligible to be moved ahead.”

Lee is the son of the Rev. Promise Lee, a Methodist minister from Alabama, and Ada Dickerson from Tennessee. Rev. Promise was working at a coal mine in the northeast corner of Tennessee when McKinley was born.

“I had six brothers and four sisters,” Lee said. “While raising all of us mom did housework for others.”

The oldest brother is Promise Lee Jr. in Flint, Mich., who dealt in several products. Next in line is McKinley. His brothers Henderson and the Rev. Arthur Lee both have churches in Flint. Phillip, who lived in Killeen, Texas, is deceased as is George, who lived in New York. Danny is a retired deputy sheriff living in Flint.

Queentilla, Grace, Celia and Virginia are his sisters. Queentilla, Grace and Celia, all deceased, were former employees of the AC Spark Plug Co. and were residents of Flint. Virginia is a retired registered nurse and lives between Lexington and Winchester, Kentucky.

“I saw my brothers (Promise Lee Jr., Henderson, Arthur and Danny) about three months ago when we flew to Texas for Phillip’s funeral in Killeen,” he said. “Coming back the weather held up Amtrak so we took a plane back.”

He enjoyed all of his classes in school but “really loved” football and basketball.

“I liked spelling and arithmetic, in fact I liked it all except geography,” he said. “They (teachers) told me all the time that I wrote too fast, but it was right. I also tried to play the organ. I liked it in a way but I cheated and put letters on the keys.”

Lee said, “I was an all-state guard on the football team and also played guard on the basketball court. In those days the scholarships were not there and I dropped out after three years. I was not a very good shooter in basketball but I was good shooting free throws.

“I played in one basketball state tournament but I hurt my knee and had to quit playing (basketball),” he said. “I played the hot corner (third base) with the baseball team. My teammates always called me ‘Big Lee.’ I was tall and weighed about 235 pounds. I didn’t play much baseball so I was out of sports.”

Lee said, “Mom was working a turkey line in a poultry plant when the papers she had to sign so I could enlist came through. I went in, they stopped the (turkey) line, put the papers on a turkey and mom signed.”

He was assigned to Fort Knox, Ky., for his 13-week basic training course. After basic training, Lee was sent to Fort Benning, Ga., for high-speed radio operator school. After successfully completing the operator course, McKinley was shipped to Seattle’s Pier 91, then to Japan and two days later to Korea.

“Being a radio operator was not the safest occupation, a lot if them didn’t make it back,” he said. “As a result I did not make too many friends.”

“One day someone called to me and said, ‘Are you McKinley Lee?’ I answered yes I was and he told me someone a mile or two ahead of us was looking for me,” he said.

“I moved up and there was my brother, Promise Jr. He was only three miles from me, a member of a tank battalion,” said Lee. “Fighting the way it was we only had five or 10 minutes to talk. He was called to keep up with his unit. I didn’t want to go that way. I had to return to my unit (74th Combat Engineers).”

“I enlisted in the army in December 1950, and was discharged in 1953 at Fort Knox,” Lee said. “For awhile after getting discharged I worked at cutting tobacco in Winchester. Then I left and moved to Detroit where I was employed at Ford Motor Co.”

McKinley met his first wife, Marie, in Winchester. They were married at the Lexington Court House in 1954. After the split with Marie, Lee met a young lady, Cora, who was selling pots and pans in Flint.

“She (Cora) talked me into going to Chicago,” he said. “Chicago was really tough in those days with gangs like the Vice Lords and Blackstone Rangers. I went to work for the Lilliard Bureau of Investigation. I did make lieutenant while with Lilliard. Cora and I were never married.”

Lee said, “In Chicago I met a young lady named Esther and I told her, ‘I’m going to make you my wife.’”

“We were married in 1969 at Chicago and shortly after the wedding we moved to Clinton. Esther was diagnosed with cancer and moved into Prairie Hills in 2006,” he said. “She now lives in Rockford, Illinois, and I am able to visit her twice a month.”

McKinley and Esther had a son in 1972 — McKinley Lee Jr., who lives in Fresno, Calif., and has been a bodyguard for rapper Snoop Dogg.

Esther had five children, Ruth, Ernistine, Jerome, Willie and Annette, who lives in Joliet, Ill.

“After I moved to Clinton I worked three or four years at Lee-Paasch Ford,” said Lee. “Then I started cooking at ‘Dad’s Ribs’ located on Illinois 84 at McGinnis Market. We had a grill that could hold 25 slabs of ribs, 10 chickens. I really do a job with the ribs.”

McKinley said, “I have known Rev. Ray Gimenez over 20 years and I now work as head counselor at Victory Center Ministries, Inc. I was with Rev. Lionel Davis a few years at Second Baptist Church on Fourth Avenue North.

“I never thought I would be ordained as a Deacon but I was in 1982,” he said. “I was ordained by Davis. Then I began working with Bishop Wade in the New Unity Church in Savanna and the Victory Center in Clinton where I have been 18 years.

“In 2000 I became a licensed minister under Bishop Wade and then was licensed by Ray (Gimenez) in 2002.”

McKinley Lee is pastor of the free clinic helping the poor located at 215 Sixth Ave. South.

Lee said, “The clinic’s mission has never been to convert people to a particular brand of Christianity, but to address their spiritual needs, to pray with them, to advise them and refer them to local pastors in churches as desired.”

McKinley loves to read the bible and Midwest Counseling and he loves to cook.

“I do a lot of baking and have made many cakes for 25 or more people,” he said. “I just baked two for the Victory Center opening.”

His favorite meal to cook would be sweet potato pie, greens and ham hocks, fried chicken, baked potatoes and corn bread.

“You hear so many sad stories from young people how their parents put them out (of their home) and/or misused and abused them,” he said. “I like it, being able to help a lot of people.”

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