Family and friends gathered by the hundreds Friday at Bethel Baptist Institutional Church to honor the life of Dr. Chester Aikens.
Aikens was a Jacksonville dentist known for his years of service to the community. The civil rights leader, humanitarian and active church member died last week of a massive heart attack.
It’s a very hard time for most people who knew Aikens, especially because his death was so unexpected, but they’re focusing on the life he lived, one they are very proud of.
The heart attack happened right after he left a meeting for Mayor Alvin Brown’s Retirement Reform Task Force, of which he was a member. His friends said it just signifies his loving passion for serving others, and they find comfort knowing he spent the last hours of his life doing that.
"This community in Jacksonville will miss a great person and instrumental leader and a great dentist," said Dr. Gregory Myers, a friend of Aikens'.
“We’re all on the train of life, our beat stops along the way,” said Richard Danford.
While up late Tuesday night, thinking about his friend of 30 years, Danford jotted down that short poem.
“At some point, each of us will exit, we just don’t know when. God is good,” said Danford.
And God and the Bible is what Aikens loved. He certainly accomplished a whole lot in his 62 years of life. His most recent, though, he and his wife were ordained in October at their church, Bethel Baptist.
“It was just such joy. You could see it on his face and on his wife’s face when we handed them that certificate, and it was just the right thing to do," said Bishop Rudolph W. McKissick Jr., of Bethel Baptist Church. "Almost like the culminating piece for his life that he got this crowning moment in his church to be this servant leader. And I just think, what a way to go, what a way to go."
Longtime friend Danford said it’s as if Aikens lived 100-plus years with all that he accomplished. He went to dental school, law school, received his MBA and even served in the National Guard for 11 years. But above all, he dedicated his life to serving people in Jacksonville. Not only did he give of his time, but he put his hand in his pocket.
“I think if he had just spent all of his time making money, he would be a billionaire, but he spent half his time helping others, providing services to people who could not afford the dentist service,” said Danford.
Full of intellectual, physical and social energy, Aikens never failed to positively impact every person he came in contact with. He was very involved with the YMCA, the Ritz and the Urban League.
A man of courage, service and faith valuing education, community, family and God -- that’s how those touched by Aikens’ life said he will be remembered.
“Someone like Chester Aikens, you don’t even try to replace him,” Danford said.
Danford said Aikens introduced him to his wife, and because of him, they now have a wonderful family with two beautiful children.