HUDSON — At first, those at the New York headquarters of Word of Life Ministries were skeptical about setting up a satellite in hot, swampy Florida.
They toured the place, cringed at the gators and swatted at the mosquitoes.
But they were dealing with Jack Lyon, and Jack Lyon was a man who never gave up.
The Pasco County rancher eventually convinced the non-profit group that his vision of a Christian camp, resort and Bible institute was a perfect fit for the nearly 500 acres he wanted to donate. The ministry opened in 1990. Today, it counts more than 10,000 kids who have found faith during a week of swimming, basketball and campfires. The auditorium draws hundreds of thousands of visitors over the years to its Broadway-style Christmas show and Easter passion play.
On Friday, about 300 people gathered inside to celebrate the life of the 77-year-old patriarch whose donation and determination made the ministry possible.
Lyon died Monday, but his legacy will live on, those who remembered him said.
Some spoke of him as a father-in-law, while others called him Pop-Pop.
"I remember the first time I met Jack," said Harry Bollback, one of the ministry founders for whom the auditorium is named. "He asked me, 'Are you interested in building a camp in Florida?' Six months later, the decision was made and to the glory of God, here we are today."
Before the camp was even built, Lyon was known to take visitors around the property in his beat-up truck. He'd say things like "That's where the campfire is going to be."
Though his vision was sophisticated, Lyon was a simple man who loved puttering around in old trucks, fixing engines and killing venomous snakes. A telephone company employee, he built his house with telephone poles.
He once leaned down from a tractor and scooped a baby jack rabbit up in his hat. Some of his relatives remember how he brought home a baby alligator in a box.
"He was a Crocodile Dundee, American style," said the Rev. Jim Prose, Lyon's son-in-law and pastor of First Baptist Church in Keystone Heights.
But Lyon, who became a Christian in 1961 during a St. Petersburg church service, will be most remembered by family and friends for his unshakable faith that remained strong even when he was badly burned in a farm accident a number of years ago.
"He was a real fighter," said granddaughter Rachel Obenreder of Tampa.
Prose said Lyon's belief in Christ left him no reason to fear death and called on everyone to embrace that same faith.
And in true Lyon fashion, the funeral ended with an altar call and a hymn: Victory In Jesus.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.