LARGO — The physicist was duped. Tasker Beal Jr., a renowned community advocate, thought he was going into Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church to meet his son, Steven, but instead, with his wife, Daisy, by his side, Beal walked into the church filled with hundreds of people who gave him a standing ovation.
Members of the Friends of Ridgecrest, a community support group, held an "Appreciation for Tasker Beal Jr.'' About 300 friends, family, co-workers, former Sunday school students, fraternity brothers and politicians came together on Saturday to pay homage to Beal, who was diagnosed with renal cancer in January.
"Indeed, we didn't want to wait to do this because of his health,'' said Vernon Bryant, a member of the Friends group as well as the director of the YMCA of the Suncoast: Greater Ridgecrest Branch. "But on its own, this day was something Tasker deserved. He has been the communicator, the connector and the go-to person for the Greater Ridgecrest area for years.''
The program included a dozen speakers from businesses and organizations, including Beal's fraternity brothers from Alpha Phi Alpha and Pinellas County Commissioners Ken Welch, Karen Seel and Pat Gerard, who delivered a proclamation making Dec. 5, 2015, "Tasker Beal Jr. Day.''
And for the program's grand finale, Bryant announced that the Neighborly Ridgecrest Community Center on 119th Street will soon be renamed the Tasker Beal Jr. Service Center.
Beal, 66, is a native son who graduated in 1967 from Pinellas High and went on to receive math and physics degrees from Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach before coming home to Ridgecrest to work first at General Electric and later at Constellation Technology. He met Daisy as a teenager at his family's church, St. Mary Missionary Baptist. They have raised two children, Steven and Angela, and have three grandchildren, Bria, Lauren and Steven Jr.
Although his work as a scientist was applauded, the event on Saturday was more about Tasker the neighbor and his lifelong work in Ridgecrest, an unincorporated area near Largo that has seen its share of poverty and violence.
Over the years, Beal has mentored hundreds of youths in math and science inside the community center, fostered the Sunday school program at St. Mary's and served as a liaison with Pinellas County through the community development program. He also was instrumental in the creation of the Greater Ridgecrest Area Youth Development Initiative.
During his time at the podium, Welch joked about doing a Google search.
"What do you see when you Google Tasker Beal? You see servant and volunteer, community leader, scientist, role model, mentor,'' he said. "We need more men like you, Tasker, men of standards, to move our community forward.''
Darlene Kalada, the retired director of the community service department and housing finance authority for Pinellas County, reminded those gathered that Beal made a conscious decision to raise his family in Ridgecrest.
"As a physicist, Tasker could have gone anywhere, moved elsewhere,'' she said. "He chose to stay here, and we are thankful.''
At the end of the program, from his seat, Beal, with microphone in his hand, spoke to the crowd.
"I just want to say thank you,'' he said. "And I would just like to say to this community, keep it moving on.''
Contact Piper Castillo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Florida_PBJC.