Niles pastor takes vocals to park

NILES — On Friday, those enjoying the final late-summer weather might have heard singing, praying and a little preaching coming from the Veterans Memorial at Riverfront Park.

There was even a bit of dancing witnessed from a man who happened to attend the small, impromptu show.

Pastor Jeffrey Whittaker, of Michiana Christian Embassy, 1922 E. Main St., brought a sound system and his energy to entertain in the park. In between telling stories, he shared his faith, patriotism and singing songs in the style of Dean Martin and show tunes like “Ballad of the Green Beret.” His son, a Michigan State Police trooper, even stopped by in the parking lot to hear Whittaker sing and give him a wave.

Whittaker adjusted Dean Martin’s 1960s release “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You” to “You’re Somebody When Somebody Loves You.” He sang while speaking about how his faith influences his idea of God and love.

“Friday afternoon’s event fell perfectly under the shadow of the 9/11 anniversary,” Whittaker said. “Due to COVID-19, most commemorations were canceled. I was so thankful to be able to do what little I could.”

The Veterans Memorial found its way to the show’s setting both in part due to 9/11 anniversary, but also in part to Whittaker’s own loss this year.

“We just had to say goodbye to my dad,” he said. “He passed away in April this year. He fought his last battle with Vietnam because he got Agent Orange. It brought cancers to him. He lived well. He got to spend time with his great-grandchildren. When he turned, he just went. He didn’t linger. He just loved Jesus with all his heart.”

Whittaker spoke about his father returning from the war, working through the experience that changed his temperament for a while.

“We have hope that goes beyond anything this crazy world can dish out,” Whittaker said.

He said he has played his music in more than 20 different countries around the world. Whittaker has also sang in South Bend at the South Bend Motor Speedway.

“I have taken my accordion downtown here, in Niles, a couple of times and just sat on the hood of my car, or strolled up and down Main Street ‘making a joyful noise,’” he said. “Connecting with many very sweet people who rolled down their windows, honked horned, drove around the block for another ‘drive-by blessing.’”

Whittaker was quick to speak of his pride for being a Niles and Michigan native, as well as an American citizen.

“To coin a very popular song, ‘I’m proud, and blessed, to be an American, where at least I know I’m free,’” he said.

Whittaker hopes to continue finding other local locations to sing and share his passion for music and his faith through the fall.

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