The Rt. Rev. Robert Jefferson Hargrove, second Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana (retired), died Thursday, May 19, 2005, at his home in Pineville, Louisiana, after a long illness. He was 67 years old.
Bishop Hargrove was a native of Kentucky, and a lover of his country who earned his Eagle Scout and God and Country awards by the age of 13. A graduate of Kentucky's Georgetown College with a bachelor's degree in music and education, he was active in the college's a cappella choir. Much of their singing was done at churches and schools. Another member of that group was Linda Sprankle, whom Hargrove married in 1957.
The Hargroves moved to the Kansas City area where he studied at Central Baptist Theological Seminary and pastored DeSoto Baptist Church in DeSoto, Kansas. He received his degree from Central Theological Seminary in 1965.
"It was during this period that we discovered the Episcopal Church," said Hargrove in a 1989 interview. "We were 'secretly' confirmed (that is, without the knowledge of those in DeSoto) at the Episcopal Cathedral in Topeka before my last Sunday, when my final act at DeSoto Baptist Church was to baptize 25 people in the Kaw River. After that Linda and I loaded our belongings into a borrowed truck, and moved to Evanston, Illinois, where I began my studies at Seabury Western Seminary. It was the beginning of a whole new phase of our lives," recalled Hargrove.
Ordained a deacon and priest in 1967, Father Hargrove began ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church as assistant to the dean of Trinity Cathedral in Davenport, Iowa. He served in West Palm Beach, Florida, before becoming rector of St. Andrew's in Grand Prairie, Texas, in the Diocese of Dallas. He later was named Canon to the Ordinary in that diocese.
The Hargroves' next call was to Grace Church in Madison, Wisconsin, in the Diocese of Milwaukee. In 1980, the Hargroves came to Grace Church in Monroe in the Diocese of Western Louisiana, and in 1987, he become rector of Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana, in the same diocese.
Hargrove was elected coadjutor of Western Louisiana and consecrated bishop in 1989, and was installed as diocesan in 1990 upon the retirement of the Rt. Rev. Willis Henton, first Bishop of Western Louisiana.
Hargrove's tenure as diocesan of Western Louisiana encompassed years of upheaval in the Episcopal Church, but a major part of his episcopate involved the strengthening of ministries within his diocese. He was a strong supporter of expanded programs for youth. He also recognized the need for strengthening the ties between the congregations in his far flung diocese, which stretched from the Arkansas border to the Gulf of Mexico. Towards that end, in the fall of 1995, after more than two years of study, debate and discernment, a special session of Diocesan Convention okayed an ambitious renovation and enlargement of the diocese's camping facility. Today the revitalized Hardtner Camp & Conference Center is the acknowledged center of scores of diocesan ministries and a growing retreat favorite of congregations in the diocese.
As his retirement neared, the structure at the Conference Center most identified with youth ministry was renamed "Hargrove House" in recognition of his leadership in the renewal of the camp and his unwavering support of youth work.
Hargrove's efforts to help the poor and disadvantaged resulted in the establishment of The Delta Ministry centered in Waterproof, Louisiana, serving northeast Louisiana parishes abutting the Mississippi River. By marshalling national grant resources and manpower and financial gifts from parishes within the Diocese of Western Louisiana, The Delta Ministry was able to deliver medical care, nutrition and education resources, and self help programs to residents of the poorest, most disadvantaged area in Louisiana. The Diocese of Western Louisiana has its offices in Pineville and its cathedral in Shreveport.
The Bishop's School for Ministry, for those with a call to expanded ministry in their lives, took root and flourished under Bishop Hargrove's tutelage. Programs that emphasized and strengthened women's ministries were also greatly encouraged by Bishop Hargrove.
Wherever he served, Bishop Hargrove's biblical preaching and teaching soon became well known. "He makes it look so easy," was a comment often heard describing one of his presentations. Few realized how important study and preparation were to him, and the importance he placed on being prepared for this facet of his ministry.
Bishop Hargrove's June 2001 call for a coadjutor was followed by the election of the Rt. Rev. D. Bruce MacPherson the following spring. Hargrove retired on November 1, 2002, during Western Louisiana's diocesan convention. MacPherson was installed as diocesan the following day.
Maintaining their home in Pineville, Louisiana, the Hargroves settled into retirement and visited family members across the country, something that had not been possible before, given Hargrove's busy schedule.
Bishop Robert Hargrove is survived by Linda, his wife of 47 years, three sons: Robert J. III of Simi Valley, CA; Timothy of Mandeville, LA; and Jonathan of Longmont, CO; by his mother, Mrs. Mildred Hargrove Divine of Phoenix, AZ; and by brothers, Dr. Terry K. Hargrove of Tucson, AZ, and Roger T. Hargrove of Phoenix, AZ; and grandchildren, Alex, Devin, Ian and Genevieve.
There will be a visitation in the nave of St. James Episcopal Church in Alexandria, LA, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, May 24, 2005. A Requiem Eucharist will take place at 11:00 a.m. with the Rev. Walter J. Baer, rector of Grace Church, New Orleans as homilist and the Rt. Rev. D. Bruce MacPherson presiding and celebrating. A reception will follow in the parish hall.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Bishop Robert J. Hargrove Memorial Fund at the Hardtner Camp & Conference Center, P. O. Box 640, Pollock, LA, or the St. Francis Cabrini Hospice, 3330 Masonic Drive, Alexandria, LA 71301, Attn: Hospice.