FORT WAYNE, Ind. (21Alive) - Al Stiles died on Thursday, January 2nd at 91-years-old.
"He used to be a tap dancer and he was really popular."
That's how Stiles' grandchildren remember him.
"And when he was 11, he went on a train without telling his mom," said the youngest girl.
But that train was more than just a one-way trip to New York City. It was the start of a remarkable, lifelong journey.
Stiles shared some of the world's biggest stages, including the Apollo Theater, with stars like Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, and Duke Ellington.
In 1942, his days on the stage became numbered. He was called into service with the Army and stationed in Fort Wayne.
Already an accomplished dancer and singer, Fort Wayne allowed Stiles to add veteran and community leader to that list.
In 1971, Stiles opened Al Stiles World's Best Shoe Shine. Less than 10 years later, he started the Talent Factory, where he offered free and low-cost performing arts classes to city youth.
Former Talent Factory student, Diane Rogers says, "One of the things I loved most about him is that he always told us we have to give back. That's what I'm doing."
Those who gathered Saturday morning say he may have a lengthy list of accolades, but it's his character they'll miss most.
"For someone to have done so much and be so humble, and to come to Fort Wayne just to make a life, it's really something," said nephew, Bernard Kinsey.
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