Willie Davis Street isn’t notable. There’s no sign identifying it, and it’s likely that most of the people who use the short street that connects a gated community in West Las Vegas to Balzar Avenue don’t know its name. But pastor Willie Davis, for whom the street was named, was notable.
Davis came to the valley in 1978 to serve as pastor of the Second Baptist Church, 500 W. Madison Ave. Previously, he was pastor of the New Zion Baptist Church in Ogden, Utah.
“I think he did more for the community and the Second Baptist Church than any other pastor we’ve had, maybe with the exception of Rev. (V.C.L.) Coleman,” said Sarann Preddy, a longtime member of the congregation. “He was there longer than any other pastor.”
Not long after she and her family moved to Las Vegas in 1942, Preddy became a member of the church, which was operating in a private home. The church soon purchased a lot and built a tent to conduct services. Coleman became the church’s fourth pastor in 1949 and oversaw construction of its first building in 1950.
When Davis came to the Second Baptist Church, it was ready for an expansion, and construction began on a new building, which Davis dubbed The Miracle on Madison Avenue.
Construction was implemented in phases over 20 years and included a new sanctuary with seating for 2,000, a chapel with seating for 30, 21 classrooms in addition to the seven that were built previously, a pastor’s study, an administrative office, a finance office, a commercial kitchen, a choir room, an expanded parking lot and a deacon’s boardroom.
The church publishes an annual directory that is similar to a yearbook. The edition for 2000 lists some of Davis’ accomplishments, including baptizing 37 people at once, founding an annual homecoming banquet, organizing a leadership conference and an athletic department, organizing the first simultaneous revival in the city of Las Vegas, bringing the National Board of Evangelism to Nevada, licensing 14 ministers and ordaining 12 ministers.
In the late 1990s, former Las Vegas City Councilman Frank Hawkins returned to his old neighborhood to build affordable houses, through federal Housing and Urban Development grants. The former Oakland and Los Angeles Raider was part of the winning team in the 1984 Super Bowl and began his football career at Western High School. A condemned block of apartments called Gerson Park at the northwest corner of Lake Mead and Martin Luther King boulevards was transformed into a gated housing community.
Hawkins named the streets for notable members of the community, including Davis.
Davis left the Second Baptist Church during his trial for his part in the illegal use of federal grant money.
In 2007, Davis was sentenced to five years’ probation, along with his second wife and another minister, after they obtained a Justice Department grant in 2002 to operate halfway houses for prison inmates in Southern Nevada. The money was spent, but the halfway houses were never built.
After leaving the Second Baptist Church, Davis became pastor of the Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church, 1490 E. University Ave. He died in 2009.
Although harsh words were exchanged at the time of his legal problems, most members of the church prefer to remember Davis as the dynamic leader who led the church through growth that helped not only the members but offered the opportunity to expanded outreach and services to the community.
“My pastor said we all do wrong and we all make mistakes,” Preddy said. “There’s nobody out there who hasn’t. I wish people would concentrate on the good that he did, because he sure did a lot of good.”
Contact East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4532.