On New Year’s Eve 1969, Phyllis Dupree sat down with her husband, Frank, to watch preacher Billy Graham on television.
It was a moment that changed the couple’s lives, Dupree’s daughter Linda Saladon said. Shortly after, they decided to dedicate themselves to their faith. The Duprees became pastors and later founded the Living Water Full Gospel Church.
Pastor Phyllis Dupree died at her home in Riverhead on March 19, her family said. She was 87.
What began as a prayer meeting in the Duprees' living room quickly grew and, on Jan. 1, 1978, the church moved to a storefront building in Jamesport. Now, Living Water has a congregation of several hundred in Riverhead.
“[My mother] was dedicated to her family, she was dedicated to the church, she was dedicated to God,” said Saladon, 70, of Riverhead. “She’s touched and impacted so many lives.”
A nondenominational church, Living Water welcomed parishioners of all backgrounds as soon as it opened its doors.
“When they had a church on Main Street in Jamesport, it was one of the first biracial churches around,” said associate pastor and son-in-law Rick Saladon, 68, of Riverhead. “They even had death threats because that was back in the early '70s and it just wasn’t done.”
Pastor Rick added that the Duprees' “core beliefs still run strong through the church,” particularly as more of the family joined the ministry. In 1979, Dupree's son George was ordained as an associate pastor and in October 1991 was named lead pastor. George and his wife, Carolyn, are currently the lead pastors of the church.
“Everybody, no matter who they are, deserves love and respect,” Pastor Rick said of the mindset behind the church.
Rarely without a smile, Dupree “had a way of being able to connect with people,” her great-grandson Dylan Douglas, 19, of Riverhead, said.
“I think that for the age she grew up in, she was an extremely strong and independent woman,” Douglas said. “That was something that was very unique about her. Not a lot of people have those qualities, even today.”
Dupree was born on Nov. 11, 1932, in Jamaica, Queens, and grew up in Queens. She attended St. Pascal Baylon High School in St. Albans.
Dupree was married to Frank, who died in 2018, for 70 years. The couple was part of the New York-Long Island Marriage Encounter, where, Linda Saladon said, “they were basically involved in helping people to have good, strong marriages.”
Dupree also traveled to Africa, Israel and Poland on missionary work and wrote several books, including "Healing Hands for a Hurting World."
At home, Dupree raised six children, fostering “a love in all of us in music and art,” Linda said.
“For years, before they had both gone into ministry, my dad had traveled quite a bit,” Linda said. “She kept us all busy and active throughout the week until he came home. She liked to do things that brought the family together.”
Pastor Rick credited Dupree for bringing him in as a volunteer during the church’s early days. He became a full-time minister in 1983 and a pastor in 1988.
“I ended up in full-time ministry, doing what I wanted to do since I was 12, helping people, all because of her,” he said.
In addition to Linda and Rick, Dupree is survived by her son Frank and daughter-in-law Giovanna of Bloomfield, New Jersey; daughter Loren and son-in-law John of Miller Place; son George and daughter-in-law Carolyn of Riverhead; son Jeffrey and daughter-in-law Theresa of Muskogee, Oklahoma; son Stephen and daughter-in-law Erin of Wellington, Florida; 25 grandchildren, 42 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
There will be no services held at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the family said they are looking to hold a memorial service in the summer.