Early Tacoma Bahá’ís – Lyle Ames


Lyle Ames, right, and Victor Frank, center, make a presentation to a local  government leader in an undated photograph. 



Lyle Ames


It can be said of Lyle Ames that he was a man of few words and many deeds.  He was strong, handsome, and physically fit. Loyalty, reliability, and trustworthiness were essential ingredients of his character.  It was his nature to help people. He was always helping someone, but he never talked much about it.  He accepted people pretty much as he found them. He did not make Judgments, but his appeal was to one’s reason, one’s intelligence, one’s higher nature.


Lyle did not have an easy life, but perhaps that’s what gave him his strength of character.  He was born in Tamahawk, Wisconsin on May 14, 1907 of an American/English father and an Indian mother of the Ojibway Tribe, the largest tribe of the Algonquin family.  Lyle was the second of four children born to Beardsley and Emma Ames.  His father was a cook, a rancher and a railroad blacksmith, so the family was always on the move in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Montana.


In those days, much of these lands were a wilderness.  They lived in log cabins in the backwoods, a life on the frontier.  Lyle’s education was acquired in a one-room schoolhouse, and one of his classmates was the well-known writer, A.B. Guthrie, who wrote “The Big Sky”.  In that little schoolhouse, Lyle acquired a love of learning and reading which he retained all his life.


One winter in Montana, his father left permanently.  His younger brother, Veryl, had just died of T.B. That left Lyle with his older brother Les, his mother, and his little sister, Orma.  They had one bag of flour, and Lyle said that they just barely survived that winter!


His mother and the young family began hewing their way in the wilderness.  They grew a little garden in the brush-cleared wilds, and Les and Lyle fished and hunted moose, elk, deer, pheasant, rabbit, and squirrel. Les and Lyle also earned a little by trapping game.  The brothers would leave early in the morning to take their furs to the trading posts and return late at night, with packs of wolves literally howling at their heels.  This love of nature and ability to survive off the land was in their blood, inherited from their Indian mother, and Lyle had said that the happiest years of his life were spent with Les, hunting, fishing and trapping in the wilderness.  At one point, they even did some mining in the mountains of Idaho.


Lyle adored his older brother, but Les liked to wander and was often far afield, so it fell to Lyle to be responsible for his mother and younger sister.  Lyle developed into an extremely responsible person, accepting his lot faithfully, and in later years befriending many people in many ways.


When.Lyle was still a young teenager his mother moved then to Vashon Island, where they raised chickens, and finally to Tacoma, where he remained.  Lyle knew poverty all his life until the time he started working on the Tacoma waterfront loading and unloading cargo ships.  He was initiated into the Longshoreman’s union in 1929.  This, however, was still not “easy street”,

since it was the year of the stockmarket crash and the beginning of the great depression.  Also, the conditions on the waterfront at that time were those of backbreaking physical labor and brutally long hours.  He participated in the longshoreman’s strikes of the early 1930’s, which were turning points for the improvement of the conditions of waterfront workers.  He spent 43 years on the Tacoma docks and was well respected by his co-workers.


Lyle was married for a short time, but lived mostly with his mother, providing and caring for her in her illness.  He has outlived every member of his family – the last, his father and sister, by 25 years.


In 1960, Lyle married Elsie Larson and embraced her sons and grandsons as his very own, and these became his family:

Gerald Larson of Tacoma

Paul, of Lake Surprise


Mark, of Woodenville

Rick, of Pullman, Washington State College

Kirk, of Tacoma

And Great-Grandson,

Breck Roy Larson, II


Lyle and Elsie were married 26 years.  When Elsie’s health permitted, they had an active life together, gardening, taking trips, and entertaining family and friends.  Lyle also had a woodshop in his garage and loved to work with wood.


In the early 1950’s, he heard about the Bahá’í Faith from his brother Les, and sister-in-law, Helene and in 1956, he became a Bahá’í.  This was a big turning point for Lyle.  He was already in middle-age when he took on this new way of life and it was not an easy task.  But he worked at it steadily. He struggled. He persevered.  And, little by little, he acquired those qualities of character, that vision, that faith, which enabled him to put into perspective the hardships of his past, the difficulties of his present, the uncertainties of his future, and move forward a fundamentally assured and happy man, at peace with his Maker and with himself.


For 30 years, Lyle was a pillar of the Tacoma Bahá’í Community and served on the Spiritual Assembly as either chairman, treasurer or librarian for virtually the whole of that time.  He lived the Bahá’í teachings to an exemplary degree: his actions reflected his beliefs and he did not waver.  And that is the highest tribute that we can pay to Lyle or to anyone.  He did not waver.  Through all the ups and downs of life, he was steadfast to the end.


Lyle Ames' grave marker


Such are the highlights of Lyle’s long and eventful life.  He has been characterized by some as an oak tree.  We thought he would always be there.  We expected him to last forever.  But this physical life is transitory.  It is not our permanent home.  It is only for passing through so the soul can acquire the qualities and virtues that it needs in its everlasting and eternal home.  Lyle did that, and now his soul has winged its way to its celestial nest.  A job well done, Lyle!



I wish to close with this passage from the Bahá’í writings: 


“It is clear and evident that all men shall, after their physical death, estimate the worth of their deeds, and realize all that their hands have wrought….  They that are the followers of the one true God shall, the moment they depart out of this life, experience such joy and gladness as would be impossible to describe….  Death proffereth unto every confident believer the cup that is life indeed.  It bestoweth joy, and is the bearer of gladness.  It conferreth the gift of everlasting life.”



March 26, 1988


This was the eulogy that was composed by Alda Spell.

It was delivered by Bill Spell at Lyle’s funeral.


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