Rev. Donald Havrilla of Southampton, Pastor of the Southampton Full Gospel Church, died peacefully on Thursday, May 2, after a short but valiant battle with a pulmonary illness. He was 81 years old, and was surrounded by his wife and children.
Born in the small steel mill town of Braddock, PA on July 23, 1937, during the Great Depression, he was the son of working-class immigrant Slovak parents, Michael and Helen Havrilla.
Rev. Havrilla worked his way from a blue-collar steel mill worker into a white-collar personnel manager for General Dynamics, a U.S. Defense contractor. After being honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 1959, he met his wife Eileen for the first time at a jam session in Pittsburgh, PA, but she was dating another and refused him.
Nearly two years went by when, on vacation in Wildwood, NJ, she again caught his eye and he asked her out again. Neither of them remembered the other from their previous meeting until their friends said they thought that he was the same guy she had met in Pittsburgh two years earlier. They began dating and were married on February 23, 1963, when Eileen Persico became his wife and the love of his life.
Havrilla’s early life was spent in politics and industrial labor relations, representing the interests of both the steel workers union members as well as the industrial corporate executive interests, in addition to raising a family and attending college at Mitchell College in New London, CT.
His Machiavellian approach to business and politics led to his disillusionment with the business world. After several rocky years struggling with alcohol and marital issues, his wife Eileen found God and became a Born Again Christian.
She invited him to a church service where he was challenge by a stranger to read the Bible. He decided to read the Bible, at first, only to disprove that it was of any value to powerful, self-made men and to debate the need for such teachings in his life. As he read the Word Of God, he realized that this was the truly the proper way to live, but he thought, “I am too big a sinner to be able to live this life.” His wife challenged him to ask Jesus into his life. He did, thus finding the same peace, hope and contentment that his wife had found.
In 1971, following a deep desire to serve God and to help others, he and his wife decided to move to Southampton with their two small children, and he decided to become a pastor. His mission to offer hope to those in need and to help people free themselves from the bonds of alcohol and drug addiction, which was rampant in America in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
He and a close group of friends built the home in which he raised his family and in which he and his wife lived for the rest of his life.
During the 1970s and 1980s, they pastored a small church on Little Plains Road and Burnett Street in Southampton Village. The church congregation grew tremendously. They continually expanded their outreach including busing programs, youth groups, and Vacation Bible Schools, among many other community programs. These programs touched the lives and had a positive impact on many people on the East End. Eventually outgrowing the small church, the church relocated to its current property on County Road 39A.
After working with Dr. Cairns who was helping children in Africa, they began receiving letters from an unknown pastor in Haiti. Soon after, a deacon and local builder offered to pay for a trip, which permitted them to visit Haiti, in January 1982. Struck by the poverty, malnutrition, and spiritual needs they saw in Haiti, they decided to begin Mission Reach Out Haiti, in Leogane.
Starting with only 25 children, the mission eventually grew to over 1500 students who were fed and educated daily. In addition, the mission helped coordinate regional USAID and other charitable agency-sponsored nutrition and medical programs to assist the poor in Haiti.
With help from friends, family and other supporters, the mission continues to provide education, food, computer skills and medical assistance to the children of Haiti. Today, it is one of the largest employers in the city of Leogane.
His later life was spent encouraging all people to engage and participate in government, whether local, national, or international. His belief was that government should be “by the people and for the people,” and not simply for elected leaders who make unilateral decisions for the uninvolved and disinterested masses.
As a result, he constantly encouraged the people to become involved in politics issues to ensure that Constitutional issues such as Freedom Of Speech, Religion and Civil Liberties were upheld for all. He engaged constantly with local and federal politicians on a wide array of issues.
Pastor Havrilla was an exemplary model of a true Christian servant of God and the people. He was once referred to by a friend as the “Godfather” of the local East End spiritual community as many of the local pastors and spiritual leaders had roots working with Pastor Havrilla in their early years.
Rev. Havrilla loved and respected all, regardless of points of view or positions of opinion.
He will be deeply missed by his family, friends, and the many lives on whom he and his wife had a positive impact. He is survived by his beloved wife of 56 years, Eileen of Southampton, son Michael Havrilla and daughter Dayna Marinos currently residing in California, as well as grandson Konstantine Marinos and granddaughter Devyn Marinos.
Viewing will be at the Southampton Full Gospel Church on Wednesday, May 8, and Thursday, May 9, from 2 to PM and again from 7 to 9.
Funeral services will be held on Friday, May 10, at 10:30 AM followed by a burial ceremony at the Southampton Cemetery, directly across the street from the Church, at 1:30 PM. A reception will be held at the Southampton Full Gospel Church after the burial with food and beverages provided by Paul’s Restaurant of Southampton.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Mission Reach Out Haiti, C/O Southampton Full Gospel Church, PO Box 126, Southampton, NY 11968.