Jovon Harvey Sr. had a reputation.
According to criminal records, it was one of a long-ago felon and a man awaiting the outcome of a federal indictment, one that accused him of tax evasion.
But he was much more than what is spelled out in court documents. And the other side of his reputation – that of devoted father and church leader – is one that his family hopes will live on much longer than the first.
Harvey, 44, was gunned down Saturday evening in the front yard of a home on East Tillman Road. Early reports following up on his death focused on the pending federal indictment and arrests in the late 1990s for cocaine trafficking and dog fighting.
His son and namesake, Jovon Harvey Jr., 19, said his father was always open and honest about his past behaviors, and did everything he could to push his children away from the lifestyle that swallows up so many young people on Fort Wayne’s southeast side.
Jovon Harvey Sr. was a relentless parent. “There was no greater man in my eyes than my dad,” his son said.
In the days following his father’s death, Harvey Jr. collected more than 260 signatures of community residents attesting to how he benefited their lives.
He could have gotten more, but he was tired, he said.
Harvey Jr. said his father was a man who was in church three times a week, serving the people of Greater Mount Ararat Baptist Church and the community around it. He helped organize Christmas donations for needy families, coached in youth leagues and sponsored teams through his former restaurant, the McKinnie Tap.
This year, the elder Harvey put together a “back-to-school extravaganza” – getting donors together to provide backpacks full of school supplies and free haircuts to those of all ages headed to the classroom this fall, Harvey Jr. said.
In past years he, his mother, Essie Bass, and his late sister handed out turkeys and free food from the McKinnie Tap.
With Harvey Sr.’s death, his mother survives all her children – two lost to homicide and three to health issues.
Harvey Sr. graduated from Snider High School and went to Ball State University on a football scholarship as an offensive tackle.
In 1994, his best friend was murdered and a few years later Harvey Sr. got tangled up in the criminal behavior that marred his record.
But when his friend died and he had children, Harvey Sr. took a complete turn, his son said.
His pastor, the Rev. Ernest K. Starks, said the same, having seen him and worked alongside him at the south-side church.
“He might have done those things when he was younger, … but once he got saved, he changed his attitude, his outlook,” Starks said.
Legal troubles, however, had arisen again. In September, a federal grand jury indicted Harvey Sr. on charges of tax evasion and fraud.
Harvey Jr. said his father was open about the indictment and worried about it.
“He said he’d got involved in some things (with a business partner), signed some papers,” Harvey Jr. said.
But when his father died, whatever went on that drew law enforcement scrutiny was lost in the shadow cast by the legacy he left for his children – many of whom either attended college, are attending college or are headed to college on academic scholarships.
“They are all-around awesome kids,” said Angela Starks-Harris, Starks’ daughter and a family friend. “He kept them close (to one another.) He kept them in church. Even if they weren’t in church with him, he made sure they went somewhere.”
Starks-Harris said Harvey Sr. made sure his children knew the streets were not a life for them, that he’d been there and done that and found nothing there.
“He was trying to show them differently than what he did,” she said. “He told them to keep God first, whatever they did.”
Occasionally, Harvey Sr. would stand up in the church and testify to how he proud he was of his children, to encourage them to keep going, she said.
“He was not shy about loving them,” she said. “He showed it.”
Harvey Sr.’s priorities became God, his family, his church and his community.
“He stayed right there on the straight and narrow,” Starks said. “He was just a great man of God, … I can hardly say the words without crying.”
Harvey Jr. said his father was always an active presence in his six children’s lives, encouraging them to set high goals and reach them.
“Yes, he made some bad decisions,” Harvey Jr. said. “Yes, he made some mistakes. But my father was a great man. My dad was wonderful.
“We wanted to be better than our father. It’s because of our father. We can’t paint a picture that our dad was perfect. But I am a man and I can stand up and say, … he was a great man in spite of (his past).”