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FARMINGTON – A city resident who once struggled with drugs and alcohol turned his life around and dedicated himself to service, family and friends said during a memorial service Saturday at Piñon Hills Community Church.

Frontline Mission founder Everett Griffith was killed when his car rolled over last week.

His mission has served food to homeless people since it began operating in the early 1990s. Griffith had noticed a large number of homeless people in the community and wanted to help them.

"He saw it, and he began to be led by God to do something about it," said Tim Hargrove, the senior associate pastor at Piñon Hills Community Church, during the service.

Griffith's wife, Debbie Griffith, told The Daily Times that her husband was moved by empathy to help people. The Griffiths did not have a lot of money and sometimes struggled to obtain enough food to live on.

"My Everett used to dig in the Dumpsters outside the grocery stores where we used to live in Ohio," she said.

That experience led Everett Griffith to ask stores and restaurants in Farmington to donate food to the mission that was going to be thrown out. Debbie Griffith said the owners were usually enthusiastic about the mission.

That mission and his family were two of the main focuses of his life. He met his wife when she was 15 years old and volunteered to write a letter to an inmate. Everett Griffith, then in his early 20s, was incarcerated for drug- and alcohol-related offenses, and he received her letter.

"I just wanted to write somebody," she recalled.

His addiction continued to haunt him even after he was released in 1981.

His son, Shane Griffith, told people at the memorial that Everett Griffith hid pain behind a smile and laugh. Raised in a poor family, Everett Griffith's world began to crumble when his father died of black lung disease from working in a coal mine, Shane Griffith said.

As a teenager, Everett Griffith enlisted in the military and served in Vietnam. That part of his life remains a bit of a mystery to his family.

"That was something he just never talked about," Debbie Griffith said, explaining that it was too painful for him to discuss.

Determined to turn his life around and start over, the Griffiths moved from Ohio to Farmington in May 1989.

"Farmington was really, really good for him and our family," Debbie Griffith recalled.

They started attending Crestview Baptist Church.

"Those people welcomed him, and that just won him over," Debbie Griffith said.

She said they did not judge him for his "rough" looks. Everett Griffith was a large man with a thick beard and tattoos on his arms. They later started to attend Piñon Hills Community Church to take advantage of its strong youth program when their children were teenagers.

While Everett Griffith was recalled as an outdoors man who loved hunting and fishing, and being a member of various bike groups, including the Christian Motorcyclist Association, his largest legacy is the Frontline Mission, which has fed homeless people and anyone who couldn't afford food since the early 1990s.

"Everett knew who he was, and he knew what God had called him to do," Hargrove said.

The mission has been in a transitional phase as Everett Griffith worked to renovate the building on the corner of Arrington Street and Behrend Avenue. His goal was to turn part of it into a shelter for battered women and children.

"The goal is to not only help these women, but to help the kids," he told The Daily Times in 2011. "For many of these children, being abused is a way of life, and they need to learn that being treated badly is not normal. If we can get them away from the abuse and heal them and their mothers, awesome things can happen."

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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