In Memoriam: John Brown

John H. Brown, pastor and community activist, died Feb. 15.

Though he may not have been a household name in the Muskegon area, his influence was felt across many sectors. “He pushed and guided me and many others to be better leaders,” said United Way Executive Director Christine Robere on Facebook, and several leaders chimed in. His steady moral compass, his intelligence and curiosity, and his ability to discover about and deliver to people what they needed most – and what they were capable of contributing, whether they knew ir ot not – was a facet of his pastorship of the liberal American Baptist church First Baptist of Muskegon.

Brown was born February 28, 1937 in Old Hickory (Nashville), Tenn. He went on to graduate from Allgood High School in 1955, Belmont College in 1964 and Southern Baptist Seminary, in 1967. While attending Belmont and Seminary, he worked a full-time job, helped care for his children at home, with his wife, Betty (the former Betty Duke, who survives him); and still managed to graduate valedictorian of his seminary class.

He had started the Washington Avenue Baptist Church in Cookeville, Tenn. in the early 1960’s; and was the pastor at the First Baptist Church in Ellettsville, Ind. He was also the mental health director at Bloomington Hospital in Bloomington, Indiana after that.

In 1975, Rev. Brown moved to Muskegon and served as pastor of First Baptist Church for 33 years. It’s been said, “John’s congregation was not just the church, but the community in which he lived.” He was instrumental in starting the church’s award-winning, ecumenical TV Ministry. Brown remained active in it after retirement.

Rev. Brown was deeply involved in hosting a group of Muskegon County educators at church, to press the issue of how to have a “Graduation Generation.” First Baptist hosted programs for the National organization for the advancement of the black community; and encouraged the Islamic community to have a dinner at First Baptist, which at the time was very involved in the ecumenical movement. Moreover, his community being the entire world, Brown went repeatedly to Nicaragua to start different programs and clinics, including a safe water drinking system for a river area of Nicaragua.

On one of these educational trips he included several of the teens from the church.

At one point when the pipe organ at First Baptist needed refurbishing, Brown, an excellent athlete well into his older years, rode his bicycle from Muskegon to Indianapolis to raise money for the project. John also saw the church, which is on Quarterline near Apple, through his shepherding in building its Family Center through completion in 2000.

At the end of his life, Rev. Brown attended St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where there will be a celebration of his life (his birthday) on Feb. 28 at 6:00 p.m.
In addition to Betty Brown, he is survived, Sonja (Nels Gunderson) Brown, Julia (Mark) Conlin, John H. Brown, Jr. and Jennifer (Jeff) Costin, and seven grandchildren.

Visitation will be 5-7:00 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Lee Chapel of Sytsema Funeral and Cremation Services, 6921 Harvey St.

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