John C. Gingerich, Lawrence, KS passed away peacefully at Brandon Woods on June 5, 2020. During his 98 years with us, he was a United Methodist minister, social justice activist, husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. During his lifelong fight for social justice, he never became a cynic. He was, at heart, an optimist who understood that progress was not an endpoint, but a path to walk each and every day. And no matter what challenges he faced, he retained his sense of humor about life to the very end. When we picture him, he has a big smile on his face.
John would be the first to say he owed many of his successes to the happenstance of his birth to Elmer and Edna Campbell Gingerich on December 2, 1921 in Okmulgee, OK, as well as to the fortuity of his marriage to Roberta Crow on June 6, 1943. From his parents came a deep faith influenced by the Mennonite and Methodist church, as well as a strong work ethic that saw them through job challenges during the Great Depression. And from his wife, he gained a steadfast, creative and capable partner with which to raise their three children, and at the same time, serve congregations and communities in Oklahoma, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Kansas and Tokyo, Japan. John valued and admired Roberta’s contributions, often lamenting that though “a few” parishioners had told him they’d had “two employees for the price of one”, no one offered to pay her.
Injustices like that grated at John. And he might insist that for every time “he” appears here, the better word would be “they”. During their 70 years together, John and Roberta noticed problems and took action. A sampling of these good actions include the following. Early in his career, John sought to bridge cultural divides when he organized the first integrated service mission for Caucasian, African-American and Cherokee students as director of the Wesley Foundation at Oklahoma State University. He broke another racial barrier when he was the first white person to speak at Langston University, the only historically black college in Oklahoma. In Columbus, OH, John helped to strengthen families by initiating a Sunday family worship service and pioneering an intergenerational family camp while minister of education at North Broadway United Methodist Church. In Kansas City, MO, John helped to lead Midtown Information Connection, a luncheon series which welcomed businesspeople and neighbors from all backgrounds to discuss issues within that community. And during his many years in Kansas, John continued to devote himself to bettering the welfare of disadvantaged people. While directing the Council on Ministries of the United Methodist Church Kansas East Conference, he organized a program to feed the hungry, a project that later became instrumental in establishing a Heifer International program in Pueblo, Mexico. He led workcamp experiences to improve living conditions in Mexico and Haiti. And, as a founder and president of the Lawrence, KS chapter of Habitat for Humanity, John helped to provide more opportunity for home ownership to struggling families.
John believed that the way to justice was through community. He loved to learn about people and find common ground. At Tokyo Union Church in Japan, he and Roberta had the opportunity to meet and work with people from 21 nations and of 29 different denominations. John said, “Literally the whole world shared a common table.” John was ever more convinced in the interconnectedness of all peoples. As a boy, the song “Jesus Loves the Little Children” had given John the notion that a follower of Jesus would open their arms to everyone, “red and yellow, black and white”. In Japan, this vision thrived and inspired John and Roberta to continue traveling throughout the world. Their genuine interest in others helped them make connections wherever they went, and every Christmas, they enjoyed hearing from more than 300 colleagues and friends around the globe.
Another childhood memory stuck with John – a church poster declaration: “Be ye a doer of the Word, not just a hearer.” There is no better summation for the way he approached his work and life. With each ministerial post, with each leadership position, with each volunteer job, John engaged fully. In 1989, he received the Alumnus of the Year Award for Parish Ministry from Iliff School of Theology, where he earned his doctorate of theology in 1959. And in 1998, the Lawrence Kiwanis Club, honored John with the Substantial Citizen Award.
John and Roberta’s most immeasurable rewards came from gatherings and conversations with their daughters and son, and their daughter’s daughter and son, and their grandchildren’s daughters and son, as well as the spouses that helped to grow their family into an accomplished clan of thinkers and doers. John’s steady voice and wise words helped his children navigate their lives and set a high standard for doing good whether in small or large ways. And though their “Daddy-pa” was not much for small talk, his grandchildren cherished talking deeply with him about the state of the world, as well as their travels and work. The addition of great-grandchildren was a treasure for John, who could not stop smiling when he saw them in person or via internet across the miles.
John was preceded in death by his wife, Roberta Crow Gingerich, and his daughter, Harriet Gingerich Caplan. Continuing his legacy are his daughter, Robin Gingerich (Tom Mersmann) of Lawrence, KS, his son, John Gingerich, Jr. of Kansas City, MO, son-in-law, Lou Caplan of Hays, KS, and in Denver his grandchildren Michael Hazel (Diane), Sara Hazel (Dan Goldhamer) and great-grandchildren Boyd and Mara Hazel and Madeline Hazel-Goldhamer.
John once said, “I continue to affirm that when and if we acted on the basis of the golden rule or some similar insight, this would be a more livable, if not perfect world.” The family will celebrate his life privately at a later date, and, in the meantime, request that loved ones and friends “do” something good for the greater good. Memorial contributions may be made to Habitat for Humanity or a social justice organization of choice, directly or sent in care of Warren-McElwain Mortuary.