John E. Brown III: Reflections on Dad
John E. Brown III shares memories of his father's life
By John E. Brown III
Monday, February 13, 2012
Fittingly, my father’s life spanned the life of John Brown University. He was born in August of 1921, and passed away on June 3, 2011 – two months short of his 90th birthday. Throughout all of those years, his life and the lives of our extended family members have been blessed and made all the more meaningful as a result of our association with JBU.
To understand my father, you have to remember that he was the only son born to a family of five daughters. The day he arrived, it was as if the heavens had parted and God had spoken! My Aunt Mary once told us that, when they were young, the sisters had all wanted a horse to ride on the family farm. My grandfather Brown said, “No,” a horse was too expensive and he couldn’t afford it. “Well,” Aunt Mary said, “the day Buddy turned six, Daddy Brown bought him a pony with a new red leather saddle and paid a man to teach him how to ride it.”
Dad, or “Buddy” as his friends often called him, grew up milking cows and riding horses. While I was in high school, he decided to purchase a few head of polled Hereford cows for a 10-acre plot he bought near the president’s home. He would grab me after school and say, “let’s go feed the cows.” In the beginning, I thought those cows were just smelly and dirty and a great waste of time.
Ironically, I learned to enjoy and love those times on our small cattle spread. Dad eventually bought about 400 acres east of Gentry to run a cow-calf operation. While I attended law school in 1971-74, Stephania and I lived on another 60 acres between Siloam Springs and Gentry where I fed and cared for about 40 cows. Some of the best father-and-son times my dad and I shared were the days we spent working on the farms together, often with our JBU part-time ranch hands – Myron “Pete” Peters and Green King.
Dad had a passion for many things beyond the JBU campus – travel, going out to eat at a favorite restaurant, buying and selling new or used cars, speculating on land, or even building a few houses and commercial properties. However, his entrepreneurial interests extended to JBU’s radio properties, in particular.
My grandfather had led in the purchase of radio stations in the 1930s as a means of ministry and advertising for “College Hill.” When I joined JBU in 1974, we operated two principal stations – KUOA-AM in Siloam Springs and KGER-AM in Long Beach, Calif. The University also owned Southern California Military Academy in Long Beach. Dad’s good friends and long-time JBU Trustees – Bill George, Clint Fowler and George Hurte – were responsible for running various parts of the California enterprises and fund-raising activities. All were devoted to supporting the mission of JBU.
In the 1970s, Dad initiated an effort to expand JBU’s holdings in “non-traditional investments,” such as, radio stations. We traveled to a number of destinations to check out opportunities, eventually buying and upgrading stations in Northwest Arkansas; Houston and Waco, Texas; and in Northern Florida. Again, trustees Bill George and Galen Gilbert were instrumental in the evaluation, purchase, operations, and eventual sales of these properties – adding millions of dollars to the JBU endowment funds.
Some of the times Dad most enjoyed were our family trips to Southern California. Dad loved to stay at the Disneyland Hotel. While he attended to business, we had the run of the hotel grounds, swimming pools and the amusement park. The annual California alumni meetings were often held at Knott’s Berry Farm, another favorite attraction. Some of our early trips west were by train – the Southern Belle from Siloam to Kansas City, then the Super Chief across the prairie and Rockies to Southern California. In later years, as the family grew larger, Dad would drive us all out west with stops at the Grand Canyon, the “petrified forest” or other attractions along the way.
Even before I began working officially at JBU, I would go along on many of Dad’s JBU trips. We regularly went to the annual National Religious Broadcasters meetings in Washington, D.C., with visits to the Capitol Building and various House or Senate offices. Dad eventually took me up to D.C. in the summer of 1964 and dropped me off to serve as a page for a month in the U.S. House of Representatives – a great experience for a 15-year-old kid.
That pattern continued after I began working at JBU. We would go to the Mabee Foundation and the Rogers & Bell Law Firm (trustee of the Chapman trusts) in Tulsa, to Chicago to see Paul Harvey, or to Michigan to call on Stan Kresge and the Kresge Foundation. I first met Sam Walton in his original office in Bentonville on a trip with Dad. We probably talked about quail hunting for the first 10 minutes, then got down to our report from JBU.
I was also privileged to work for a time with many of Dad’s early JBU co-laborers – Joe and Tarver Smith, Stewart Springfield, Sr., Marion Snider, L.A. “Audrey” Thomas, Cecil Smith and Carl McQuay in radio, and so many other faithful JBU servants. My father would be the first to say he stood on the shoulders of others at JBU.
That would have included my mother, Caroline. Mom was Dad’s rock and confidant through all of their 65 years together. She was constantly at his side for entertaining campus guests, or attending JBU functions and Trustee events, or giving Dad kitchen counsel on issues at the University. With her English degree from JBU and sharp mind, she gently edited and critiqued two Brown family presidents on their written and verbal communications. She also kept up with the needs and schooling of five children and maintained the president’s home while Dad was focused on the campus or off on one of his many trips.
My father was avid in his belief in the mission of John Brown University. He loved to call on business and foundation leaders, but always respected their time. He charmed his way into their office, gave a good account of JBU’s progress or needs, and quickly left, which made him welcome most places that he went.
Dad and I were different personalities raised in different generations, but had many strikingly similar experiences and beliefs. We were both raised within a loving family, grew up in and around the JBU campus, graduated from JBU, and married our teenage sweethearts from Siloam Springs. We both brought up our children in the former JBU President’s home on Holly Street. Dad and I believed that God had touched our lives for a special purpose. We both committed our lives and professional gifts, different as they were, to my grandfather’s dream of building a national Christian university dedicated to educating the “Head, Heart, and Hand.”
Dad Brown was not much for giving speeches. But, in his later years, he would find himself moved by a report of JBU progress at a campus meeting and rise to ask to be recognized for a “few words.” He enjoyed recalling my grandfather’s conversion when he “followed the beat of the drum” to a Salvation Army meeting one night in Rogers, Ark. God had given our Founder a vision for Christian higher education in Northwest Arkansas. And, Dad Brown would conclude, “the beat goes on!”