KENDALL — The Rev. John Wade Davey of Kendall died peacefully at Meriter Hospital Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019.
He is survived by his wife of 71 years, Eleanor; daughters, Susan Donahoe (Bob), Madison, Wis., and Carol Davey, Kendall; grandchildren, Molly Sachs (Stephen), Anna Donahoe (Nick), Sky (Missy), Neil (Angela) and Rose (Dan) Davey; and great-grandchildren, Ethan and Thrya Davey; nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his beloved children, Ann Davey (Don) in 2001 and John E. (Cinthia) in 2016.
John was born in Marinette, Wis., Jan. 26, 1925, to Allan and Lucile (Wade) Davey. Out of college, Allan had moved to northern Wisconsin, from the Chicago area, to work with WI Public Service, as they began to provide electricity to Wisconsin’s rural areas. John had two siblings, Jean Schlieve, deceased (Jean); and Barbara Peters Davey.
John’s childhood was spent in Oshkosh, Wis., where he enjoyed endless neighborhood sports, earned the rank of Eagle Scout and graduated from Oshkosh High in 1942. The affinity for numbers, love for nature and God, developed during this period would impact him throughout his life. While he attended UW-Madison, he met his future wife at a Baptist Wayland Club meeting, organized by “Shorty” Collins. John and Eleanor Eberdt married in January 1947. Soon after, they were on a train to begin his career in chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellen Institute in Pittsburgh.
Moving back to the Midwest a few years later, John settled into a sales position for college friend, Bob Mazer/Mazer Chemicals. But “settle in” was not in his nature. Not long after their fourth child was born and dream house completed, John decided to become a pastor. He packed up his family and moved them all to Berkeley, California, where he attended seminary at Berkeley Baptist Divinity School.
After John’s first pastorate at First Baptist, Huron, S.D., he then served at Whiting Community Baptist Church-Neenah, First Baptist in Vermillion, S.D., and back in Wisconsin, at First Baptist in Bangor, Mauston First Baptist and the Indian Baptist Church in the Dells. Two, one-year stints as interim pastor uprooted his not-as-spontaneous wife again and moved her to Appleton, Wis., then Burnt Hills, N.Y. As he was a man of great enthusiasm for life and progress, he left more than one community with a new building in his wake.
John was undaunted by new challenges. One news article remarked of his UW football demeanor, “What he lacks in size, he makes up for in aggressiveness.” Make something happen; yes. In order to maximize work time, he got a pilot’s license so he could take his Bonanza aircraft to business calls across the country. Around age 50, he learned to drive a tractor, milk cows and bale hay, in order to be able to spell his dairy-farming son. John was equally respected for his leadership and innovation by the industries, churches and communities that he served. His tremendous work ethic contributed to his success, yet he was quick to pass on accolades to the people he led. A “champion” and “lead blocker” for so many; most who knew him had a story of how John showed up for them.
John believed in youth. He was a grandpa who prioritized giving his grandchildren “experiences,” celebrated their work and challenged them with, “So, what do you think about the state of the world?” questions, no matter their age. He directed camps for inner-city adolescents in both the Black Hills of South Dakota and Camp Tamarack in Wisconsin, with the guiding policy, “What we do, we all do and we all do it together as a group!” Ha! I bet that was fun at times. At the age of 78, he became a substitute teacher in order to “get to know the youth.” He would ask a kid sleeping at his desk, “What do you want to do with your life?” Some even were surprised enough to sit up and answer him!
In 2004, John and Eleanor and built their last house on acreage within his son’s farmland. With family on either side, John spent the last years of his life, able to see the tree covered hills behind his house, deer and wild turkeys parading through the yard, taking time for conversations and stories that he never had before. The name of the game was no longer, ‘How fast can you do it?” but “Where have I been?” “How do I serve here?” and “What is important?”
This was a man who lived fully with profound impact. A man filled with gratitude. A man well loved. His heart beats now in those whom he has touched and loved. For that we are so grateful.
A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 19, at Grace Bible Church (formerly First Baptist), 101 Church St., Warrens.
Memorials may be made to Catalyst Project Inc., 4207 Claire Street, Madison, Wis.