ARNOLD, JOHN MILTON, 61, of Grand Rapids quietly died at home of prostate cancer on March 25, 2012.
Born on November 4, 1950 in Dayton, Ohio, his parents were Dean and Mary Lou (Brack) Arnold, both originally of Big Rapids; he had an older brother, Stan and an older sister Nena, both now married and with children of their own. The family returned to Michigan shortly after John’s birth, and lived most of his youth in Plainfield Township, where John graduated from Northview High School in 1968.
Troubled by the mixed messages about the Vietnam War, John dropped out of The University of Michigan in the fall of 1968 and enlisted in the Marine Corps in order to see firsthand what was really going on in Vietnam. What he witnessed and experienced in the war was more troubling than he had imagined could be possible, and while a Marine he became a very committed anti-war activist. In September 1971, he was honorably discharged with Corporal (E-4) stripes, seven ribbons, a commendation from his regiment in Vietnam, and was honored as a co-recipient of The War Resisters League’s Annual Peace Award for 1970.
In the winter term 1973 he enrolled in William James College of what was then the innovative cluster of Grand Valley State Colleges. Shortly thereafter he met Jeanne Thomas of Grant. They were married in 1975, and moved to Springfield, Illinois in March 1976 after graduating from William James.
In Illinois they both worked on social justice issues including services to Legal Aid clients, passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, creation of domestic violence prevention and shelter programs and defending women’s reproductive rights. From 1981 to 1987 they also served as co-clerks of Springfield’s Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) Meeting. Their son Jeffrey Thomas (now of Grand Rapids and married to Elianna Bootzin) was born in 1986.
In 1982, John first learned of “food banking”: large regional nonprofit organizations acting on behalf of hundreds of area food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, etc. in soliciting and distributing millions of pounds of surplus food that would otherwise go to waste. From then until his cancer forced his retirement in December 2010, he focused his work on food bank and food pantry projects. He directed three food banks: the Central Illinois Food Bank (1982-84), the St. Louis Area Food Bank (1984-87), and what is now Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank (1989-2010), distributing a total of 321 million pounds of food aid, and pioneering many landmark innovations in the art and science of food banking, including promotion of letting clients assemble their own food boxes, and using former beverage trucks as mobile food pantries. In 2010, John received the national food bank network’s John Van Hengel Award in recognition of his contributions and dedication to food banking.
In lieu of a funeral or flowers, John and his family have asked that those wishing to honor John’s life consider making special acts of charity or kindness. Donations to Nonprofit Innovations, Inc. (PO Box 2741, Grand Rapids, MI 49501), or to the John Arnold Endowment Fund at Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank (864 West River Center Drive, Comstock Park, MI 49321), would be especially appreciated.