Obituary: John Mead Eaton, 94, of Ludington.

December 28, 2020

John Eaton

Obituary: John Mead Eaton, 94, of Ludington.

Our Dad is no longer here, yet he is everywhere. John Mead Eaton drew his last breath on Wednesday, December 23, 2020 at the age of 94. How lucky we are to have someone who makes saying goodbye so hard.

He was our D.O.L.O.D. (Dear Old Loveable Old Dad—our special name for him since we were kids), loving husband to Mary, revered grandpa to seven and great-grandpa to 15, beloved uncle John, trusted friend and mentor to many.

His parents, the love of his life, Mary and his sister preceded him in death. Surviving are his daughters Cynthia Giroux of Chandler, Ariz., Beth (Bob) Budreau of Ludington and Kathleen (Mark) Guy of Williamsburg; along with grandchildren Leigh, Joshua, Seth, Allison, Joel, Lindsey and Emily; and his great-grandchildren.

Always a gentleman, Dad was dapper and modeled values and a sense of decorum that were instilled in us at a very young age. He’s the Dad who would come down the stairs every Christmas morning fully dressed, complete with necktie. His life was characterized by education, community service, generosity, ethics, faith and duty; he spoke up and out with few, but well chosen words. He loved music, adventure, and travel and marveled at the beauty of nature while enjoying the great outdoors.

He was born to Orlo and Marjorie (Mead) Eaton on October 28, 1926 in Kirksville, Mo. At age 2, his family — mom, dad, older sister Mary Emeline and Grandmother Mead—moved to Marshall, Mich. where his dad opened his osteopathic medical practice. Prior to Dad’s birth his family lived in Cheboygan. The Cheboygan area continued to be part of his family’s life where they spent summer vacations at Camp Verie on Mullett Lake. Many of his growing up years were during the Great Depression; he knew that money was scarce and he recalled that his mother—a wonderful cook—was very inventive in creating meals.

Throughout high school he would make house calls with his dad—serving as windshield wiper and de-fogger—in their Model T. In May of 1944 he graduated from high school and two weeks later began college at the University of Michigan.

He was one of few civilians enrolled at the time and played in the concert and marching band. At the end of the first semester, age 17, Dad enlisted in the Navy, celebrating his 18th birthday during basic training at Great Lakes Naval Station. He became part of everything that defined the Greatest Generation and was so proud to have served.

In 1946 and thanks to the G.I. Bill, he returned to college, choosing the College of Wooster in Ohio. Because many good and kind teachers had influenced his life, he chose to prepare for a career as a teacher. He majored in chemistry with teaching minors in social science, general science and German. He worked his way through college and in his junior year met Mary Anderson, the love of his life. They were married in August of 1950 (on what dad would later claim was the hottest, most humid day known to man) and celebrated 61 joyful anniversaries together until Mom died in 2011.

Dad began his teaching career in Ionia and quickly rose to administrative leadership as an elementary school principal, assistant superintendent and then dual roles as assistant superintendent of Ionia Public Schools and principal of Ionia High School. The high school students called him “Big John” as he instilled a sense of order, expectation and academic rigor while principal. We three girls were all born in Ionia.

Concurrent with his early teaching years, he began working on his master’s degree at Michigan State University where he hoped some day to earn a doctorate and move on to other career opportunities in the field of education. One of his early courses (a new course offering at MSU in the early 1950s) was “The Community College.” It was prophetic. Community colleges made higher education open and accessible for all, and Dad was dedicated to that mission for the rest of his life.

Beginning in 1961 he focused on preparing for a career in community college education, as community colleges were opening at the rate of one per week throughout the U.S. The Kellogg Foundation sponsored a doctoral program at MSU to prepare community college administrators for this burgeoning growth, and Dad became a Kellogg Fellow. This helped him afford to accelerate and complete his Ph.D. while providing practical front-line community college internships. During his final year of graduate school we moved from Ionia to East Lansing into married housing at MSU. Suffice it to say that was a learning experience for us all!

His first job was as founding dean of instruction at Cochise College in Douglas, Ariz. We were introduced to the great Southwest and immersed ourselves in this experience as a family. Our nearly four years in Arizona changed our lives, broadened our horizons and engendered a love for Mexican food and created lifelong friendships for the entire family. We loved the desert and mountains—similar to our love for Michigan and the Great Lakes.

At age 41, Dad became the founding president of West Shore Community College in Victory Township. His office files were kept in the bathtub of a rented upstairs apartment in Scottville before the first college building was ever constructed. He hired the founding faculty—a responsibility and privilege that he found deeply satisfying. West Shore—and all of the gifted professionals at every level who made it possible—became part of our family. Dad lived, breathed and loved West Shore.

This helped him weather the trying times and relish the rewarding times. The many students who passed through the doors at both West Shore Community College and Cochise College and continue to do so every day, are part of Dad’s legacy that help us continue to “see” him everywhere. After 18 years at the helm of West Shore and 32 years dedicated to public education, Dad decided it was time to repurpose (not retire) and he and Mom started an educational consulting firm, E-2000, focusing on learning styles and brain behavior.

After dividing their time between Michigan and Arizona for a few years, Mom and Dad became full-time Arizona residents for the next 25 years. After moving to Arizona, Dad served as director of the University of Arizona branch campus in Sierra Vista, Ariz., then as executive director of the Cochise College Foundation. He and Mom also served together as Elderhostel hosts. Dad became an elected member of the Cochise College Governing Board, a position he enjoyed for 11 years until he moved back to Ludington in 2015.

While consumed by his life in education, Dad was multidimensional. Travel was a lifelong passion and he always said planning the trip was half the fun! Our last family trip was just a year ago when we three girls and Dad cruised the Baltic Sea from Copenhagen, Denmark to St. Petersburg, Russia with stops in Finland, Sweden and Estonia. We visited many of the 50 states on family vacations, including many national parks. Dad and Mom traveled together throughout Great Britain and Europe. They took their grandchildren (no parents allowed!) on trips when they were pre-teens—acts of love and bravery!

Dad’s sense of humor was ever present and he was always “punny.” He loved music of all genres but especially big band and traditional Dixieland jazz. When he was 9, on Christmas of 1936, he received his first trombone. He began playing with the high school band as a sixth grader with arms not yet long enough to play seventh position on the slide. He played throughout his K-12 years, marched in the U of M band his first semester of college and for 40 years loved playing in dance bands— the General Assembly Big Band in Ludington and the Desert Swing Band in Sierra Vista, Ariz. Many a New Year’s Eve you could find Dad playing in the dance band while Mom tapped her toes at a nearby table. While resting his “lip” he and Mom would dance a few numbers. Dad and Mom loved entertaining at home, something he continued to do even after Mom’s passing. He cooked, he read, he followed politics, and always kept a list of ideas and projects which he freely shared and promoted whether with his daughters and sons-in-law, the administration at Cochise and West Shore, city leaders, elected officials and others he knew would “get things done.” He left the three of us with several lists…

Final arrangements have been entrusted to Oak Grove of Ludington. We will host a celebration of Dad’s life—punctuated with Dixieland music—when it is safe for us to gather face-to-face.

Memorial gifts may be directed to the West Shore Community College Foundation for the Eaton Scholarship Endowment Fund, 3000 N Stiles Rd, Scottville, MI 49454 or to the Cochise College Foundation for the John and Mary Eaton Scholarship for Future Educators online at cochise.edu/give, or via mail to the Cochise College Foundation, 4190 W. Highway 80, Douglas, AZ 85607.

To everyone along his path in life, blessings and thanks to you for your caring friendship, loyalty and values, challenges and joys shared with our Dad. We find solace in knowing that while Dad is no longer here, he is everywhere.

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