John E. Brown Jr.'s Lasting Impact on JBU
Brown didn’t subscribe to the notion that the past held the university’s greates
By Marquita Smith
Monday, February 13, 2012
Just last year, John E. Brown Jr.’s gentle smile graced the campus as he grabbed lunch in the cafeteria or mingled in the administrative building. At 89, he remained a constant presence on campus, quietly greeting and welcoming new students and faculty to the foothills of the Ozarks.
Brown, John Brown University’s second president, passed away June 3, 2011.
Even during his last days, Brown could be spotted engaged in conversations with students, staff and faculty about the school’s history, record-breaking fundraising efforts and Golden Eagle basketball. As an alumni, president and chancellor of the university, he leaves a legacy of exemplary financial management, academic excellence and spiritual heritage.
“John was an enthusiastic promoter of JBU in every venue. He would tell the good news of JBU at the rotary club, the Homecoming event, and over dinner with a donor,” said JBU President Charles Pollard. “He had a keen business mind, and he worked hard to generate the resources needed to support the mission of the university, whether that would be through buying and selling radio stations or raising funds from friends of the university.”
Like his father, Brown’s Christ-like courtesy touched many throughout his life. Brown also fulfilled his father’s dream of making sure this once-small campus community created a large impact within Christian education and around the world.
The Early Years
Since his father founded the university, Brown grew up participating in the activities of JBU and its sister institutions. He attended the Brown Military Academy near San Diego for high school and returned to study business at JBU. In 1941, his sophomore year at JBU, he married Caroline (Trahin) Brown. A year later, Brown left for the battlefields of World War II. As a Naval Officer, he served in the Asian-Pacific Theater until 1946. When he returned to JBU, he assumed the university’s vice presidential position while continuing to remain active in the Naval Reserve. He completed a bachelor’s degree in business and decided not to continue his education, accepting the presidency instead.
The Youngest President
In 1948, at only 26 years old, Brown became the youngest college president in the United States, and was featured in several magazines.
Brown’s two goals for the university—establish sound financial structure and receive accreditation—followed his father’s vision for JBU to be known for its academic excellence. JBU was accredited in 1962, which Brown considered his “greatest achievement.”
“When I became president, I didn’t really do things much different than my father had, except I intensified the effort to bring the school into a sound financial structure and to receive accreditation,” Brown once said.
Creating financial stability was a more difficult challenge, however. When Brown stepped into his new role, the school struggled with a $2 million debt. Through fundraising efforts Brown removed the debt and established an endowment fund, still providing scholarships and campus expansions. Under Brown’s leadership, the university constructed many buildings, including the Cathedral of the Ozarks, the old library, the old science building, duplexes in Broadhurst Village, Mayfield Hall, the Murray Sells physical education building, the Mabee Student Center and the Chapman administrative building.
“I always say my dad started the college, I came along and sort of held it together, and my son John III took it to new heights,” Brown was often quoted.
Brown did far more than simply hold the school together. During his watch, the campus experienced an evangelical revival shifting from more of a fundamentalist perspective. To this day, the university has no denominational affiliation and admits students of any faith.
During Brown’s time as president, JBU grew in both size and prestige. Brown’s accomplishments as president were not limited to renovating campus buildings and improving academics. Under his leadership, enrollment increased steadily, and the Honors Program was founded in 1961.
In addition to expanding JBU’s educational facilities and programs, Brown also was responsible for the introduction of intercollegiate athletics at JBU. He built tennis courts and a soccer field, and was a lifetime fan of JBU Golden Eagle basketball. Rarely did he miss a home game.
“He loved JBU athletics, and was a fixture at the JBU basketball games,” said Dr. Pollard. “He had a great sense of humor, always trying out new jokes on me. He loved Christ, loved his family and loved the work of JBU.”
In 1979, he passed the presidency on to his son, John E. Brown III, to become Chancellor of the university. He served as Chancellor — overseeing JBU’s fundraising activities and endowment properties — until he retired in 1987. Brown held the honorific title of Chancellor until his passing.
As a life-long learner, Brown had earned honorary doctorates of law degrees from Biola Bible College (1952) and from Texas Wesleyan College (1954) and in 1993 he received an honorary doctorate of higher education from JBU.
Brown helped promote Christian higher education and strengthened the relationship between the campus and the community by serving as president of the Independent Colleges of Arkansas and as a trustee of the Arkansas Foundation of Associated Colleges.
His dedication to the JBU and Siloam Springs community stayed with him after retirement, inspiring him to issue a personal challenge for students to become active in the Siloam Springs community. Brown filled several local offices, including leadership positions such as president of the Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce.
In January 2005, Caroline passed away. Brown married Louise Randolph in 2006. He is survived by Louise, five children, Karen Wilt, John Brown III and wife Stephania, Melinda Pollock, Julie Lolley and husband Mikel, Laurie Wilkinson and husband Burt, 14 grandchildren, and 14 great grandchildren.
When Brown became president in 1948, JBU’s enrollment was 300.
Today JBU serves over 2,100 students from 49 nations and 42 states. The lifelong work of Chancellor Brown — from his leadership in academic accreditation, to his fundraising, to his promotion of JBU until his final days — has been instrumental in JBU’s success of preparing young people to honor God and serve others. This is John E. Brown Jr.’s legacy.
Once, during a campus speech, Brown said that “Will Rogers said, ‘There ain’t no good ole days and there never was.’ I agree with him and think these days and the ones ahead are the best because we have solved a lot of the old problems.”
Brown didn’t subscribe to the notion that the past held the university’s greatest moments. He believed the “best days of JBU are still ahead.” Thanks to Brown’s life of devotion, they surely are.
Marquita Smith is a professor of journalism and public relations at John Brown University.