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Pastor, ‘professional volunteer’ John F. Stephenson, Jr., dies at 89

The avid swimmer founded a breakfast club known as ‘The Bagel Boys’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

the Rev. Dr. John F. Stephenson, Jr.

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Dr. John F. Stephenson, Jr., a Presbyterian pastor who started a breakfast club called “The Bagel Boys” and continued to serve God despite having to retire from professional ministry in 1980 because of disabling rheumatoid arthritis, died on Oct. 4. He was 89.

Following his “retirement,” Stephenson earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from McCormick Theological Seminary and served as what his family called a “professional leader and volunteer,” including the Presbytery of Elizabeth, a ministerial association, a school board and a cemetery improvement association.

In his youth, he helped his family care for the farm on Country Club Road in Pluckemin, New Jersey, which gave way to his love of gardening, tractors, and 4-H. The family became members at Pluckemin Presbyterian Church and he has been associated with this congregation for most of the last 77 years. As a teenager, he became involved with Christian Endeavor and later served in a leadership role at the statewide level. He graduated from Somerville High School in 1948 and earned a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Rutgers University in 1952, where he was a member of ROTC, Theta Chi Social Fraternity and Alpha Zeta Agricultural Fraternity. He then served two years in the U.S. Air Force as an officer in Selma, Alabama, before returning home to the farm in Pluckemin.

After farming for six years and trekking across Central America for a summer, Stephenson felt called to tend a different kind of flock and enrolled in Princeton Theological Seminary (MDiv, 1964). He married Jeanne Stires shortly thereafter. Following seminary, he served a year as an intern in a Clinical Pastoral Education program at the state hospital in Columbia, South Carolina. In 1965, John and Jeanne settled in Hobart, New York, with their young family. He ministered to two neighboring congregations: Hobart Presbyterian Church and the United Presbyterian Church of South Kortright.

Stephenson was described as inquisitive, educated, loving and involved. He loved to learn more about the world, politics, and peoples of all different cultures and religions. He believed that we all have more similarities than differences. Through his ministry, he conducted many funerals and weddings, often being present with people for the most difficult or most wonderful moments and events in their lives. His caring, calm demeanor was a grounding for many people who benefited from his ministering. Fostering a feeling of community in his church, neighborhood, and town were of utmost importance to him.

Stephenson is predeceased by his wife of 52 years, Jeanne; sister Peg McCulloh and husband Mac; brother Wayne; daughter-in-law Vicki Stephenson; and grandchildren Maryn and Jack Stephenson IV.

He is survived by his companion, Margaret Joy Stephens, also of Laurel Circle; brother Bob Stephenson and wife Eleanor of Annandale, New Jersey; sister-in-law Carol Stephenson of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey; daughter Rebecca Stephenson of Oakton, Virginia; son John Stephenson III of Ringoes, New Jersey; daughter Anne Schmalzigan and husband Bob of Flemington, New Jersey; and grandchildren Jordan Stephenson of Hoboken, New Jersey, and Bobby Schmalzigan, Jr. of Flemington, New Jersey.

An online memorial service will be held in February 2021. More information will be available here.

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