John Gordon Vernon, of Arvada, Colorado, and formerly of Marion, Iowa, passed away on March 8, 2019, in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, following an extended illness and while surrounded by his family. He was 89 years old.
A celebration of life is being planned for June 16, 2019, at Lowe Park in Marion. As per his request, his body has been willed to the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Murdoch Funeral Home & Cremation Service, Marion, will handle any subsequent local arrangements.
John was born on August 9, 1929, at home in Marion, Iowa, the youngest son of Chester Benson Vernon, PhD, and Lula Ethel (Gordon) Vernon. His father was the Marion Independent School Superintendent. His older brothers were James Benson Vernon, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and Dr. Robert Gordon Vernon, a physician in Dubuque, Iowa.
He graduated from Marion High School in 1947, and in 1951 he received his B.A. from the University of Iowa. While at Iowa, he majored in political science and played the clarinet as a Marching Hawkeye. He then attended the University of Iowa College of Law, where he was elected president of the Student Union board. John's law schooling was briefly interrupted from 1953 to 1955 while he served in the U.S. Army at the end of the Korean conflict.
While in Iowa City he met Mary Ellen Wygle. They were married on June 13, 1954, in Clarksville, Iowa. Following their wedding they moved to Denver, Colorado, where John was stationed at the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora. After an honorable discharge, they returned to Iowa City where he completed his JD, receiving his degree on June 8, 1956. John and Mary then moved to Marion, Iowa, where they lived until relocating to Arvada, Colorado, in 2017.
John was a prominent and devoted member of the Marion community throughout his life. He began selling newspapers for the Cedar Rapids Gazette at the Marion railroad depot at age 12. He practiced law in Marion from 1956 to 1962 in a private law practice with Dewitt Smith and served as Marion City Attorney from 1959 to 1962. He served multiple terms on the city's planning and zoning commission. In 1962, John and Phil Morris assumed ownership of the First National Bank in Marion, which was the first federally-chartered national bank in Iowa. John served as the executive vice-president and trust officer. John and Phil were innovators in the banking industry, being the first in the area to offer credit cards, opening a drive-up "motor" bank in 1968, and establishing two branch banks. They operated First National until 1978, when it was purchased by Norwest Bank. John served as Officer and Director of Norwest Bank in Marion, then as Vice President of the Capital Management and Trust Division in Des Moines. He continued to do trust and legal work for the bank until 1985.
After "retiring" from the bank, he established Allen and Vernon, PLC, in July of 1986, where he practiced law in various associations with Morris Allen, Merle Fisher, J.K. Robison, Don Hoskins, Gordon Gibson, and Denny Naughton until 1999. John continued actively providing legal support after this second retirement, receiving the Iowa Bar Association's 50-Year Member Award in 2006. He was also an active member of the Linn County Bar Association for 50 years.
In addition to his involvement in Marion through his employment, John served on numerous boards and actively supported community development in a number of ways. He was a very active member of the First United Methodist Church throughout his life, both during his childhood and upon his return to Marion as an adult. He was a founding and life member of the Kirkwood Foundation Board of Trustees, serving as a Trustee from 1971 to 2009 and then as an emeritus member. In 1988 he was the first chairman of Kirkwood Community College's New Business Center Advisory Council. As a charter member of the Samuel J Kirkwood Society, he helped write the initial charter for the Foundation and was awarded the Society's Legacy Award in 2005. John served on the Marion Independent School Board for seven years, five of them as president. In 1996, he was inducted into the Marion Independent School Hall of Fame. John was a founding member of the Marion Independent School Foundation, serving from 1989 to 2015, when he became one of only two persons awarded emeritus status. He also served as a member of the Linn-Mar School Foundation Board of Trustees.
John was a member of the Marion Chamber of Commerce, serving as president from 1969 to 1970. In recognition of his contributions, he received the Community Service Award in 1992. John was also very involved in the Marion Lions Noon Club and received the Lion's International Foundation 2013-2014 Melvin Jones Fellow Award. He was an originator of the Marion YMCA and served a term as president, was a member of the Guaranty Bank Board of Directors, and was a Century Member of the Marion Historical Museum. He helped secure funding to establish the Marion Library as part of the Marion Library Foundation Board and was instrumental in the development of Lowe Park while serving on the Marion Parks and Recreation Foundation Board. He was a charter member of the Marion Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO), on which he also served as president. John's involvement with MEDCO spanned projects including the Marion Airport and the Highway 100 Bypass. A supporter of the arts, he helped establish the Marion Arts Festival. Additionally, John was a chief participant in creating Marion's city manager form of government.
He is survived by his wife, Mary Ellen of Arvada, Colorado; their four children, Charles (Mary Susan) of Anamosa, Iowa, Gina Klawitter of Denver, Colorado, Thomas (Dee) of Bardstown, Kentucky, and Nancy (Kelle) Hickam of Arvada; ten grandchildren, Claire, Rebecca, Gregory, Charlie, Paden, Taylor, Winton, Eileen, John, and Kelle Lu; and one great-grandchild, Madeleine. He was preceded in death by his parents and brothers.
Family, friends, community, education, faith, and service were important to John. He had strongly held personal convictions and lived his life accordingly. Although he accomplished much, he did not seek personal reward, praise, or recognition, and he did not boast. He preferred dessert first. There was always time and space for a piece of pie.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to Mark Ahlers, Trustee, at Hills Bank and Trust in Marion, Iowa. John and Mary wish to support the Marion Independent Foundation. Donations may be mailed to Marion School Foundation, 777 S. 15th St., Marion, Iowa 52302, with mention of the John Vernon Memorial or online at www.Marion-Foundation.org.
Please share memories of John at www.murdochfuneralhome.com under obituaries.