Johnie A. Rodebush, age 96 years of Niles, Michigan and longtime Cass County Commissioner died peacefully at 11:19 a.m. on Thursday, September 6, 2018 with his family gathered around at Lakeland Hospital – Niles following an extended illness.
He was born on August 11, 1922 in Heber Springs, Arkansas to John and Hattie Mae (Knight) Rodebush. He attended school in Heber Springs, worked on the family farm, and had a logging business using a mule team before joining the United States Army. He served in the Quartermaster Corps as a Corporal in the European Theater, earned the Silver Life Saving Medal, and was Honorably Discharged as a Veteran of World War II. He came to Niles where he was first employed as a machinist, established Johnie’s Body Shop which he owned and operated for many years, and worked as an ironworker.
Johnie was an active member and elder of the First Church of Christ – Christian where he also taught classes, led Bible studies, and participated in DeColores ministries. He volunteered with the Howard Township Fire Department where he served as Assistant Chief, and was a member of the Howard Township Lions Club, Toastmasters, the American Legion, and when his children were young he was active in the Howard Community School PTA.
In 1968 he was elected to the Cass County Board of Commissioners, where he continued to serve for 26 consecutive years before losing an election by 26 votes in 1994. He later regained the seat, and served until 2012. Although a Democrat, the mostly Republican board elected him as Chairman for many terms, and in that capacity he helped to build the Cass County Medical Care Facility, the Cass District Library, and the Law and Courts Building. He was a member and past president of the Michigan Association of Counties.
In 1981 he was the Democratic candidate for Michigan’s Fourth Congressional District to the U. S. House of Representatives, earning him national exposure including articles in the New York Times and Time magazine.
Johnie also served at the Niles Senior Center, the Cass County Council on Aging, the board of directors of the Region IV Area Agency on Aging, and was a charter member of the Southwest Michigan Regional Planning Commission. In 1992, the Michigan Association of Regions established the annual Johnie Rodebush Regional Leadership Award. He was the 2008 recipient of the Senior Citizen of the Year Award, sponsored by the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging, and presented at the former Michigan State Fair. He had also helped to establish the Southwest Michigan Tourist Council and the Barn Swallow Theatre, and served on the Cass County Parks Board which, in 2017 established the Johnie Rodebush Humanitarian Award.
Many remember Johnie’s great gift for telling stories – both factual and fictional – but always humorous. Many have also been blessed by his corn roasts and baking skills, especially the chocolate chip cookies with double doses of chips. He also enjoyed fishing, and above all, his family.
On November 8, 1947 in Niles he married the former Marjorie F. Robbins with whom he celebrated the forty-third anniversary of their wedding prior to her death on January 8th of 1991. On January 16, 1993 he married the former Barbara L. (Adams) Young, celebrating twenty-one years of marriage prior to her death on June 7, 2014. He was also preceded in death by his parents, and by his siblings, Floyd, Clifford, Ludy, Hazel, Dolly, Jenny, Minnie, and Corbet.
Surviving family includes his children, Vicky Rodebush and Diane (& John Schweitzer) Rodebush, both of Niles and Rob (& Susan) Rodebush of Cincinnati, Ohio; grandchildren Jeremy Scafaria, Ryan (& Heather) Rodebush, and Josh Schweitzer, and great-grandchildren Rowan Rodebush, Ashley Ferris, Coreana Frampton Dunham, and Cody Frampton. Johnie always had a special place in his heart for his beloved niece, Sandy Hergemueller and her husband, Ronnie. Also surviving are Barb’s children, K. Joseph (& Carol) Young of Oxford, Michigan and Bob (& Toy) Young, Merva (& Jim) Zaleski, Donna (& Ray) Corum, Julie (& Ray) Hartman, all of Niles and Brad (& Becky) Young, of Benton Harbor, Michigan; many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.
The funeral service for Johnie Rodebush will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2018 at the First Church of Christ – Christian, 2240 Yankee Street in Niles with Pastor Gordy Fox of the church officiating, assisted by the Rev. Michael Smith. Committal services will follow at the Silverbrook Cemetery in Niles and will conclude with the Full Military Honors by the United States Army Honor Guard and American Legion Post #51 of Buchanan, Michigan.
The family will receive relatives and friends on Monday from 2:00 until 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 until 8:00 p.m. at the church, and beginning at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday at the church. Contributions in memory of Johnie may be made to the Howard Branch of the Cass District Library, https://cass.lib.mi.us/howard-branch; or to the Cass County Parks, http://www.casscountymi.org/CountyParks.aspx. Arrangements were made at the Halbritter-Wickens Funeral Home, 615 East Main Street in Niles. Online condolences may be left at: www.halbritterwickens.com