July 13, 1919 - May 1, 2011
Walla Walla Valley leader and businessman John William Brownell, 91, passed away in Walla Walla on Sunday, May 1, 2011.
John was born in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, Canada, on July 13, 1919, to John Francis Brownell and Mary Albertina Johnson Brownell, who had homesteaded there on the gift of free land from the Canadian government. When John was 3 months old, the family including John's older sister Mary, moved back to Spokane.
Growing up during the Great Depression, the family worked hard to survive. In one of his earliest jobs as a boy, John, or "Billy" as he was then known to his family and friends, maintained a paper route that included delivering to an up-and-coming Spokane resident, Bing Crosby. John graduated from Rogers High School in 1938 as a member of the National Honor Society. Entering Washington State University in 1939, John paid for his tuition, room and board by working various on-campus jobs; dormitory room inspector, organizing a ticket taking crew, waiting tables; and in the summers, working on the Grand Coulee Dam project. It was while waiting tables that he met his future bride, Elaine Helen Teague of Walla Walla. A multitalented athlete, John excelled in football, wrestling, baseball, hockey and swimming. His leadership skills were evident early. At WSU, he was president of his dormitory, Stimson Hall, president of the Student Senate Club and led the campus War Bond Committee. John, with a natural bent towards mechanics and engineering and having worked with his father as an electrical tradesman, gained a bachelor's of science degree in electrical engineering, graduating in 1942.
Following graduation, John accepted a position with the General Electric Co. and was assigned to the U.S.'s World War II secret project to develop jet engines; a position that required him to immediately move to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, then Cincinnati. In December, his fiance, Elaine, took the train east and they were married in nearby Loveland, Ohio, on Dec. 29, 1942. Near the end of the war, GE had placed John on the management track and he was enrolled in engineering management courses at the country's highest engineering school, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. It was in Lynn, Mass., in 1945 that their first child, Patricia, was born. Facing the potential loss of his job from the post-war drawdown, wanting to put down roots to raise a family and with a deep desire to return to Walla Walla; John accepted a position from his father-in-law, Bill Teague, at the Teague Motor Co. There, John began his new career in the automobile business. In this same post-war period, he played baseball as a left fielder for the Gardner's Department Store team in Walla Walla. Partnering with Bob Stevens and brother-in-law, Bill Lake, they took over management of the company after Bill Teague's retirement. Over the years, the family grew to include Steve, Bruce, John and Katie; and John and Elaine became stalwarts of the Walla Walla community. John eventually became the principal owner of Teague Motors and in 1991, was awarded Time Magazine's Dealer-of-the-Year for Washington state.
John was a member of many service and professional organizations in Walla Walla. He was a 50-year member of the Masonic Blue Mountain Lodge 13, F and AM; a 32nd degree Scottish Rite and 50-year member of Freemasonry, Valley of Walla Walla; and a member of the El Katif Shrine Temple in Spokane and past president of the Shrine Club in Walla Walla. His service in Rotary International was extensive. Joining on Aug. 19, 1982, he maintained perfect attendance until his recent illness. He was named a Paul Harris and a Don Sherwood Fellow and in 1996, a Rotarian of Merit. He served on the Board of Trustees for the Washington State Auto Dealers Insurance Trust and on the Northwest Ford Dealers Advertising Association Board of Directors. He was a member of the Walla Walla Country Club, the Elks BPOE 287, the Walla Walla Jaycee's, the Chamber of Commerce, the YMCA and the YWCA. John was also a board member of the First Congregational Church and the Fort Walla Walla Museum.
John was a wonderful husband, honored and patient father, a happy grandfather and great-grandfather, and a cherished friend to many. His humor was contagious and spread to his children. John had an avid interest in the military and aviation. All three sons served in the armed forces during conflicts and sons Steve and John became career aviators. John liked fishing with his children and attending all of their high school activities and sporting events. He was a long-time Wa-Hi and WSU Booster Club member and would sponsor 4-H and FFA events in the community annually. As the local Ford dealer, John took pride in donating the driver education vehicles necessary for training at the local area high schools. He looked forward to the many "family rebellions" at the family home, the beach or resorts, and with Elaine, always enjoyed overseas excursions to visit their far-flung children. He basked in his family's adventures and talked about them always as if they were yesterday. He was an accurate historian and a believable storyteller. John had a good singing voice, often leading the refrains of the family's standard classics; "Squaws Along the Yukon," "Robinson Crusoe" and "The Frozen Logger." He played the harmonica with abandon, usually accompanied by Elaine on the ukulele. John's other favorite hobbies included building model airplanes, collecting hats and the ardent pursuit of the existence of Bigfoot.
John is survived by his adored wife of 68 years, Elaine; daughter, Patricia (John) Brunzell of Seattle; sons, Steve (Zoe) Brownell of Doha, Qatar, and John (Kay) Brownell of Burke, Va.; daughter-in-law Cindy (Bruce) Brownell of Walla Walla; nine grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren. John is preceded in passing by his parents; sister, Mary Brownell VanDusen; son, Bruce Brownell and daughter, Katie Brownell Panet-Raymond.
Viewing and visitation will be held Friday, May 6, from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. at the Herring Groseclose Funeral Home, 315 W. Alder St., Walla Walla. A graveside funeral service will be held Saturday, May 7, at 10 a.m., at Mountain View Cemetery followed by a religious service and a celebration of his life at the First Congregational Church at 11 a.m. Memorial contributions, in lieu of flowers, may be made to the Fort Walla Walla Museum, First Congregational Church, Shriner's Children's Hospital of Spokane, Rotary International or to the charity of donor's choice through the Herring Funeral Home.