FOREST – Solid, productive communities are built on the strong backs, impeccable character and reliable vision of men like John Furniss Bondurant.
At first glance, he was a quiet, unassuming little man who wore sweater vests. But on reflection, ‘Mr. John’ was a true American hero – the kind we rely on but don’t really honor properly until it’s too late.
I spent part of Monday, Dec. 23, at the Forest United Methodist Church and later in the cold enclaves of Eastern Cemetery there celebrating Mr. John’s wonderful life along with his family and friends. At the age of 100 and a little over three months, John Bondurant has outlived most all of his contemporaries and friends of his generation.
As one might imagine at a midday funeral on a workday two days before Christmas and for a man of his advanced years, the crowd attending Mr. John’s homegoing was rather small. But his pallbearers were all fellow churchmen of his beloved Forest United Methodist Church.
The crowd included the current Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives and other legislator friends of Mr. John’s son, former State Rep. Dr. Sid Bondurant of Madison who served District 24 for two terms in the House from 2004 through 2012.
But the majority of the sparse crowd was simply people he had known and touched in Forest over the long course of his life there as a businessman, civic leader, parent, grandparent and treasurer of his church.
A native of Selma, Alabama, Bondurant had a difficult childhood and lost his mother to influenza. He was sent to live with relatives in Marion, Ala., where he would later play on a state championship high school basketball team and graduate from high school.
He went on to what would become Auburn University in the 1930s, working his way through school as a factory worker and earning a degree in business. He took at job with Firestone and later with General Motors Acceptance Company.
While working for GMAC, Bondurant’s territory took him to Mississippi, where he met Iva Dee Wiggins of Philadelphia. They married in 1941, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Their union would be an extremely happy one for the next 72 years.
After a century, many had forgotten his valiant service as an infantry officer in the South Pacific during World War II. He won the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantry Badge before being wounded on the Philippine Island of Mindanao.
The minister recounted Mr. John’s personal “miracle” during his military service of the day when advancing through the jungle, he heard singing and came upon a group singing the Christian hymn “My Jesus, I Love Thee” in a remote area that had obviously been touched by the work of Christian missionaries.
The hymn was sung at Mr. John’s funeral, all verses.
After the war and until his retirement, John Bondurant was engaged in the management of a Chevrolet dealership in Morton and in the operation of his wholesale automotive parts business in Forest.
Mr. Bondurant’s world was pretty small – his God, his church, his family and his friends. He supported and nurtured the people and institutions in his world with his whole heart and with all his resources.
He was frugal with his own money and with that of others. At the church we shared in Forest for many years, I remember him as one who took care of the church’s finances and resources.
Mr. John was a man of great wisdom and integrity, a man of my late father’s generation. Their birth dates were only three months apart and their life experiences were very close in terms of World War II and what they did with their lives after they returned from service.
As was the case with my dad and Mr. Bondurant, the soldiers of that war who survived combat returned home believing they had a duty to help rebuild America and make better futures for their families.
John Bondurant was that kind of American hero – and honoring his passing was a meaningful part of my Christmas this year.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.