• Our Founder: Early Years
    John Fetzer (center) with his youth basketball team
    Photo credit: Fetzer Institute
  • Our Founder: Formative Years
    John Fetzer's high school graduation photo and in 1949 wearing his War Correspondent uniform
    Photo credit: Fetzer Institute
  • Fetzer Broadcasting Company
    John Fetzer on the air in 1949
    Photo credit: Fetzer Institute
  • Detroit Tigers Owner
    John Fetzer at Busch Stadium for the last game of the 1968 World Series in which the Tigers won
    Photo credit: Fetzer Institute
  • Keynote Address
    John Fetzer giving keynote address at 1988 Global Conference
    Photo credit: Fetzer Institute
  • Fetzer Institute
    John Fetzer standing in the atrium at the Fetzer Institute
    Photo credit: Fetzer Institute

Our Founder

John Earl Fetzer, founder of the John E. Fetzer Memorial Trust and the John E. Fetzer Institute, led a remarkable life of accomplishment. His legacy invites all people to join in transforming our future through love.

John E. Fetzer was born March 25, 1901, in Decatur, Indiana. At an early age, John acquired an interest in communication. He learned the Morse code at age ten and built his first wireless receiver-transmitter at age twelve. At thirteen, he associated with Purdue University radio faculty and students. After graduating from high school in 1921, John attended classes at Purdue where he studied the work of Thomas Edison and of Nikola Tesla. In 1922 John was invited to enroll in Emmanuel Missionary College in Berrien Springs, Michigan where he built the first radio station in Southwest Michigan. During college, he met and in 1926 married his lifelong partner, Rhea Yeager Fetzer. An excerpt from John's commencement address to his graduating class of 1927, entitled "Faith of Our Fathers," typifies his visionary, inclusive approach: "If our fathers in their lives of high attainment found such faith as this, what ought we as seniors to lay down as a cardinal principle for our lives? The answer is obvious. If we expect to succeed in the cause of God, it means that we must have faith in our fellow workers, from the highest in authority to the lowest in the rank and file. It means that we must permit this faith of which we have been talking, not only to permeate our lives, but it must be a magnetic influence for good upon every life with which we come in contact."

After graduation, John and Rhea purchased and moved the radio station from Emmanuel Missionary College to Kalamazoo, Michigan and established WKZO Radio. John helped to pioneer the development of a new technology called the directional antenna to broadcast in a defined area, and then shepherded it through Congress to get it adopted as a broadcast standard. This created local service, spawning broadcasting as a mass communication medium. John leveraged his leadership stature to ensure that broadcasting was devoted to serving the public and embodied the highest standards of ethics and business conduct. John was the first president of the National Association of Broadcasters, Deputy Director of the Office of Censorship (a cooperative association of broadcasters that prescreened newscasts during World War II), and chaired the development of the Broadcasting Code of Conduct. John received the highest national awards for service and excellence in broadcasting. As owner of the World Series winning Detroit Tiger Baseball club, he created cooperative ventures and prioritized serving the city of Detroit and its residents over his personal gain.

John Fetzer's final expression of sacrifice and service was demonstrated by selling his broadcasting and sports empire to endow the John E. Fetzer Institute and the John E. Fetzer Memorial Trust. John Fetzer pursued his personal convictions and interests alongside of his professional life. As John Fetzer said, "Actually what I have done is very risky. I don't know of many successful operators of a large business enterprise who, during their lifetime, liquidated their assets and walked out of a very successful environment saying, 'I'm going out to seek something different.' But what I've done is to invest in an enormous hope chest with the faith that the ultimate goal will be attained. That defies conventionality, and it's a matter of developing a new value structure."

In addition to John Fetzer's professional careers, he also pursued life-long personal interests, one of which was science. His passionate interest in science began at an early age. John said, "When I was a boy, I devoured the books of Tom Swift. This science fiction predicted an array of things that would happen in the future. I used to speculate as a youngster whether or not I would see any of that happen..." John later conducted his own search and shared that, "I have spent many years researching and interviewing the scientific community in an effort to ascertain the association between science and matters of spiritual concern. During this period, I have exchanged views with scientists in universities, the space program, the electronics industry, the medical profession and the technical services. Many of the latter have been prominent in laboratories of research covering a wide spectrum, not only in the United States, but in Europe, Asia and the Middle East."

John Fetzer's interest in science was fostered by his pioneering experience as a radio engineer. John wrote, "Experimentation in broadcasting served as the catalyst for enlarging our definition of the term energy, its applications and its force in the universal scheme of things. I believe the time is coming when energies of all kinds will be available, not only for diagnosing man's medical maladies. I think the universe is teaming with all kinds of energies that are just waiting to be discovered and to be used in personal and global healing."

John Fetzer recognized that a future science would have to address its own foundations, and he pointed out that, "We are actually experimenting with the scientific process itself. From studies in advanced physics we know that the experimenter becomes part of the energy circuit with what is being studied." He concluded that such advancement in the foundations of science requires resources, and stated that, "My intent here was to make laboratory research a top priority."

John Fetzer's vision recognized the importance of science in advancing breakthroughs in human understanding beyond a limited materialistic vision of reality, when he said, "Humanity must transform its attitudes and actions. The Foundation's eventual intent is to integrate the scientific process with spiritual mindedness. We must recognize that both viewpoints have the right to exist where there is a mutuality of purpose."

John E. Fetzer was a pioneer, entrepreneur and visionary, and he also had a vibrant spiritual inner life. His inner call began during his formative years. At age 9, John had an experience of Jesus Christ lifting him up and assuring him that, "I will always be with you." Later, at age 17, he almost perished from swine flu, and prayed that, "If I were permitted to live, I would devote my life to the spiritual work of the Creator." John kept his promise, and developed businesses closely linked to serving others, and later the John E. Fetzer Institute and John E. Fetzer Memorial Trust, while he passionately developed his inner life.

John was an avid student of the mystical, seeking connection with the Source and exploring both western and eastern approaches to the inner life of Spirit. John was a long-time Mason, attaining the level of 33rd degree, he fervently studied "A Course in Miracles," and he actively meditated and sought evidence for the esoteric dimensions of reality. He avidly developed his inner life of Spirit, which deepened his understanding of wholeness and his conviction to serve a sacred mission. John embraced love as our common bond, and encouraged spiritual practice. He stated, "I constantly draw on the energy of the Father for guidance. It had been my hope that the Foundation would also and tenaciously so ask the Father for guidance. We have a very serious mission to do in this world."

Our common journey relies upon our willingness to take risks and boldly leverage our inner strength to transform our world in positive new ways. In the spirit of John E. Fetzer, the future is ours...

"As we go through my life story, you're going to find that word 'search' is one of the most paramount activities of my life."
- John E. Fetzer, 1982

John E. Fetzer Timeline
John E. Fetzer Timeline
1901
John Earl Fetzer born to John Adams Fetzer and Della Frances (Winger) Fetzer in Decatur, Indiana.
Marconi sends first transatlantic wireless transmission (radio signals) across the Atlantic, between Cornwall and Newfoundland.
Rhea Yeager born to Dr. William Nelson Yeager and Leona Maude (Lawrence) Yeager in Augusta, Michigan.
1903
Wright Brothers flight at Kitty Hawk.
1906
Lee de Forest invents the three-element vacuum tube.
1911
John Fetzer acquires a telegraph and learns Morse Code from the husband of his older half-sister Harriet ("Hattie"), Fred Ribble.
1912
Fetzer has his first "religious" experience, a vision of his "holding onto the feet of Jesus Christ, who shared the message, 'I will always be with you.'"
1913
John Fetzer builds his first wireless receiver/transmitter with help from Fred Ribble.
1914
Fetzer and Ribble first hear music over the air.
1915
Alexander Graham Bell demonstrates the telephone with a call from New York to T.A. Watson in San Francisco.
1916
Albert Einstein introduces his general theory of relativity.
Tuners added to radios.
For security purposes, the U.S. bans the use of all wireless (radio) transmitting and receiving equipment.
1917
U.S. enters World War I, later declares war on Germany.
1918
Influenza pandemic results in 196,000 U.S. deaths. In Detroit, Michigan, theaters, churches, and schools close for October.
John Fetzer is stricken with influenza and spends nine months in bed. "I made a commitment... that if I were permitted to live, I would devote my life to the spiritual work of the Creator."
1919
Fetzer receives a license for a general amateur radio station.
1921
John Fetzer graduates from West Lafayette, Indiana, High school with letters in baseball, basketball, and track.
The use of quartz crystals keeps radio signals from "wandering."
The first radio broadcasts of police calls, World Series, heavyweight championship fights, religious services, and weather reports.
Fetzer attends wireless classes at Purdue University, studying the work of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, which later fuels his interest in the links between the physical, mental, and spiritual realms.
1922
John Fetzer receives a license as a commercial radio operator, first class.
Having joined his mother Della in converting from the Methodist Church to Seventh Day Adventism, Fetzer enrolls in the Adventist Emmanuel Missionary College in Berrien Springs, Michigan, and establishes a radio station there.
1923
Fetzer designs and builds the first radio station in Southwest Michigan, WEMC (soon changed to KFGC).
1924
John Fetzer meets Rhea Yeager in college chapel where she is to perform in a musical program.
Radio Lighthouse Music Makers, an eight-piece orchestra featuring Rhea Yeager on cello, performs exclusively for KFGZ.
1925
Fetzer travels to Europe for a month's study of radio stations.
1926
John Fetzer marries Rhea Yeager at Vincent Hotel in Benton Harbor, Michigan. They honeymoon in Berrien Springs, Kalamazoo, Holland, Ludington, and Wisconsin Dells.
Fetzer graduates from the National Radio Institute.
1927
The U.S. Radio Act proclaims public ownership of the airwaves.
Al Jolson stars in The Jazz Singer, the first popular "talkie" movie.
John Fetzer graduates from Emmanuel Missionary College. He was chosen as class orator at graduation ceremonies and becomes President of the Alumni Association. His yearbook describes him as "a silent thinker who combines modesty with brilliance."
Fetzer teaches Radio Transmission at Emmanuel Missionary College until 1929.
Detroit Tigers baseball games are first broadcast over radio.
1928
John Fetzer leaves the Seventh Adventist Church, followed by his mother, Della in 1930. Della became a Baptist; John joins the Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo Michigan in 1931, but soon begins exploring Freemasonry and spiritualism.
1929
The stock market plunges, marking the beginning of the Great Depression.
Automobiles are equipped with radios.
John Fetzer enrolls at University of Michigan to study modern physics and higher mathematics.
1930
The "Golden Age of Radio" begins in the U.S.
Lowell Thomas begins the first regular network newscast.
John Fetzer purchases WEMC from Emmanuel Missionary College for $5,000 and changes its name to WKZO.
1931
WKZO moves from Berrien Springs to Kalamazoo, Michigan.
1932
Franklin Delano Roosevelt is elected to the first of four presidential terms. His inaugural address reminds listeners, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
1933
John Fetzer joins the Masonic Lodge (Scottish Rite) and soon after receives Master Mason (3rd Degree) status at Anchor Mason Lodge, Kalamazoo Michigan. Fetzer maintains active Masonic affiliation through at least 1969.
1934
The Federal Communications Act regulates radio broadcasting, telephone, and telegraph industries.
One-half of all U.S. homes have radio.
John Fetzer visits the central Indiana Camp Chesterfield, affiliated with the Indiana Association of Spiritualists. Through the years Fetzer continues his occasional attendance at Camp Chesterfield, until at least 1974. At the Camp Chesterfield bookstore he acquires metaphysical books on a wide variety of topics and philosophies including Theosophy.
1938
Fetzer reduces his annual salary from $9,000 to $6,000 because of the Great Depression.
Fetzer is elected to the Board of Directors of the National Association of Broadcasters through 1946.
WKZO wins the landmark "590 Case" with a ruling from the Federal Communications Commission, granting nighttime broadcasts using a directional radio antenna. The ruling allowed 3,000-5,000 additional radio stations to go on the air.
The radio drama, "War of the Worlds," produced by Orson Wells, causes panic in the U.S.
1939
Commercial television broadcasts begin in New York City with the broadcast of baseball and football games and prize fights.
1940
WKZO extends its coverage to 18 hours a day. Programs include Tigers baseball, "Helen Hayes Theater," the "Kate Smith Hour," "Lux Radio Theater," and "Amos and Andy."
1941
The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. The U.S. enters WWII.
The Federal Communications Commission sets U.S. TV standards.
1944
John Fetzer is appointed Assistant Director of Censorship for Broadcasting by President Roosevelt.
1945
Germany surrenders. Japan signs the formal surrender aboard the battleship Missouri.
General Eisenhower approves the appointment of John Fetzer and other distinguished journalists and broadcasting executives to conduct a National Association of Broadcasting inspection tour of radio stations in Europe.
1947
The transistor is invented and replaces vacuum tubes in radios.
Detroit Tigers games are first broadcast on television.
1949
Network TV appears in the U.S.
Fetzer Broadcasting is granted a license for a television station in Kalamazoo and assigned Channel 3.
1950
WKZO-TV Channel 3 goes on the air.
1952
John Fetzer becomes the first Chair of the Television Code Review Board of the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters. He serves until 1955.
Fetzer joins journalists touring Europe and the Middle East to assess the postwar situation and meets with Marshall Tito, King Paul and Queen Fredericka of Greece, the Shah of Iran, Charles DeGaulle, and Pope Pius XII.
Fetzer chairs the CBS Radio Business Standards Committee.
1953
The Korean War ends.
Fetzer Broadcasting purchases KOLN-TV in Lincoln, Nebraska. The station is donated to the University of Nebraska in 1954.
1954
The polio vaccine is developed by Dr. Jonas E. Salk.
The U.S.S.R. launches the Sputnik satellite.
1954
The John E. Fetzer Foundation is established to give grants for religious, charitable, scientific, library, and/or educational purposes.
1955
Rosa Park' refusal to relinquish her bus seat sparks the U.S. civil rights movement.
1956
John Fetzer visits Radio Free Europe facilities in West Germany and Austria.
Fetzer organizes an 11-member syndicate and purchases the Detroit Baseball Company, becoming one-third owner and Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Fetzer purchases six acres at 590 W. Maple in Kalamazoo for WKZO's "Broadcast House."
Elvis Presley first appears on the "Ed Sullivan Show."
1957
John Fetzer is named to the American League Radio and Television Committee.
1958
Fetzer is awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Western Michigan University for his pioneering efforts in mass communications.
Fetzer forms the John Fetzer Music Corporation and acquires the Muzak franchise for outstate Michigan.
Rhea Fetzer is elected the President of the Kalamazoo Family Service Center.
1961
The Federal Communications Commission approves FM stereo broadcasting and spurs FM development.
WJFM, Fetzer's FM radio station in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is the world's most powerful FM station (50,000 watts).
Briggs Stadium in Detroit is renamed Tiger Stadium.
John Fetzer becomes sole owner of the Detroit Tigers.
1962
John Fetzer tours South America to create programs of mutual interest to broadcasters in North and South America.
Fetzer receives Muzak's Golden Ear Award for "clearly distinguished achievements in public service affairs."
John and Rhea Fetzer accompany the Detroit Tigers on a fall exhibition tour of Japan. Afterward the Fetzers continue west on a round-the-world journey, making Far and Middle Eastern stops in Bangkok, Calcutta, and Cairo.
Fetzer is sole owner, Chairman and President of the Detroit Tigers Baseball Club.
John E. Fetzer incorporates the John E. Fetzer Foundation which later becomes the John E. Fetzer Institute.
1963
President John F. Kennedy is assassinated.
The first artificial heart is used during surgery by Dr. Michael DeBakey.
Fetzer is elected Chairman of the American League Baseball Television Committee.
1964
John Fetzer publishes One Man's Family: A History and Genealogy of the Fetzer Family.
The Beatles appear on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Beatlemania hits the United States.
1965
In the late 1950's and early 1960's John Fetzer reads The Life and Teachings of the Far East by mining engineer Baird Spalding, as the six volumes are published in serial form. Influenced by Theosophy, The Life and Teachings of the Far East profoundly impacts the philosophical and spiritual thinking of Fetzer.
1967
Racial tensions intensify: race riots break out in 125 U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Detroit, Cleveland, and Newark.
John Fetzer writes the paper, "This I Believe," laying out a personal spiritual philosophy based largely upon the philosophies of Freemasonry and Theosophy. In the paper he writes, "In the New Age that lies immediately ahead, through electronic instruments, direct communication between persons on the earth plane and those of the higher planes will become commonplace."
1968
Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated.
The Detroit Tigers win the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
1969
Apollo XI lands on the moon. Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr. touch down in the lunar module.
John Fetzer is coroneted a Sovereign Grand Inspector General, 33rd degree Mason, and made an Honorary Member of the Supreme Council.
Fetzer receives the National Association of Broadcasters Distinguished Service Award, the highest award of the broadcasting industry. Fetzer's personal guest at the awards presentation: renowned clairvoyant Jeane Dixon.
1971
Rhea Fetzer is the first woman elected to the board of the Kalamazoo Foundation. In addition, she serves on the boards of the Kalamazoo Community Chest, Kalamazoo Symphony Society, Senior Citizens Fund, and Kalamazoo Council of Social Agencies.
John Fetzer publishes The Men from Wengen and America's Agony. The Men from Wengen is a genealogical history of the maternal side of his family. America's Agony is Fetzer's spiritual vision of the current and future trials and triumphs of the American Nation and its people; it was reprinted as a stand-alone volume by the John E. Fetzer Memorial Trust in 2007.
1972
Fetzer is made a delegate of the U.S. State Department for negotiating the Japanese-U.S. Television Treaty.
Fetzer contacts and visits institutions sponsoring scientific research in parapsychology to determine the nature and extent of research being done.
1974
John Fetzer meets Apollo XIV astronaut Edgar Mitchell and pursues mutual interests in parapsychological phenomena. Fetzer is elected to the board of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, founded by Mitchell and dedicated to exploring consciousness and human potential.
The John E. Fetzer Foundation trustees pass a resolution to support "educational programs, retreats, and credit and noncredit seminar courses relating to parapsychology."
Fetzer tours Europe visiting parapsychological centers in England, Spain, Germany, and France.
1975
John Fetzer practices Transcendental Meditation, and also introduces the practice on a voluntary basis to Detroit Tigers team members. Fetzer also meets with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and advises him on the use of television to teach and promote TM. Fetzer continues the TM practice for at least three years.
1976
A Course in Miracles, published by the Foundation for Inner Peace, is studied by John Fetzer for the next decade of his life, greatly influencing his spiritual philosophy.
1977
John Fetzer sells Tiger Stadium to the City of Detroit for $1 in exchange for a 30-year lease.
Fetzer Foundation funding is provided for Long Term Training in Brain Energy Feedback (Biofeedback Training Project), UC-San Francisco (Dr. James Hardt). This funding continues until 1989.
1979
Fetzer receives an honorary engineering degree from Lawrence Institute of Technology.
1980
CNN 24-hour news channel begins broadcasting.
Fetzer Foundation funding is provided for Investigation of Tibetan Meditation and Traditional Chinese Medicine and General Research Support (Self-Regulation Research Program), Harvard, (Herbert Benson). Healing mechanisms in Tibetan and Buddhist monks in Northern India, study of "chi" in China. This funding continues until 1991.
Fetzer Foundation funding is provided for Engineering Anomalies Research Program, Princeton (Dr. Robert Jahn) to study extreme human abilities. This funding continues until 1997.
1981
The Broadcast Pioneers Banquet in Kalamazoo recognizes Fetzer Broadcasting's 50 years in the community. Fetzer accepts the Golden Mike Award on behalf of WKZO from the Broadcast Pioneers for adherence to quality, integrity, and responsibility in programming and management.
Fetzer pledges one million dollars to Western Michigan University for its new business center.
The John Fetzer Award for Meritorious Services to Baseball is established by the Milwaukee Brewers.
John Fetzer meets clairvoyant and spiritual teacher Jim Gordon, who serves as Fetzer's spiritual advisor for the remainder of his life. At Jim's suggestion, Fetzer begins hosting the Monday Night Group, a spiritual study and support group which focuses for the next four years on envisioning the mission and activities of the Fetzer Foundation.
1983
The John E. Fetzer Business Center at Western Michigan University is dedicated.
John Fetzer sells the Detroit Tigers Baseball Club to Tom Monaghan for 53 million dollars; Fetzer remains with the organization as Chairman of the Board and stockholder until 1989.
Fetzer establishes Pro Am Sports System (PASS), a cable sports network.
The world wide web (i.e., the internet) emerges.
1984
Harriet Ribble Thomas, John Fetzer's half-sister, dies.
John Fetzer is inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.
The Detroit Tigers defeat the San Diego Padres to become World Series Champions.
Fetzer receives the Baseball Commissioner's Executive Award for Excellence in Baseball.
Fetzer Foundation funding is provided to investigate Physical Fields and States of Consciousness, Meninger Institute (Dr. Elmer Green). This funding continues until 1992.
1985
Fetzer sells Fetzer Communications (television properties).
The Fetzer Foundation establishes the John Fetzer Energy Medicine Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.
John Fetzer suffers a mild heart attack.
John Fetzer begins the meditation practice, "surat shabd yoga," which he continues for the remainder of his life.
1986
Fetzer sells PASS sports network.
John Fetzer is listed in Forbes Magazine as one of the 400 wealthiest people in the U.S.
1987
Fetzer sells Fetzer Cablevision.
John Fetzer and Joan Yawkey of the Boston Red Sox help fund a major expansion of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
1988
Rhea Maude Fetzer dies at age 86.
The Fetzer Foundation sponsors Helping Heal the Whole Person and the Whole World, a conference with 1,000 attendees from 38 countries. Speakers include Norman Cousins, Jehan Sadat, Bernie Siegal, Laurence Rockefeller, and John Fetzer.
The Fetzer Foundation administration building is dedicated.
1989
John Fetzer sells his remaining interest in Fetzer Broadcasting Services.
Fetzer promulgates a position paper addressing the mission of the Fetzer Institute; the paper concludes with, "I believe there is a certain consciousness of synthesis that brings forth a light that some refer to as the 'avatar symmetry' that is here, ready to assist all who are connected with the Institute to delineate its mission. Remember, whatever the final verdict turns out to be, its summary will be 'unconditional love.' That is our avatar of the future, because love is the unifying energy field that mobilizes the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual resources in the caring and sharing with one another."
1991
John E. Fetzer passes on, February 20, 1991, at age 89.
June 25 1991, the John E. Fetzer Memorial Trust Fund was incorporated and established in accordance with the will of John E. Fetzer.