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