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J. Wesley Hole, United Methodist lay leader, dead at 101

 


J. Wesley Hole, United Methodist lay leader, dead at 101

March 3, 2005

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John Wesley Hole

A UMNS Report
By Marta Aldrich*

Prominent United Methodist lay leader J. Wesley Hole, who served as secretary of the 1939 Methodist uniting conference and became the first layperson elected secretary of the denomination’s General Conference, has died at age 101.

Hole, who died Feb. 14 in Arcadia, Calif., also worked on several general church boards during his nearly four decades of service to the denomination.

"He was probably the best example of integrity I’ve ever known in terms of working with people administratively," said the Rev. Don Locher, who worked with Hole while serving as a district superintendent in Arizona. "He was a brilliant administrator and a wonderful servant of the church."

Born in 1903 in Burns, Kan., Hole joined the church in 1908. As secretary of the 1939 uniting conference, he helped oversee the merger that brought together three Methodist denominations that had split in the 19th century, mostly over the issue of slavery. That merger created the Methodist Church, which merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to create the United Methodist denomination in 1968.

Hole was elected delegate to nine General Conferences between 1940 and 1970. In 1964 in Pittsburgh, he became the first layperson elected secretary to a General Conference. At that gathering, the denomination’s top legislative body voted to abolish its separate jurisdiction for black Methodist churches and absorb those into the denomination’s other five geographic jurisdictions.

He served as General Conference secretary until 1968, then stepped in again 1970-72 when his successor resigned for health reasons.

From 1934 until his retirement in 1972, Hole worked as treasurer and statistician of the Southern California-Arizona Conference, which later became the Pacific and Southwest Conference, working primarily under Bishop Gerald H. Kennedy.

Locher said Hole was instrumental in bringing a Hawaii district into the conference, and his administrative acumen freed up Kennedy to receive national prominence as a Christian leader, making the cover of Time magazine in 1964.

"Bishop Kennedy was a great preacher. Wes handled the administrative work that enabled Bishop Kennedy to fulfill that gift," Locher said. "As statistician of the conference, he brought facts to us without bias or interpretation. And he did it all with a great sense of humor."

On the national denominational level, Hole served on the Methodist Board of Pensions, Council on World Service and Finance, Board of Missions and General Conference Entertainment Committee. He also was on the Board of Directors of Methodist Hospital in Arcadia.

"I could almost as soon believe in God letting me down as him," Bishop Kennedy said in giving Hole the Southern California-Arizona Layman of the Year award in 1969.

After his retirement, United Methodist agencies and officials frequently turned to Hole for information and counsel. "He had an incredible memory and recollection," said Locher. "He was highly respected nationally and a great resource to the church."

Widowed by the death of his wife, Velma, after 70 years, Hole is survived by a daughter, Marilyn L. Peer of Los Angeles; son, John W. Hole Jr. of Whittier, Calif.; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Memorial donations can be sent to the Memorial Fund at La Cañada United Methodist Church, 104 Berkshire Place, La Cañada-Flintridge, CA 91011, or to the J. Wesley Hole Scholarship Fund at the Claremont School of Theology, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711.

*Aldrich is a freelance writer in Franklin, Tenn.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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