The Reverend Dr. John D. Erickson, Sr., a longtime Leonia resident who was a major figure in the worldwide Bible cause and a leading expert on fundraising, died August 3 in Denver, Colorado. The cause of death was Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
Husband of Nancy Erickson and father of four children, John was an ordained Lutheran minister with the Lutheran Church of America (now ELCA). John served most of his career at the American Bible Society and held roles at the United Bible Societies from 1976, leading it from 1991 to 1998. During his tenure as UBS World Service Officer, he led the negotiations that resulted in the establishment in 1987 of the Amity Printing Company in Nanjing, China. This joint venture between the UBS and the Amity Foundation resulted in the delivery of Gutenberg printing technology to communist China and the eventual printing and distribution of over 200,000,000 Bibles in China.
John was also a leading global fundraiser, credited with bringing professional fundraising to Bible Societies worldwide. In 1980, he and his wife Nancy were two key founders of the International Fund Raising Group, now The Resource Alliance, and he served as Chair or Chair Emeritus of the organization for over 30 years. Begun with 40 people at a weekend workshop on fundraising in Noordwijkerhout, Holland, the organization’s conference now attracts over 1,000 attendees and has significantly aided social impact organizations in succeeding in their missions.
Born April 28, 1933 in Wesleyville, Pennsylvania to Arvid and Julia Erickson, John played football and was educated at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. He proceeded to Augustana Theological College, from which he graduated in 1959 and was ordained as a Lutheran minister. He was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity by Virginia Theological Seminary, Lynchburg, in 1973.
In 1956, John married Nancy Ann Olson, a teacher, painter, advertising copywriter and account executive. They had twin daughters, followed by two sons.
John and Nancy served as missionaries in Japan from 1960 to 1962. Upon his return to the United States, he became Assistant Pastor of Elim Lutheran Church in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, and remained there until 1965. Wishing to continue his work in Asia, he then joined the staff of the American Bible Society (ABS) as Secretary for Asia in the Overseas Department. His administrative skills were noted, and within two years he was appointed executive secretary of the Ways and Means department, a post he held for seven years. In that position, his responsibilities were for the promotion of direct and deferred gifts from individuals (the Eisenhower fund being notable), foundations, corporations, and other prospective donors. He began the Bible-a-Month club, one of the first monthly individual giving programs and a model for the field of direct response fundraising. John was also in charge of relations between the Bible Society and more than eighty church bodies, denominations, and agencies which contributed to the ABS. With that experience, he was a natural choice in 1976 for United Bible Societies (UBS) World Service Officer responsible for Asia-Pacific and the Americas regions. In that capacity, he was involved in talks with the Amity Foundation, which led to the “Bible Press for China Amity Press project. In 1988, 500,000 Bibles were printed on a press cleared to be imported into China and donated by the UBS.
Appointed General Secretary and recording secretary of the ABS in July 1978, John provided day-to-day direction to the Society’s International Division; and he continued to serve the UBS as World Service Officer until 1988.
John was recruited to become UBS General Secretary in 1990, at a time when all eyes were on the changes in the Soviet Bloc. He was quick to mobilize UBS resources to take advantage of the openings in the Soviet Union and Communist Eastern Europe. What followed was a major program, strongly supported by the ABS, to invest in Scripture supply and formation of new Bible Societies in countries where the Bible had been banned for two or three generations. 23 new Bible Societies were established during these years. By the time John retired in 1998, he had seen Bibles printed in China being shipped to Russia – something that would have been unthinkable ten years earlier. “The Bible Cause is about people,” he said, and he connected with people throughout his life, inspiring and motivating them.
A gifted preacher, John continued to serve as a guest minister in churches across the country, most notably as an Associate in Ministry at the Evangelical Church of the Holy Trinity (ELCA) in New York City. He was community-minded, serving on the school board in Leonia, NJ that built a new high school in 1976. He and Nancy were on the board of the Wildlife and Western Art Show in Crawford, Nebraska, and John also joined the board of the Crawford Historical Society. John loved traveling with Nancy and their friends. He also loved big band, brass and Welsh choral music, was avidly interested in politics, enjoyed puns, and learned to bake banana bread for his granddaughters.
After retiring, John and his wife Nancy traveled internationally and to their beloved Wellfleet, Cape Cod. He and Nancy built a home overlooking Legend Butte in Crawford, Nebraska, where John was when he was suddenly stricken by Guillain-Barré Syndrome. His wife Nancy died 10 days after him.
John is survived by his children - Alana Coble (Rick), Julia Erickson, John Erickson (Susi), Ron Erickson (Laura) - and 3 granddaughters: Ana, Julia and Helen. He was predeceased by a grandson, David Coble.