(February 27, 1930 – September 30, 1990)
Life Sketch/Tribute written with love by his daughter, Jenell (Eli) Hollett
Read by Dr. Klooster, Dean of the Loma Linda School of Dentistry
Funeral Service, Loma Linda, California
John Carl Eli loved life. Although the statement is a simple one, the life he loved was a complex mixture of devotion, challenge, commitment, and priorities. And there is no doubt about his priorities – his God and his family always came first. For most of his sixty years, he did all he could to make life easier for his mother, his wife, and his children.
John was born in Austin, Texas on February 27, 1930. He and his younger brother Ken were raised by their mother and maternal grandmother who through many lean years, held the family together with hard work and traditional values. After the family moved to Houston, John became a Seventh-day Adventist in his teen years. He made many special friends in the church and sang in a male quartet. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. While stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, he met Ruth Melnechuk at a church social. Ruth was living with a group of girlfriends in Tacoma and working as an office nurse. In a memory book, John wrote, “ I liked her because her hair was pretty, she went to church, and she was fun to be with”. Ruth remembers she found him attractive because he was “happy, tall, thin, good-looking and nice. He treated me nicely”. In his typical individualistic style, John suggested an unusual first date. He asked Ruth to accompany him to Auburn Academy and pose as his engaged girlfriend from Texas so he could gently dissuade an academy girl with a teen-age crush. John and Ruth dated from October 1951 until April 1952, before the Army sent him to Germany. It was during this time Ruth discovered the challenge of dating a man known to his family as Carl Jr. and to herself as Johnnie. After they were married, Ruth sometimes laughingly told people if she became upset at John, she’d just switch to her other husband “Carl.” Before he left for Germany, John proposed. With her engagement watch and hopes for the future, Ruth returned to her hometown in Canada to work as a nurse and make wedding preparations. They were married in Beauvallon, Alberta, Canada on September 6, 1953.
In her dresser Ruth has a box of letters they exchanged while John was overseas, and while he was home In Texas. While John could usually out-talk the best, he was not a detailed writer. In fact, his letters at best would be termed “sparse.” One postcard reads, “It’s me again. Just thought I’d let you know how things are. I’m still lonesome for a certain person and I’m sure you know who. So much for that. I’ll sign-yours, Johnnie”.
The newlyweds moved to Houston where John worked as a draftsman, then in construction. He was accepted to La Sierra College in 1954, and a year and a half later their first child, Jenell Diane was born January 1956. Because of all the teasing he did about keeping the baby in a glass bubble with a dish of food and water, Ruth was pleasantly surprised when John turned out to be a doting father.
John attended Loma Linda School of Dentistry from 1956-1960. In July 1960, a few weeks after graduation, son Bradley Allen was born.
Dentistry was a perfect occupation for John. His gentle, caring nature attracted patients and created a comfortable office atmosphere. He would often accompany a child back to the reception room, so their younger siblings could have a chance to sit on the dentist’s knee, open their mouths, and get a prize, too. He patiently explained complicated procedures and truly thought of each patient as an individual. Once, after reading in the newspaper that fire had destroyed a patient’s home, he went to see the family and gave them money.
John was a generous man in many ways. He gave both of his means and of himself freely, but you’d almost never hear him talk about it. To John, helping others was something you did privately. His greatest generosity was for his family. When his children were small, he would play with them on the living room floor after worship Friday evening, in order to make the beginning of Sabbath fun and special. His wife and kids, unlike himself, loved the combination of sunshine and sports. Anyone who has ever seen a beach outing of the Eli family can chuckle as they remember Ruth and the kids in bathing suits playing in the sand and surf, and John, clothed from head to toe, from fingernails to ears, sitting under an umbrella to escape sunburn. He rarely put his toes in water under 95 degrees, but just to prove to his teenagers that he really could water-ski, he jumped into lake Perris, skied about 100 yards, then quickly wrapped himself in a towel to get warm again. John drove the boat time after time while everyone else water-skied and took up snow skiing so the entire family could enjoy skiing vacations. He would do almost anything to make his children happy or to make life a little easier for them, even if it meant inconvenience or extra work for himself.
His love for family encircled Ruth’s parents, brothers, sisters, their spouses and the nieces and nephews, who knew him as “Uncle Carl”. He almost considered them his “other set of children”, and like most fathers, freely gave advice whether it was requested or not. But as John’s own children did, they listened, knowing his words came from the desire to see each one succeed and find fulfillment in their lives. Uncle Carl’s way of showing affection for his nieces was teasing. He knew how to find that vulnerable spot that would spark debate, and after his verbal teasing he’d laughingly say, “I really pushed your button”! But at the times when they sought his counsel on more serious matters, he’d listen thoughtfully, suggest pros and cons and inevitably offer his favorite piece of advice -”Will it matter in five years?”.
John loved to learn. He was a voracious reader and had a vast amount of knowledge in many areas, notably science, real estate, and law. He was fascinated as he discovered new information, and took hours to share these discoveries with his children in personal conversations from the time they were small. Through these life-long conversations he instilled in his children an insatiable desire to learn. Before the word entrepreneur was in vogue, he was one. Yet he retained an integrity and a set of moral standards that were seldom seen in the serious business world.
John and Ruth lived in the Loma Linda area for 34 years. He was active in many organizations including the Republican presidential task force, dental associations, the Loma Linda University Alumni Association, church and community activities.
On October 23, 1989, John suffered a medium grade heart attack. Bradley came from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he was practicing dentistry and Jenell flew from Keene, Texas to be with their parents during John’s hospitalization. This warning that John’s heart was not healthy was a shock, but the family was grateful that he seemed to be recovering. Eleven months later, on September 30, 1990 John suffered a fatal heart attack. The last eleven months of his life, John experienced some wonderful moments. He lived to see the birth of his third grandchild in March. His three grandchildren were a source of great joy and pride for him, and he cherished them. Each of their accomplishments, from the first smile to the first lost tooth, brought excitement and approval from Grandpa. During his last months he spent many pleasant times with his family. He and Ruth enjoyed a relaxing two week vacation during Christmas in Texas, and this summer spent a week at the beach and a day at Sea World with Jenell and her family. He was excited that Brad and his family moved to Pacific Palisades in June because he was able to see them almost every weekend. John spent hours each weekend visiting his mother and tenderly caring for his needs. He enjoyed a visit from his brother and his wife in early summer, and saw many special relatives at a wedding in August. For a man who valued his relation with people more than any other earthly pleasure, it was a time to be with the ones he loved.
John was a man of humor, intelligence, integrity, and spirituality. He knew his Bible well. After his death, the verses he underlined in his Bible have brought comfort to those closest to him, and friends along with his family look forward to the day when he will hear the voice of Jesus calling him to eternal life. Then once again John can be with the people he loved.