Chester H. Damron lived an amazing life serving God and others. Pastor, chaplain, Abraham Lincoln presenter, and volunteer story-teller, Chester was called all over the world to share the love of Jesus wherever he went. Sadly, his work on this earth ended Sunday, October 1, 2017 when he quietly fell asleep in the loving arms of Jesus.
Born June 3, 1934 to Ollie E. and Glenna C. (Cooksey) Damron in Fellowship, Florida , a wide spot on a north Florida highway, their family later moved further south to the Bradenton area. Growing up along the Manatee River, Chester formed many lifelong friendships that continued until today.
He was a 1951 graduate of Manatee High School and fully intended to attend the University of Florida to study agriculture. His love for dairy farming started when he was a boy and his term as president of the local chapter of the Future Farmers of America only fueled his passion.
His mother clearly had other plans for his life. Her relentless prodding and urging subsided when Chester finally relented and agreed to attend Southern Missionary College (now Southern Adventist University) for only one year. This decision changed the entire trajectory of his life.
He earned his Bachelor’s degree from Southern and later two Master’s degrees, one from Potomac University Seminary, and the second from Andrews University. Chester’s first assignment as a young pastor included three small churches in the Lenoir City, Tennessee area and it was during this time that he and his family were stirred by a passionate couple who presented their story at a church worker’s meeting about their lives as missionaries.
In the fall of 1959, they set off for Thailand where Chester worked as a pastor, evangelist, school administrator and construction supervisor. Following a two-year leave when Chester earned his second Master’s Degree from Andrews University, the family was called to Indonesia where Chester worked as the acting president of the Mt. Kalabat College. He also taught classes, held evangelistic meetings, and was involved in the construction of a number of homes for missionaries.
He later served as the Ministerial Secretary and Administrator of the Voice of Prophecy (VOP) correspondence school in Singapore. This position afforded him the ability to fly all over Southeast Asia organizing and attending student rallies with the VOP staff.
It was in 1975 when Chester and his family returned stateside, settling in Berrien Springs, where together they built their home on Garr Road. Chester served as associate pastor of Pioneer Memorial Church and college chaplain at Andrews University. (Student Missionary) Chester served the church and the college students well and formed countless bonds with students and community members alike. His especially loved the work he did coordinating student missionaries and the connections he formed with many of those college students remain today.
Fast forward ten years and Chester felt a call to enter hospital chaplaincy. He enrolled in the Memorial Hospital Chaplaincy program in South Bend where he earned his credentials as a chaplain. His experiences and skills leading up to this point gave him a nearly perfect platform from which to launch his highly successful career as a chaplain.
In October of 1986, an invitation was extended from Florida Hospital South for Chester to join the Chaplaincy department there. Given the size of the facility and desire to serve others better, it was during this time that he formulated the idea of a volunteer chaplaincy program where lay volunteers could be trained to serve others in a supervised hospital setting. While working full time as a chaplain, he developed this model and all of the educational materials that have been replicated at countless facilities around the world. Over the years, he has been called to train volunteers and other chaplains from California to Malaysia.
As Florida Hospital grew, “Chaplain Chet” was often transferred to newly acquired facilities to not only train new sets of volunteers but to also assist in smooth transitions between outgoing and incoming hospital administrations. These hospitals included Florida Hospital East, Florida Hospital Fish Memorial, and Florida Hospital Deland.
We’d like to say that Chester retired but that never really happened. While his formal career as a hospital chaplain at Florida Hospital eventually came to a close, he continued to work as a consultant to other hospitals both stateside and around the world. He served as the President of the Florida Hospital Chaplains Association as well.
His boundless love for children drew him to dedicate countless hours to his work as “Uncle Dan” with Your Story Hour, a non-profit, Christian organization dedicated to bring moral and biblical stories to adults and children around the world. He loved the friendships he made at YSH along with the art and science of creating a good quality recording. Thousands upon thousands listen to, and cherish, the stories that continue to be told thanks to Chester and the dedicated staff at Your Story Hour.
Lastly, his work as an Abraham Lincoln presenter and impersonator fueled his passion for people. He genuinely loved to present stories of Lincoln’s life and how his morals and values shaped him as a person and president. This, too, created amazing opportunities and experiences for Chester and his family as he traveled all over the world presenting Lincoln. His work as a presenter has taken him from Constitution Hall to remote villages in Alaska where he was presenting when he became aware of his illness.
Chester will be remembered by all who knew him as a loving and caring man. His nurturing spirit and love for others was evident by his continued dedication to relentless service. Not afraid of a little controversy, he never backed down when it came to sticking up for someone who was wronged or treated unfairly. This got him into more than a little bit of trouble over the years but he never backed down from a situation until he felt it was properly resolved.
While fiercely dedicated to God’s call in his life, Chet still found time to spend with his family. Whether backpacking in the Great Smoky Mountains, sharing a fire after an evening snowmobiling or skiing, building sand castles on the beach, boating in the lake or the ocean, or enjoying a day at one of Florida’s theme parks, dad always carved out time for family. Never did anyone hear Chet complain about the countless trips to Michigan to celebrate a birthday, graduation or a horse show. While no one would ever think of him as being perfect, the unconditional love he shared with his family often overshadowed his shortcomings.
On August 26, 2011 Chester married Carolyn J. (Miresse) Rollins in Berrien Springs, MI. Their life together, while only 6 short years, was truly a whirlwind of love, service, travel, and amazing experiences. Whether in the mountains of North Carolina, sunny Florida, or anywhere else their travels took them on this earth, they always celebrated their anniversary each month with the exchange of small gifts and dinner. As the thousands of pictures shared over social media these past several years clearly indicate, they shared a mutual love for each other that stands alone.
Chester will be missed by his children: Don (Elise) Damron of Berrien Springs, MI; Debi (Stan) Bennett of South Bend, IN; and Delisa (Matthew) Purchase of St. Joseph, MI; his step-daughter, Gina (David) Boller of Casselberry, FL and step-son Les (Lisa) Rollins of Berrien Springs; 7 grandchildren: Casey (Sarah) Damron and Jason (Lauren) Streelman, both of Berrien Springs; Cali ( Pr. Bill) Dudgeon of Killeen, TX, and Ryan (Laura) Streelman and Ellie Purchase both of St. Joseph; Justin (Tara) Boller of Orlando, FL and Tori (Trent) Nachand of Maitland, FL; 6 great grandchildren: Jackson Streelman, Briella Streelman, Lydia Streelman, Carter Damron, Addison Nachand and Autumn Boller; and a number of nieces and nephews who loved and cared for him deeply.
A memorial service celebrating his life was held at 4:00 p.m. Saturday, October 14, 2017 at the Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University. Private inurnment was at Rose Hill Cemetery in Berrien Springs. In lieu of flowers, the family graciously requests that expressions of sympathy be made in the form of memorial contributions to Your Story Hour, P.O. Box 15, Berrien Springs, MI 49103.