From the desk of Terri Legg, Executive Director -
I am sad to share that Jon passed this morning.
Jon's was much more than a businessman, husband, and father. He was a man of character that believed in service above self. His life can be defined by his passion for volunteerism and commitment to many organizations in and around the community. Here at United Way Montcalm - Ionia Counties, Jon served for an amazing 45 years as a Board Member. He was deeply passionate about education and literacy.
The work that Jon did over the years will continue on in his name with the Jon Caswell United Way Fund for education and literacy. Should you wish to honor Jon with a contribution to the fund, you can be assured that Jon’s legacy will live on.
The United Way Staff and Board extends our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the Caswell family and his friends. Our community will not be the same without his smile.
By Mitchell Boatman
IONIA — Lifelong Ionian and longtime businessman, community leader and veteran Jon Caswell Thursday, April 18, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 77.
Caswell owned Caswell and Company Ford and Caswell RV, was involved in numerous organizations and boards in Ionia and served in the United States Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserve for eight years.
He was a member of the Ionia Jaycees, the Ionia Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the United Way, the Knights of Columbus, the Rotary Club, the YMCA Board, and the Ionia Community Library Board.
Caswell is survived by his wife Elaine, daughter Lisa (Chad) Cole, sons Chirstopher (Rona) Caswell and Stephan (Jennifer Kile) Caswell and six grandchildren Luke, Drew, Zach, Maddie, Jake Cole and Lillian.
The Ionia Community Library has lowered its flag until Caswell’s service and put a tribute message on its sign in recognition of his service to the library.
Library Director Dale Parus said that Caswell’s love for his city was only surpassed by the love for his family, friends and church.
“Almost equal was his love for the city of Ionia,” Parus said. “He wanted to make sure people knew he loved his community, and he wanted them to love it, too.
“I know a lot of business people that may care about the city they work in, but they don’t wear it on their chest like he did. He lived a truly well-rounded life.”
Parus and the library organization admired Caswell’s commitment for the last dozen years, even as his health declined.
“When you have somebody that’s given 12 years to your organization and is still wanting to be a part of what’s going on, even when battling cancer, that resonates through this entire organization,” Parus said. “Without any hesitation what was number one on his list to make Ionia better was to get a library (millage) passed. That’s why he stayed on this board for more than a dozen years. He kept that as his hope.”
United Way Ionia-Montcalm Counties Executive Director Terri Legg said Caswell was a valuable board member for United Way for 45 years.
“He was a man of character that believed in service above self,” Legg said in a Facebook post. “He was deeply passionate about education and literacy. The work that Jon did over the years will continue in his name with the Jon Caswell United Way Fund for education and literacy.
“The United Way Staff and Board extends our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the Caswell family and his friends. Our community will not be the same without his smile.”
Gary Swinehart, current secretary of the Ionia Rotary Club, knew Caswell for many years. Swinehart said he graduated high school a year after Caswell and both attended Central Michigan University. Swinehart also bought a few cars from Caswell over the year.
“I can say he was a great friend, and he will be sorely missed,” Swinehart said. ”(Ionia) will lose a great leader. Jon was always on the forefront of things. He was always looking out for the best for Ionia.
“We’ve been in the rotary for about 30 years together. He was just an all around great guy. You’d be hard pressed to find someone with anything bad to say about Jon.”
By Elisabeth Waldon
Jon married Elaine Stephan in 1966 and together they raised three children — Lisa, Christopher and Stephen.
That same year, Jon joined his father, Denard Caswell, at Caswell & Co. Ford in Ionia, which had started as a gas station in 1936. The dealership later expanded to sell recreational vehicles. The business was sold in 2002, but Caswell RV continues.
Jon was well known as a car salesman, but he was known even more so for his community involvement — 45 years as a member of Ionia Area United Way, 40 years with Knights of Columbus, 30 years with the Rotary Club, 11 years with the Ionia Jaycees, six years on the YMCA Board and two terms on the Ionia Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
“Jon Caswell was a living example of the best qualities of a small town in America, a world where you know all your neighbors and you take care of each other, a world where you speak humbly through gentle words but boldly — and often anonymously — through your actions,” said Ionia County’s 64A District Court Judge Raymond Voet. “Our world has too few men like Jon Caswell and he will be greatly missed. They don’t make them like that anymore.”
Jon also served many years on the Ionia Community Library Board. The flag is currently half-mast at the library, the message “He will be missed” written on the library’s marquee.
“It’s been a tough day,” said Ionia Community Library Director Dale Parus of the loss.
“Jon was always into literacy and education,” Parus said. “He always stressed to me that we have to find a way to get to the next step so we can keep up with the literacy needs of this community.
“Without a doubt, there was no greater champion of Ionia than Jon,” Parus added. “If it wasn’t about the library, it was about the church and his family. He cared about his community. He was just an all-around good guy.”
Jon was active with Ionia Public Schools (IPS), serving as co-chairman on the Citizens Study Committee on Communication, chairman of a successful millage campaign renewal in 1988, was a recipient of the IPS Silver Slate Award and was president of the IPS Basketball Rebounders Club. He loved sports — especially baseball and basketball — and enjoyed watching some of his six grandchildren participate in sports activities.
A lifelong member of S.S. Peter & Paul Catholic Church, Jon served as a lector, Eucharistic minister, Parish Council member and Parish Finance Council member.
A memorial Mass for Jon will take place at the church he loved so well starting at 11 a.m. Thursday at S.S. Peter & Paul. Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, with a rosary prayed at 7 p.m., at Lehman Funeral Home in Ionia.
In lieu of flowers, it was Jon’s wish that donations be made in his memory to the S.S. Peter & Paul athletic fund, the S.S. Peter & Paul general fund or the Ionia Community Library.