Glenn passed away in his sleep during the early morning hours of Friday, October 30th, succumbing to the COVID-19 infection which had been diagnosed the week before. His wife of 72 years, Evelyn, was with him as she, too, is being cared for on the COVID unit of the health care facility where they reside. Just the day before, Glenn and Evelyn were able to hug and hold hands with their youngest daughter, their first physical contact with a family member since March of this year. Glenn was over-the-moon with the window visits Thursday from all four of his adult children and from several grandchildren, and even one of his great-grandchildren. Two of his pastors came by later in the afternoon to visit him and Evelyn and to pray with them. And to cap his day off, he enjoyed a home cooked dinner of chicken and dumplings polished off with orange-cranberry cake. A day spent with family, giving hugs, telling stories, and eating good food: all the things that Glenn loved best.
Glenn simply was larger than life. Over more than nine decades, he managed to bring more joy and love and humor to more people than seems humanly possible.
Glenn was revolutionary. He blazed a new trail in the reformed church, advocating for play and recreation as an integral part of the church experience. He advocated for intergenerational programing, teaching others how we can all play and sing and dance together.
Born April 23, 1927 in Hopewell, Virginia on the cusp of the Great Depression, he was the youngest of his mother, Mary's, four children. His father, Levi, was the maintenance supervisor at a local chemical plant where he was renowned for his ingenuity and creativity at fixing anything (a skill set for which Glenn became famous as well: think re-purposed nylon hosiery).
Glenn interrupted his high school years in 1944 to enlist in the Navy at the age of seventeen. He served on an ocean-going tugboat in the Pacific theater during the latter stages of World War II. During his time in the Navy, Glenn acquired his one and only tattoo, a rooster penned to the inner aspect of his right thigh. As a token of their affection for their Granddaddy, at least two of his grandchildren have similar tattoos.
On returning home to Hopewell following the war, Glenn began courting Evelyn in earnest although he would often point out that their first date actually occurred in the seventh grade. They were married in 1948 in their hometown of Hopewell.
Glenn developed a passion for recreation early in his adult life and demonstrated an uncanny knack for engaging people in play. Starting out working in municipal recreation departments, Glenn soon realized that he was being called to work for the church, but he struggled to find a post-graduate program where he could develop his ideas. With the support of Dr. Charles Kraemer at the Assembly Training School in Richmond, Virginia, Glenn was able to begin putting his vision of play and theology into practice. After completing his masters in Christian Education in 1958, Glenn was asked to stay on and develop a curriculum in recreation and outdoor education. What started as a three year trial turned into a 31 year career at what then became known as the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. Guiding a host of creative and compassionate graduate students, Glenn developed a myriad of outreach programs for the Northside community in Richmond, including an integrated afternoon latch-key program to provide a fun, safe space for kids to gather after school; Glenn and Evelyn created a vibrant international dance club with an offshoot known as Youth Dancers for the teenagers in the community. Glenn developed an extensive craft program for students to explore their talents in a wide array of areas. He created a puppet ministry. He instituted a camping program, taking students out several weekends a year to develop their appreciation of the outdoors.
Glenn and Evelyn retired to Montreat, NC in 1989. They had been spending summers there for nearly 30 years where Glenn provided leadership helping to develop such enduring community favorites as the Montreat campgrounds, the 4th of July parade, and Friday Night at the Barn. As recently as the summer of 2019, Glenn could be found calling big circle mountain dances to the music of the Stoney Creek Boys. It was also during their time spent in western North Carolina that Glenn began working with the Folk Heritage Committee in Asheville, NC. He was a regular fixture at Shindig on the Green, calling the sit down square dances and street dances. One of his greatest joys was emceeing the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival every August.
Glenn was also a founding member of the Annual Recreation Workshop (66 years later known as the Arts, Recreation, and Worship conference). Based on Glenn's belief that learning is best accomplished by doing, it exemplifies the endless possibilities of creating community through a mix of worship, play, and the arts.
But despite all of his professional achievements, Glenn derived his greatest joy and sense of accomplishment from his family. He and Evelyn had four children over the decade from 1954 to 1964. Raised with the motto that "the family that plays together, stays together", the Bannerman children's upbringing was nothing short of extraordinary. From camping trips to Sunday lunches with grandparents to traveling cross-country in the family station wagon, there was never a dull moment. The family even traveled to Central and South America clog dancing for the U.S. State Department as part of a goodwill tour.
Responding to a lack of opportunities for families to play together, Glenn and Evelyn took a leap of faith in 1969 and created an intergenerational weekend folk dance camp.
Fifty years later, the Bannerman Folk Camp is still going strong. Families of all configurations gather from across the country at Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain over the Thanksgiving weekend. The ties formed have sustained friendships spanning generations, feeling more like family. And perhaps that was Glenn's greatest gift: his ability to make everyone feel welcome and to make everyone feel special.
Glenn was survived by his wife, Evelyn Butterworth Bannerman; four children: R. Craig Bannerman (Jane) of Black Mountain, NC, Reynoldson G. Bannerman of Salem, OR, Beth Gunn (Bruce) of Swannanoa, NC, and Lee Ann Bannerman (Jasper Gilbert) of Swannanoa, NC; grandchildren: Marnie, Brooke, Megan, Levi, Justin, Tyler, Austin, Casey, Tamara and Mary Evelyn; and great-grandchildren: Luca, Ellis, Bowen, Kenleigh, Hannah and Winnie. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be given to either Black Mountain Presbyterian Church or Re:create (Arts, Recreation, and Worship conference: https://www.re-create:cc)
Benny Levi Bannerman