Julius Belser was born March 15, 1931, in the small-town Church of the Brethren community in Elizabethtown, Pa. The bright arc of his compassionate life passed through the West Side Christian Parish during the civil-rights era, and then settled for 50 years of productive servant leadership in the Mennonite intentional Christian Community of Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston.
In his South Evanston neighborhood, Mr. Belser was legendary for his ability to listen compassionately to anyone in crisis, to come alongside to solve problems, and to restore dignity and hope. For 46 years he was a co-leader in the extended family household called “The Clearing,” where his generous heart was always ready to add one more plate to the table of 12 and to make a home, if possible, for one more person in need. He was also a remarkable mentor of younger leaders with scores of spiritual descendants. He was widely known as an innovative founder of community-sized institutions to meet human need.
The list of organizations Mr. Belser helped launch and support over the years include the Church of Hope on Chicago’s West Side (1959-66); the Clearing communal household; the nation-wide Overground Railroad Central American refugee asylum project (1983 – 1992); Reba Place Development Corporation, offering affordable housing in the southeast Evanston neighborhood; Evanston Community Development Association, initiated by some African-American pastors and Mr. Belser to develop afford-
able housing elsewhere in the City; Senior Connections, which organized and trained volunteers to build community with isolated seniors; and L’Arche Chicago, a local chapter in the world-wide network of communities gathered around the needs for persons with disabilities.
Mr. Belser’s wife, Peggy, is grateful for his gentleness throughout their 67 years of marriage and his steadiness in relating to countless other people who passed through their home. He was a model for young idealists passionate about peace and justice, showing how to keep learning, growing, and apologizing for mistakes while persisting in this compassionate calling, without burn-out, because of love for Jesus. Perhaps anyone who listened closely on Dec. 19 might have heard, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Welcome home.”
Still following in Julius’ footsteps are his wife, Peggy; his son, Nevin, and wife, Judy; daughter Nina and her husband, Ronn Frantz; daughter Ann and husband Tom Brown; sister Ruth Anne Friesen; brother John and his wife, Laura; eight grandchildren, and nine-and-a-half great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, friends are asked to consider making a donation to Reba Place Development Corporation (735 Reba Place B, Evanston IL 60202), or contribute to the Hungry World Farm, which inspires and educates people about healthy foods, fields and bodies, while caring for the earth, ( P.O. Box 386, Tiskilwa IL 61368).
Mr. Belser passed away on Dec. 19.