Lima, NY – On April 4, 2020, John (or “Jack” as he was known to most people) Oliphant, age 80, left his earthly body behind and entered his eternal heavenly home surrounded by his loving family. Jack is predeceased by his parents Richard and Mildred (MacDougall) Oliphant; his siblings Richard Oliphant and Dolores (Oliphant) VanArsdale; brother-in-law Royal VanArsdale; and son-in-law Thomas Crawford. He is survived by his wife and true soul mate of nearly 60 years, Violet “Vi” (Azzarelli) Oliphant; son John (Joan) Oliphant; daughters Amy Crawford, Christy (James) Harrington; grandchildren Christopher (Rachel) Webb, Christina Webb, Karl (Lindsay) Crawford, John Patrick Oliphant, Sarah (Corey) Baiera, Maia Harrington, Emma Harrington, and Lydia Harrington; great-grandchildren Molly Crawford, Lincoln Webb, Samantha Grace Webb, Tazio Baiera, and twins Clayton and Titus Crawford; sister Mildred “Sister” (Oliphant) White, sisters-in law Gail Oliphant and Sharlene Cady; and many cousins, nieces and nephews from his large extended MacDougall, Oliphant and Azzarelli families.
Jack loved time with his beloved family. He also greatly enjoyed exploring the outdoors, camping with family, long car rides, fall foliage, hikes in the woods, fishing, boating, exploring the Finger Lakes and Adirondacks, visiting Nova Scotia, creative writing, playing the harmonica, singing, drawing, painting, and he spent hours of time solving crossword and other word puzzles.
Jack was a graduate of North Rose Central School (’57), Auburn Community College (AA, ’63), The King’s College (BA, ’65), and Northeastern Seminary (MA, ’00). He had also completed additional coursework in interpretative writing at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communication, had finished all course work towards a Master’s degree at SUNY Potsdam with a focus on the writings of author C.S. Lewis, and did a year of intensive Bible and ministry training at Elim Bible Institute.
Jack proudly served his country as a member of the Army from 1958-1961 with assignments at Fort Dix, NJ, Fort Chafee, Arkansas, Fort Meade, Maryland, and he was deployed as part of the United States presence near the DMZ in South Korea. The family is incredibly appreciative of the Rochester NY Veterans Association for their amazing care and the provision of mobility equipment over the last three years.
Jack was a distinguished writer, wordsmith, editor, and photographer who began his professional career as a reporter/ photojournalist for the Canandaigua Daily Messenger, with a focus on court reporting and other news from around the Finger Lakes Region. He later moved to a similar role at the larger Syracuse Herald-Journal where he was assigned the civil rights beat during the tumultuous 1960s. His balanced reporting brought him much respect from all sides of the civil rights issues he covered.
In 1968 he began a long career working in higher education when he moved his family to the North Country and began working as the Director of College Information for SUNY Potsdam. He held various positions at the college between 1968 and 1981 including Director of Sports Information, Director of News Services, Director of Community Relations, and Director of Public Relations.
From 1982-1983, Jack worked as an Associate Pastor at Koinonia Fellowship (now New Hope Fellowship) in Potsdam, NY, a church he had been an elder in since soon after its founding in the early 1970s under the leadership of lifelong friends Pastor John and Jane Ault. He enjoyed the fact that the church had a special outreach to the students from the four colleges in the Potsdam and Canton, NY area and Jack and Vi loved entertaining and supporting the students in their home.
Between 1983 and 1987, Jack worked at Elim Bible Institute in Lima, NY as the Assistant Director of Communications; the school where he had studied while on a sabbatical from SUNY Potsdam in 1981-1982. He was responsible for writing and editing virtually all promotional materials and alumni communications from the school including The Bell Tower magazine and also served as a “ghost writer” for various faculty and administrators’ scholarly work & speeches. Additionally, he worked with Elim Fellowship to edit the Elim Herald magazine, which told stories of both domestic and international ministries. During these years he spent some of his time teaching English to high school students at nearby Lima Christian School. From 1987 until his retirement in 2004 he served in various roles at Roberts Wesleyan College located in North Chili, NY. He initially was hired as the Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, but later became the Director of Public Relations and the editor of the alumni magazine, Roberts Today. He continued his practice of serving as a “ghost writer” and often helped write print material and speeches attributed to President William Crothers. His prowess as a grant writer was credited with securing significant funding for the college, including a large grant received from businessman and philanthropist Thomas Golisano’s foundation to fund the building of the impressive library on campus. In the years prior to his retirement, he taught Freshmen English classes at the college.
From 2008 to 2012, Jack, an ordained minister through Elim Fellowship whose Christian faith was incredibly important to him, came out of retirement after serious heart issues had been resolved, and served as the Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Akron, NY. He, along with Vi, his partner in ministry, helped shepherd the congregation through their 175th anniversary year celebration and sparked an increased interest in foreign missions work and other forms of local outreach. During his tenure at the church, there was an increased emphasis on weekly times of fellowship, teaching and prayer. Jack and Vi have been very grateful for the friendship and support they have received from former congregant Dr. Catherine “Bili” Bilideau since their time in Akron.
Jack was a member of Lima Baptist Church from 1986-1996, where he taught small groups, and Elim Gospel Church from 1996-2008 and 2012 until his passing. He was a part of a men’s fellowship group led by dear friends Don Oppedisano, Pastor Jerry Warsaw, and Dr. David Ness that met regularly and its members became like brothers to him. Their support of Jack during his life was extraordinary and their support of Vi since Jack’s passing is greatly appreciated and noteworthy.
The family would like to thank the excellent medical providers, nurses, and therapists who have participated in Jack’s care and all of the wonderful friends and neighbors who have supported the family over the years and particularly during this very difficult time. Extra thanks go to Jackie Peterson, PT, who oversaw his home therapy and was always a great source of encouragement during her visits.
In the weeks before his passing, Jack was hospitalized and separated from his family due to the visitor restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the advocacy of his wife, he was released from the hospital and was able to spend six days at home. Several people stepped forward and provided medical equipment, moral support, and healthcare expertise, which made that sacred time with Jack possible. Cynthia and Chris Leidlein, Christy Parker, LPN, and Harold “Harry” Hawes, RN are especially appreciated for going above and beyond anything that the family could have ever expected. Also thanks to journalist Michael Schwartz from 13 WHAM-TV for telling the story of Jack and Vi’s separation and inspiring reunion and to family friend Gale Bagwell for arranging to have bagpiper Brian Dengler, from the Gates Keystone Pipe and Drum, play Amazing Grace outside of the Oliphant home to honor Jack’s Scottish heritage on the day of his passing.
Vi would like to acknowledge their three children (Christy, Amy, and John) and the rest of the extended family who in recent years helped Jack stay actively engaged in events offered through Roberts Wesleyan College, Northeastern Seminary, the Ugandan Water Project, the Global Health Association @ RIT, and numerous concerts, plays, dance recitals, and other activities that involved his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. A special thanks goes out to daughter Amy for her skillful assistance over the past year and a half with helping him get to many of his appointments and other mobility-related needs around the house and to great-granddaughter Molly for the many ways she lovingly assisted her “Papa Jack” on a daily basis in recent years.
The “Jack Oliphant Communications Scholarship” is being created at Roberts Wesleyan College to bless a student who is studying Communications at the school from which he retired. Those who would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to this scholarship fund can mail checks to Roberts Wesleyan College, 2301 Westside Drive, Rochester, NY 14624. Please include “Jack Oliphant Communications Scholarship” in the memo.
For those wishing to make a financial contribution to support Jack’s wife Vi during this period of loss and transition, checks can be made out to the Oliphant Help Fund and sent to or dropped off at any Canandaigua National Bank branch or online donations can be made through www.GoFundMe.com and search for the “Please Stand Now with Vi Oliphant” campaign. Your support is greatly appreciated!
A celebration of Jack’s life will be announced at a later date. Details regarding the location of his internment are also still being determined.