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Aerial View of the Dowagiac Campus

Cureton's connection to SMC

newsman John Cureton awarded a 30-year SMC service pin

John H. Cureton earned the distinction of receiving a 30-year Southwestern Michigan College service pin without ever actually working for SMC.

In fact, Mr. Cureton, who died Feb. 20 at 95 at The Timbers, is the only person other than trustees or college employees to ever earn a service pin.

“John Cureton played a very important role in the history and development of Southwestern Michigan College,” Board of Trustees Chairman Dr. Fred L. Mathews said in making the Sept. 7, 1995, presentation. “John helped the college get the message out about many, many activities and events these past 30 years. We learned that John would handle even the controversial and delicate stories with accuracy and fairness. The mutual respect we as trustees have for John Cureton is the fact we were always truthful with each other. It is important to have this kind of relationship.”

“The Board of Trustees, on behalf of the thousands of citizens we represent, thank John Cureton for his many years of service to the news media, the college and to the citizens he helped to keep informed,” Mathews said.

After reporting on Dowagiac and Cass County as news director for radio station WDOW and newspaper correspondent for the South Bend Tribune and Herald-Palladium, Mr. Cureton enjoyed a political career he undertook in his mid-80s.

With decades chronicling government and court trials, Mr. Cureton could have been expected to know what he was getting into when he declared his candidacy in 2004.

He claimed seeking political office was the furthest thing from his mind when he dropped by City Hall to see Clerk Jim Snow.

It happened to be the filing deadline and no candidates had surfaced in District 11.

Mr. Cureton served four years — a pair of two-year terms — on the Cass County Board of Commissioners.

His colleagues sang Happy Birthday to him on June 5, 2008, in honor of his 90th birthday as he blew out a cupcake candle.

He learned there’s more to the job than met even his experienced eye.

“Commission meetings are a fraction of what is involved,” he said in 2005, following his 87th birthday by driving to Douglas for a meeting of the five-county Lakeshore Coordinating Council.

The consortium aligned Cass with counties that are not usually its partners, including Muskegon, Ottawa, Berrien and Allegan.

“The way federal laws are set up, to get grants for alcohol and drug abuse, the state’s divided up and you have to be part of one of these groups,” he said. “It receives the grants and apportions them out to service providers,” such as Woodlands Behavioral Healthcare Network in Cassopolis.

“I kid when they talk about how to enhance revenue, a lot of which comes from taxes on liquor. I don’t think I’m doing my part because I have yet to drink my first can of beer,” he said.

“I’m (on the county board) by happenstance,” he said. “Of course, as a Christian, I don’t believe in chance. I believe the Lord directs people to things. It’s been good for me personally because it keeps me from watching too much TV.”

Mr. Cureton thought 15 commissioners was too many. “Eleven would be a good number in my opinion,” which is how many there were in the 1980s before the board contracted to seven during the ’90s.

Each of the current seven represents roughly 7,200 citizens.

In 1997, Donald D. Lyons defeated Mr. Cureton and Gary Weaver, a former Board of Commissioners chairman, to win his first term as Dowagiac’s 47th and longest-serving mayor, eclipsing dentist James E. Burke (16 years, 1969-73 and 1985-97).

Mr. Cureton considered his mayoral bid a “lark. I don’t think I would have run for that if I thought I was going to win. I didn’t expect to beat Don and I’m glad I didn’t.”

Mr. Cureton, who succeeded eight-year GOP incumbent James Sayer when he did not seek re-election, pursued a third term in 2008.

He lost a Republican primary challenge from Ron Matthews, but in the general election the seat went to current Democratic commissioner E. Clark Cobb.

As a county commissioner, Mr. Cureton served on the tri-county Area Agency on Aging and the emergency food and shelter board attached to the Department of Human Services.
He had attended 77 straight regular meetings since joining the board in January 2005 when he declared for re-election.

He also gave of his time on the city Dial-A-Ride advisory board.

He delighted in broadcasting April Fool stories, such as one which sent treasure hunters traipsing into the swamps north of town.

Mr. Cureton, who grew up in Chicago, was ordained into the ministry in 1946 at Midwest Bible Church in Chicago and pastored Federated Church in Hartford.

He came to Dowagiac in 1950 and worked for James Heddon’s Sons for 10 years before joining the new radio station.

He was a longtime member of Berrien Center Bible Church, where he taught Bible classes for many years.