By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Bernie Turner, minister and Habitat founder, dies

Bernie Turner
Bernie Turner

Services will be held Saturday, Aug. 10, in the First Baptist Church under the direction of Macy & Son Funeral Directors, McMinnville.

“Few people have had such an enduring impact on the community as Bernie Turner,” said Mary Stern, former director of McMinnville Habitat for Humanity and former Yamhill County commissioner.

“Bernie touched so many lives,” she said.

The Rev. Erika Marksbury, current pastor of McMinnville First Baptist Church, said she was fortunate to be among pastors to follow Turner’s 23 years in the post.

“His legacy is that of a prophetic leader, a beloved pastor and a cherished friend,” she said. “During his tenure, he married deep faith, social justice, and commitments to inclusion/affirmation in ways that still shape who we are as a congregation today.”

She said she admires his “courageous compassion and the risks he took to do the right thing,” as well as his ability to laugh. “I’m so glad to have had the chance to learn from him.”

Turner grew up on a cattle farm in Kansas and graduated from Ottawa University in his home state. He and his wife, whom he met at Ottawa, moved to California so he could attend the Berkeley Baptist Divinity School.

He became a minister in Washington state, first in Burien, then Lynwood. In 1969, the Turners returned to Kansas, where he earned a degree in family counseling from the Menninger Foundation.

They came to McMinnville in 1970 so Turner could become pastor at the McMinnville Baptist Church. He ministered there until his retirement in 1993, but remained active in the community the rest of his life.

In 1993, he and Verne Cooperrider, Mark Trumbo, Joyce Palmer and Margie Taylor founded the McMinnville chapter of Habitat. He became the nonprofit’s first director, an unpaid position, and began working with future homeowners, volunteers and community partners to build homes.

Turner, who lent his construction skills as well as administrative talents to Habitat builds, said having a stable home could make a critical difference to a family and to generations to come. It helped children stay in school and go on to become productive citizens.

A street in the Habitat’s new Aspire subdivision is named in honor of Turner and his late wife, Roz. The nonprofit’s 64th house was dubbed the “Turner Build,” and supporters donated more than $113,000 toward the project in the Turners’ honor.

Harold Washington, who founded Washington Roofing, has been roofing new Habitat houses since the first build in the 1990s – because Turner asked him to.

“Bernie is the easiest person I ever got to talk to,” said Washington. “I immediately felt like I could trust him.”

He said Turner has been “such a tremendous asset” to the community for more than 50 years. “He has quite a place in my heart,” he said.

Nick Peirano, founder of Nick’s Italian restaurant, hosted Habitat’s annual fundraising dinner every November for many years.

The event got started after Turner mentioned to Peirano that the housing program needed a new fundraiser. “We tossed the idea around” and the dinner was the result, Peirano said.

“Anything Bernie asked of me, I tried to do,” Peirano said. “If Bernie wanted something, I always knew it was a good idea.”

He called his friend Turner “a wonderful guy, a great guy.”

Bernie Turner was a great admirer of former President Jimmy Carter, the most well-known, hands-on advocate for Habitat. In the 1988, Turner, a Linfield College trustee, met Carter when the former president came to McMinnville to speak at the school.

Carter sent notes to Bernie and Roz Turner on their 90th birthdays. A photo of Turner, Carter and former Linfield President Charlie Walker stood in Turner’s bedroom during his final days, according to his daughter, Linda Baker of the Seattle area.

Baker is the youngest of the Turners’ three children, who also include Diane Rice of McMinnville and Stan of Berkeley.

Remembering his childhood on a farm, Turner bought acreage on Booth Bend Road about 1980, Baker said. He raised rabbits for meat and pelts and goats for milk and cheese making.

“We often had baby goats in our house,” she recalled.

She remembered fondly their many camping trips, including a two-week camping excursion to the redwoods in northern California. For that trip, the family shared an early morning paper route for a whole year to save up to buy a new tent, sleeping bags and other gear, she said.

At home, the family always gathered together for dinner. “We’d talk and be silly. Dad loved to be silly,” she said.

When she and her siblings had children, Bernie and Roz became doting grandparents, she said.

Over the years, they made a point of being at many of their six grandkids’ events, including athletic competitions. Grandpa was thrilled when his grandson, Nathan, hit a home run during one of the semi-pro games the Turners attended.

The grandkids, now in their 30s, and great-grandchildren “are passionate about him,” She and her sister and brother also admired their father in many ways, including how he accepted and respected everyone.

“He had such strong convictions,” Baker said.

As the First Baptist pastor, Turner made the church a place for all people, including those with different sexual orientations. He presided over commitment ceremonies for gay couples starting in the 1980s, and, after marriage was legalized, their weddings.

His church has hosted gatherings of LGBTQ people, their families and supporters since the 1980s, as well.

Stern noted, “at his church, he ensured all were welcome.”

Baker said her father didn’t grow up with such inclusivity. She believes attending the Menninger Foundation’s interdenominational program led him to deeply explore and examine his faith and relationship to people.

“Dad started opening others’ eyes about the way we treat people,” she said.

Baker recalled coming home from college in the late 1970s and telling her dad that a friend had revealed that he was gay.

“How did you feel about that?” Turner asked.

When she said she loved her friend just as much as she always had, her dad told her, “That’s the right thing.”

Throughout his career, Baker said, Turner “preached about love, about peace, about how Jesus loved everybody.”

He and his wife even took part in peace rallies, standing on corners holding signs calling for peace.

“He always wanted to take care of everybody, just as Jesus said to do,” she said. “He wanted people to be fed, clothed and housed, and to feel loved.”



A great man and contributor for our time. We could use 100 more like him.

Web Design and Web Development by Buildable