Southern Union staff
Fernon Retzer, Sabbath School Department director at the Seventh-day Adventist Church world headquarters in the 1970s and a missionary in South America, died April 5 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was 90.
“Dad was a very positive leader, always smiling, always encouraging, always affirming,” said his son Gordon Retzer, who served as president of the Southern Union Conference from 2003 to 2011. “He was a caring person who exemplifies the gentle spirit of Jesus.”
As a department director, the elder Retzer was known for his creative promotion of mission. At large scale-meetings, including General Conference Sessions, his mission pageants employed spotlights, flashing colors and a dazzling globe that sparkled when the house lights were lowered. The entire production of scripts, signs and costumes would later travel to perform at camp meetings around the United States.
In retirement he continued personal witness, hosting a neighborhood Bible study. A life-long baker, Retzer would offer each participant a loaf of home-baked bread.
Retzer was born in Bowdle, South Dakota, on November 12, 1921, and moved with his family to Lodi, California. He graduated from Pacific Union College with a degree in theology and pastored in the Northern California Conference. General Conference President R. R. Fighur preached at his ordination service in 1948.
In 1949, he and his family moved to Colombia, where he served as president of the Colombia Mission and later president of the Colombia-Venezuela Union.
After serving as President of the Central America Union in San Jose, Costa Rica, Fernon became Sabbath School director for the Inter-American Division, headquartered in Miami, Florida. In 1966, he became the associate director of the Sabbath School department at the denomination’s world headquarters, before becoming director in 1968.
He later served in the Southern Union in the Sabbath School and Religious Liberty departments.
After retiring in 1986, he worked for four years for Mission Spotlight, a supporting ministry that operated from 1970 to 2007 and highlighted world mission projects through media presentations.
His wife Dorothy preceded him in death in 2007. He is survived by two siblings, Delores Buller and Harvey Retzer; four children: Gordon, Gerry, Doreen and Richard; and six grandchildren.
—Ansel Oliver contributed to this story