John Thomas Barfuss died peacefully at home on Labor Day, September 7, 2020, surrounded by his loving wife and sons. He was born in Grand Rapids on August 10, 1952 to Elizabeth (Hills) and John David Barfuss, and spent his childhood rambling the woods and fields of the family home on 52nd Street in Cascade Township. He attended Caledonia Elementary and Middle School, and from an early age was known for his humor, creativity, and friendliness. At Caledonia High School he was in band (trumpet, first chair), debate (Varsity A), and journalism, acted in plays and was featured in talent shows, and distinguished himself academically (ranked fourth in the Class of 1970). During this time he was active in Caledonia Troop 202 of the Boy Scouts of America, where he was awarded the Order of the Arrow.
John attended Grand Rapids Junior College and Michigan State University in the early 1970s, studying advertising and marketing. He returned to Grand Rapids and began a long and wide-ranging career in creative services, honing his craft as a designer, strategic marketer and tactical thinker. He worked on projects for most if not all of the major corporations in town and many smaller companies and non-profits. Locally, just about everyone who was connected to marketing communications during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries knew John and the quality of his work. After stints at Johnson & Dean, Bradshaw Advertising, and Sefton Associates, he established Barfuss Creative Services in 1983, his own design and marketing firm. John ran his business with obsessive attention to detail, a high level of personal service, and a commitment to effectiveness. He sincerely wanted every project, from the biggest websites to the simplest postcards, to deliver the best possible results for the client. He put his enormous energy and dedication into his company for almost four decades, while simultaneously serving as a volunteer, often in leadership positions, for a number of community organizations.
One of those organizations was the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts. For many years John ran the printmaking tent there, helping a generation of kids screen-print their own T-shirts. He co-chaired the thee-day event, the largest of its kind in West Michigan, in 1995, and continued to be a huge supporter, Festival being near and dear to his heart.
A lifelong member of Fountain Street Church, John formed many friendships in Fountain Club as a young adult. In later years he served on the FSC Art Committee and Governing Board, and taught in the Character School youth education program.
In 1987 John met Evie Philippi at Gaia restaurant, introduced by mutual friends. They married in 1994 and bought a house in Cascade, John’s home town. With marriage and the arrival of sons Evan and Tommy, John turned his talents and volunteer experience to his neighborhood and Forest Hills Public Schools, where his sons were enrolled. He worked to eradicate invasive species, secure and protect open space within the township, and help friends and acquaintances whenever he was needed. He designed yearbooks for Thornapple Elementary, his sons’ school, and, looking for just the right shot, captured a memorable group photograph of the students, teachers and staff from the platform of a two-story cherry picker. He was an active member of the Forest Hills Central Band Boosters, and designed the concert programs for FHC band, as well as marketing materials for their annual Bandtasia event.
At Saint Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church, where Evie attended, John found his niche singing in the choir, and in all their productions. He worked on Middle Eastern fundraising dinners and was an integral member of the communications committee when St. Nicholas hosted the national archdiocese convention in 2019.
When Evan and Tom were old enough to participate in Boy Scouts, John became Cubmaster for Cup Scout Pack 3634 and later served as Assistant Scoutmaster for Cascade’s Troop 334. Although he himself did not attain the rank of Eagle Scout, under his guidance both his sons did, as well as twelve additional young men who honored him as a mentor along their journey. This was one of John’s proudest accomplishments. Every Fourth of July, in uniform, he accompanied the scouts as they respectfully carried a very large US flag at the front of the Cascade Township parade. His bugle played taps and reveille at Scouting and civic events, most recently at Cascade Township’s virtual Memorial Day ceremony in May.
John remembered the names of just about everyone he ever met, and he could also identify most trees, birds, bugs, and flowers. Every summer, he would turn several bushels of cucumbers into delicious pickles, and in December, he would deliver them to a hundred or so of his closest friends and favorite clients. The holidays weren’t officially here until you got your jar of Mr. B’s dills or jalapeño dills.
John’s cancer was aggressive and relentless. He faced it bravely and with dignity, with concern for the impact his rapid deterioration had on the people he loved. He is survived by his beloved wife, Evelyn (Evie) Philippi; his sons Evan Barfuss and Thomas (Tommy) Barfuss; his siblings David Barfuss, Jim Barfuss, Chris Barfuss, and Richard Barfuss; and Evie’s sisters Eileen Adolphson and Barbara (David) Walsh, brother-in-law Russ Adolphson,his aunt Helen (Dick) Bellows, as well as numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins whom he adored.
Evie, Evan and Tommy will greet visitors at Metcalf & Jonkhoff Funeral Home, 4291 Cascade Road SE, from 2-4 and 6-8pm on Friday, September 18. A memorial service will be held at 1 pm on Saturday, September 19 in the sanctuary at Cascade Christian Church, 2829 Thornapple River Drive SE, with Pastor Matthew Cockrum of Fountain Street Church officiating. Due to COVID-19 limitations, attendance will be by invitation only. For more information about live stream or video recording of the service please check the Metcalf & Jonkhoff website.
In lieu of flowers, Evie, Tommy, and Evan suggest a donation to Fountain Street Church Youth Education (please make checks payable to Fountain Street Church Foundation, and indicate J. Barfuss/Education on the memo line) or the Land Conservancy of West Michigan (https://naturenearby.org/get-involved/donate/; please indicate the donation is being made in memory of John Barfuss).
Here is the streaming link for John’s service:
Stream begins at 12:30pm. Service begins at 1pm.
To send flowers to John's family, please visit our floral store.
Fountain Street Church
24 Fountain St. N.E., Grand Rapids MI 49503
Land Conservancy of W. Michigan