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Kendall Berry, 93, dies, leaving legacy as layman, SBC foundation leader, donor

BLYTHEVILLE, Ark. (BP)–Kendall Berry, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southern Baptist Foundation from 1967-76, died in Bytheville, Ark., Oct. 7 at the age of 93 from heart failure.

Assets of the Southern Baptist Foundation donated by Southern Baptists through wills, trusts and estate planning nearly doubled during Berry’s tenure, approaching $17 million at the end of the 1976 fiscal year.

Berry practiced what he preached about stewardship, leaving behind his own endowment fund at the foundation that continues to benefit several Southern Baptist causes.

“Mr. Berry was a great believer in the potential of the foundation,” said his successor, Hollis Johnson, the foundation’s president since Jan. 1, 1977. “Mr. Berry served enthusiastically and set an example himself for all Baptists by generously establishing a fund to endow several Baptist entities.”

“It will be my purpose to expand the excellent program of the Southern Baptist Foundation to the fullest possible financial undergirding of all our Baptist causes,” Berry said at the time of his selection in August 1967 to lead the foundation. “To this I dedicate such abilities as God has entrusted to me.”

The SBC Executive Committee, in a resolution of appreciation at the time of Berry’s 1976 retirement, noted, “This gifted businessman and devoted Christian has brought effective leadership and notable achievements to the work of the Southern Baptist Foundation.”

The resolution added, “The counsel and assistance of this outstanding Baptist layman will be greatly missed” and that Berry had “served with distinction in several volunteer capacities with Southern Baptist Convention agencies,” including a seven-year term on the Executive Committee, including two as chairman, 1959-60.

Berry visited numerous foreign mission fields, traveling with such SBC notables as Duke McCall and the late Robert Naylor and Porter Routh, as well as attending Baptist World Alliance sessions in London, Miami and Tokyo.

Berry came to lead the Southern Baptist Foundation as a banker and businessman and deacon from First Baptist Church, Blytheville. He was president of Merchants & Planters Bank, Hornersville, Mo., for more than 40 years. He was on the board of directors of the Arkansas-Missouri Power Co. for more than 20 years and was active in various civic organizations. His career also included 27 years as editor and publisher of three weekly newspapers and a commercial printer and owner of two clothing stores for more than 20 years. At the start of his newspaper work, at age 20, he was called the youngest newspaper publisher in America.

In addition to the Southern Baptist Foundation and Executive Committee, his service to SBC causes included six-year trustee terms with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, and Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, Ark.; the vice presidency of the Arkansas Baptist Convention; and a seven-year term on the Arkansas convention’s executive committee.

Berry was a native of Prentiss, Miss., the 12th of 13 children of Prentiss Webb Berry and Effie Magee Berry, founders of the town. The Blytheville, Ark., area had been his home since 1927. He found faith in Christ at age 11 at First Baptist Church, Prentiss, in 1918. Berry earned a journalism degree from the University of Missouri in 1927.

He is survived by his wife of more than 70 years, the former Thelma Bernice Isaacs, and two sons, Alan of Franklin, Tenn., and Jerry of Boulder, Colo.; seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

The potential of the Southern Baptist Foundation, Berry wrote at the time of his retirement, “is whatever Southern Baptists want to make it. … It should be, and could easily be, a $100 million agency, instead of the almost $17 million that it is.” Currently, the foundation’s assets total $227 million.

In his last report to the Executive Committee, Berry said, “My request is that you lift your appraisal of what this agency should be doing — increase its budget, its staff, its wherewithal and permit it to get out in the far reaches of the convention and promote its services for the benefit of the total program.

“There are thousands of Southern Baptists out in the grassroots of this convention with millions of dollars waiting to be asked and shown how they can better support the cause of Christ,” Berry noted.

Berry, at the time of his retirement, told the late Illinois Baptist editor Bob Hastings he was leaving his post “a little disappointed.”

“There’s so much more we could do, so many Baptist people who would make bequests if they knew about our services.”

Berry often faced concerns from state convention Baptist foundations over competition from a national entity. But Berry brought a sense of wisdom to the discussion.

To the SBC Executive Committee, he noted: ” What would the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Program [unified church giving channel] be today if we called our endeavor competition? It requires cooperation to support our foreign missions, home missions, Sunday School Board, Annuity Board, six seminaries and all other agencies that have made Southern Baptists the largest and greatest evangelical denomination in the world.”

Berry, who also was an amateur painter for more than 40 years, is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Blytheville.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: KENDALL BERRY.