Obituary: John Raynolds valued adventure, service

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 24, 2011 - 9:50 PM

He was a Navy frogman and climbed mountains, but his greatest joy was in giving back to his community.

John Raynolds

John Raynolds could astonish people with tales of his life -- from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, to riding on the backs of brown sharks, to leaping out of helicopters as a Navy frogman -- but it was his compassion and charity that people recalled after his death.

Raynolds, 82, died Nov. 11 in Vero Beach, Fla.

The Minneapolis native and Blake School graduate was the chief executive officer of Outward Bound USA, a nonprofit wilderness adventure program, during its greatest period of growth in the 1980s. He took particular pride in securing scholarships so poor or troubled youth could participate.

"He felt strongly it was everybody's obligation to give back to his community," said his sister, Helen Anderson of Minnetonka.

Raynolds enlisted in the Navy after graduating from Williams College and was part of an elite dive team that jumped out of helicopters and set explosives on ships during the Korean war. He later served in the CIA and participated in covert operations in Ghana in the 1960s that led to the removal of a pro-socialist dictator there, his sister said.

"Ghana is still a democracy," Anderson said. "He really was very pleased about that."

In civilian life, Raynolds operated car dealerships in California, was an investment banker in Philadelphia and ran an executive search firm in New York. But it was Outward Bound that became his passion. Under his leadership from 1981 to 1991, the number of students in the program annually increased from 7,000 to 30,000. One of his strengths was recruiting donors to support the program and provide scholarships for disadvantaged children.

"He would take a group of executives on a river rafting trip or a wilderness hike," Anderson said, "and give the Outward Bound pitch around the campfire in the evening."

An avid mountain climber, Raynolds reached the summits of the Matterhorn, Mount McKinley and Mount Hood.

Raynolds was 12 when his father died, and he always tried to live up to his father's legacy, his sister said. He felt privileged to attend a private school, despite coming from a family of modest means, and that instilled his sense of giving back, she said.

Raynolds wrote two books on volunteering and its role in boosting happiness and career success. "He interviewed some very successful people who, when they had reached a certain point, found that that wasn't enough," Anderson said. "They found that they had to give back more to their community."

Survivors include Raynolds'wife, Eileen Blaker Raynolds, three children from his first marriage, and two stepchildren.

Raynolds was diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago that was thought to be terminal. Beating those odds, he continued to travel and hike and to volunteer, including working with children at an elementary school near his Florida home.

Raynolds also loved literature and poetry and published a book of Haiku. When Anderson visited him this fall, knowing her brother's heart was failing and that he wouldn't live much longer, Raynolds chose Shakespeare as his goodbye to her.

"If we do meet again, we'll smile indeed," he told her. "If not, 'tis true this parting was well made."

A memorial service will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday in Wayzata Community Church.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

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