The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Daily Item Obituaries

December 9, 2010

John Frederick Zeller III, Lewisburg

— LEWISBURG — John Frederick Zeller III, Vice President for Administration and Finance and General Counsel of Bucknell University, Emeritus, passed away on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010, at his home in Lewisburg.  

John was born in Lewisburg to J. Fred and Helen Houghton Zeller on April 18, 1919. His father was the proprietor of a jewelry store on Market Street for over 50 years, and his mother, a graduate of the Bucknell Institute, was a teacher. The Zeller family has been living in the Buffalo Valley since the late 1700s.  

John graduated from Lewisburg High School in 1937, where he played in the first high school band, and played center in the 1937 championship basketball team.

In 1941, he graduated magna cum laude from Bucknell as a member of Bucknell’s first Phi Beta Kappa class, and he subsequently earned a Master’s degree in Political Science from Bucknell in 1942.

He served in the Army from 1942 to 1945, taught in the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and joined the 34th Division’s 189th Artillery Battalion in Italy.  He later joined the 88th Division on occupation duty on the Yugoslavian border as a captain and battery commander.

Back state-side, John attended law school at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review, graduating in 1948.  He was admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1949, and he practiced law in Lewisburg and taught political science at Bucknell from 1948 to 1950.  

Having joined the 190th Field Artillery Group Headquarters of the Pennsylvania National Guard, John was recalled to military service for the Korean War, serving with the 25th Division Artillery Headquarters from 1950 to 1952, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star.

Back in Lewisburg once more, he returned to practicing law and teaching prior to accepting appointment as Bucknell’s Chief Financial Officer and General Counsel in 1955.  It was also at Bucknell where he met Martha Harris when she joined the staff as Assistant Dean of Women.  John and Martha were married in 1955.

John held the position of Vice President of Finance and Administration at Bucknell until 1986, simultaneously serving as general counsel until 1988, and briefly as acting President between the administrations of Dennis O’Brien and Gary Sojka.

In his more than 30 years of service to Bucknell, John witnessed and helped to achieve its remarkable growth.  He served as chairman of the committees that planned and oversaw construction of over 15 major buildings.  He also saw enrollment more than double, from 1,500 to 3,200 students, and he saw the school’s endowment grow from less than $5 million to over $100 million.  He was instrumental in the expansion of the Bucknell golf course from 9 to 18 holes, and he persuaded the school’s trustees to authorize that the course be managed by its members as a private community club, for which the club awarded him special recognition in 2003.

Bucknell has recognized John’s long service as well as his steadfast and enthusiastic love of virtually every Bucknell men’s and women’s sports team in many ways over the years.  In November, a scoreboard was named in his honor in the Sojka Basketball Pavilion, and last June he was granted the honorary Doctor of Letters at Commencement.  He has also received the Harriman Award, the Bucknell Alumni Award for Loyalty, and the Bison Club Award.

In a tribute to John in the Bucknell World upon his retirement, faculty members Douglas Candland, Harold Heine and John Wheatcroft wrote: “In addition to using his mind in the service of Bucknell, John also has served with his heart…He afforded others the dignity that he carried himself with.  What’s more, those of us who were privileged to be close to him in the day-to-day working of the institution became well aware of the man’s considerateness, his concern for others, his compassion – in short, we became aware of his heart.”

John served the community on the boards of Evangelical Community Hospital (president and campaign co-chair), Lewisburg National Bank (chairman), the Northern Central Bank, Keystone Financial Bank, Citizen’s Electric Co. (secretary), the Masons, Pennsylvania and Union County Bar Associations, and the First Baptist Church of Lewisburg, of which he was also a life-long member.

Beyond the community, his other board memberships have included Delta Upsilon Fraternity, National Association of College and University Business Officers (secretary), Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges (treasurer), Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, Association of Theological Schools of the U.S. and Canada, and the National Association of College and University Attorneys.  

As attorney for the Fetherston’s estate, he devised the legal arrangements which established the Fetherston Foundation and the Packwood House Museum.  He was admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1980.

In retirement, he provided volunteer service to Evangelical Hospice in Lewisburg, Habitat for Humanity, meal delivery for Area Agency on the Aging, and the area food bank.  The Lewisburg Partnership presents the John and Martha Zeller Award for Meritorious Service to the Lewisburg Community to deserving Bucknell students in their honor.

John is survived by his wife of 55 years, Martha Harris Zeller; their three children, Marijane M. Zeller (Majie) and her husband, David Kravitz, of Medford, MA; John F. Zeller IV (Jack), his wife Pat Zeller of Holland, PA, and their sons, Brian Zeller and Grant Zeller; and Margaret H. Zeller (Meg) of Wyoming, OH, and her children, Anna Helen Sponaugle, William Harris Sponaugle, and Peter John Sponaugle; and many good friends.  

A service to celebrate John’s life is planned for 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Rooke Chapel on the Bucknell campus, followed by a reception in the Weis Center lobby.  

Flowers will be provided by the family. Contributions may be made in John’s honor to the First Baptist Church, 51 S. Third St., Lewisburg, PA 17837, or to the John and Martha Zeller Scholarship at Bucknell University in Lewisburg.

The family is being assisted by Cronrath-Grenoble Funeral Home, South Second and St. Louis Streets, Lewisburg.


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The Daily Marquee
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