Alton Richard Buck, 86, Winona Lake, died Thursday morning, Oct. 6, 2022, at Grace Village Health Care, Winona Lake, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. He was surrounded by his loving family and died peacefully.
Alton Buck was born April 23, 1936, to Robert and Amy Buck, near the town of Hale in rural Northern Michigan, the fourth child of five. As a youngster, he loved reading, growing up on a farm with his two sisters and two brothers and especially working alongside his dad. He was raised in a Christian home and trusted Jesus Christ as his Savior at age 15.
His father died while he was in high school, and his two older brothers grew in their roles as mentors and spiritual influences to him. They encouraged him to attend Grand Rapids School of the Bible and Music in Michigan, where he studied missions.
In his senior year, he met fellow student and new believer Helen Jarman. She was from his brother Leon’s church, and Leon had encouraged her to attend that Bible school to grow in her faith. She was also planning to be a missionary. After two years of service in the U.S. Army in the Canal Zone, while Helen was in nurse’s training, they were married Aug. 26, 1961, in Levering, Mich..
In 1962, they heard Dr. Bob Schindler speak at Immanuel Baptist Church’s missions conference in Saginaw, Mich. Dr. Bob was preparing to build a mission hospital in Liberia, West Africa. They found out an X-ray technician would be needed and Helen was an RN, so Alton moved the family to Flint, Mich., where he attended Hurley Hospital’s X-ray training.
After missionary internship, joining Sudan Interior Mission and raising support from many loving friends, family members and churches, they arrived in Liberia in January 1968 with their two young children.
They served in Liberia for over 21 years, adding two more children in their first term. There they raised their four children at the ELWA mission compound on the Atlantic Coast. Helen worked as a nurse, and Alton served as X-ray technician and hospital chaplain. He gradually moved his focus from X-ray to chaplaincy, which included organizing and leading a Bible teaching program for the hospital staff, and operating a Christian lending library and bookstore. He invested into his Liberian co-workers, training them in X-ray, chaplaincy and church-planting.
Alton and Helen took leave from Liberia in 1989, and Alton earned a degree at Grand Rapids Baptist College. They were unable to return to Liberia due to the Civil War, so they moved to Chicago, where they served together in friendship evangelism and ministry to refugees for over seven years under the leadership of their former neighbors in Liberia, Bill and Betty Thompson.
In 1998, Alton suffered a sudden attack of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which left him hospitalized for three months. Providentially, his life was spared through expert treatment, but he had to overcome paralysis and learn to walk again. During his hospitalization, he used every opportunity to witness to staff and visitors of God’s grace and goodness in his life.
His rehabilitation necessitated a move from Chicago, and after his recovery at his daughter’s home in Georgia, Alton and Helen resumed mission service at the SIM Retirement Village in Sebring, Fla., until they retired in 2001.
They moved north and spent several years between their children’s families in Georgia and Indiana. During Indiana summers, Alton loved working in his large garden and around their daughter’s mini-farm in Rochester. He and Helen got heavily involved in First Baptist Church of Mentone, where he served as a deacon and an enthusiastic AWANA and VBS volunteer and promoted prayer and awareness for missions.
During the winter months in Flowery Branch, Ga., he enjoyed helping homeschool his youngest granddaughter and training in the hilly terrain for 5K runs, usually winning in his age group. He ran his last 5K in June 2018 with his walker and his grandson running beside him to help him find the route.
Alton spent the last three years of his earthly life in memory care and health care, where the staff were consistently amazed at his kindness, gratefulness, appreciation and occasionally preaching remarkably clear sermons to whomever was around.
Alton was a prayer warrior, voracious reader, faithful letter writer and imaginative storyteller. He was a constant learner, fascinated with history, language, mechanics, geography, mathematics and literature. He was an avid gardener wherever he lived, even in the salty sand of the tropics. Until his vision failed, he spent every day of his last few years reading and copying the Scriptures, which he had always loved to study and share. He is remembered for his amazing memory of history and long-ago facts, being able to talk about anything to anyone, telling the same stories he had created for his children’s bedtimes to three generations of descendants.
Alton was preceded in death by his parents; his brothers, Wilfred (Virginia) Buck and Leon Buck; sister, Carol (Jim) Belson; and brother-in-law, Ralph Graves. He is survived by his sister, Hazel Graves; sister-in-law, Gerry Buck; and loving wife of 61 years, Helen Jarman Buck, Winona Lake; and children, Cindy (Tim) Bradley, Mentone, Dan (Anita) Buck, New Paris, Becca (Dan) Holcomb, Dakar, Senegal and Sara (Tim) Graham, Flowery Branch, Ga.
He leaves a great godly heritage to 21 grandchildren, Willy Buck, Karalise (Malachi) Pratt, Andy Buck, Tim Jr. (Mary) Bradley, Amanda Buck, Shane (Marie) Bradley, Tiffany Holcomb, Laura (David) Zastrow, Micah (Katie) Bradley, Sarah (Merritt) Thompson, Kieron Graham, Peter Buck, Kory Graham, Daniel (Yayira) Dzamesi-Holcomb, Wally Buck, Isaac Buck, Austin (fiancée Jenna-Mae) Holcomb, Brianna Graham, Ben Buck, Tiece Graham and Sammy Buck; eight great-grandchildren, Shiloh, Asher, Titus, Enoch, Levi, Ian, Martin and Natalie; and many others whom he loved as his own and who consider him their grandpa.
Alton was blessed during the past 20-plus years of his life by faithful care from his loving wife Helen. After her own health challenges, he was blessed during the past three years by compassionate care from the staff at Peabody Retirement Community, North Manchester, and Grace Village Healthcare, Winona Lake.
A memorial service for Alton Buck was held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, at First Baptist Church, 206 S. Oak St., Mentone, with visitation with the family from 9-11 a.m. Alton willed his body to medical research at the Indiana University School of Medicine. As he lived his life with love, service and gratefulness, his last earthly contribution was to help others.
Memorial contributions in lieu of flowers can be sent to support missions through:
SIM USA, 14830 Choate Circle, Charlotte, NC 28273