Capt. John K. Lancaster, USN Retired, 92, of Fayetteville passed away Saturday, February 13, 2021 at home with his beloved family by his side.
John was born September 1, 1928 in Bethany, NC to the late Maj. George W. and Fleta Jane Strickland Lancaster.
John grew up working on the family farm. When they weren’t harvesting the season’s crops, he and his brothers and cousins would go on adventures in the woods, fields and swimming holes. Key cohorts in these adventures were Grady McKeithan and Trent Page. John did not let his near-death experience with polio stop him from keeping up with the other boys. His survival of this illness was an early sign of his intense determination and drive to succeed. John also enjoyed the period of time that his father was assigned to the Ranger Station of Ft. Bragg. John’s parents kept him active in the church. He attended Magnolia Baptist, Grace Baptist and Immanuel Baptist Churches. He was saved at Immanuel Baptist as a youth.
John was an entrepreneur of sorts. He and his brother George came to be in temporary possession of a rowboat and ferried people across the flooded Cape Fear during the flood of 1945, charging 50 cents a person. Before and after this time, he held various blue-collar jobs in Fayetteville, including driving the school bus in high school, in addition to working on the farm and helping neighbors bring in their crops. John graduated from Stedman High School in 1947.
John’s humble beginnings on the family farm instilled in him an appreciation for hard work and prepared him for a life of servant leadership. He began his service to his fellow man in earnest when he joined the US Air Force in 1947. He was stationed at Edwards AFB and Sheppard AFB among other bases before being stationed at Guam at the outset of the Korean War. He soon requested to be sent to Korea and joined his brothers George Jr. and Elwood in the service of their country. Upon completion of his enlistment, he returned home and enrolled at North Carolina State University. He was elected president of Becton Dorm, coached intramural sports, spearheaded fundraisers and lead numerous other activities. John graduated with his degree in Industrial Arts with an eye toward teaching. John earned degrees from UNC, Duke and ECU, but cherished his time at State above all of them. Upon graduation, John was contacted by the Navy and was soon commissioned as an officer in the Naval Reserve. John was later awarded the Ambassador of Peace Medal by the Korean Consulate in a private ceremony in his home.
He started teaching Industrial Arts at Alexander Graham Jr. High in 1956. On occasion, even late into his life, he would cross paths with former students who remembered him and still had the projects they made as his students at AG. In the early 60’s, John’s good friend and co-worker, Bill Johnston, convinced him to carpool with him to UNC Chapel Hill so they could earn their Master's degrees and be eligible for advancement to school administration. John made short work of the program and soon became an assistant principal. He was Principal at Pauline Jones Elementary in the mid-sixties followed by his return to Alexander Graham Jr. High as Principal until it’s closing in 1977.
John was selected as the first Principal at Hillcrest Middle School (now Max Abbott Middle) in 1977. He was awarded Fayetteville City Schools Principal of the Year in 1983, and was promoted to Associate Superintendent in the old Fayetteville City Schools System that same year. He later was named an Associate Superintendent with Cumberland County Schools in 1985 and maintained that position until his retirement in 1988 with more than 31 years of service to public education.
Running concurrently with his career as an educator, John continued his career with the US Naval Reserve. He eventually earned the rank of Captain. He served as the Commanding Officer of the Naval Control and Shipping Organization Division at the Wilmington, NC based Reserve unit and attended the National War College. In addition, he was a highly successful and award-winning Blue and Gold officer as a recruiter for the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. He retired from the Navy in 1988 with more than 31 years of service.
John wasn’t done. He returned to the school system as a substitute teacher. When he was lucky, he was able to take longer-term substitute positions in the shop and teach a new generation of students to enjoy wood working. He later served a term on the school board and advocated for students and improved working conditions for teachers. He worked with the US Census in 1990 and advanced to a supervisory position. He would entertain the family with his stories of convincing hesitant people to assist him with an accurate count and his having to run from angry dogs and jump over or climb fences to escape. For his final getaway, he jumped space available flights to go on a final self-guided tour of Guam and South Korea.
John met Peggy June in the early 60’s and they were eventually married. Although their marriage didn’t last, they enjoyed decades of international travel, countless trips to Wrightsville Beach, the NC mountains, holidays with the family and participation in the Supper Club among many other adventures. John’s mantra to June was, “Service to thee is my guiding watchword”. June was a member of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Fayetteville and brought John into the Episcopal fold. John embraced his new church and served as an usher for decades until his health prevented his participation. Over the years, John would repair broken items at the church before other people recognized they were broken, took the lead in sawing up the fallen loblolly pines in the church yard after hurricanes and deliver his dry wit at church functions that often kept his audience guessing.
John was an accomplished wood worker and enjoyed making furniture that was attractive and functional. He was also the consummate problem solver and could fix anything. He had a knack for getting to the heart of any issue. He hosted numerous Lancaster family reunions at his home in Westwood and reveled in seeing his extended family members enjoy each other’s company. Neighbors knew a family event was in the works when the giant parachute was broken out and used as a colorful canopy in the back yard.
John dedicated his life to service. Service of God, country, family and community. He will be remembered as a dedicated and caring father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin, co-worker and member of American Legion Post 32. He was the caregiver for one of his brothers for decades and doted on his numerous grandchildren taking them swimming, horseback riding and on countless adventures. He worked hard all his life and did all he could to make sure others were comfortable and fed before he would consider himself. He loved his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and instilled that love in his sons.
John is preceded in death by his parents, his brothers, George Jr. (LaRue), Elwood (KIA Korea) (Josephine), James, and his sister, Clara Nissen (Hank). He is survived by his sons, Rev. John Lancaster, Jr. and wife Maria, Tim Lancaster and wife Amy, Colin Lancaster and wife Mandi, Jeffrey Butscher; grandchildren, John Lancaster, III, Victoria Lancaster, Cobi Lancaster, Brielle Lancaster, Caiti Lancaster, Ana Overby and husband David, Taylor Lancaster, Anton Lancaster, Nicholas Lancaster, Zachary Lancaster, Olivia Lancaster, Brigitte Butscher; great-grandson, Dallava; and a host of cousins, nieces, nephews and friends.
A celebration of his life will be held Tuesday, February 23, 2021 at 1 pm at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Burial will follow in Cumberland Memorial Gardens with military honors. The family will receive friends at Jernigan-Warren Funeral Home from 6-8 pm on Monday, February 22, 2021.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Holy Trinity Episcopal Church https://www.holytrinityfay.org/ or to a charity of one's choice.
Online condolences may be sent to http://www.jerniganwarren.com
Arrangements by Jernigan-Warren Funeral Home, 545 Ramsey St. Fayetteville, NC 28301.
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Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
1601 Raeford Rd., Fayetteville NC 28305