Retirement Housing Foundation Stalwart Trnka dies at 90

The Rev. John Edward Trnka Sr., D.Min., age 90, of Newburgh, Ind., passed quietly from this life on Saturday, June 13, 2020, at his home, surrounded by his family.

Trnka was known as many things: Reverend, Doctor, Air Force officer, Chaplain, mentor, friend, Diplomate, Chairman of the Board, Shriner, (Moolah, St Louis) Cardinals fan, Disney-lover, boater, John Deere man, and even “Heavenly Navigator” (Evansville Courier & Press). But anyone who knew John knew he was most proud of his roles as husband, father, and grandfather. No one ever loved his family more, nor took more joy in being with as many of the family as he could gather together.

Trnka was born Oct. 19, 1929, in Chicago, Ill., to the late Arthur and Lillian (Jesse) Trnka. After a childhood of sandlot baseball, John graduated from Harper High School, UCC-related Elmhurst (Ill.) College and Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Mo. At Eden, he earned MST and D.Min. degrees. In 1955, he was ordained into Christian ministry by the Evangelical and Reformed Church, a predecessor body of the United Church of Christ (UCC).

In a ministry of almost 60 years, Trnka served Faith Church in Collinsville, Ill.; Hope UCC in St Louis; St. Mark’s UCC in New Albany, Ind.; and St. Paul’s UCC in Belleville, Ill. Along the way, he also spent time at the UCC Stewardship Council, then in Philadelphia. After he “retired” from St. Paul’s, Trnka continued in ministry as an interim pastor 14 times, with eight congregations in the Evansville, Ind., area, Jasper, Ind., and Mt. Vernon, Ind.

Trnka saw pastoral counseling as an important part of his ministry, and trained for that path beginning in the late 1960s. Working with the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, first as Fellow, and later, Diplomate, Trnka guided and mentored pastoral counselors in the St Louis, Evansville and Louisville areas.

Beginning in 1983, Trnka embarked on one of the most meaningful parts of his working life when he joined the board of directors of UCC-related Retirement Housing Foundation (RHF), in Long Beach, Calif. For more than 30 years, Trnka helped guide the CHHSM ministry in its mission to “provide affordable housing for low-income families and persons with disabilities.” During his time on RHF’s board of directors, including twice as chair, RHF grew to serve more than 22,500 residents in 197 facilities around the United States. Many of those residents have a roof over their heads, and good meals, only because of RHF and its mission of service.

Trnka also served his community on the boards of organizations as diverse as Elmhurst College, Belleville’s YMCA, and Evansville’s Good Samaritan Home.

Trnka leaves behind his beloved (a word not nearly strong enough) wife of 64 years, Shirley (Elmore); daughter Debbie Cochran (Dr. Brent); their children Casey, Patrick and Christy Lustro (Dave); son Colonel John Trnka Jr. (Nancy); their daughter, Emily; sisters Arlene Armstrong and Judy Lange; sister-in-law Bernice Sperino; many nieces, nephews, grand-nieces, and nephews; and not just many friends, but rather a very, very large extended family.

Visitation and a Celebration of Life will be held June 20 at Boone Funeral Home East Chapel in Evansville, Ind., and interment will take place June 22 at St. John Cemetery in Collinsville, Ill. The visitation, also to be held at Boone, will include Trnka’s John Deere tractor — which he loved to ride as he mowed the family’s seven acres of lawn — with a photo of Trnka riding the tractor on its seat.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Retirement Housing Foundation, 911 North Studebaker Road, Long Beach, CA 90815. Condolences may be made to the family online.

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