John Henry Hancock
1917 - 2001
John H. Hancock, an ordained minister was best known for his worldwide work with Seventh-day Adventist young people and his role in developing the Pathfinder organization as an alternative to the Boy and Girl Scout organizations. He was also known as the "man with the accordion," an instrument he played wherever he traveled.
John Hancock was born in Chico, California, on August 8, 1917, the son of George Henry and Anna Samson Hancock. His musical training included seven years of piano study; study on the piano Accordion, beginning at age fourteen, with Orlando Meni-Ketti; and music classes in high school and college. Years later he would study with world-renowned concert artist Anthony Galli-Rini.
In his earlier years he performed with numerous ensembles and was in demand as a solo performer of both classical and lighter music genres. Although his first interest and study was in classical and light classical music, he was known widely for his creative arrangements of familiar hymns and a style of playing featuring an active bass line in contrast to the more common chord style adopted by many players.
Hancock attended Pacific Union College, where he graduated with a degree in theology in 1939. He married Helen V. Lonberger while in college and upon graduating began a career as a minister in the Northern California Conference of SDA.
In 1946, he began work as youth director of the Southeastern California Conference, where, working with others, he helped develop the Pathfinder organization, as an alternate experience for Adventist youth similar to the Boy and Girl Scout organizations. During that formative year, he designed the Pathfinder Club emblem.
Within a decade, the club was officially endorsed by the leaders of the Adventist church and eventually became a worldwide organization involving thousands of young people. After serving as youth director in the Lake Union and North Pacific Union conferences, he became world Pathfinder leader in 1963. Seven years later, he became World Youth Leader, a position he held until he retired in 1980.
Throughout his ministry to the young he used his talent as an accordionist wherever he talked and served. He believed that his playing of his custom-made instrument was especially effective in reaching congregations and gatherings of the young around the world because, as he would often observe, "It does not need to be translated."
While serving in Southern California, Hancock recorded his only album, John Hancock and His Piano-Accordion, which was released by Chapel Records in 1964. In his retirement years, he authored The Pathfinder Story, first printed in 1994 and subsequently revised and reprinted in 2003 and 2004.
Following the sudden death of Helen on July 13, 1990, after 52 years of marriage, he married Charlotte "Lollie" Keller in 1991. They were residing in Southern California at the time of his death on February 22, 2001, at age 83.
Sources: 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Social Security Records, and John H. Hancock Family Tree – all at Ancestry.com; Record Liner, John Hancock and His Piano-Accordion, Chapel Records, 1964; John H. Hancock, The Pathfinder Story, (Introductory biography), 6, 7, 51, AdventSource.org