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July 14, 2016

Chris and Betty Christ: Quiet Battle Creek Leaders for Decades

Chris and Betty Christ: Quiet Battle Creek Leaders for Decades

By jim richmond

Battle Creek’s history of the past six decades is replete with well-known names of people who’ve stepped up, spoken out, or provided funds for efforts to make this a better community.  But there are few – perhaps none – who have done more for Battle Creek, in their quiet way, and sought less personally in return, than one couple:  Chris and Betty Christ.

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Chris, the son of Greek immigrants and who could not speak English until age 5, now 87, is considered by many as the dean of attorneys who specialize locally in corporate, probate and trust administration, as a partner and one of the owners of the law firm of Vandervoort, Christ & Fisher.

Wife Betty, talks about raising their four children, Kristi, John, and Scott and the tragic loss of their daughter Teri at age 21 in a car accident, a loss as fresh today, for both parents, as it was that day it happened in 1983.

They are quiet, soft spoken, direct and unpretentious people, with fine-tuned listening skills that reflect their approach to life and civic service.  (They’ve lived in the same home for 55 years.)

“My Mom instilled in us three life principles,” Chris said during a recent interview, “We were Americans – first -- with Greek heritage.  We needed to develop a relationship with God to be productive and live a happy life.  And, three, we had a responsibility to help other people.”

Chris worked as a youth in his dad’s business, the Holsum Bread Company near the corner of Porter Street and East Michigan Avenue, and grew up in the area. 

He attended Battle Creek Schools and later Culver Military Academy in Indiana, which had a great influence on his life. Betty graduated from Lakeview Schools and Western Michigan University.  Chris finished his undergraduate degree at Albion College.

Chris had just graduated from law school at the University of Michigan, when he met Betty on a blind date.  They were engaged in 6 weeks and married within a year.

“We went to the Hart Hotel for lunch on our first date,” Betty recalled, with a laugh.  “I was shy.  But we were so taken with each other. ”

Chris started his law career working with Creighton and (later Michigan Supreme Court Judge) Mary Coleman, before branching out into private practice.  He refers to the Colemans simply as “my inspiration.”

Over all the decades, Chris Christ has been one of the “go to” civic leaders for leadership and problem solving.

He recalled spending countless hours with other civic leaders and constituent interests to resolve the differences and difficulties that finally lead to the merger of Community and Leila hospitals – a decision that has improved the quality of health care over time in Battle Creek.

And while Christ’s name was rarely mentioned in the newspapers, other civic leaders were watching his people and problem solving skills.

“Chris was the first person I thought of, when we started considering adding more local people to the Kellogg Foundation Board,” noted retired Foundation CEO and Chairman Dr. Russ Mawby, in a recent telephone interview.  “Chris is a wonderful man, with good listening and problem solving skills.  And most of all, he has always really cared about people.”

Chris would go on to serve 19 years on the Kellogg Foundation board, and also on the Board of Trustees of the Elizabeth and Guido Binda Foundation, and as trustee and Chairman of the Battle Creek Community Foundation.

Betty said she used early volunteer and leadership experiences with the Battle Creek Junior League to become involved in development and services of the SAFE Place Domestic Violence Shelter, Nursing Clinic, Volunteer Bureau, Family Y Center, Sexual Assault Services, and with the Lakeview Schools Educational Foundation.

Betty and Chris have also found themselves called upon to work as a “team” for civic projects.

“I never wanted to be out front on projects, but that was hard not to do, being married to Chris,” Betty added with a wry smile.

They first chaired a United Arts Council Campaign.  And then were approached to co-chair what they consider their most valuable and challenging civic leadership project:  developing the North Pointe Woods senior living community, now located on a scenic rise overlooking North Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue in Battle Creek. 

“What we learned beforehand is many seniors were going to Kalamazoo to live in assisted communities -- away from their families, their friends, their social groups, their churches – because we didn’t have a quality  independent and assisted living facility for seniors right here in Battle Creek,” Betty said.

Development of North Pointe Woods solved that problem.  And today it is one of a number of similar options for area seniors in need, but remains the only such facility on the northside of Battle Creek.

From their childhoods, religion continues as an important, central part, of the Christs’ life.  They have been members of First Congregational Church for more than 50 years.

In January 1977, the Church asked Chis to give a lay sermon one Sunday.  Two excerpts from that sermon sum up Chris and Betty Christ’s 60-plus years of service and leadership in Battle Creek.

Christ told the congregation that day:

“Problems are unique only in the sense that it is ‘me’ and not ‘you’ … in sharing our problems, we develop an awareness that helps us put the problem in perspective and thus makes it easier to resolve… I realized it is just as important , just as workable and really more attainable, to work within my limitations and perhaps within my talents and just try to do something meaningful with my life every day – nothing spectacular, nothing earth-shaking, but maybe helpful to those who sought my counsel.”

Meaningful lives. 

Helping other people.  

Reflecting on the Christs’ decades of contributions to Battle Creek, might answer the question:

“What better life and legacy can one lead and leave?”

Comments

I'm inspired by the quiet and ongoing influence embodied by Chris and his lovely wife. Somehow this model of purposeful living must be passed forward to more than a few. Conceivably a community that cares about improving and maintaining a quality domain will continue to thrive and grow. This form of culture is one to support and promote.

Posted by: Charles Rose | July 27, 2016

Such wonderful people, neighbors and family friends! Wishing you all the very best always!!

Posted by: Marcia Martinovich Leonard | July 27, 2016

I fondly remember the Christ family as one of the 'founding' members of the family of Kirkpatrick knolls. Chris has been our family lawyer for over 50 years. Respect is an understatement as to how the Vegis children feel for this amazing couple. We wish them all the best and our love.

Posted by: Vicki Vegis | July 28, 2016

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