John Bass

Former CBA Executive Director John Bass passed away Nov. 5 at age 91.

Bass led CBA from 1965-1985, and is credited with visionary thinking that grew the association from 800 member stores to more than 3,200 members, as well as forging the path for technology implementation that would result in the POS and e-commerce systems used today. During his leadership, he expanded workshops and the education program, transformed the association newsletter to the Bookstore Journal trade magazine, developed the vision for international CBA chapters, and added winter caravan shows, which eventually became regional conventions.

“The growth in CBA took place because of grassroots efforts between my dad and some of his board members who viewed the association not only from a business standpoint, but from a ministry standpoint as well,” reflects John Bass, Jr.

Bass succeeded CBA’s first president, Bill Moore, a Chicago bookseller who went to work for Ken Taylor, then Moody Press director and later founder of Tyndale House Publishers. The men saw a need for training and development support for Christian booksellers who knew ministry but not business.

With connections back to evangelist Dwight L. Moody, the Moody Bible Institute was the foundational leader for the formation of CBA postwar World War II to spread the Gospel message through a network of local bookstores. The association grew out of Moody’s Bible Institute Colportage Association formed in 1894 to promote inexpensive Christian books. By the time it became Moody Publishers in 1941, it produced nearly 34 million copies of sermons, Bible teaching, and doctrinal books, leading to CBA’s formation in 1950.

A member of what has been called “The Greatest Generation,” Bass Sr. served in the United States Navy during WWII, and he never lost his penchant for service. He had a heart for the purpose of Christian retail and believed strongly in the mission, stating, “Christian bookselling is one of the most enviable ministries and business opportunities that can be found anywhere. From the ministry viewpoint, who is in a better position to offer hope to a troubled world than Christian booksellers, who can offer the printed message of the Prince of Peace?” (from His Time, His Way: The CBA Story: 1950-1999).

Bass also served as executive director and as a board member of Crowell Trust since November 1981, resigning his position as trustee in 2013. Henry Parsons Crowell, founder of Quaker Oats, founded the Trust in 1927. Crowell was chairman of Moody Bible Institute’s board of directors when he had a vision of creating perpetual funding dedicated to the teaching and active extension of Evangelical Christianity.

Former CBA President Bill Anderson (1985-2009), who had previously worked at Moody Press, said, “John took CBA from start-up mode to a very influential organization that served the entire industry—retailers in particular, but being very inclusive of suppliers, publishers, music companies, and gift companies.”

Anderson reflects on the legacy that had been passed on to him when he assumed CBA leadership from Bass in 1985. “Some people have a very wide sphere of influence, and some have a very deep one, but John is one of those rare individuals whose sphere of influence is both deep and wide,” he said.

Other industry leaders offered their condolences and tribute.

“John was a stalwart in the world of Christian retailing. He led CBA through many years, going back to the very early years of the industry. All Christian publishers and retailers owe him a debt of gratitude for his leadership,” said Mark Taylor, chairman/CEO of Tyndale House Publishers.

Bob Hawkins, president of Harvest House Publishers said, “John Bass was an amazing leader for the Christian Booksellers Association in the glory days of Christian retail. Though I did not personally know him well, I know my folks, Bob and Shirley Hawkins, loved both John and his wife Betty very much. I well remember John’s strong presence and voice for the Association back in the 1980’s at CBA conventions when he would share the vision of the Association with resolve and passion.  He was loved and deeply respected by so many and will be greatly missed by those whom he led and whose lives he affected.”

“John was a great leader and dear friend,” said Parable Group President Steve Potratz. “He always had time for people and took deep personal interest in them. I remember in 1971, when I was managing Biola College Bookstore, I had this crazy idea to start an association under the umbrella of CBA for Christian College and Seminary bookstores. John went out of his way to help me—a 21-year-old kid without any experience. I’ll never forget his care, his interest in me, and the time he gave me. Because of his support we had excellent attendance at our first meeting and accomplished much for the Kingdom. I will always appreciate John’s heart for God, our industry, and the people in it. He will be deeply missed.”

CBA President Curtis Riskey said, “CBA is indebted to John Bass for his vision for the Christian products industry and his willingness to sacrifice much for a then fledging industry that now reaches around the world with Christian resources that support and teach the Gospel. My memory of John is of a man who could light up a room and make everyone in his presence feel special. I am grateful to have known John Bass and for his leadership of CBA. He will be missed.”

During a 2016 Christian MARKET interview, Bass reflected on his years at CBA: “The concepts and innovations that take place [today] are completely different than I had experienced. The thing I know is that it wasn’t John Bass who succeeded but rather it was a group of wonderfully moral people who were sensitive to the needs of the industry. That’s why CBA became what it did.”

A celebration of Bass’ life will be held Nov. 10 at the First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado at 10:00 a.m., with a lunch buffet to follow. Private inurnment will follow at a later date.

John’s faith and dedication to the Lord were paramount to him. In lieu of flowers, please consider a memorial contribution to the First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs in which he served as a Deacon, Elder and Trustee or the Pikes Peak Hospice Foundation.

Received from Les Stobbe, Literary Agent:
At Kenneth Taylor’s urging, John Bass in 1960 invited me to fly to Moody from British Columbia to interview for four positions–and as a result I was appointed Selling Floor Supervisor of the Moody Bookstore at the Institute. I had been buying books for a Christian bookstore in Winnipeg, Canada, for four years, so it was a natural place for me. When my car, towing a trailer, broke down 500 miles north of Chicago, John sent a young man with a car with a trailer hitch to tow the trailer to the Institute. John had a fund that loaned money to employees–and I was able to buy a replacement car with it. He became a warm friend, so when I left as editor of Christian Bookseller Magazine to help a Canadian friend and John became Executive Director of CBA he asked if i was interested in coming back to Chicago to help with the new magazine. Four years later I came back as editorial director of Moody Press and renewed our friendship through our CBA contacts. Everything being said about him is true–a genuine servant of Jesus Christ who put service above self.
Received from Jack and Ruth Ann Savage:
John and Betty Bass have been close friends for many years through the Christian Booksellers Association. We became friends, when Jack served on the CBA board and then became Chairman. John was a man of great wisdom, especially on financial matters. He has been a mentor to us and many others in the industry. He and Betty stayed in our home and helped us to rearrange our store. We traveled with them to China and Jack and John taught workshops together in Mexico. John was a great booster of independent Christian bookstores. We appreciate all that he did for our industry. We treasure his friendship and look forward to a great reunion day.
Received from Tim Brown, New Zealand:
John Bass Sr. vision reached far beyond the United States. For a number of years there was a division of CBA called CBLI which existed to help international Christian booksellers, John was very involved with this, it had a scholarship program for international retailers to be trained in the United States. The impact of Johns work and faithfulness to God, his heart for ministry and extending Gods Kingdom, his kindness and love for people, his wise advice and sharp business skills has had an extensive impact around the world and still continues to in the lives of many he encouraged in their ministries and in the work of those who were trained in the scholarship program. One year in the 1990’s I had the privilege of spending six months working in CBA stores around the United States on the program. The training was a mentoring approach that also included courses. It was a real blessing, I found such industry specific training extremely helpful and I also enjoyed meeting and working with so many wonderful people around the United States.
John and Betty’s hospitality to CBA contacts from around the world was very special. I stayed with them in their home in Colorado Springs for several days on two occasions. Their hospitality was lovely, I distinctly remember their warm kindness, their attention to detail and their deep love for each other.
Received from Bob L. Ross, Exhibitor from 1969 – 2003:
We found him to be a wonderful Christian and a great leader of the CBA.
Received from Miss Judith E. White:
Deepest Sympathy over the passing of Dear Friend John Bass, so many memories of John, his ministry and leadership during my 30 years in the Industry. Please convey my prayers for comfort to his family. He was an encourager, faithful and diligent in all his endeavors. Heaven is Rejoicing. Judith White, Bookseller, Sales and Marketing Zondervan, Sales and Marketing Thomas Nelson/Word.