No, they weren’t two of the four Cartwright men whose adventures on the Ponderosa were watched so faithfully decades ago. But these two men — Ben and Joe — were stalwarts in their own rights.

To my knowledge, they never met but shared much in common — including my deep admiration. 

Ben Gross died July 19 at age 93. He was a very longtime member of the First Baptist Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where his memorial service was held on August 7. 

He taught chemistry at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for 34 years, heading the department from 1964-1990. In retirement, he filled volunteer roles inside and outside of the church. 

His concern for others was deep — and expressed through the giving of his time and resources. He could be found driving nails at a Habitat for Humanity worksite or wherever volunteers were needed.

Ben served on a board that played a key role in the renaissance of Chattanooga from its earlier polluted state to an environmentally friendly and energized downtown that has been a model for many cities.

“The air we breathe, the water we share and the reputation we enjoy are due in no small part to the mind and heart of our gentle Ben,” said his pastor, Thomas Quisenberry, during the memorial service. 

That generosity extended to my own work as Ben served on the Board of Directors of Baptists Today/Nurturing Faith (now part of Good Faith Media). Videography was a favored hobby that he did well. 

I’m grateful for the well-edited recordings he did at various sites in and around Chattanooga — as well as my interview at one board meeting with trailblazing hiker Gene Espy.  

His wife of 59 years, Helen, is equally kind, thoughtful, and generous. She and their two sons and other family are in my prayers as we continue to honor Ben’s long, impactful and meaningful life. 

Joe Jones died July 29 at age 92. He and his wife Frances were married for 69 years.

His service was held August 2 at the First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama, where he served in multiple lay leadership roles.

He too was a Baptist layman who understood the roots of that faith tradition and advanced cherished freedom of conscience and religious liberty at every opportunity. 

A founding leader of state organizations including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Mainstream Baptists in Alabama, he took on the role of chief communicator.

Joe had ink in his blood from working early on in his career in various newspaper roles. 

He was hired by NASA and became the first employee of the Marshall Center Public Affairs Office. He was news chief for 14 years before being named director of public relations. 

His work included preparing press kits and working with national and international media during numerous manned space flights beginning in 1961. His work took him to 25 countries.

Therefore, he appreciated and affirmed those of us seeking to tell the stories of faith and freedom. His support was something I could count on anytime we were together or when he would call.

He and his family took to dirt as well — creating a plant nursery business. In 2004, he told his life story in a book titled, My Times: Boxwoods Among the Rockets

Joe also wrote some church and local histories. He was at his core an effective storyteller of the people, places, and priorities he held dear. 

“Uncle Joe cut his teeth on grueling hard work at the loving hands of a father who was a teacher, principal, administrator, legislator and farmer,” said his nephew, Les Jones, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Heflin, Alabama.

He added that learning those skills shaped Joe’s own formation as a communicator and “a champion for Baptist freedom.”

Ben and Joe are among a generation of lay leaders who saddled up at times when their influence was most needed. They cared deeply for their families, their communities, and their families of faith.

And they exhibited deep compassion for those whose lives could benefit from care, support, and a helping hand. 

Those old enough (or attuned to reruns) will recognize my Cartwrights reference comes from the long-running (1959-1973) TV western “Bonanza” that often tackled social issues of the time. 

The patriarch Ben Cartwright once said to his adult sons: “I don’t have anything against education as long as it doesn’t interfere with your thinking.”

Ben Gross and Joe Jones showed how brains and hearts and hands can all work well together.

Rest in peace, good servants of God and humanity.

Share This