Farming Rural 04

John Ronald Brake

January 22, 1932 ~ August 6, 2019 (age 87)



John Ronald Brake formerly of East Lansing, Michigan and Ithaca, New York; more recently a snowbird living in Edmore, Michigan and Ellenton, Florida passed away on August 6, 2019 at The University of Michigan Metro Health Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the age of 87 years. 

John was born January 22, 1932 in Stanton, Michigan to D. Hale Brake and Marjorie Valentine Brake, the third of four sons who all preceded him in death.  While growing up in Stanton, John worked on the family farms, developing an interest in the business of farming.  An avid sports enthusiast, he was stricken with polio at the age of fourteen and spent nearly a year recovering at a Lansing hospital.  Although he regained the ability to walk without assistance, he would never run again and began following sports from the sidelines as Sports Reporter for the local paper.  He graduated Valedictorian from Stanton High School in 1951 and married his high school sweetheart, Betty Jane Neitzel, in 1952.  Together they raised their four daughters, instilling their own values for integrity, hard work, compassion and higher education. 

John attended Michigan State University and received a degree in Agricultural Economics, graduating Phi Beta Kappa.  He went on to receive his PhD in Agricultural Economics from North Carolina State University in 1959, returning to MSU that same year as an assistant professor and later as a full professor until 1981.  While at MSU John continued to make the drive with his family back and forth to Stanton to work his dad’s farms nearly every weekend.  In 1981, from a nation-wide search, John was selected for the William I Myers Endowed Professorship in Agricultural Finance at Cornell University which he accepted, moving his family to Ithaca, New York where he remained until his retirement (sixteen years later).  After retirement, John and Betty spent time visiting with children and grandchildren.  He was an avid New York Yankees fan and never missed an opportunity to watch MSU Spartan football or basketball. 

Over the course of his career he published numerous articles, staff papers and books.  Additionally, he served as an advisor and consultant to the Farm Credit Administration, gave dozens of speeches and numerous workshops for family farmers.  He also took sabbaticals to work with the Brookings Institute in Washington, DC, the US Department of Agriculture, the University of Guelph and Purdue University.  His work took him to Argentina, South America, South Korea and the Philippines. 

John was a loving husband to Betty for 66 years.  A father, son, brother, uncle and friend who was a scholar, but also humble, caring and kind.  He would drive an extra three miles to save a penny on gas, but he would willingly give the shirt off his back to someone in need.  He will be terribly missed by those who knew and loved him.  He was preceded in death by his wife, Betty, who passed away on July 28, 2019, just nine days earlier.  They are survived by their daughters Susan (Ray) Mentzer of Corvallis, Oregon, Catherine (Jeff) Small of Locke, New York, Jan (Tom) Santerre of Batesville, Indiana and Elisa (Mark) Malestein of Kentwood, Michigan.  Additionally, nine grandchildren and four great grandchildren. 

A Celebration of Life will be held for both Betty and John Brake at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Sunday September 15, 2019 from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.  Our guests may enjoy the gardens and park between the hours of 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in tribute to Betty and John Brake at  If you would like the Brake family to be notified of your donation, please reference

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Celebration of Life
September 15, 2019

1:00 PM
Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
1000 East Beltline Ave NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525


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