June 5, 1914 – January 12, 2015
Born in Wessington Springs, South Dakota, Leona Kaelke came to faith at a young age. She graduated with a two year degree from Central Christian College of Kansas, McPherson, Kansas in 1933.
In 1937 Leona married Verl Bownes, a farmer. Four years later, she was a widow with a small son, Thomas, to care for. She moved to Winona Lake, IN, where she was in charge of the book department of the FM Publishing House until 1948. Leona applied for missionary service and was appointed to Asia/China. At the suggestion of the Missionary Board, Leona went to Seattle Pacific University (SPU) for two years to study Mandarin.
Then, before Leona could leave for her ministry assignment, the doors to China closed. She stayed in Seattle to complete a bachelor’s degree in education, graduating in 1950. Leona was transferred to Mexican missions. She taught at Light and Life Day School in Los Angeles, CA. This school, later known as the East Los Angeles School, was open for more than 60 years. Leona also assisted in the Mexican church and Sunday school work. She enjoyed working among the Spanish speaking community.
Leona returned to SPU, earning a master’s degree in education in 1962. She then taught in the missions department of SPU’s School of Religion. Her knowledge of Free Methodist missions deepened when she taught a term at Light and Life Bible College in Butuan City, Philippines.
In 1967 Leona married Seattle business man Howard Fear. They moved to Indiana in 1970 where Leona began working in the missions office as a writer. In 1974 she was elected to a four year term as president of what is now known as Women’s Ministries International. During her term Leona visited countries in Central and Southern Africa, Egypt, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Brazil, as well as many of the North American annual conferences for women’s retreats and workshops. Leona authored New Ventures, a book covering Free Methodist missions work from 1960 to 1979 – a time in the church’s history when the number of Free Methodists living outside the U.S. and Canada reached more than those living in North America. She retired in 1979.
Leona’s Colleagues Write
Evelyn Mottweiler, who followed Leona as Women’s Ministries President, remembers Leona’s closing challenge as she retired from office was for the organization “to retain their purposes and to have the courage to change what needed to be changed in order to meet the challenges of the present and for God to grant wisdom to know the difference.” Evelyn described Leona as “always gracious. The Proverbs 31 woman is said to be noble. Leona exhibited this description with strength and dignity.”
Colleague Henry Church first knew Leona Bownes at Seattle Pacific University. “She was my missions teacher, and we later worked together in the missions office in Winona Lake. Leona was a dear friend, a good teacher and a highly respected fellow worker. Even at age 100 and with poor vision, Leona remembered me, and we had a wonderful visit. Leona was a great lady. She will be missed.”
Current Women’s Ministries President LaWanda Bullock writes, “Leona Kaelke Bownes Fear was an amazing woman of God, serving the Lord as wife, friend, missionary, president of Woman’s Missionary Society (now Women’s Ministries International), author, soul winner and encourager as she empowered and supported women especially. What a grand reunion she must now be having in Heaven! Thank you Leona for all you did for Christ’s Kingdom and others; your heartfelt work is appreciated by women around the world; you are greatly missed.”