Church spent a decade as a newspaper manager, his profession, before helping to take over his family’s flower shop in 1972.
Before running for public office, Church was a firefighter for five years, a police dispatcher for a year and a member of Miamisburg’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board for 13 years. He also served on the committee that wrote the city charter in the 1960s.
Church’s 28-year tenure as mayor in the city began just after the announced closing of a top-secret defense research and nuclear production facility that was Miamisburg’s largest employer since opening in 1949.
“He pulled the region together to say, ‘We’ve got to fight this,’” Johnson said. “There’s something we’ve got to do to protect the Mound.”
That led to a yearslong battle with the Department of Energy that resulted in a $1.1 billion cleanup of the Mound Laboratories land, and Church leading the effort of redeveloping the property, the only former such U.S. site that’s home to a business park.
Church served as a member of multiple local, regional and national boards as mayor. At the time of his retirement, he chaired four Montgomery County committees: the Solid Waste District Policy Committee, Solid Waste Advisory Committee, Emergency Management Executive Committee and Regional Dispatch Policy Committee.
Johnson said Church loved not just Miamisburg, but the entire region.
“He was the region’s mayor,” he said. “I don’t know how many trips he made to Washington, not just on behalf of the city but on behalf of the region.”
Steve Stanley, former head of the Montgomery County Transportation Improvement District from 2001 to 2021, said, “if you look at the dictionary under the word ‘mayor’, his picture should be there.
“He is the epitome of a community-elected leader and we all have a great loss in his passing,” Stanley said.
Church was instrumental in having the Austin interchange approved and financed, he said. “The cooperative efforts of those local governments around the interchange down there were unprecedented and he was a major part of that.,” Stanley said.
Church also helped to transform Miamisburg, Johnson said. “When he took the reins as mayor, 90% of our downtown was vacant, and now almost 100% of its occupied,” he said.
Most people may know Church as the “marrying mayor,” and with good reason.
He performed 3,610 wedding ceremonies as mayor.
“I normally have about 120 weddings a year,” Church told the Dayton Daily News in 2012 when he married his 3,000th couple.
He wed a couple in a synchronized sunrise ceremony that took place at a park just as the suns rays appeared over the horizon and presided at the wedding of a local high school band teacher who had the drill team raise flags as the couple marched between the flags in the school parking lot. Another couple wore baseball uniforms and then hurried off after the wedding to a baseball game and one wedding was in a hospital room where a city employee with cancer wed months before his death.
The longtime Democrat valued friendships over political affiliations, Johnson said.
“Most people that know him around here know, but in the region, you’d probably guess this guy was a Republican, but he was a Democrat, one of the most conservative Democrats you’d ever meet.” he said. “He never looked at party lines.”
He spearheaded the effort to plan Miamisburg’s bicentennial, a 12-month celebration that exceeded its initial $250,000 private fundraising goal.
Over the decades, Church also, among other projects, worked to build the new Miamisburg High School in the city, expand Kettering Health Network’s footprint in town and complete a $69 million city water and sewer system overhaul.
Most recently, in 2020, Church took over as administrator for the Mound Development Corporation. The agency oversees the redevelopment of the former Mound Laboratory in Miamisburg, which was a top-secret federal government facility that produced nuclear weapons components during the nation’s Cold War era.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said he was “devastated” to learn of Church’s death.
“Mayor Church was a dedicated public servant who was instrumental in the success of the Mound site redevelopment and the transformation of the city of Miamisburg,” Turner said in a statement. “He will be greatly missed by myself and the entire community.”
State Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, said Church was “an institution” and “a mentor, role model, colleague and most of all, friend.”
Antani said Church swore him in to third grade student government and he shadowed the mayor for career day during his sophomore year of high school.
“When I first ran, the Democrats tried to recruit him to run against me; he declined, and cited our friendship for the reason,” he said in a statement. “Mayor Church fundamentally changed the face of Miamisburg for the better. I will miss him greatly.”
Staff Writer Nick Blizzard contributed to this report.