Artence Turnipseed still loves telling the story of her courtship with her husband, John Turnipseed, an executive vice president at Urban Ventures who died last month at 68.
It was six years ago. Her daughter, a pastor, introduced the two at her church. The charismatic, confident man who always dressed to the nines and always wore a giant smile told her what was going to happen: "I'm going to court you," he told her; the old-fashioned chivalry made her swoon. Then: "I'm going to marry you, and I'm going to buy you a house." They didn't want to move into their Brooklyn Center house until they were officially married. The day they moved their furniture, they called over Artence's daughter, Carmen Lewis. She married them right then and there at the dining room table.
By the time they married, John Turnipseed had long since been redeemed: A 10-time felon who found God and turned his life around, leading Urban Ventures' Center on Fathering and mentoring hundreds of men to become better fathers. He was an author and a speaker who wrote a fathering curriculum widely used in the prison system and who regularly mentored prisoners.
His story was an inspiration for wayward fathers: He was the oldest in a family of nine children who moved from Alabama to south Minneapolis when he was in grade school. His father was his "boogeyman" who introduced pimps and drugs and abuse to the household. Perhaps inevitably, Turnipseed drifted toward crime himself: Gang stuff, stealing stuff, getting sent to the juvenile correctional facility in Red Wing then to prison in Stillwater.
The pre-redemption Turnipseed might have followed the same path as his father. In a TEDx talk he gave a decade ago titled "Fix the Damn Roof!," Turnipseed told of 10 family members convicted of first-degree murder: "There was one thing each and every one of them had in common: The roof was broken! There was no daddy there ... The roof in a child's life is his father. The father protects them."
Turnipseed turned his life around through faith and through the encouragement of a few life-changing mentors. And for the final several decades of his life, that became Turnipseed's mission: To help wayward or absentee fathers fix themselves and their families.
"It's a classic redemption story," said Dave Hawn, president and CEO of Urban Ventures. "He'd say it: He was a bad guy and did some bad things. But later he worked with guys off the streets, in the classroom, one on one, in coffee shops — wherever he could go, he'd go and try to inspire. He saw the biggest problem facing our society is fathers' absence. He wanted to play as big a role as he could in inspiring men to accept responsibility and step up."
Even as John Turnipseed's congestive heart failure progressed, he and Artence traveled the world together, often for his speaking engagements: Kenya, Amsterdam, Cuba. His wife never tired of hearing him tell his redemption story of Jesus Christ making him a better man and father.
"Didn't turn back, didn't look back, didn't flounder," Artence said. "He was consistently a changed man wherever he went. That was his platform: reformation."
Turnipseed is survived by his wife, six children, four step-children, six siblings, 38 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. Services were held this month.
"John Turnipseed didn't just talk the talk — he walked the walk," Artence Turnipseed said. "If he helped you, he'd see you all the way through ... This city has lost a great man."