Branch, Charles (Chuck) Otis
Charles (Chuck) Otis Branch was born on December 22, 1923, the third of 5 children to Agnes and William Branch. Chuck grew up in the warmth of his close family in a modest brownstone in the Chicago Woodlawn community. Wise but always humble, he will be remembered by so many for his loving, compassionate, and generous spirit. Chuck attended McCosh Elementary and graduated from Englewood High School in 1942. Eager to join his brothers in service to his country, Chuck had no qualms answering the call and was drafted into the United States Army in 1943. In 1944, Chuck's platoon stormed the beaches of Normandy along with thousands of other troops. He valiantly fought during the horrific battle that doomed many before they even reached the shore. Chuck realized Christ spared his life when he discovered an unexploded bomb lying next to the foxhole where he sought shelter one night. Later that morning, he was baptized in the same foxhole. Shortly after returning home from the war, Chuck met and married Ramona Thompson of the Lilydale Community on Chicago's far south side. He was employed by the US Postal Service as a clerk/timekeeper and became inspired to participate in Discipleship from his co-worker/friend Andy Davis'; mentorship. Chuck frequently spoke of his decision to change his life and pursue his passion for following God. His love for Christ led him to become a volunteer with the church's prison ministry and complete his ministerial studies at Moody Bible Institute. Chuck and Ramona were blessed with seven children and several foster children. From 1958 – 1998, he and Ramona lovingly raised their children and several grandchildren. Their Chicago home was filled with music, parties, sleepovers, bible studies, weddings, billiards, ping-pong, and Chuck's favorite card games, pinochle, and poker. He and Ramona built a home filled with love where everyone was welcome. Aware of the importance of family history, Chuck and Ramona captured many moments on film – a treasure that continues to provide immense joy to the family. At 55, Chuck retired from the post office to pursue higher education and Christian prison ministry goals. He completed his bachelor's and master's degrees in Correctional Counseling at Chicago State University. He was employed by Lutheran Social Services as the full-time protestant chaplain at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois. One of his significant accomplishments involved quelling a prison riot where inmates overpowered the guards and held four guards and four inmates as hostages. The inmates would only negotiate with Chuck who, after many perilous hours, successfully ended the stand-off without any casualties. In 2003, then-governor George Ryan, declared a moratorium on executions in the state of Illinois. The Medill Innocence Project, led by Northwestern University professor David Protess, was instrumental in exonerating at least 12 wrongly convicted defendants and freeing them from prison, including five who were on death row in Illinois. Chuck collaborated very closely with David Protess on this project and was grateful that the unjust and barbaric practice of prisoner execution would now be a thing of the past. In 1987, after retiring from Christian Prison ministry, Chuck received an invitation to help a new church just getting off the ground in Bolingbrook. After consulting with Ramona and reflecting through prayer, Chuck accepted the offer and became the Senior Pastor of New Hope Baptist Church. He and Ramona then moved to Bolingbrook, finding a home close to the church. At the time, New Hope Baptist Church had a small but very dedicated group of parishioners. Under Chuck's guidance, New Hope Baptist Church became the fastest growing church in the Midwest Baptist conference. The church served its congregation and opened the doors to anyone in need of social support. In full retirement since 1998, Chuck continued to minister to inmates and others that were previously incarcerated, officiate weddings and funerals, and serve as an upstanding community member and positive role model for his entire family. Chuck loved to play pinochle, read, and he faithfully completed the daily Tribune crossword puzzle. He was known to humbly best the TV folks on Jeopardy and occasionally take in his favorite movies – gangster flicks. In November 2012, Mayor Claar awarded Chuck a key to the city for his many contributions to this community. During this last year, Chuck marked several important milestones. In April, Chuck and Ramona happily celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary. On December 22, Chuck celebrated his 97th birthday. This past Thanksgiving Day, Chuck spoke on a family Zoom call about all for which he was grateful. "I know I'm not at the peak of health, but we are not made to stay here forever, and I'm so far ahead of the game. So, whatever happens in the next few weeks or months, I thank the Lord." Chuck's parents, siblings and daughter, Lynn, preceded him in death. Chuck leaves behind his loving wife Ramona, children Patricia (Marvin), Harold (Patricia), Ronald, Lora (Simone), Carl (Howard), Lana (Bekime), 20 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.
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Published by Chicago Sun-Times on Jan. 3, 2021.