After graduating from high school in January 1937, I enrolled at Iowa State University, near where we lived in the midwestern United States. Going to classes and working to pay for my tuition left me little time for anything else. Studying tall buildings and suspension bridges had been my focus in life from my youth.
Early in 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II, I was in my fifth year of college and was just months away from receiving my bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering. I was living in a home with two roommates. One suggested that I talk with the person who “visits the boys downstairs.” There I met John O. (Johnny) Brehmer, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was amazed at how he could find the Bible’s answer to seemingly any question. Impressed, I began to study the Bible with Johnny regularly and eventually to accompany him in his preaching work whenever I could.
Johnny’s father, Otto, had become a Witness while he was the president of a bank in Walnut, Iowa. Otto gave up that position to enter the full-time ministry. In time, his fine example, as well as that of his family, encouraged me to make a vital decision.
TIME FOR DECISION
One day, the dean of the university told me that my grades were slipping and that I could not graduate on my past merits. I remember praying fervently to Jehovah God, asking him to give me direction. Soon afterward, I was called to a meeting with my engineering professor. He told me that he had received a request for an engineer and had taken the liberty to answer the telegram and say that I would accept the position. I thanked the professor but explained why I was determined to make service to Jehovah my career. On June 17, 1942, I was baptized and was almost immediately appointed to serve as a pioneer, as full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called.
Later in 1942, I received a draft notice for military service and found myself before the draft board, explaining why I could not conscientiously share in the war. I produced affidavits from college professors who wrote regarding my good character and exceptional skills as a structural engineer. Despite such positive testimonies, however, I was eventually fined $10,000 (U.S.) and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment at the U.S. penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas.
MY LIFE IN PRISON
More than 230 young Witnesses had been sentenced to the Leavenworth trustee farm, a facility of the Leavenworth federal prison. This was a farm where we received work assignments under the oversight of several guards. Some of them knew about our Christian neutrality and were favorable toward our views.
A few guards cooperated with our efforts to continue our routine of holding Bible meetings. They also helped us to get Bible literature into the prison. The prison warden even subscribed to the Consolation (now Awake!) magazine!
MY RELEASE, AND MISSIONARY SERVICE
After serving three years of my five-year sentence, I was released on February 16, 1946, a few months after World War II ended. Immediately, I took up the full-time ministry again as a pioneer. My assignment was to return to the city of Leavenworth, Kansas. I dreaded the idea because prejudice against Jehovah’s Witnesses ran high there. Getting a job to support myself was difficult, and finding a place to live even more so.
I remember a guard I met who shouted, “Get off my property!” When I saw the baseball bat in his hand, I gulped and quickly left. At another house, a woman said, “Wait just a minute,” and she shut the door. I waited until suddenly an upstairs window opened and a cascade of dirty dishwater drenched me. Still, my ministry had its blessings. Later I learned that some who took Bible literature from me became Witnesses.
In 1943 a new school for missionaries was established in upstate New York. I was invited to attend, and I graduated from its tenth class on February 8, 1948. The school came to be called the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. Upon graduation I received an assignment to the Gold Coast, now known as Ghana.
When I arrived in the Gold Coast, my assignment was to preach to government officials and Europeans. On weekends I worked with a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and assisted its members in the house-to-house ministry. I also visited places where isolated Witnesses were located and trained them in the ministry. In addition, I served as a traveling overseer in the nearby Ivory Coast, now known as Côte d’Ivoire.
While serving in those areas, I learned to live as the native Africans did—sleeping in a mud hut, eating with my fingers, and squatting “outside” as the Israelites did in the wilderness. (Deuteronomy 23:12-14) Doing so helped me and my fellow missionaries develop a positive reputation. Wives of some local officials began studying the Bible with us. So when opposers made trouble for us and secured an order to revoke our visas, wives of the officials put pressure on their husbands and the decision was reversed!
As did many missionaries in Africa, I eventually came down with malaria. I suffered bouts of chills and fevers that made me delirious. At times, I even had to hold my lower jaw to keep it from shaking. Despite that, my service continued to bring me joy and satisfaction.
During my first four years in Africa, I corresponded with Eva Hallquist, whom I had met before leaving the United States. I learned that she was to graduate from the 21st class of Gilead School on July 19, 1953, at the international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York’s Yankee Stadium. I arranged with a ship captain to work on board his ship as compensation for passage to the United States.
After 22 days, at times in rough seas, I arrived and made my way to meet Eva at the Brooklyn headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There, on a rooftop with a commanding view of the New York harbor and skyline, I proposed marriage. Later, Eva came to the Gold Coast to serve with me there.
CARING FOR FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES
After serving with Eva for several years in Africa, I received a letter from my mother, saying that Father was dying of cancer. Upon obtaining a leave of absence from our assignment, Eva and I returned to the United States. Dad’s health deteriorated quickly, and he soon died.
Later, after we had been back in Ghana for nearly four years, we learned that Mother’s health had become very poor. Some friends suggested that Eva and I return home to care for her. That was the hardest decision we ever had to make. After 15 years of missionary service, 11 of them together, we returned to the United States.
Over the years, we took turns caring for Mother, helping her get to the meetings when she could. On January 17, 1976, she died at the age of 86. But an even greater blow came nine years later. Eva was diagnosed with cancer. We fought the disease in every way, but she finally lost the battle and died on June 4, 1985, at 70 years of age.
MORE CHANGES IN A SATISFYING CAREER
In 1988, I was invited to the dedication of the newly expanded branch office in Ghana. What a memorable occasion! Some 40 years earlier, when I arrived in Ghana after my graduation from Gilead, there were just a few hundred Witnesses. By 1988, there were over 34,000, and now there are nearly 114,000!
Two years after visiting Ghana, I married Eva’s close friend Betty Miller on August 6, 1990. Together we have continued to make Jehovah’s service our career. We long for the day when we will see our grandparents, parents, and Eva on earth again in the resurrection in Paradise.—Acts 24:15.
Tears come to my eyes when I think of the awesome privilege of having been used by Jehovah for more than 70 years in his service. I often thank him for guiding me toward making his service my career. Although I am now well into my 90’s, Jehovah, the greatest architectural engineer in the universe, has continued to give me strength and courage to go on pursuing my career of serving him.