ON A crisp morning in Brookings, South Dakota, U.S.A., a chill lingered in the air. It reminded me that freezing weather would soon take control of the area. You might be surprised to know, however, that on that very day, a small group of us were shivering in an unheated barn. We were standing before a livestock watering trough that was partially filled with cold water! Let me tell you some personal history so that you will understand why.
EARLY FAMILY LIFE
I was born on March 7, 1936, the youngest of four children. We lived on a small farm in eastern South Dakota. Farming was an important part of our family’s life, but it was not the most important part. My parents got baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1934. They had made a dedication to our heavenly Father, Jehovah, so doing God’s will was their first priority. My dad, Clarence, and later my uncle Alfred, served as company servant (now called coordinator of the body of elders) in our small congregation in Conde, South Dakota.
Attending Christian meetings and going from house to house to tell others about the Bible’s marvelous hope for the future was a regular part of our family’s routine. My parents’ example and the training they gave us had a deep, favorable impact on us children. My sister, Dorothy, and I became Kingdom publishers when we were six. In 1943, I joined the Theocratic Ministry School, which had just become a feature of our meetings.
Conventions and assemblies were an important part of our lives. Brother Grant Suiter was the visiting speaker at a convention in 1949 at Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I can still remember his talk, “It Is Later Than You Think!” He emphasized that all dedicated Christians need to use their lives to the full in proclaiming the good news of God’s established Kingdom. That motivated me to make my dedication to Jehovah. At the next circuit assembly, at Brookings, I found myself in that chilly barn, as described earlier, waiting to get baptized. The galvanized steel trough was the baptismal “pool” for four of us on November 12, 1949.
I then made the pioneer ministry my goal. I began pioneering on January 1, 1952, when I was 15. The Bible says: “The one walking with the wise will become wise,” and there were many wise ones in my family who supported my decision to pioneer. (Prov. 13:20) Uncle Julius, who was 60 years old, became my pioneer partner. Despite our age difference, we had very enjoyable times together in the ministry. I gleaned much profitable wisdom from his experience in life. Dorothy soon became a pioneer too.
PERSONAL INTEREST FROM CIRCUIT OVERSEERS
Throughout my youth, my parents invited many circuit overseers and their wives to stay with us. One couple, Jesse and Lynn Cantwell, helped me greatly. It was, in part, due to their encouragement that I decided to pioneer. Their personal interest fostered in me a real desire to set theocratic goals. When they were serving congregations nearby, they sometimes invited me to go with them in the ministry. How pleasurable and upbuilding that was!
Bud Miller and his wife, Joan, next served us in the traveling work. By then I was 18 years old and facing the question of military service. My local draft board initially classified me in a way that I felt was not in accord with Jesus’ admonition for his followers to be neutral as to politics. And I wanted to preach the good news of the Kingdom. (John 15:19) I appealed to the draft board to be classified as a minister.
It touched me that Brother Miller volunteered to go with me to the draft board hearing. By nature, he was very outgoing and not easily intimidated. How it bolstered my confidence to have at my side a spiritual man of his character! As a result of that hearing, in the late summer of 1954, the board recognized me as a minister. That opened the way for me to reach another theocratic goal.
About this time, I received an invitation to serve at Bethel, at what was then called Watchtower Farm, on Staten Island, New York. I was privileged to serve there for about three years. That led to many wonderful experiences because I met many wise ones and worked with them.
The farm on Staten Island included the radio station WBBR. That was operated by Jehovah’s Witnesses from 1924 to 1957. Only 15 to 20 members of the Bethel family were assigned to the farm. Most of us were young and quite inexperienced. But with us was Eldon Woodworth, an older anointed brother. He truly proved to be a wise one. His fatherly interest in us was spiritually stabilizing. When on occasion the imperfections of others proved challenging, Brother Woodworth would say, “It sure is marvelous what the Lord has done with what he has to work with.”
We had the special privilege of having Brother Frederick W. Franz with us too. His wisdom and exceptional knowledge of the Scriptures were a positive influence on all of us, and he took a personal interest in each of us. Our cook was Harry Peterson; it was easier for us to use that last name than his real one, Papargyropoulos. He too was one of the anointed and had outstanding zeal for the ministry. Brother Peterson did his work at Bethel well but never neglected the field ministry. He would place hundreds of our magazines each month. He also had a wealth of Scriptural knowledge, answering many of our questions.
BENEFITING FROM WISE SISTERS
The farm produce was processed at an on-site cannery. About 45,000 quarts (42,600 L) of fruits and vegetables a year were canned for the entire Bethel family. In this connection, I was privileged to serve with Etta Huth, a truly wise sister. She was responsible for the recipes that we used in our canning. During the canning season, local sisters came to assist, and Etta would help organize their work. Though Etta played a key role in the canning process, she was careful to set a fine example of respect for the brothers in oversight on the farm. I viewed her as a fine example of submission to theocratic headship.
Angela Romano was one of the young sisters who came to help with the canning. Etta had assisted her when she came into the truth. Thus, while serving at Bethel, I met another wise one, whom I have now walked with for 58 years. Angie and I were married in April 1958, and we have enjoyed many privileges of service together. Through the years, Angie’s uncompromising loyalty to Jehovah has been a source of strength in our marriage. I can absolutely rely on her, no matter what challenges we face.
A MISSIONARY ASSIGNMENT AND THE TRAVELING WORK
When the WBBR facilities on Staten Island were sold in 1957, I served at Brooklyn Bethel for a short time. Then Angie and I married, so I left Bethel, and for about three years, we pioneered on Staten Island. For a time, I even worked for the new owners of the radio station, which used the call letters WPOW.
Angie and I were determined to keep our life simple so that we could be ready to serve wherever we were needed. As a result, in early 1961 we were in a position to accept an assignment as special pioneers in Falls City, Nebraska. No sooner had we made that adjustment than we were invited to attend Kingdom Ministry School, at that time a one-month course of instruction at South Lansing, New York. We enjoyed the schooling and expected to use our training back in Nebraska. We were therefore surprised to receive a new assignment—as missionaries in Cambodia! This beautiful land in Southeast Asia exposed us to exotic sights, sounds, and aromas that were different from anything we had ever experienced. We eagerly wanted to spread the good news there.
However, the political situation changed, and we had to relocate to South Vietnam. Sadly, within two years I developed serious medical problems, so we were urged to return to our homeland. I needed some time to regain my strength, but once I did, we again took up the full-time service.
In March 1965 we were privileged to begin serving congregations in the traveling work. For 33 years, Angie and I enjoyed both circuit and district work, including a good deal of preconvention and convention work. Conventions had always been a highlight for me, so it was delightful to help organize these events. For some years we were in the New York City area, and a number of the conventions were held at Yankee Stadium.
RETURN TO BETHEL AND THEOCRATIC SCHOOLS
As has been true for many in the special full-time ministry, exciting and challenging assignments awaited Angie and me. For example, in 1995, I was asked to teach the Ministerial Training School. Three years later, we were invited to Bethel. It was a real joy to be back where I had started my special full-time service over 40 years earlier. For a time, I worked in the Service Department and as an instructor in a number of the schools. In 2007 the Governing Body placed the schools taught at Bethel under the new Theocratic Schools Department, and for some years I was privileged to be the overseer.
We have recently seen a number of significant adjustments in the field of theocratic education. The School for Congregation Elders was inaugurated in 2008. Over the next two years, more than 12,000 elders were taught at Patterson and at Brooklyn Bethel. That school is continuing at various other locations, with trained field instructors. In 2010 the Ministerial Training School was renamed the Bible School for Single Brothers, and a new school was formed, the Bible School for Christian Couples.
Starting in the 2015 service year, those two schools were combined, forming the School for Kingdom Evangelizers. Those being instructed could be couples or single brothers or sisters. Many around the globe were thrilled to hear that this school would be held in many branches. It is exciting to see the opportunities for theocratic education expand, and I am so grateful to have met many who make themselves available for this training.
Looking back on my life from before I got baptized in that watering trough until now, I thank Jehovah for the wise ones who assisted me in the way of the truth. They were not all of my age or from my cultural background. But inside, at heart, they were spiritual people. Their deep love for Jehovah was evident by their actions and attitudes. In his organization, we have many wise ones with whom we can walk. I have done so and have truly benefited.