Dad was born on May 10, 1933, near Grantsville in Calhoun County, West Virginia. “Johnny,” as he was later called, grew up on his family’s farm learning how to plow, plant, chop wood, milk cows, and gather maple syrup, along with a host of other farm-related activities at the end of the Great Depression.
From an early age, Dad loved music. As a young boy, he sat outside his uncle’s house and listened to two uncles and their friends play till late into the night. When he was in sixth grade, he and his older brother, Bill, and older sister, Pat, sold rose bud salve to buy their very first instrument—a guitar. Then Bill bought the body of a mandolin for a quarter, built a neck for the instrument, and traded Dad for his share of the guitar. Dad practiced his mandolin faithfully, but his first love truly was and still is the guitar.
When Dad was a teenager, his family moved to Akron and began attending the Akron Baptist Temple. After working for several years at Goodyear, Inc, and the BF Goodrich Co., he enrolled at Michigan State University to study Forestry. His one desire in life was to become a forest ranger, to live in the woods away from large cities and crowds. Nothing and no one would keep him from his goal.
No one but God.
In the fall of 1953 God began working in his heart—bringing conviction and revealing his need for Christ. So it was that after weeks of searching for the truth, Dad found himself in the office of Dr. Dallas Billington, who clearly saw that Dad was under deep conviction. Dr. Billington turned to John 3:16, and the Holy Spirit did the rest. Dad accepted Christ’s work on the Cross that day.
Not long after his salvation, he was called to preach. After almost two years in the Army, where he had been the assistant to the chaplain, he moved to Springfield, Missouri, to attend Baptist Bible College. While at BBC, he helped start a ministry to the military on Fort Leonardwood and also started a church in Waynesville, Missouri, pastoring there for a short time. Upon completion of Bible college, he moved to Long Island, New York, painting houses for a living and taking guitar lessons on the side. At 29, Dad was beginning to wonder if God did indeed have a mate for him. He began praying for God to send a wife—and soon.
Not long after this desperate prayer, a friend invited him to a Bible study where he was asked to play his guitar for background music. Seated next to him was Leanore Schaefer. It wasn’t long before they began dating and only seven months later, they were married on November 10, 1962. They moved to Waynesville, Missouri, where Dad returned to his pastorate for a time. During their stay in Missouri, he received his B.S. at Southwest Missouri State College in Industrial Arts with a minor in Music. The two oldest sisters, Julia and Rebekah, were born during their stay in Missouri.
They moved to Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1967 to pastor a mission church, and God blessed by growing the church. Their daughters Jennifer, Deborah, and Sharon were born during the eight years they spent in Wheeling.
In October 1975, Dad took a pastorate at the Old Church in Lynbrook, New York. During the year they lived in Lynbrook, he sensed the Lord leading him to a new adventure. By this time, the family had grown to eight with the arrival of their sixth daughter, Joanna. This adventure was unlike any they had known up to that point—a ministry of evangelism.
On a sunny day in September 1976, they packed up their six daughters and all of their belongings into a 1948 Oneida bus and a step van. Pat Cassidy, an extra traveler who helped with the music, drama, and puppet ministry, came along for the ride. They had two meetings on the schedule when the bus and van pulled out. Their first stop, Vermont; the second stop, the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia.
In the early days the ministry included preaching, chalk-talk, puppet shows, ventriloquism, singing, dramas, skits, and VBS programs. As the ministry grew, the family grew, adding two more daughters and two sons.
For almost forty years, Dad and Mom have served the Lord in evangelism across the fifty States and in seven other countries. All ten of us kids have moved on to other ministries, and seven have married and have families of their own.
In 2000, Dad and Mom moved to Tunnelton, West Virginia, to build a log home. They still travel to meetings as the Lord opens doors. When they are home, they help in a children’s class at their home church (Independent Baptist Church in Kingwood, West Virginia).
Dad’s passion for music still drives him, and at any time of the day you might find him playing his guitar, or banjo, or mandolin—or maybe his harmonica.