Friday, May 25, 2012


Many of you have heard about the death of my father this past Friday.  Some of you knew him, and knew what a wonderful godly man he was.  I wanted to share a bit about him.  If this gets long and rambling, please forgive me.  It's my blog, and I'll ramble long if I feel like it.  And I feel like it.

Allen Andrew Bennett was born on October 2, 1917 on a homestead near Colville, Washington.  He was the 4th of 8 children born to Vena Duvall and Grover Bennett.  Grandma and Grandpa staked 2 different homestead claims, but failed to "prove up" either one.  Grandpa's brother Hermann was living with them at that time.  They couldn't make enough income from the homesteads, so Grandpa and Uncle Hermann went away to work in the fruit orchards or in logging camps.

During those years, a third brother, Clyde attended a camp meeting revival in the Midwest, probably in Iowa.  In that service he made a decision to trust in Jesus for his salvation.  In the weeks that followed, he felt that God was leading him to go to Washington to witness to his brothers.  He saved up for the train fare, went to Spokane, then to Colville and found the homestead.  Grandma directed him to the logging camp, and he eventually fount Hermann and Grandpa.  He got a job working in the camp, and began sharing with his brothers about his new-found faith.  Within a short time they each also confessed Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

At the first opportunity they traveled back to the homestead.  As the story was told to me, Grandpa walked in the door of the cabin, and his first words to Grandma were, "Ma, I got religion, and you should get it, too."  Her immediate response was to say "alright", and together they knelt on the dirt floor of the cabin and Grandma prayed a sinner's prayer.  Although the story makes it sound like it was easy for her, I'm sure that it was no little thing; she had been raised in an avowedly atheist home.

That was the environment into which Dad was born.  Parents who were kind and gentle, and were brand-new Christians.  They didn't have the resources that Christian parents have today.  No one told them about how to raise and train their kids, how to lead them to salvation.  They took them to church (including a Nazarene church), and taught them the basics.  However, Dad was one of the kids who didn't accept Christ during his growing up years.  But still, that family, that faith was the foundation on which all that came after was built.

The family moved from Washington to Iowa, where Grandma's dad, Andy Duvall had secured 3 farms, one for himself and one for each of his 2 children.  The family lived there until they lost the farm in the depression and dust bowl of the early 1930s.  They moved back to Washington, where it was possible for a man to earn as much as a dollar a day working in the fruit orchards of the Yakima Valley.  Dad finished his high school education at Yakima High School (which, I understand, no longer exists).  After graduating, he left home and worked in a series of jobs, finally teaming up with his life-long friend, Carl Gehmann (for whom my brother Gaymon was phonetically named) in Camas, Washington.  There he worked in the Crown Zellerbach paper mill.

The foreman of his crew on the graveyard shift at the mill was a man named Clarence Beaver.  Clarence, a Christian, carried a burden for the single young men on his crew.  He gave a standing invitation for any of them to come home with him on Sunday morning for a home-cooked breakfast, and to go to church with his family.  I don't know if any of the others took him up on the offer, but my dad did.  He enjoyed the loving fellowship of this family, and of the local Nazarene church.

I don't know how many times Dad went to church before he accepted Christ, but at a Sunday morning service he went to the alter to confess his sins, and ask Jesus into his heart.  He immediately gave up some harmful habits he had picked up, and began to study the Bible under the guidance of his pastor, Richard Tailor.  Along with this guidance came regular invitations to the Tailor home.  Pastor Tailor and his wife, Amy were caring for their teenage niece, Adeline Gudmundsen.  There was, to hear Dad tell it, an instant attraction.  Dad eagerly accepted all invitations.  On December 18, 1938, sitting by the Christmas tree in Uncle Richard and Aunt Amy's living room, he declared his love for her, and kissed her for the first time.  His love for Adeline has been unwavering since that day.  December 18 has always been a "sacred" day in our family, a day for the kids to be elsewhere, and let Mom and Dad celebrate the day however it was that they wanted to celebrate it.

Mom and Dad were married on September 18, 1939.  A week after their wedding they enrolled as freshmen at Cascade College, an independent Christian college in Portland, Oregon.  Dad studied Theology, and Mom studied Music.  After about a year and a half they left full-time study, and Dad became the first pastor of the new Nazarene church in Stevenson, Washington.

One of the stories that Dad used to tell about the days concerned church finances.  The system there was that on Sunday, the church treasurer would count the money in the collection, take out enough to cover the bills for the week, and hand the rest to Dad as his salary.  Sometimes it was fifteen cents, sometimes it was ten dollars!

It was while they lived in Stevenson that my brother Gaymon and sister Camelia were born.  When the due date was near, Mom would go and stay with her parents in Portland, and the babies were both born there.

Dad continued taking classes on a part-time basis at Cascade College.  After a couple of years, he accepted a position as associate pastor of Mount Scott Church of the Nazarene, in Portland.  He later became senior pastor there.  One of the unique features of that pastorate was that his mother in law and father in law were both on the church board!

Dad later made the decision to transfer to Northwest Nazarene College, in Nampa, Idaho.  There he studied, either full-time or part-time, as he could afford to pay tuition.  He worked several jobs at a time during most of the years in Nampa, including laundryman at the hospital (which included firing the coal burning boiler which heated the building), construction hand, and others.  At one point he bought a house that was to be moved.  He bought a lot for it, digging the cellar by hand, and pouring the foundation by hand.  As I recall, he sold it $2500 making several hundred dollars in profit, and felt guilty for taking such advantage of the buyers!

After graduation in 1947, Mom and Dad moved to View, Washington.  This was only a post office and a gas station in those days, and doesn't exist at all any more.  The Nazarene church there thrived under Dad's leadership.  At first it met in the old one-room school house, but later acquired the newer 2-room school house.  They used one room as sanctuary, and divided the other one into 2 Sunday school rooms.  Dad's responsibilities included building a fire in the pot-bellied stove early on Sunday morning so that the building would be warm enough by service time.

After 4 years in View, they moved to Kalama, Washington.  The big event in their lives during those years was my arrival.  My earliest conscious memory of my father involved being sent from the parsonage to the church building next door to get him for lunch.  I was trying to get in the wrong door, the handle of which I could just barely reach.  He apparently heard the rattling of the door, but came out a different door, further along the wall of the building.  I just remember him leaning out the door, looking at me and smiling.  So my first memory of my dad was of him smiling at me.  From that moment to this I have never doubted his approval and support for me.

When I was 3 we left Kalama and headed to the Rocky Mountains. We lived in Butte and Kalispell, Montana; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Thornton, Colorado, pastoring Nazarene churches in each place.  After Thornton, there was a period of 4 years when Dad was not a pastor.  For most of that time he worked for a construction company that specialized in building church buildings.  It was a difficult and trying time for my parents, a real trial of faith.

Then in 1969 we moved to Quincy, Washington, where Dad was the pastor until after I finished college.  The years in Quincy were the most rewarding and fulfilling time of Dad's ministry.  He once told me that he believed that all of his life up to 1969 was preparation for his work there.  When he was young, Dad had thought for a time that God was calling him to become a missionary.  As part of his preparation for that, he studied Spanish in college.  Little did he suspect that his last church would be the fulfillment of that call.  The ministry in Quincy was a bi-cultural, bilingual ministry. The congregation there tripled in size under Dad's ministry, most of the new people being new Christians.

From Quincy the folks moved back to Nampa, Idaho, where both my brother and sister were living by then, for what was planned as a brief time away from pastoral work.  In fact, it continued until full retirement.

In 1998 (I think, my siblings will correct me if I'm wrong) Mom and Dad moved to Karcher Estates in Nampa.  They lived in the Retirement section until Mom's care was more than Dad could handle.  Mom then moved to the Health Care section, and Dad took a small apartment in Retirement, that was as close as possible to Health Care.  There they spent their mornings together in Dad's room.  Dad was there to help Mom with every meal.  After Mom's death in 2008, Dad moved into Assisted Living.  Last December after suffering a stroke which left his left side paralyzed, he moved into Health Care.  We will always be grateful to the staff at Karcher for the great care they gave both Mom and Dad through the years.

This past Friday, the nurse went to get Dad up, and found that he had suffered a further stroke, leaving him completely paralyzed and unable to speak.  Although he appeared to respond to the presence of family members, there was no real communication until he died quietly in the evening.

Dad was the ultimate "people person".  He loved people.  He loved them without regard to their station or status, race or background.  He loved his kids and his kids-in-law.  He loved his grand kids.  He loved his neighbors, his barber, the people at the grocery store, the members of his congregations, the residents of the local jails, the local politicians, the drunks and panhandlers who showed up at the back door of the parsonage, the guy at the gas station, the housekeepers at the nursing home, the... well, you get the picture.  He really, truly loved everyone.  And people responded and loved him back.

Someone once said that if Al Bennett had two cans of beans he'd give you one; if Al Bennett had one can of beans he'd give you one.  My brother remembers one cold winter in Butte (they are all cold there) when Dad had two coats.  He met someone who didn't have a warm coat, so Dad gave him his good one.

I remember a time when Dad had just given a couple of sacks of groceries from our cupboard to a family who came asking for a handout.  Thinking my dad was naive, I angrily confronted him: "Don't you know that they are just taking advantage of you?" I asked.  His answer stopped me in my tracks.  He said, "Of course I do.  But we minister to them any way."

While home from college, I went with my dad to call on a new family in the church.  I sat there in their living room and watched as my dad lead them to saving faith in Christ.  Last year while I was on furlough, I was with Dad when he received a visit from one of the sons of that family, now in middle age, still following Christ.

Dad was excited and happy when God called Judy and me to the mission field.  He and Mom were unreservedly supportive our our decision to go.  I have felt bad not being with him much during the last years of his life, but I know that he wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

So what is our legacy?  What do Gaymon and Cammi and I along with our spouses children and grand children inherit from Al Bennett?  What do you who knew him, or those of you who have only heard about him receive?  Really, it's just a picture.  A picture of a life lived in complete, unreserved, enthusiastic surrender to the will of God.  A life lived for others.  A life lived for eternity.  What more could we want?