Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Hoppers

             Well, our fair town of Ripon is in for a wonderful treat! The internationally acclaimed Southern Gospel singing group, The Hoppers, will be performing in Ripon on Tuesday evening, October 27th, at the Ripon Christian High School Performing Arts Center. The evening will begin at 7:00.

I don’t know about you, but I have always loved Southern Gospel music. It is the kind of music that gets you smiling, and wanting to tap your toes. Even before I accepted Christ as my Savior, I enjoyed groups like The Hoppers. In particular I would listen to The Statesmen Quartet, The Imperials, J.D. Sumner & The Stamps, and a host of other groups which typically featured a really high tenor and a really low tenor. In fact, J.D. Sumner had the lowest bass voice in Gospel music. He literally went off the piano keyboard! He wrote a song which was intended to feature his ability to sing ridiculously low notes. The song was entitled, “Walk That Lonesome Road.”

There’s another Southern Gospel group that performs a concert in Ripon every January. The Liberty Quartet is out of Nampa, Idaho and begins their concert tour with us every year. The concert is held at the Immanuel Church on 4th & Orange. In 2016 it will be on Friday, January 8th, 7:00 PM. Don’t miss it!

So, now we have The Hoppers coming to town, and I can assure you this will be a SRO performance. One of the reasons for this is there are no tickets to buy, and no seats assigned. During the evening performance there will be a Love Offering taken to help support this terrific group.

The following paragraph is taken from The Hoppers web site. “Multi-award winning family group The Hoppers have been singing to global audiences for over 55 years with appearances ranging from presidential religious inaugural ceremonies and New York’s Carnegie Hall to singing conventions and church platforms. They have performed throughout the United States as well as in Israel, Europe and Africa. Their unique blend of harmonies and song choices have created a legacy of musical excellence embraced by leading pastors and event organizers. Known as America’s Favorite Family of Gospel Music, they are favorites on the Gaither Homecoming videos and tours, and their recordings frequently land at the top of the BILLBOARD sales charts and The Singing News radio charts.”

Kim Hopper, (nee Greene) is married to Dean Hopper, but before she joined up in singing with The Hoppers she sang for ten years with her own family, The Greenes. I remember watching her perform! The energy and enthusiasm she exhibited then, and still exhibits, is infectious.

Claude & Connie Hopper formed the group in 1957 in North Carolina where they still reside. Connie is a cancer survivor and shares her experience in fighting the disease. She has also been inducted into the Southern Gospel Hall of Fame. Claude grew up on a farm. Even today as a successful singer and song writer traveling the world over, when the opportunity presents itself, he still likes to get his hands in some farmer’s dirt. You probably are wondering how I would know this about him. Well it just so happens that I know the farmer in Ripon who is friends with The Hoppers, which is the reason they are bringing their talent to us.

Come and hear these folks sing about Jesus. They’ll be sharing their testimonies of faith which will challenge you to walk closer with the Lord. You will come away from this concert blessed beyond your imagining, so make sure you come early enough to get seats.

Again, the date for this concert is Tuesday, October 27 starting at 7:00 PM. It will be held in the Performing Arts Center at Ripon Christian High School. Yes, it’s a school night, but the concert will end at 9:00. Bring the whole family!

I’ll be there. Will you?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hot Air

               A couple of weeks ago Ripon hosted the annual Color the Skies event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. The local sports complex (Mistlin Park) is used for this happening since it boasts the largest open grassy area required for so large an event. Think of a carnival atmosphere with all the rides, clowns, games, and booths providing a sinfully delicious offering of foods, none of which show up on health food charts.

The big draw for the Color the Skies event is the beautiful array of hot air balloons. These aerial behemoths are splendid in their silent beauty floating with seemingly effortless ease above the earth which we mere mortals trod day in and day out oblivious to the beauty of our surroundings. But on this weekend, if only for a brief time, you can be lifted up above the mundane and take in a view you have likely not experienced before.

So, on Friday morning I arose from my slumber to be down at the launch area while it was still dark. My daughter, Laura, as an employee of the Chamber, told me they needed some folks to be willing to go on a ride that morning. Well, let me tell you, she didn’t need to ask me twice! I wore jeans and my “hoodie” so that I was prepared for possible cooler air once we were soaring above the fruited fields. It was indeed a cool morning, but I needn’t have worried about being cool myself with a king-sized flame thrower a few feet above my head which provided all the hot air needed to sail away.

Hot air balloons always intrigued me. Probably my first exposure to these aircraft was when the movie, “Around the World in 80 Days” came out in 1956, starring David Niven (as Phileas Fogg), Cantinflas (as Jean Passepartout), and Shirley MacLaine (as Aouda). A wonderful scene I remember was when Passepartout grabbed the ice bucket and snagged a bunch of snow off the top of a mountain peak as they sailed too close for comfort to the craggy tops. But the very British Phileas Fogg must have his champagne chilled, don’t you know. What a great story! There was even a damsel in distress (MacLaine, I believe). And all centered on traveling in a hot air balloon. To my young, impressionable mind it all looked like oodles of fun!

Then when my folks and I migrated to Los Angeles, California from Wellesley, Massachusetts in 1965 we made the obligatory pilgrimage to Disneyland soon after arriving in the Golden State. The amusement park was celebrating its 10th anniversary that year. One of the venues I enjoyed the most, along with the ride on the Matterhorn, was the film, “To Fly.” It was a depiction of man’s coming of age in “slipping the surly bonds of earth,” defying the law of gravity. The part of the film I particularly enjoyed was a reenactment by a fellow in a hot air balloon set back in the late 1800s, sailing above the countryside, startling people along the way as they saw this big balloon sailing over their heads. One poor fellow was high on a ladder painting the church steeple (probably the pastor). The hot air balloon passed just over him, startling him so that he spilled his white wash, and nearly tumbled to the ground, while the pilot of the balloon was apologizing profusely all the while sailing off into the distance.

Well, none of those things happened on this Friday morning in Ripon. It was “media day” where various members of the local news agencies were invited to go for a ride. I was assigned as a crew member on one of these balloons along with local CPA, Tom Vermuellen. Laura was assigned to another balloon so we waved to each other and took pictures of the others balloon in flight. It was all a blast! One of my responsibilities was to hold the tether line attached at the top of the balloon as it was being inflated by the flame. As the balloon filled with the hot air it was my job to hold it as steady as possible while the balloon portion filled and rose above the basket. While I was so engaged, I heard voices behind me. I took a quick glance over my shoulder to see who it was. A young lady, identifying herself as a reporter from the Modesto Bee, asked me for my name. I told her but couldn’t take the time to chat as the balloon was filling rapidly and I found myself wrestling with a temperamental gas bag that could hold upwards of 77,000 basketballs (according to our pilot).

Tom and I carefully slid into the basket along with the pilot for our morning’s journey. Three men and several bottles of propane filled all the available space on this craft. Lifting off is the best part. You just silently rise into the air. During the ride, besides conversation, the only noise is the firing of the propane flame to elevate the balloon to your desired height.  

We sailed out over the rich farmland around Ripon. The numerous orchards of walnuts and almonds, plus identifying local structures, such as Colony Oak, my granddaughter’s elementary school, was all part of the adventure. We also floated over a part of the Spring Creek Golf Course where I play several times a week. What really puzzled me was my inability to recognize the different holes. They look so different from this lofty position!

Our chase vehicle followed us to our landing in a farmer’s fallowed field. About six of the balloons landed in this field. It was there that we went to work packing the balloon and stowing it in the chase vehicle for the ride back to the park. We were probably in the air just under an hour altogether. Because the winds pick up about 8:30ish in the morning, the balloons have to set back down so as not to wind up a tangled mess somewhere.

I haven’t seen it, but I’m told my picture was in the Modesto Bee. The reporterette apparently took my picture from behind me with a view looking on as the balloon gradually filled with hot air. Attempting to put a good face on this, I’ve told folks that my backside is on the front side of the newspaper!

It was all great fun, and I look forward to doing it again someday.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Must See

              As a kid growing up in the 1950s, one of the best means of entertainment was a trip to the movies. This would have been either a walk-in theater much like today, or a drive-in which was infinitely more fun.
It strikes a chord of nostalgia within me when I drive by a location that once was a popular drive-in theater. The large movie screen is long gone; the rows of car-window speakers sitting on metal pipes have been removed leaving no evidence of their previous place of importance; and the snack shack where crowds of movie-goers would buy popcorn and sodas are simply gone. Many of these outdoor movie lots had a second life as weekend flea markets. Now even most of those are a thing of the past.
Going to the movies was always a treat. As a result, I never developed the habit of attending frequently. Even today when I go to see a movie it is fun!
Ever since the advent of the motion picture ratings system back in the late 1960s, it has become more difficult to determine if the movie being rated is something I should see. I knew as soon as they came out with the R rating that there would be content that was not appropriate for me to view if I was to maintain a sense of moral purity. As a new Christian and having just returned from Vietnam I had not figured out many of the spiritual pitfalls that lay in my path. In the space of a couple of months I went with friends to see “Last Tango in Paris” and “Deliverance.”  I was repulsed by these two films, and as a result I steered away from movies all together. Since then I make sure I know what the movie is about, and I rely on reviews, particularly from those I trust who have seen it.
Most movies are not worth the time and money to see. But every so often a movie comes out that is family-friendly. The number 1 box-office hit right now is a movie entitled “War Room.” I had seen previews and was intrigued. My wife had read about it and suggested we go. It is produced by the Kendrick Brothers who also produced another block-buster movie a few years ago, “Fireproof.” These guys are strong in their Christian faith and their movies carry that message.
“War Room,” despite its title, is a family movie, rated PG. In fact, my oldest daughter, Laura, asked me if it would be appropriate to take her daughter to see it. I did a quick review of the film in my mind and quickly concluded that it was very much a movie that my seven-going-on-eight year old granddaughter would truly enjoy. One reason is there is a young girl in the film who is about that age which Alyssa could easily identify with.
The story in this film focuses on a husband and wife that are enjoying the successes of climbing the ladder and benefiting from an ever increasing bank account. However, all is not going well for this couple, and the effects are having a direct impact on their young daughter. An older neighbor lady, whom everyone calls “Miss Clara,” sees an opportunity to befriend her younger neighbor. From her own Christian experience she is able to share how prayer and faith can transform the heart of not only her husband, but their child and the wife and mother herself.
There are numerous twists and turns throughout, leaving you wondering how each situation will be worked out. Even though the couple is headed for divorce, causing the subject matter of the movie to be a bit heavy, the producers have managed to insert a level of humor in order to lighten things up from time-to-time. It is masterfully done so that the humor is a respite from the heaviness of the subject without minimalizing the importance of what needs to take place.
Isaura and I saw the film last Thursday night and absolutely loved it. It is biblically based without being preachy. God’s name and the name of Jesus are referenced without being “in-your-face.”
The actress who plays the wife and mother is the daughter of evangelist and preacher, Tony Evans. I’m told this is her first acting role. If this is so, then she is a natural. Did I mention that you should bring lots of tissues and handkerchiefs?
I am still somewhat stunned that this film has topped the box office. There are no gratuitous sex scenes, no vulgar language or profanity, and no unnecessary violence. The characters are very real and very believable.
But most importantly: If your marriage is on shaky ground, or someone you know is having trouble in their marriage, then you must see War Room. There is hope!
Go see “War Room”! And you’ll absolutely fall in love with Miss Clara!

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Licensed to Drive

             Birthdays roll around quickly enough, but this year I received a notice from the DMV (California’s Department of Motor Vehicles) informing me that, because I have received my last two renewals by mail, it is now my turn to make the dreaded trip to the DMV office. Ugh!

I’ve been out of the loop on my day-to-day things since about mid-May so I’m just now getting back into some semblance of normality. Mid-May found me tied up with singing in a barbershop quartet for the stage production of the Music Man. The Modesto Performing Arts produced this classic concluding with six performances in late June. I had a great time, loving every minute of it. The down-side was that rehearsals were every night (except Sundays) which was quite a grind.

Then a dear family friend in Virginia passed away, necessitating my wife and me to fly out of San Francisco late on the night of the last performance (a matinee) with the funeral service a day later. I literally came home from the performance, showered, and shaved off the beard I had grown for the production, grabbed our bags and headed for the airport.

We spent about a week at my brother’s in Virginia, at which point Isaura and I drove from Washington DC to Orlando where I was to take part in the Annual Free Methodist Chaplains Conference along with the Free Methodist General Conference which is held every four years. Once this came to an end we flew home for about ten days before I flew back to Virginia. The second trip to Virginia was meant to be our first trip. We traditionally vacation back East with my brother and other family members, having made these plans months before. Of course, we could not plan for the unexpected, so the funeral wound up being our first trip.

In the midst of this came my renewal notification from the DMV, arriving at our home in Ripon, California. I was vaguely aware of seeing it in my stack of mail but set it aside to take care of when I finally would get home in mid-August. My wife did not go on the second trip to Virginia because we were having major renovation work done on our home. Our kitchen was gutted, leaving only our refrigerator and dishwasher intact. Everything else is new, including flooring throughout the downstairs. We also had the master bedroom extended into the next bedroom. I guess you could say I picked a good time to be gone for three weeks!

Once back home, I was put to work by my bride helping put lots of things back, and generally doing handyman type stuff as the projects were winding down.

So this, along with my early morning escapes to the golf course, filled my days. In the process I forgot about needing to renew my driver’s license. In a near state of panic early this week I remembered this critical task. First thing I did was attempt to call the DMV to see what could be done since my birthday is September 5. Calling to speak with a live person at the DMV is the height of folly. I mean, what was I thinking? My daughter, Laura, suggested I register online. I didn’t think that would help because I thought I had to take the written test and a driver’s test both.

After dragging out my notice I discovered that I did not have to take a written test or a driver’s test. Phew! What it did say though, was that I would need to come to the DMV office and pay the fee, take an eye test, have my picture taken, and have my thumb print made. That was a relief!

I was filling out all the info online easily enough, but ran into a snag when it came to making an appointment at the nearest DMV in Manteca. The first opening available was three days after my birthday! My mind created all sorts of scenarios where I would be driving with an expired license for those three days.

Living in a small town is great! So I called the Police Department and asked to speak to the police chief whom I have known for about fifteen years. He was on another call so I left him a voice message. I then called the switchboard again and asked if I could speak to any officer on duty. At that moment the chief was calling me back. Somewhat embarrassedly I explained my dilemma. He assured me that I was fine. In fact, he said law enforcement officers are encouraged to go easy on people who have not renewed their driver’s license, giving them up to 90 days following their birthday. I no sooner hung up from my conversation with the chief when my phone rang and it was an on-duty officer getting back to me. I explained that the chief had just called, but told him anyway why I had called in the first place. We had a pleasant chat at which time I was feeling ever so much better about this whole matter of my driver’s license.

The thought of not having a valid driver’s license was anathema to me. Seems like I’ve always had one. My first license was from Massachusetts. About nine months later we moved to California where I obtained my new license from this fair state. Over the years I have had a driver’s licenses from Japan, Spain and an International Driver’s License several times.

So I will sleep well tonight knowing I’m still legal to drive until my renewal efforts are finalized. But I can’t help but think I could have avoided all this last minute drama if I’d only taken care of this earlier.

Will I ever learn?

Wednesday, September 02, 2015


               Not long after I settled in as the senior pastor of the Ripon Free Methodist Church back in late 1998, I met Jeannie Rudd, the president of the Ripon Chamber of Commerce. At that time the Chamber offices were located in the building which became the Veterans Museum quite a few years ago. Jeannie recommended that I be considered for the position as a board member for the Ripon Arts League (RAL). Jeannie was (and still is) an RAL board member. I was subsequently selected and have served in this capacity ever since.

The RAL began in the early 1990s with the specific mission of bringing quality, affordable musical entertainment to Ripon. This group of volunteers from our fair town plans a five concert series every year on what could only be described as a “shoestring budget.” Joe O’Leary and Joe den Hollander were two of the original visionaries sensed what the RAL could become. Though these luminaries have since retired from their duties on the board of the RAL, there influence is still very much felt in the manner in which we all carry out our respective responsibilities.

Our new season for 2015-16 is about to begin. Thursday, September 17 is our first concert with classical guitarist Terrence Farrell taking the stage at 7:30 PM in the Ripon High School Multi-Purpose Room, which is where we host almost all of our performances. The evening runs just short of two hours which includes a 15-20 minute break for coffee, punch and cookies which is all part of the price of admission. Did I mention price?

You simply cannot beat the deal we offer. For a season pass to all five concerts you pay only $30. Break that down and you’re paying $6 per concert which includes the aforementioned goodies during intermission.

Our second concert this year will be Joni Morris bringing her tribute to the Legendary Ladies of Country Music. If you were a fan of Patsy Cline, then Joni is her vocal twin. Joni performs on Thursday, October 15 at 7:30 at the Ripon High Multi-Purpose Room. Our third concert is the very hip and slick jazz group known as Cell Block 7. They will be with us on Thursday, November 12.

We don’t schedule concerts later than mid-November because of the activities surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

Into the New Year, out next performance is Tuesday, January 26. On this night we will be hosting the Big Band sound of the Valley Concert Band. These guys bring it all! You’ll be tapping your toes and wanting to get up and dance the jitter-bug by the time the first song is over. Our fifth and final concert for the year is Thursday, March 10. The musical group for that evening brings vocal music variety. They are called Home Grown.

Whatever is your style and taste in music, the RAL attempts to line up musical entertainment that will please the folks who have come to appreciate these programs each year.

If this sounds like something that is up your alley, then by all means, call Kit Oase, our board president, (209-599-3408) and he’ll get you connected to the right folks to process your membership. Plus you could introduce the young people in your life to some classic music.

Our concert schedule is already planned for the 2016-17 year and it looks to be a great line up.

And why not consider buying a $30 membership for a family member or friend? It would make for a great gift.

Since I run sound and lights, I’ll be looking for you!