Underwood Family Story


Bill K. Underwood

This is a compilation of memories, many possibly incorrect, and stories I heard or perhaps misheard. Please understand that I wasn’t taking notes while my life was happening. It’s the best I can do.

Let that be a lesson to you.Write stuff down!


 This is pretty long. You may not read it at one sitting. Be sure to bookmark it so you can find it again. The short URL if you want to save it or share it with friends is: https://tinyurl.com/43dvjsdy 

At the start

My mom, Margaret Mallows as was, met Don Underwood in Washington state during WWII. He was a senior in high school when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1971. As soon as he graduated, in June, 1942, he enlisted in the Navy. He'd never learned to swim as a kid, but the Navy taught him in boot camp in San Diego, and he was such an excellent swimmer they offered him a swim-teaching position. He declined... he wanted to fight. He was assigned to a 'sea-going tug' which saw duty in the Aleutian islands, then after a brief stop in Washington, the South Pacific. I'm guessing the brief stop in Washington was where Dad met Mom. They married after the war, in November of 1945. 

Postwar, while living in navy housing in San Diego, a young man came to the door and placed the book This Means Everlasting Life with Mom. She began studying out of it for a time. When mom and dad moved to Portland, Oregon, she continued to study with Norman Larson and his wife. Dad was not the least bit interested. Over the next dozen years they had six kids, and mom raised all six of us in the truth as best she could without any encouragement from Dad.


 Mom and Dad had a house in Ardenwald, now a suburb of Portland, which Dad was able to remodel with free lumber he salvaged when a large Portland neighborhood called Vanport was ravaged by a flood. My three older siblings were born there. Dad was attending college on the G.I. Bill, but because of finances he dropped out and took a job with the Forest Service. Soon, they were able to put a down payment on a 50 acre farm in Redland, Oregon, where I and my two younger sisters were born.

With his foot in the door as a state employee Dad was able to see and apply for other state jobs available. He got into a job as the state inspector on a construction site where a state highway bridge was being built. He knew nothing about construction, but that wasn’t a requirement of the job; the state just wanted to have someone on the site making sure, for example, that when the plans called for six-inch-deep concrete the contractor didn’t pour only four.

The foreman was a drunk and was often late for work. As that made Dad the only authority figure on the scene at starting time, the laborers and carpenters would look to him for direction. With his background as a bosun in the Navy, he’d get them lined out for the day. When the job ended, the owner of the company fired the drunken foreman and hired Dad to be the foreman for the next job.

Mom said she and Dad began to refer to her first pregnancy as "Isabel", but swore they wouldn't give the baby that name. When their little girl was born, however, she was immediately called Isabel, even though they put "Constance" on the birth certificate. So in the family, my oldest sister was Iz, while outside the house she was Connie.

Their second baby was named for Dad. But they weren't keen on having the confusion of another Don in the family, and they didn't want to call him Junior. He resolved the issue himself. When the radio was playing a show featuring a character called Digger O'Dell, the friendly undertaker, my oldest brother, even before he could speak, apparently did a good imitation of him. So he became Digger.

My very earliest memory is of mom bringing my youngest sister Jodie home from the hospital to our farm in Redland, which would have been December, 1956. Memories that old are not to be trusted: In my mental movie I’m watching from a window as mom drives herself home in a maroon 1954 Chevy wagon, pulls into the stand-alone garage and walks across a boardwalk through the mud patch that in the summer is our vegetable garden, carrying a blanket-wrapped bundle, and letting herself in the back door. In reality, it would be more reasonable to assume Dad or one of Mom’s friends brought her home from the hospital, wouldn’t it?

I recall very early in life – I think Mom may have been in bed recovering from the birth of Jodie - climbing up on the kitchen counter to explore in the upper reaches of the cupboards. I found some Saltines in a tin box. I also found some cool, blue shiny metal thingees, and turned them over and over in my hands trying to figure out what purpose they served. Even when my fingers began to sting and bleed a few minutes later, I didn’t figure out that the cuts were from the shiny blue thingees. One would think the cuts were sufficient punishment for playing with razor blades, but no. Spanking ensued.

Aside from that, my earliest memories are vague recollections of a Christmas tree in our living room one year, and a somewhat more vivid recollection of crying while carving a jack-o-lantern. I recall Dad saying something to the effect of, ‘My kids will celebrate Halloween whether they like it or not!’ and Mom saying quietly, ‘Jehovah isn’t going to be mad at you for carving a pumpkin. I’ll make pie out of it later.’

Our farm was a couple miles from a wide spot in the road called Redland, just outside Oregon City. One evening when we were getting ready to go to the meeting Dad let it be known that Mom was not allowed to use the car to go to the meeting. Mom didn’t argue; she simply gathered all six of us up and we set off walking toward town. It had to have been 7 miles or more to the nearest Kingdom Hall in Oregon City – the meeting would have been over by the time we arrived. But mom was determined. Before we had walked more than a quarter mile Dad pulled up alongside. He didn’t say anything. Mom said, ‘Quick, get in.’ We piled in, Dad silently drove to town and stopped at the Kingdom Hall. ‘Find your own way home,’ he said, and drove off. 


No one ever sat in the front row of that Kingdom Hall. My four-year-old self concluded that this was because Jehovah and Jesus were sitting there. After all, the brother who said the prayer always asked them to be with us, right?

The Kingdom Hall had old theater seats, bottom cushion hinged at the back to fold up. Though warned repeatedly to sit properly, i.e., facing forward, I turned around once too often and managed to get my foot into the crack at the back of the cushion.  Of course, with my weight pressing down on the front of the cushion, the more I pulled on my foot the tighter it stuck.  To my mind this had to be one of those man-eating chairs we all hear about, and I was its next meal. Panic ensued, until a brother in the row behind reached over, lifted my weight off the cushion, extricated my leg, swatted my backside and forcefully sat me down facing forward.

 That was not, unfortunately, the end of the matter. Mom left my older siblings to watch over the younger and removed me to the restroom where I was shown the error of my ways. That still was not the end of the matter: when we returned home, Mom told Dad about the disturbance I had created.

Now, one would think that Dad, being opposed to the truth, would have congratulated me for disrupting a meeting, but one would be wrong. Another spanking…either for disobeying Mom by turning around, or for besmirching the Underwood name by creating a scene, I was never sure which.

In those early days, my two younger sisters frequently commented, without any prompting. When Charlotte was called on, she answered, “Jehovah.” When Jodie was called on, her comment was, “the sheep.” Didn’t matter what the question had been. Eventually, the brothers learned to call on them only when those answers fit the question he’d asked.

I was a master of erroneous conclusions. For example, Mom got a new washing machine which stopped whenever you raised the lid. From that I extrapolated that those men we drove by at the garage, the ones who were peering in frustration into the open hood of a car while someone cranked and cranked the key… they were wasting their time: it was never going to start until they closed the hood!

Across the street from the Redland garage was the Redland market. Mom would stop there and leave me and my younger sisters in the car with the stern warning, “Stay in the back seat.” So, naturally, as soon as she was out of sight, I would jump in the front seat and ‘drive.’ On one such imaginary jaunt, I managed to pull the column shifter into neutral and the car began to roll backward into the street.

Now, this was definitely a situation. But I’ve always been a quick thinker, so I took immediate action… I quickly jumped back into the back seat where I belonged. The mechanic, seeing the driverless car rolling past his garage, came running, yanked the door open and hauled himself in. He got it under control and drove it back into its parking spot. Then he reached back and grabbed my arm, dragged me up into the front seat, and whacked me. 

About that time mom came out of the store. Did she defend me from this strange, child-abusing mechanic? No, she apologized to him, and spanked me again! There is just no justice. Then, of course, I got it again from Dad when I got home. Isn’t that called triple jeopardy?

You would think such a traumatic experience would have etched upon my youthful mind a crystal clear warning to follow instructions and stay in the back seat away from the controls of the car. Unfortunately, it simply taught me to keep my hands off the shifter.  A few weeks later, I ‘drove’ off on another imaginary trip – may have been in the same market parking lot – and I pulled the dashboard cigarette lighter from its socket. I decided to see what other things would fit in that hole. Turned out the ignition key fit pretty well. The downside, however, was that the key got really hot and burned my fingers. This action also set fire to all the wiring under the dash, so I had a hard time getting any sympathy for my burnt fingers.

Mom had another close friend named Polly Corey. Polly, Thelma and Mom called each other “Kid”. Don’t know why that term of endearment died away, I liked it. The Coreys always lived in very swanky houses which Polly designed and her husband Ed built.

Ed Corey was one of those brothers who, much as he loved the truth, couldn’t kick his addiction to cigarettes. He eventually developed emphysema. When the June 1, 1973 Watchtower made it clear that smokers had 6 months to quit the habit or be disfellowshipped, he finally quit. Spiritually, he grew very rapidly after that, eventually pioneering before succumbing to emphysema.

Mom had a friend name Sydney, a brother with a severe limp from polio, who stopped by from time to time. We also got visits from an enormously strong sister named Thelma Young. When Mom happened to miss the driveway to the house and put a front wheel into the culvert bordering the yard, Thelma lifted the car out and set it back on the drive. Thelma was yet another source of non-parental spankings.

We also had visits from the Fuller Brush man, a bread vendor, and an ancient neighbor named Elmer – he had to be all of sixty, and knew how to fix everything. He lived with his sister Miss Humphreys. I have no idea why it was okay for me to call him Elmer, yet not to call or even know Miss Humphreys by her first name. (Mom mentioned many years later that she suspected Miss Humphreys was actually Elmer’s live-in girlfriend, not his sister…I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me!)

The farm across the road from ours had a filbert orchard and an old abandoned well which, upon close examination, proved to contain a hive of very short-tempered bees.  There was a boy about my age who lived at that farm and sometimes we would converse with each other across the road that neither of us was allowed to cross. These conversations were of necessity carried on in broken pieces, as we couldn’t make ourselves heard over the passing cars.  One day, in frustration, I threw some rocks at one such rude interrupter. The car slammed on its brakes, and I discovered yet another total stranger who had no qualms at all about striking someone else’s child.


Some other tidbits from the farm

 We had a party line. You were supposed to count the rings to determine if a call was for the Underwood household or someone else. Placing a call required mom to listen first to make sure the line wasn’t in use, then spin a crank on the side of the oak case of the wall-mounted telephone and ask the operator to connect her…just like in Mayberry.

We had an electric fence. One day we had my cousins and several others visiting, and we played crack the whip. My cousin Paul on the leading end of the ‘whip’ pulled the whole group over to the fence and grabbed hold. I don’t know if it was the crack-the-whip motion or the electricity, but the last person in line seemed to become momentarily airborne! 

We had a bull with a nose ring. I once stepped out the front door of the house and found him laying across my path (mom had staked him there to do lawn mower duty).  Scared me to death…even laying down he was too big to see over. 

We had cats but they lived in the barn, not the house. If they had names I never knew them. They would gather when Dad milked the cow, and if he was feeling generous he’d turn a teat sideways and spray warm milk toward the cats one at a time, who would attempt to catch the stream in his mouth.

We seem to have had a dog I don’t remember named Brownie (I know of him only from the flat stone in the garden with his name painted on it in a childish hand.)  We had a pair of purebred collies name Pete and Lady. They were named after the Disney characters from Lady and the Tramp. Because they were purebred registered collies they required three names, so Pete was officially Captain Peter Larkinson – no idea why, perhaps a TV or movie character - and Lady was Redland's Lady Traveler, so named because we traveled a lot. They were registered because Mom and Dad had plans to make a fortune selling purebred collie pups. Pete met an early demise chasing some of those cars that were constantly interrupting my conversations with the kid across the street, but Lady lived with us until I was about 15.

Another of Mom and Dad’s money-making schemes was brooding chicks. They purchased a huge, multi-tiered egg hatching machine. It consisted of several layers of chicken-wire compartments with automatic feeding troughs and movable floors – conveyor belts, really. The idea was to load the compartments with fertilized eggs which would hatch out from attached heat lamps. After the chicks hatched, a person could turn a crank on one end to distribute feed to the chicks. Another crank would slowly move the floor. The chicks would stay in their compartments merrily feeding while the floor slowly moved out from under them, depositing shells, unhatched eggs, and chick manure in a bucket at the end of the machine. It was an ingenious device for separating poor starry-eyed farmers from their money. Mom and Dad quickly learned that it cost more to raise the chicks than could be realized from their sale.

We had fifty acres of fields and timber. I don’t know what crop the fields grew.  I recall Mom telling the story of foraging in the woods for cascara trees, stripping the bark and hauling gunny sacks of it to sell to the local pharmacist, who could use ground cascara bark as a laxative. Mom was hoping to use the money to go to an assembly. But the pharmacist informed her it wasn’t cascara at all, and he had no use for Elm bark or Willow bark or whatever it was we had collected.

Still the woods provided trees to climb and fall out of, an ancient sawmill, a rotten hollow log huge enough for a small boy to run through, an evergreen whose limbs dragged on the ground creating a secret cavern underneath, and a creek where my brother found a two-headed salamander.

I’ve heard my older sister Connie describe other exploits from those early years. She and my brother Digger, for example, removing the gas cap from the tractor and staring down into the gas until they began to see funny faces; kids nowadays just don’t have that kind of good, wholesome fun!


District Convention

In July of 1957 Mom packed up all 6 kids – ages 1 through 10 - and got us and our luggage onto the train bound for Seattle to attend a convention. Perhaps ignorant of the Rooming Department, we began walking from hotel to hotel in downtown Seattle. At one such, mom plus five stopped at the front desk, but my three-year-old sister Charlotte missed the turn and continued alone through the lobby and right into a waiting elevator.  This did not prompt an Amber Alert. Mom didn’t panic, never gave a thought to kidnapping, child abuse, injury or death; merely waited patiently at the bank of elevators. The door of one finally opened to release a sound like an air raid siren on steroids, and Charlotte was found.

At that same convention I discovered my mother was a magician. I was clinging tightly to the hem of her dress, as instructed. I am absolutely convinced that my pudgy little fingers never let go. But on looking skyward I discovered a strange woman had somehow slipped into mom’s dress! As it was the lunch break I was taken to the tent that had been setup to serve as a dining area, and a brother announced my predicament over the P.A. system.

He asked me, “What’s your name?”


“What’s your whole name?”


“What’s your mother’s name?”

“Mommy.” He didn’t seem pleased with that answer…and I feared this test was only going to continue to get tougher. “What do her friends call her?”

Oh, boy, what was it?  “Maggie!”

Relief…I finally got one right. Apparently that was enough. He announced over the loudspeaker, “Could Maggie please come pick up Billy?”

Mom was furious…not that I’d gotten lost, but that I’d forced her to answer to ‘Maggie’ in front of a thousand people. Unbeknownst to me, ‘Maggie’ was reserved for close friends - mom said it was a name you would give a cow - while to the rest of the world she preferred to be known as ‘Margaret.’

On the train ride home, I heard an announcement of the fares: children 4 and under were free, children 5 to 12 were half price.  I announced – rather too loudly – that I had turned five while we were in Seattle, and advised Mom that we now had to pay a fare for me.

Mom said, “Shush! I don’t have any more money!”


Field Service

I can’t even imagine how Mom went in service with all those kids, but I know she did. As if that weren’t enough, she teamed up with other sisters who likewise were out in service without their husbands. The ones I recall were Thelma Young, Polly Corey, and a family named Skinner. I was once at a door with a sister - mom was in the car in the driveway – when I got bored with what the sister was saying and decided to go investigate the householder’s goldfish pond.  Never made it back to the door… Mom spotted me, invited me to get back into the car, where she got my undivided attention.

I also remember the first time I spoke at a door. I was 5. The man I spoke to was washing his boat – an activity that struck me as particularly redundant.

I said, “We are offering the Watchtower and Awake on a contribution (I remember that part because I had struggled for days with the word “contribution”) of 10 cents.”

The man, chewing a cigar, said, ‘Nope.’

I looked up at mom and said, “What do I say now?”

“Just say goodbye,” she said. 

During those formative years Dad was away a lot. He worked for Ray Schrader Construction, a company that built large concrete projects, usually for state governments – bridges, fish hatcheries, fish ladders, dams. Since there is limited need for such structures in any one place, going to work meant driving a fair distance. Dad usually left for work early Monday morning and returned late Friday evening. “Wait til your father gets home!” was a vague threat early in the week, growing more serious as Friday neared.

While Dad was gone, Mom was left by herself to perform the daily farm chores - feed chickens, milk cows, muck out the barn – with whatever limited help she could get from us kids. Usually less help than hindrance, I’m sure.

 I remember his leaving one Monday and me wanting to kiss him goodbye.

“Men don’t kiss,” he said, sticking out his hand for a handshake.

Dad never knew what to do with me. I didn’t see any difference between myself and my brothers, but apparently Dad did. I remember him rough-housing with Digger and Chris, the three of them tumbling across the floor as my brothers tried to pin Dad to the floor, but I was too small. If I tried to join in I would inevitably get hurt and start crying, so I was consigned to “Wait until you’re bigger.” Grow as I might, I was always too small.


In 1958, Schrader Construction won the bid for a fish hatchery and fish ladder near Longview, Washington, which was going to have Dad in one place long enough for all of us to go along. We moved into a rental in a nearby town called Cathlamet, near the mouth of the Columbia River. You should have no trouble picturing the house… one just like it was made famous on the television show “The Addams Family.” It seems to have had about 10 bedrooms, but it was so scary that all six of us kids slept in one, boys on the left and girls on the right.

It had a huge barn whose floor was buried a couple feet deep with loose hay and old manure. Digger and Chris rigged up an old wooden wheel barrow to a rope that hung from the rafters in the center of the barn. The wheel barrow, having been hoisted up to the hayloft that lined one side of upper floor, and loaded with young passengers would, upon being released, sail through the air for what felt like hours.

There was also an enormous oak cask lying sideways on a stand in one corner of the barn. We’d been told it contained blackstrap molasses, the purpose of which, I think, was to make old hay more palatable for the long gone livestock. One of my brothers needed to verify the contents and, after much prying, managed to open the valve. It did, indeed, contain molasses. But then he couldn’t get it closed again. Did I mention it was a very large cask?

Zorro was popular on TV when we were living in Cathlamet. My oldest brother Digger was quite taken with the idea of leaving the Mark of Zorro everywhere.  From somewhere he heard that diamonds would cut glass. He used mom’s ring to determine whether that was true. If that house still stands, I can state with confidence that somewhere it bears the Mark of Zorro, unless the owner has replaced every single window and mirror in the whole place.

I was in Kindergarten in Cathlamet. Total waste of my time. The entire curriculum consisted of the alphabet; how to write the numbers one through ten; and how to write my name. My older brothers and sister had already taught me all these things and much more as they returned from school each day. I also knew the difference between real orange juice and the stuff they called orange juice that they served right before nap time. I was never sleepy at nap time, and I eventually figured out that nap time was for the benefit of the teachers, not the nappers.

There was some kind of construction workers strike while we were living there which must have had a noticeable impact on our family economics, since I remember learning what a strike meant even though I was only 5. While that was going on, our refrigerator quit. As it was wintertime, an apple crate on the back porch became our fridge.

Another Cathlamet story: My uncle Red lived with us for a while around that time. I think most of my siblings would agree that he was our favorite uncle. He had nicknames for many of us – my baby sister Jodie was “Jodie Blonde.” Years later I would learn there was a popular southern song called “Jolie Blonde’s Bounce” that probably inspired the name. Uncle Red had a million jokes. He drove a funny-looking little car called a Nash Metropolitan, which he referred to as the “Trash Can.” He camped out in one of the many bedrooms we weren’t using.

One evening, my brother Chris decided to cook baking powder biscuits. Baking powder came in a tin can with a re-closeable lid. In those pre-tupperware days baking powder cans were commonly re-purposed for storing other things. For example, when we went camping, Mom took along a small amount of powdered soap in a baking powder can rather than taking along the whole soap box. When we got home, the baking powder tin of soap was still half full, so mom put it on a high shelf to save it for the next camping trip. Chris, failing to find the baking powder for his biscuits in its normal location, spotted instead the other can on the high shelf, whereupon he invented that lesser known alternative to baking powder biscuits, ‘soap powder biscuits.’  Can’t imagine why they never caught on. Uncle Red ate several of them.


Our next house was in Carrolls, Washington. Last time I drove the freeway north from Portland to Seattle, it didn’t even show up as a town…the sign said “Carrolls Avenue.”

Carrolls had a great general store with a post office in it, a soda fountain which I don’t think I ever patronized, and a cooler full of ice water holding six-ounce bottles of pop that you could purchase for a dime. There was a three cent deposit on the pop bottles. I had a problem with the deposit concept. After paying my dime and drinking my pop in the store, I expected to get three cents back for the bottle. The store owner got quite frustrated with me.

Sunday morning adventure in Carrolls was my brothers and I walking to the store. (Sunday meetings were at 3 P.M. to make sure people knew we were different from Christendom.) Mom needed something, maybe laundry soap. She gave Chris a quarter with stern instructions to bring back the change. Digger may be the oldest, and he was always the leader when it came to mischief, but Chris was the responsible one. And I was the barely-tolerated little brother. We took along a burlap bag. The trip down the hill to the store was almost a treasure hunt. Sunday mornings, according to Digger, was the best time to find bottles because everyone drank on Saturday nights. Between the pennies for the beer bottles and the 3 cents for the pop bottles we all three usually left the store in a sugar-induced fog.

Mom took us to the beach one day. (Much later I figured out it wasn’t the ocean. It was actually the bank of the Columbia, which is huge as it passes Carrolls.) Somehow I lost my shoes. I only had one pair. Mom said I’d have to go barefoot, as she couldn’t afford to buy me new ones. The next day, Digger and Chris were going blackberry picking and I begged to go along. They didn’t want me; Mom insisted. Lacking shoes, I put on several pairs of socks.

The rural roads we walked along sloped down at both sides into what was called a bar pit or borrow pit, a trench a couple feet lower than the road surface to collect runoff when it rained. Leaning out over the borrow pit to reach a berry, I fell in. Every movement stabbed me with a new blackberry thorn, so I did the only logical thing: I stopped moving.

I have often reflected on that in my life: Even while acknowledging I’m in an uncomfortable situation, every path to improving my situation seems to be more painful; so I tend to end up doing nothing. I would probably still be there if Chris hadn’t yanked me out. Later, we returned to the beach and found my shoes.

In Carrolls I started the first grade. Miss Wolfe was my teacher. She had iron-gray hair in a severe cut. She drove a Jeep. Today she would probably be assumed to be a lesbian. Back then I doubt if the general population even knew that word. She had no use for my religious beliefs. She tried on more than one occasion to make me salute the flag or stand for the national anthem. She went so far as to take all of us to another room, which had nothing but a piano in it, no chairs, and had us all stand around the piano and sing a couple songs. I loved singing, this was right up my alley. Then, just as I was getting into it, she segued into the Star Spangled Banner. Well, Mom had prepared me well. Under no circumstances was I going to stand for the National Anthem…I sat down on the floor, the kids around me tugging on me to try to get me back on my feet.

We had options for television viewing. On Sunday nights, for example, you had the option of watching Maverick or going to bed. I always stayed up and watched as long as I could, but I was nevertheless sent upstairs to bed before my brothers. I hated this, and not just for the reasons you would assume. There was much talk on the news about ICBMs. I didn’t know exactly what they were, but I knew they were terrible, and that they came from the sky. If one hit our house I, being alone on the second floor, would be the first to go.

The significance of the move to Carrolls was its effect on Dad. When he was growing up in Washington, one of his closest friends had been Cedric Gill. Cedric’s mom Mary was a Witness. She had tried to raise her 12 kids in the truth, but apparently Cedric didn’t grasp it until the war. Once in the Army, he remembered some of the things his mother had taught him. He filed for Conscientious Objector status, and went home. Fifteen years later, he was now the Congregation Overseer in Longview.

He showed up one night at the house in Carrolls as dad was working out an estimate for a job he wanted to bid on. There were blueprints strewn from one end of the dining table to the other. The ‘dining table’ was actually a redwood picnic table that had been enlarged by means of a sheet of plywood nailed to the top.  Cedric looked at these eight feet of plans and said something like, “We are really going to need your expertise in the New World,” to which Dad replied, “Right. You’re going to need a lot of dams and bridges while you are all sitting under your vines and fig trees.”

Dad’s impression was that the only difference between Witnesses and other religions was where we planned to be while playing our golden harps. When Cedric showed him Isaiah 65:21 about building houses and inhabiting them, it sparked Dad’s interest.  He invited Dad to a circuit assembly.  When Dad hesitated, my older sister Connie pointed out that Cedric’s mom would be there, whom dad respected and hadn’t seen in years. So he attended that Sunday. It was held in a high school auditorium.  Cedric was mortified when they ran out of food before the Underwoods got to eat dinner, but dad hardly noticed.

What he did notice was this: After the final prayer the ‘big wig’ who gave the main talk and said the final prayer (the district overseer), instead of self-importantly disappearing back stage to do big wig stuff, came forward. He came down the steps leading off the stage into the audience, came right up to Dad and introduced himself.  Cedric had, of course, set this up, but Dad didn’t know that at the time. It set a great example of humility for Dad.

I remember two things Cedric said to me: The first was, ‘You know what? As the conductor of the Watchtower study, my Watchtower comes with the answers already in it.’ A pause while I responded with appropriate amazement. Then he said, ‘Yep, all I have to do is find them.’ My other memory from him is, “What is wrong with you if your nose runs and your feet smell?’ I gave up. ‘You’re upside down!’ I still tell the same joke to six-year-olds to this day.

Dad was baptized in 1959, in Spirit Lake – the lake that later disappeared when Mount St Helens blew up. Dad was never comfortable with new experiences, and he was a powerful swimmer. So after his baptism, instead of coming back ashore where someone was waiting to hand him a towel, he struck out in an Australian crawl for the opposite shore.


La Grande

 Having completed the fish hatchery or fish ladder or whatever it was in Longview, we moved again. I attended second grade in La Grande, Oregon. The presiding overseer there was Merle Burling. He and his wife reminded me of the ‘Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean’ rhyme, only it wasn’t their diets that put me in mind of it, it was their temperaments. Blanche seemed to stress about everything, whereas Merle was one of the happiest men I ever knew. I remember one Friday night at the end of the service meeting, having sung (to the accompaniment of Blanche’s piano-playing) the final song of the evening and bowed our heads, there was a long pause while we shuffled, wondering when Merle was going to begin the prayer. It turned out he was spying on us, waiting for every head to go down, then he called out, “Let’s sing another one!” Blanche was mortified. We all happily sang another song.

Other La Grande memories: a kids group study of the Watchtower on Saturday nights, followed by dancing. This was before “The Twist” came along and made dancing evil for all single people. Merle’s son, Phil, was a horseman, and I learned that ‘Philip’ in Greek means “lover of horses.” I named Felipe in my novel “Unbroken” after him. I Never knew if he became a horseman because of his name or if his parents somehow guessed his future when they named him.

I didn’t dwell on it…his little sister, Shirley, who was my own age and who had the most beautiful curly blonde hair, was the center of my attention.  A block away from us lived another witness family, the Boyds. One of the Boyd girls was sweet on me, but I had no time for her. I only had eyes for Shirley, who had no time for me. My first – but unfortunately nowhere near my last – experience with a “love triangle.” 

Another memory: a new school was being constructed across the street from our house in La Grande, and of course we were strictly enjoined from entering the construction site… I still bear the scar under my chin from our explorations there. I had a friend named Jon Gruis who was ‘rich.’ That is to say, his father probably made the same money mine did, but his family consisted of four instead of eight. One day Jon gave me a dozen shirts he’d outgrown. When I arrived home with my arms full, Mom said, ‘Let me show you how to iron.’ I ironed my own shirts from that day on. 

The job in La Grande was a tall highway bridge over the Grand Ronde River. One step of building such a bridge is diverting the river below in order to build the piers of the bridge on solid ground. So during construction the deck of the bridge was perhaps eighty feet above bare ground that was spotted with mud puddles of water seeping from the river. A brother named Dick Ansell from the La Grande congregation worked on that bridge project. Despite repeated warnings, he didn’t like wearing a safety belt, and one day he fell off. To everyone’s surprise, he wasn’t killed, or even injured. He landed in one of the puddles where the river was supposed to be. After determining that he was all right, Dad promptly fired him – for a few days, at least.

The summer before 9th grade I returned to La Grande. Phil and his wife invited me to spend the summer on his horse farm. My first taste of independence. Connie was spending the summer in Pendleton, so she was required by the folks to deliver me to Phil. She and I had an odd relationship. She never spoke to me, if she could avoid it. She believed Mom gave me preferential treatment. It was probably true from her perspective; it certainly wasn’t from mine. Since she hated speaking to me, I of course spent the six hour trip purposely trying to provoke her into talk to me.

That summer at Phil’s I learned to ride, I learned to slaughter sheep, I learned to drive (through pastures) in Val Pelsner’s Jeep. I got a taste of Phil and his wife's pioneer lifestyle. And, of course, I did my best to make Shirley love me. She still wasn’t having it.

 I got a letter from Mom that summer that said, 'Jodie's better. She can say a few words now, and she seems to recognize me and Dad.' What in the world??? I called home collect. Turns out the family had gone to one of Dad's construction jobs on the highway from Bend to Burns. A large blast was happening to remove some rock. Jodie had gotten scared and ran toward the cars, further from the blast. A chunk of rock had flown over the group and come down on Jodie's head. Dad threw her into Digger's (fast) 1966 Buick Gran Sport and rushed her to the hospital in Burns. 

And Connie, in Pendleton, had been told all this, with instructions to tell me, but...



 When we had moved from La Grande it was to build a dam in Prineville, Oregon. Before we moved to Prineville, the congregation there had 16 publishers. With our arrival they had a 50 percent increase in one month! I don’t remember whether it was the move to or the move away from Prineville, but during one or the other, the TV went to the dump. Dad decided it was interfering with our studies.  So my formative years were sorely lacking in talking horses, favorite Martians, Bradys and Jeanies.

The Kingdom Hall in Prineville had a wood-burning stove for heat, a single restroom with no hot water, and a pump organ instead of a piano. The pianist, or rather organist, was a schoolteacher. Another sister in that congregation, Mary Leisure, drove a Volkswagen.  People back then (except for Volkswagen owners) considered Volkswagens to be toys, not like real cars.  Evidently my brothers were also infected with this attitude, as one evening after the Friday night meeting, they and a couple other young boys lifted Mary’s car over a low block wall into the back yard of the house next door to the Kingdom Hall, from which position it could not be driven out.  She was furious, mom was even more so, and we won’t even talk about Dad. See, I wasn’t the only troublemaker in our family. 

In front of the organ was a stool that rolled on large clear glass marbles. One of them came loose after a meeting, and I claimed it. I took it to school and engaged in a game of marbles with it, thinking I would win everything because my special clear marble was huge! And, I lost it. When Mom and Dad figured out what I'd done, I had to go back to the kid, explain that the large marble wasn't mine, and I needed it back. I had to give him all my marbles to get it back to return it to the Kingdom hall.

The presiding overseer in Prineville was Earl Jacques. Working in service with him one day, he counseled me not to stop knocking the dust off my shoes after a trek up a particularly long, dusty driveway.  This was the first reference I had heard to Matthew 10:14. Earl told me we might encounter a householder that knew that scripture who would think I was condemning them.  It was years later before I realized he was kidding.

Another day in field service, my brother Chris had a thumbtack he had ‘borrowed’ from the Information board at the Kingdom Hall. He would put it in his mouth then pretend to swallow it and start choking, for the entertainment of the other kids in the back of the station wagon.  Remember, family cars back in those days were about half a block long, so the adults in the front seat were oblivious to his antics.

You can probably write the rest of this story yourself: Chris goofed, inhaled the thumbtack for real, and started to choke. X-rays at the Prineville hospital revealed the thumbtack lodged at the split of his bronchial tubes. The small town hospital’s opinion was that it would need surgery to remove it, which they didn’t feel competent to perform. So, Mom and Dad had to drive him 100 miles to Eugene, wheezing all the way, where a doctor pushed a tube down his throat, guiding it past the ‘flap’ that Jehovah created specifically to keep thumbtacks out of lungs (which Chris had ingeniously thwarted) and into his bronchials. He then attached a vacuum cleaner to the tube and sucked the tack out.

For the move from La Grande to Prineville Mom and Dad had purchased a 10 by 55 foot, 3 bedroom, single-wide mobile home. (I believe by this time the farm in Redlands was in the process of being sold.) The second and third bedrooms were smaller than the average solitary confinement cell. One of them had a double bed taking up the entire floor space topped by a single-size bunk bed. My three sisters shared that one. The other had ordinary bunks, and my two brothers shared that one. I slept on the couch in the living room. 


The mobile home was parked at the Crystal Corral Trailer Park, across the highway from Ochoco Reservoir. My brothers built a massive raft in the driveway, then rolled it on logs a considerable distance down the drive, across the highway, and into the lake, where it promptly disappeared. Undeterred, they detached and ‘borrowed’ a nearby floating dock. We poled it (well, they poled it, I was just 8) along the water for quite a distance.

The hillside behind the trailer park was stippled with Juniper trees and rose steeply until it met the bottom of a cliff called the ‘rimrock.’ Digger, Chris and I spent many hours up there. I found that Juniper trees make for poor climbing – the limbs break, and they leave pitch on your palms that is impossible to get off. The country is supposedly infested with rattlesnakes, but we never saw any. I don’t remember even thinking about them. If I were to climb up there today I’m quite sure rattlesnakes would occupy the center of my attention. I passed the now-abandoned Crystal Corral recently and paused to look up at the rimrock. I couldn’t believe boys of eight, ten and twelve could possibly make that climb.

My third grade teacher in Prineville was a certain Miss Morris who, if she enjoyed being a teacher, went to great lengths to hide the fact.  About all I can tell you about Miss Morris is that she limped, at least temporarily. This was not a deformity. It was simply the result of an unfortunate encounter between her foot and my boot, after she meted out some of her brand of injustice with a ruler across the back of my head for some infraction for which I adamantly maintain my innocence.

At the convention in Portland in 1960, volume 5 of the New World translation was released at the convention. The volume containing the Greek Scriptures had been released in 1950, and volumes 1-4 had been released over the intervening years. Dad lost no time taking all 6 volumes to Oregon Bookbinding, a mom-and-pop bookbindery in a basement of a house in Portland, to have them all bound into a single large book. They also did a great business in Watchtower volumes for people like Dad who hadn’t been in the truth when said volumes came out. We made several trips there with loose back issues Dad had collected.

In 1961 we attended the six-day United Worshipers assembly at the end of summer at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. We assumed San Francisco in summer would be hot. If you’ve been to Candlestick Park in August, you know how wrong that assumption can be. Even though I was only 9, I worked in Refreshment Expediting – a word with which I was unfamiliar. Turned out it meant doing my best to assist with getting pies and sandwiches from the preparation room to the Refreshment stands. I mis-timed a run late in the evening – sessions back then ran until about 9:00 at night – and found myself pushing a large metal cart up and up the ramps around the stadium as tens of thousands of brothers and sisters were trying to get down those ramps and out to their cars.

I also witnessed an extremely tall, thin black man with a beard pick up two of the contribution boxes and walk out with them.

While the rest of us envied Dad’s single volume New World translation, we all got a much more manageable-size green copy of the translation for a dollar at Candlestick. Brother Knorr’s comment on the color was that green represented life and black was associated with death. Certainly not an inspired statement… our Bibles were soon available in black and maroon.

That assembly also released the first Watchtower Publications Index. Prior to that, research had required looking at a very scant Subject Index on the final page of the final Watchtower for each year.



     In 1962 the Circuit overseer asked dad to move from Prineville to Bend to help out there. Dad had already decided to get out of heavy construction and settle in one place, So Bend it was. Bend at the time had about 35 publishers: The overseer, Bud Smuin, and his family; Archie and Myron Babcock and their respective families; Marie Horsell and her kids; Floy Cowgill and her kids; Rube and Ruth Olson and their kids; Bob and Shirley Rogers and their kids; other more elderly ones, such as the McManmans, Cecil Springate, Elsie Fisher and Audrey Bright rounded out the entire congregation. Mom and Flora Smuin shared piano-playing duty for the meetings, neither one thrilled at the prospect. For a time Mom also did the job of the Accounts Servant. 

In Bend we purchased a seven acre farm and parked the trailer on it. We lived in it for a short time while dad remodeled the farmhouse. We had -27 degree weather that year, freezing pipes in the trailer. Later, we either loaned or rented the trailer to new families in the congregation.

Every Witness who visited – and there were a lot, as our farm was right beside highway 97, the major north/south route through central Oregon – they all got the same pitch: move to Bend, the congregation needs you. Don’t have a job? You can work for Dad. Those who weren’t in construction, well, they could learn. One of the earliest of these was Butch Butolph, looking very cool in Fabian hairdo and his white 1958 Impala, about to marry Toy and looking for somewhere where the need was greater. Dick Ansell, mentioned earlier, moved his family from La Grande. Rex and Martha Blott and their Young son Jon moved in from California. Rex had been a circuit overseer until Jon came along. He picked up construction when he came to Bend. Today Bend has about 10 congregations, and construction is still the predominant trade among the brothers.

As a fourth-grader in Bend, my new best friend was Bart Horsell. One day He and Ken Babcock took me to climb Pilot Butte. Initially I got frustrated with their shenanigans…I thought the object was as stated: to reach the top of the butte.  Bart finally explained to me that the stated goal should actually be understood as playing around, on or near Pilot Butte.  After that I got into it.

 One way cool thing we did (I don’t know why I never did this again, it was so much fun that one and only time) was to cascade down the cinders that spill out of one side of the butte. This involved a death-defying jump down a cliff –probably all of ten or fifteen feet – landing on the cinders, which sloped at a steep angle and cushioned your fall as they avalanched away beneath your feet. By taking very large steps down through the cinders you could almost feel like you were skiing. The problem was that the rocks got in my boots, so I took them off. After the second or third trip down the slope the cinders had worn holes in my socks.  Maybe that’s why I never did it again.




 One of Dad’s projects in Bend in January of 1963 was a factory for a company called North Pacific Products. They made toy balsa-wood airplanes. One of their slogans was “The only American-made planes flown in Russia!”

Dad had read about a construction method called “tilt-up”. In essence, after your floor is poured, you assemble a six-inch thick form, sort of an overgrown picture frame, and pour it full of concrete. You pour all the panels you need to make the building. After 10 days or so, you knock away the simple forms and use a crane to ‘tilt’ the panels up into place to become the walls.

To appreciate the tilt-up method, think about the last time you saw any tall concrete structure being ‘poured-in-place’, perhaps a retaining wall, or a leg that will end up holding up a highway overpass. What that form requires, besides a lot of lumber, is some serious engineering skill. Wet concrete is extremely heavy, and gets heavier the higher you go. If you were to pour concrete into a 3-inch deep tupperware container, it would hold it, no problem. But if you tried to pour it into a 2-foot-deep container made of the same Tupperware material, it would deform; and a 3-foot tall container would likely burst. So pouring concrete slabs onto a flat surface inside a 6-inch-high form takes far less lumber and almost no engineering skill.

The tilt-up project for North Pacific Products made front-page news in The Bend Bulletin at the time. It was the first Tilt-up building in Bend, one of the first in the state. Years later, it became obvious that Jehovah had been directing Dad to learn that particular construction technique.


That summer was the 8-day International Everlasting Good News assembly. It was an around-the-world event. It started in Milwaukee, then went to New York, then continued to Europe, Asia and Africa until it reached the west coast of the U.S., the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. A few hundred publishers who could afford to traveled as a group tour to all the stops, going around the world with the program. Most of us, however, waited for it to come to us. The final attendance altogether was over half a million.

The Society had printed up fluorescent Orange bumper stickers for those driving to an assembly. My little sisters and I started hanging out beside the highway watching for the bumper stickers and waving madly when we saw one. Then it was our turn to go.

We had a (theoretically) 10-passenger 1963 Rambler station wagon for our family of 8, so naturally my mom invited along two more passengers for the 1000 mile trip: a couple older pioneer sisters from Prineville, Ronhilde Lindstrom and Dutch Wilson. Air conditioning was probably available for Ramblers in 1963, but this one didn’t have it. But it had a luggage rack. Which was a good thing, since there was absolutely no spare room inside the car. At one point a bug or something came in through the window and struck my eye. I started wailing. Ronhilde immediately grabbed my head and licked my eye. Weirdest thing that had ever happened in my short life. ‘Because de tong is sovt, you see,’ she explained.

There are too many memories from that assembly to recount. We arrived a couple days early. At 11, I naturally wanted to run to the top of the stadium and peer over the wall as soon as we were through the gates. This was my first experience with Los Angeles smog; I couldn’t understand why I had to stop, wheezing, before I got to the top.

Dad was assigned to the Construction department, which meant building temporary plywood rooms on the pavement for First Aid, Literature and other departments, as well as tables for the cafeteria, and extra Men’s rooms, right down to a sloped plywood trough with a hose dribbling water in one end to serve as a urinal.  

California was so hot! I had a small straw hat to keep the sun off. A buddy named Chris (You can read more about Chris in this column I wrote a couple years ago) convinced me it would look much cooler if it had a golf tee stuck in the side of the hatband. As it happened the L.A. River bordered the Rose Bowl, and just across the river was a golf course. So Chris and I climbed down the concrete embankment of the river, hopped across the two-foot-wide stream and climbed up the other side to a golf course. It took very little time to find a discarded tee. But we weren't fast enough. A security guard for the golf course came wheeling over in a golf cart and yelled at us. Attendants saw the interaction and came across a bridge to hustle us out of there. Chris didn't rightly remember where his mother was sitting, and was allowed to go find her. I was taken and turned over to Dad, who walloped me and sent me to sit with Mom.

What I learned at that assembly: Brother Franz really really hated Babylon. He had a high, nasally voice and was tough to listen to, but he sure knew his stuff. The book Babylon the Great has Fallen! was released. It was over my head at the time, I think over most heads, but it made sense later. We also got the book All Scripture is Inspired of God and Beneficial, a book we still make good use of.

California was in a months-long drought. We had a circus tent set up as a cafeteria on a patch of grass outside the stadium. Tens of thousands of Witnesses could be shuffled through the tent very rapidly for 3 meals each day (breakfast was 35 cents; lunch and dinner were 65 cents; no ordering, just take an already filled tray and move along to a standing-only table, and eat quickly.) But after a couple days, the grass leading to the Cafeteria tent had turned to dust. The Health Department showed up and threatened to stop the assembly because of all the dust right next to all the food. Two hours later, it rained. Problem solved.

As Brother Knorr was telling this and other stories during his final talk, I remember him saying, ‘My time is up, but I’m going to keep talking. If you need to leave, just leave.’ A few did leave. He went on for a total of three and a half hours! One of his comments that I remember was: ‘We now have over one million preachers worldwide. Matthew 24:14 is no longer standing in the way of Armageddon coming. The Good News has been and is being preached in all the inhabited earth.’

We had roomed with a family – not Witnesses – who were charging probably $5 a night for a couple bedrooms and bathroom privileges. On our final night there, the lady was bragging about Billy Graham’s crusade that was town that week having the largest religious convention ever. Digger piped up that we had just come from a meeting of 118,000.

We spent the next day at Disneyland. Our family was frequently divided up into ‘big kids’ and ‘little kids’. The little kids were to stay with Mom & Dad, and Ronhilde and Dutch; the big kids were allowed to go off on their own. I whined, of course: I was 11, certainly too old to be stuck with the little kids all day! Mom caved, and I went off with Connie, Digger and Chris, who promptly ditched me. I spent the day at Disneyland by myself. I quickly found that I was, indeed, too big for the kiddie rides, but many of the rides that did interest me I wasn’t allowed on alone. I also ran out of money by noon and spent the next 3 hours just walking around and looking.



 At the assembly in 1966 we received the book Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God, which contained a timeline showing that 1975 would mark 6,000 years since Adam’s creation. Speculation exploded. Talks from the platform said, very specifically, ‘Does this mean Armageddon is coming in 1975? No. It simply marks the 6,000th year of man’s existence.’ But that didn’t stop the speculation.

This was not the first time ‘6,000 years ends in the mid-70s’ was announced. It had appeared in print in “The Truth Shall Make you Free” in 1943. But in 1943, the Seventies were a lifetime away. In 1966, it was less than a decade.

In a closing talk at one of those assemblies, Brother Franz said: “Does it mean that Babylon the Great is going to go down by 1975? It could… It could. But we are not saying. All things are possible with God. But we are not saying. And don’t any of you be specific in saying anything that is going to happen between now and 1975.”

Didn’t matter. A lot of us had opinions, and some of us didn’t keep them to ourselves. I knew some who came into the truth because they believed the world would end in 1975. Some of those adjusted their thinking and stayed, and some didn’t.

I have lived my entire life believing that Armageddon’s coming Tuesday. One of these Tuesdays I’ll be right.

On Saturday of that assembly, I found my mom during the lunch break and she asked, “Why is your hair all wet?” (I still had hair back then.) I said I’d gotten baptized. She hadn’t known I was even thinking about it. I was 14.

The following year we received the book Your Word is a Lamp to My Foot and a new arrangement: the book contained eighty questions that needed to be discussed with baptismal candidates before they could be considered qualified for baptism.



Digger was the cool one in the family – the Fonz without the leather jacket. Unlike me he was good at every sport. Unlike me he never chased girls. Unlike me, he never used ten words when two would do.

I remember sweating bullets about a 5 minute talk assignment about Abraham that I had on the school when I was twelve. Digger's advice was: read everything you can find about Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Hagar, and Ishmael. (This was before the Aid book, so it would involve poring over the Index and pulling down volume after volume of Watchtowers and Awakes.) "I only have 5 minutes!" I said. "I cant possibly use any of that." 

"Doesn't matter," he said. "For those 5 minutes, you will be the Abraham expert in the hall. You'll know more than Dad. It will keep you calm." He was right. 

We had a Watchtower lesson sometime in the early 60s about thinking carefully before speaking. Digger and my future brother-in-law Vernon Olson seemed to really latch onto it – almost as if they were in a competition to see who could respond the most carefully.

Chris didn’t chase girls either. He seems to have decided early on that Beverly Smuin was the one. In his mid teens he started riding the school bus home to the Smuin house instead of ours, nearly every day. Just before supper our phone would ring, Flora politely asking permission for Chris to stay for dinner. To this day, I contend that the main reason Chris is the normal one in the family is because he was raised by the Smuins. Where Dad’s modus operandi was ‘Get it done or else,’ Bud Smuin’s method was, ‘Let me show you how to do that.’



Quickly built Kingdom Hall

By the late 60s the congregation was dramatically outgrowing the old Kingdom Hall on Revere. (For those of you familiar with Bend, I believe the building is now a karate school.) Meetings often had over 200 in attendance. I don't know why Dad was reluctant to split the congregation into two. 

The practice back in those days, when a new hall was needed, was for the congregation to spend all their spare time over the course of a couple years (including, unfortunately, time that could have been better spent in field service) slowly building it themselves.

Dad had a different idea. He believed that with all the construction workers in the congregation we should be able to complete the project in 8 weekends and then get back out in service.

When the old Kingdom Hall was put up for sale Dad thought he would have several weeks or months to shop for land and design a new hall. The zoning of the old hall meant that the property was only good for a house or a church. He was shocked when the realtor called with a buyer – a church, not the karate studio – just days later. The church wanted us out right away, so we had to shift our meetings to the gymnasium of Bear Creek School.

Dad made some phone calls and found out where 3 new halls were under construction in Oregon and Washington. He piled the family in the station wagon and we headed off on a weekend field trip. I recall one nearly-complete hall we visited. The auditorium was square but angled 45 degrees to the foyer, with the stage in the corner opposite the entry and seating wrapping in an arc around it. One of the brothers was excited to show Dad how the auditorium floor sloped. ‘It’s not just slanted, it’s a true funnel!’ And he’d explained how he had achieved that – something about tying a string at the center of the stage and moving it in an arc... it was lost on me.

When we got back to the car, I discovered it hadn’t impressed Dad, either. “I’m sure the brother enjoyed solving the math problem,” he said. “But he created a massive construction problem.”

He did end up using the stage-in-the-corner idea. He hated roving mikes and liked the idea of all in the audience being a shorter distance from the stage. But he tossed the idea of a sloped floor in favor of a normal flat one.

Dad told the realtor we needed an acre of land, and that we couldn’t pay more than $1,000. If you live in Bend now, I’m sure you are laughing out loud at the thought of an acre of land in Bend for $1,000, but this was 1967 or thereabouts and real estate prices had only just started climbing.

At a Sunday meeting in the gymnasium, Bud Smuin told Dad the congregation could have one acre on the back of his 6-acre farm for free. The next day, the realtor said he had found what he was sure was the last land in Bend that could be had at that price, but it was 3 acres for $3,000 on Boyd Acres Road – the opposite side of town from Bud’s farm.

Free, clearly, is better than $3,000. But Dad had some concerns. First, using Bud’s property would have meant the friends exiting via Hayes Avenue onto highway 97 right on the inside of a blind curve, at an intersection with no traffic light. Dad was afraid someone would get hit by a truck while leaving a Friday night meeting in the dark. His other concern was, what if? What if Bud came to regret giving away his property? What if he continued to view it as ‘his property’, or ‘his hall’?

The next day, Dad was having lunch with an excavation contractor. He told him about his land dilemma. Mr. Degree said, ‘I know exactly where that property is on Boyd Acres. I have a Cat just a couple lots over from there. Tell you what: I’ll go over on my lunch hour tomorrow and scrape it off for you. I’ll do it myself so I don’t have to pay anyone, and it won’t cost you a dime.’ Dad agreed.

The next day, Dad got another call. He had a massive construction project going on at the time, a resort village called Sunriver, so he was ordering lumber by the semi-truckload. He had tallied up what lumber would be needed for a Kingdom Hall and had tacked on that amount to his last Sunriver order so that the congregation could benefit from his bulk discount. Now the trucker was calling wanting to know where to unload this extra lumber. So Dad gave him directions to the Boyd Acres property. Nope: still didn’t own it. But rumblings were beginning.

That Friday night at the Bear Creek School gymnasium, Dad decided to forego the regular service meeting parts and open up the land discussion to the congregation. It got somewhat heated. The Smuins were connected by marriage to half the congregation, and that half liked the idea of “free”, and the idea of the hall being basically in Smuins’ backyard. The other half didn’t think $3,000 was too high a price to pay, and liked the idea of the hall being on the other end of town. Finally, Dennis Babcock, by this time married to Bonnie Smuin, broke the deadlock by submitting that the land might someday be worth something and it wouldn’t be fair to Bud. (He was right: a few years later Bud sold his 6 acres for a million dollars.)

With the log jam broken Dad invited the whole congregation to show up on Boyd Acres Road bright and early the next morning, and to bring their tools. When we got home from the meeting, Dad called the realtor and told him we’d take the land. A couple brothers bought the excess land to build their own homes on, so it still ended up costing the congregation nothing for the land.

And the hall was completed in 8 weeks.


The Draft

When I turned 18, Vietnam was going on. So was the draft. Our draft board made it very simple: if you had a piece of paper with the Watchtower Society’s letterhead on it saying, ‘Bill is appointed as …’ you were a minister. Pioneer appointment, servant appointment (this was before the elder arrangement), didn’t matter.  But if you didn’t have that letter, the draft board didn’t care how many hours you went in service, what you did at meetings, how many Bible students you had; without that piece of paper you were not a minister, and would not get a minister’s deferment.  So Steve, Dennis and Kenneth Babcock; Bart Horsell; Vern and Rod Olson; Jon Blott; Roger Smuin; Bob Stalvey; Steve Spencer; and Digger, Chris, and Bill Underwood, were all highly motivated pioneers. 


It wasn’t as easy to become a pioneer back then as it is now. The quotas were 100 hours a month, 100 magazines, 35 return visits if I remember correctly, and 7 bible studies. It was tough. I was studying with people who could barely stay awake for an hour.

One of my studies happened like this: I had tried to stay in touch with Dan Rogers, a brother our age who had become inactive. I got a call from him one day suggesting I study with his girlfriend.

“Well, Dan, usually sisters study with girls.”

“I know, I tried that. But she’s more confused now. I want you to study with her.”

“How about if I study with both of you?”

He agreed. So on Wednesday evenings I began studying with Dan and his girlfriend, Caroline. She already had a copy of the Truth book. A few years earlier, when she'd been out wrestling with an irrigation problem in a pasture a man wearing a tie had stopped his tiny blue car and walked through the mud to help her out, then given her the book, 'as long as she promised to read it.' When she got home, her mom told her to throw it away, but she wouldn't - she'd promised. 

Unlike the studies I’d had prior to this, she had a mind like a vacuum cleaner. She peppered me with questions. I had to spend hours between studies looking things up. The next Wednesday I’d present my answers to the questions, only to meet a barrage of new questions. I’d never before seen someone so laser-focused on absorbing the truth. I eventually gave her an Aid book. 

Caroline told me later that her mother was aghast that she began studying with Witnesses. She took Caroline to the library to research different religions. Caroline found a chart in one book that listed religions by doctrine: 'Jesus is God, immortal soul, hellfire, clergy/laity,' etc. It clearly showed that Jehovah's Witnesses were the outliers in all those categories, convincing Caroline that she was on to something. Next, Caroline's mom arranged for both of them to study with the Mormons. After a couple weeks, one of the Mormon boys suggested to Caroline that she fast for 3 days, then go somewhere isolated and pray to God for guidance. She followed his advice over a weekend. At the end of the weekend, she stopped studying with the Mormons.

When I was invited to Bethel, after studying with Dan and Caroline for several months, I told her (kidding, but with a straight face) ‘Just memorize the answers to those 80 questions in the Lamp book, then tell the brothers you’re ready.’ Years later she told me she had done exactly that, and couldn’t understand why the others in her baptism group (so many people were getting baptized then the candidates were being interviewed in groups) didn’t have the 80 answers memorized!

In the early 2000s, when I was newly single and friends would want to introduce me to sisters, I’d describe Caroline's zeal for the truth and say, ‘If you are going to try to find me a wife, she has to be like that.’ In 2013, Caroline became my wife.

Steve Spencer and I pioneered in my 1956 Ford Fairlane and his 1963 Ford Galaxy. Gasoline was thirty-three cents a gallon. I would put in one dollar’s worth, which wasn’t enough to raise the needle noticeably above ‘E.’ I’d make note of the odometer, knowing I’d need to be back at the gas station within forty-five miles. I worked, inconsistently, roughly one day a week. I think Mom probably paid for more of my gas than I did.


 The September, 1971 Kingdom Ministry arrived in the U.S. mail of most Presiding overseers, Circuit overseers, and special pioneers on Monday, August 9. Dad was the Presiding overseer in Bend, so they arrived in the Underwood mailbox. He always opened them and read his immediately. On this occasion, he handed one to me and said, ‘There’s something here you might be interested in.’

The front page had a special invitation: “We would like to bring in a hundred or more strong, single brothers, between 18 and 45 years of age, as temporary workers for one year. We need carpenters and painters, along with many to work in printing, in the book bindery and in mailing operations.” The next day, my letter was in the mail, as was that of my pioneer partner, Steve Spencer. We had both talked about going to Bethel, but a four-year commitment, at such a young age, was daunting. One year was doable.

For the next several days we talked about all the cool things we were going to do together in New York, speculated on whether we could room together, work together, be assigned to the same congregation. Steve, after all, had learned everything there was to know about construction from his father; I had learned next to nothing. When I got my acceptance letter, I immediately called Steve. He hadn’t gotten his yet. The next day, he still hadn’t gotten it, nor the day after...  He was 17, wouldn’t be 18 until sometime in September. We didn’t know at the time that Bethel doesn’t bend rules like that…if they said you had to be 18, they meant you had to already be 18, not almost 18. It finally started to sink in that I was going to New York by myself.

In a talk a few months later, Brother Knorr said there had been over 1,500 replies to that Kingdom Ministry request for 100 brothers. He applied Psalm 110: 3, about a ‘company of young men just like dew-drops’ to us. It gave me shivers to have Brother Knorr suggesting that our group was fulfilling a Bible prophecy. In discussions among ourselves, the 100 of us later figured out that nearly all of us were either special pioneers, or sons of presiding overseers. It wasn’t that we were the best; it was simply that we got our letters in the quickest. Ken Flodin was one of those 100, as was David Lowery, Barry Titterington, Gary Vaughn...

A couple days before I got on the plane for New York, Mom took me aside and told me, ‘Dick Ansell said he doesn’t think you’ll last a month before you come crying home to your mother. So, I don’t care what it takes, you make sure you prove him wrong.’

I went to a circuit assembly the weekend I was leaving for Bethel, where I met a brother who had just returned from Bethel. I told him I was being met at the airport. He gave me a subway token, “Just in case,” he said. He also told me if I needed it to take the Q-10 bus from JFK airport, get a transfer slip from the bus driver so I could get on the A train without paying again, then get off the A train at High Street. As it turned out, I needed it.

Mom had written to Gordy and Linda Grover, a couple Mom and Dad had studied with who were in Gilead, (the man with the tiny blue car who had placed the Truth book with Caroline) asking them to meet me. She gave them all the details of my arrival except one: She failed to include the date. So the fresh-faced, naïve farm kid was all alone at JFK. If I’d had any money, I’d have gotten back on the plane and headed home.

Instead, I hefted my four, forty-pound bags (Mom: ‘Why should we pay for shipping when you’re allowed 4 bags for free?’), and headed for the buses.

I learned an important lesson about New Yorkers that evening: They won’t tell you they don’t know. ‘Excuse me, can you tell me where I can find the Q-10 bus?’ ‘Sure, pal. See dat bus in front of dat building over dare? Dat’s it.’ Trudge three blocks. ‘Excuse me, is this where the Q-10 bus stops?’ ‘No, no. This is for international. You want to go...’ Points in a different direction.

After the third misdirect, I learned. Ask someone, thank them and wait for them to walk away, then ask someone else. Then do it a third time. If two of the answers agree then, maybe, that’s the right answer.

The bus driver was kind enough (?) to yell at me to get off at the stop where I could get on the A train. It took me a minute to figure out that the subway wasn’t under my feet. That far out in Queens it was three flights over my head. I hauled my luggage up to the elevated platform to catch the train. After a couple miles it dropped into a tunnel.

The very long subway platform at High street is about five stories underground. A sign pointing one direction read, “Cadman Plaza.” Another sign, pointing the opposite way, read, “Adams Street.” I’d never heard of Cadman Plaza, but I’d seen 117 Adams Street printed in the inside cover of every Watchtower since I’d learned to read.

The ancient escalator to the surface was too narrow for a person with 1 bag, let alone four. So I lugged my four bags up five flights of stairs. Just as I walked through the exit gate a couple Bethelites – impossible to not recognize – were coming in. ‘You must be new,’ they said. I conceded I was, but how did they know? ‘You came up the wrong end of the platform. This is the factory. You want to get to the Home.’

Fortunately for me, they weren’t going anywhere by subway. They were coming in only because the station master allowed them to use the subway platform to duck under Cadman Plaza Park; walking through the park at this time of night back in the 1970s was a great way to get mugged. One of the perks of being a Bethelite was that the station master knew that, if they said they weren’t getting on a train, they weren’t getting on a train. They got the station master to let me back in without spending another token, and they helped me heft all my luggage back down the five flights, down the length of the platform and up the other side.

One of my fondest memories is walking in the front door of 124 Columbia Heights at 9:00 on a Sunday night and the brother at the desk saying, ‘You must be Bill Underwood. I’m Bud Greenfield. Welcome to Bethel.’ Apparently Gordy and Linda had told him to look out for me. Everybody wanted to shake hands, and I could barely close my hand after hefting those bags.


New Boy

Other quick flashes from Bethel: My first room was a guest room in 124 Columbia Heights – which meant it had its own bathroom - not something most Bethel rooms had. There was no lock on the room door and I couldn’t help thinking I was already in the New World. I spent the requisite two and a half days assisting a housekeeper cleaning rooms in a building called the Standish. There were ‘New Boy talks’ every Monday night after the family Watchtower study for the first 10 weeks, dealing with such subjects as Surviving New York (‘Never walk idly, even if you’re lost. Always walk like you are in a hurry and don’t have time to get mugged. Don’t gawk at the sights, don’t look people in the eye, don’t smile at them.’) Cleanliness; Table manners; Congregation manners (‘”Home” is either Bethel or your congregation. Never tell friends in your new congregation how you did things 'back home...”’) Bethel manners (Never come to the table late; think of your table head as your father; if a Bethelite gives you a ride in his car, give him the equivalent of a subway token); Sex...

Brother Knorr gave that one. He said, ‘We’ve been telling your parents for years to teach you these things, but we know from experience that in many cases they haven’t. So I’m going to.’ Which he proceeded to do, very bluntly. He also described a possible scenario: ‘You’re at a single sister’s house for a congregation get-together. You happen to be the last to leave, and just as you do it starts raining buckets. She says you can sleep on her couch and go home in the morning. I’m telling you right now, no matter how innocent you claim it was, if you decide to stay the night, don’t come back to Bethel. Ever.’

A few months later Gordy and Linda were graduating from Gilead and Mom and Dad came for a visit. They did all the usual tours, including Wallkill where a new printery was being built. The overseer at Wallkill was Norman Larson. Since Norman knew Mom and Dad well he invited them, both 50, to come to Wallkill as temporary construction workers. He wanted Dad to take charge of the concrete crew.

They went home and sold the house, and Dad wrapped up his employment. Connie, Digger and Chris had all married and moved out. Jodie and Charlotte were still living at home, but Charlotte was dating a brother, Dave Dougherty. Mom and Dad encouraged them to accelerate their plans, and they signed permission for Char to marry at 17. Jodie went with Mom and Dad to Wallkill.



Staying at Bethel

 When regular Bethelites completed their 4-year commitment, they were allowed to remain as long as they wished. We 1-year fellows assumed we would also have that option. Word got back to the Bethel office about that assumption, and we all got an internal letter about 2 weeks before our year was up: Either sign up for 4 years, or go home.

About a dozen of our number signed up for 4 years. They included David Lowry – a brother I’d worked with in the magazine department, who went on to head the magazine department at Wallkill – and Ken Flodin, now a helper to the Teaching Committee whom you’ve probably seen on JW Broadcasting. Makes you think about the far-reaching effects of your decisions, doesn’t it? It does me.

I chose to leave Bethel, as I was by then engaged to marry a sister I’d met. It was literally the last weekend at Bethel that it suddenly dawned on me: I had no home to go home to! Mom and Dad had sold the house and moved to New York. My brother Chris and his wife were kind enough to put me up in Bend until I was able to get my feet under me. Andree came a couple months later and we married. 50 years later, Chris is still married to Bev, and Charlotte is still married to Dave. Connie was married to Vern until he died during the Pandemic. I should have stayed at Bethel...

At my first meeting back in Bend, a short red-haired sister came up and punched my shoulder. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?” she asked. I’d been in school with Virginia Fullerton since we were 9 years old. Apparently I’d never once witnessed to her. Around the time I left for Bethel someone knocked on her door. Ginnie Sporalski as she now was studied and was baptized within the year I was in New York. 


(If you know Steve Spencer, you'll see he did eventually make it to Bethel. He's the one with no hard hat in the upper left.)

Meanwhile, back at the Farm

Since Jodie, a 15-year-old, was too young to be a Bethelite, Mom and Dad rented a mobile home next door to Watchtower farm and Jodie enrolled in Pinebush high school. She quickly discovered that Pinebush was about a year behind the Bend School system. So she quit school and became a regular ‘visitor’ at Bethel, working at whatever assignments visitors were given each day. 

I recall visiting Mom and Dad and Jodie at Wallkill. It was a workday for them, and Mom and Jodie and a dozen other sisters were seated at a long apple-covered table in the dining and residence building near the hen house, preparing for canning. A brother came in from the hen house, grabbed an apple off the table and munched it, chatting with the sisters about something. 

I sat there thinking, 'He's a Bethelite! How can he just stand around like this? He needs to get back to work.' It finally dawned on me that the walk-fast-work-fast-keep-busy ethic that had become second nature when I was in Bethel was perhaps not really a Christian principle; maybe it was just a New York City thing. In the New World we'll get plenty done, but not at the expense of enjoying association with our brothers and sisters.

 About a year and a half later, Brother Knorr invited Jodie to be a Bethelite and move into a Bethel room. He also invited Mom and Dad to be regular Bethelites (instead of temporary workers) and asked them to move to Brooklyn so Dad could take charge of the complete remodel of the Towers Hotel, which the Society had purchased in 1975.


The Towers

As Dad had been doing all his life, he started with an estimate, laying out all the materials and all the man-hours that would be needed to complete it. He presented his estimate to Brother Knorr. I don’t recall how many hundreds of thousands of dollars were included for labor, but Brother Knorr picked up on it right away. “What’s this charge for labor? Our laborers work for $14 a month.” But Dad had called brother Couch, the home overseer, and asked for the numbers of all the costs involved in running Bethel, from allowance to food to utilities, and then he divided it by the total number of Bethelites. He had derived a figure, if memory serves, of about 80 cents an hour. Then he had multiplied his total number of man-hours for the Towers remodel by 80 cents to come up with a labor cost for the entire project. It was a wake-up call for Brother Knorr. From that point on, the Society began thinking about the cost of labor for doing things ‘the old way’ versus buying a machine that could do the same job a new way.



 The Bethel homes at 124, 107 and 119 Columbia Heights were connected by tunnels. This kept the laundry from having to interrupt traffic to be carted through the streets of Brooklyn Heights. It also allowed Bethelites to move from their rooms to the dining halls in winter without having to worry about the weather, or at night without having to worry about muggers. The Towers Hotel was a block away, however. Was there any possibility of a tunnel? Yes, as it turned out, there was.

Backing up to the 119 building, and across the street from the side entrance of the Towers, was a small brownstone at 86 Willow Street – a two story carriage house with a garage at street level.  It had been purchased by the Society back in the 40s and was used mostly for storage, or on rare occasions when an extra couple residence rooms was needed. In the 60s and 70s, the Bethel doctor was leasing it. (Similar to Jodie’s circumstance when Mom and Dad first arrived at Wallkill, Dr. Dixon was required by law to work a few days a week at a New York hospital to retain his license, so he had to be a commuter Bethelite.) So the Society already owned all the property they needed to tunnel through to connect the Towers to the rest of Bethel.

The garage floor of Doc Dixon’s house was jack-hammered out and the ground excavated down to tunnel level; they got permission to temporarily block Willow street while they ran the tunnel under it. Since the tunnel was quite a bit below the level of the garage, an additional heating oil tank for the Towers was placed in the extra space on top of it. Then a nice new garage floor was poured for Doc Dixon, and one block of Willow Street had nice, new pavement on it, contrasting strongly with the rest of its pot-holed length.

The Towers had a 2-story-high grand ballroom in the lower level. Of course there was support structure all around it to hold up a 14 story building, but it struck Dad as a waste of space. So one of the construction projects became splitting that ballroom in two horizontally, so that it became an upper and a lower dining room. I noticed in the news a few months ago that the new owner of the building, now that the Society has new digs upstate, announced that they were ‘turning the two dining rooms into a magnificent two-story ballroom!’


The Brooklyn office complex

When the Towers project was nearing completion, in 1978, I heard my dad say, ‘Well, they’re probably going to be sending us home, now.’ He was just a bit premature. The Society had purchased the Squibb complex at 25 and 30 Columbia Heights in 1969. A few offices had been built there, but mostly it had been used for paper storage. This allowed the Society to stock up on paper when it was cheaper – and hold off buying when prices rose – since the paper market moved up and down like the price of oil in those days.

Dad was asked to work up plans for 25-30 Columbia Heights to become the new home of all the offices that were scattered throughout 124 and 107. He determined that 30 Columbia Heights could be refurbished. Roughly half of the 25 building was salvageable, but the other half needed to be torn down and replaced. To avoid problems with the New York Unions (hint: organized crime) it was decided that some of the outside structure would be put up by a local contractor; then the brothers could complete the insides themselves.

Early in this construction phase, Dad got a visit from one of the local union presidents. A large compressor was being used to supply air to a jackhammer. The union rep wanted to pressure the Society to hire a ‘union compressor operator’. Somewhere back in the mists of time, I’m sure operating a compressor was an actual job that required some skill. But a compressor operator’s job in the 1970s, as now, was to flip a switch at the start of the day, and flip it off again at the end of the day.

Dad said, ‘Okay, I’ll hire your man. But I’m going to park that compressor right outside my office window, where I can keep an eye on it. If I look out the window and he’s not there, he’s fired.’ The union rep was unhappy with this demand and tried to argue for several minutes, but Dad stood firm. He finally allowed that the Society could probably do without a union compressor operator, and he left. Dad explained to me that it was common practice for the union to make this demand of half a dozen jobsites and have a single union operator make the rounds to all the sites, turning on the compressors in the morning, make the rounds again to turn them off at the end of the day, and collect a full day’s pay from each of the jobsites. In exchange, the operator was expected to sign over all but one of his paychecks to the crooked union official. 

Another story Dad shared from that time: He kept a Rolodex of Bethel applicants filed by their trade. Needing a plumber, he called the first number under 'plumbers'. When a brother answered, Dad invited him and his wife to come to Bethel. The brother said, 'You know, we just filled out paperwork from the Circuit overseer to apply to the substitute circuit work. I think we're going to wait for that.' So Dad moved the card to the back of the 'plumbers' section of his Rolodex and called the next name in the file. The brother responded, 'Wow! We just finished the paperwork to apply for the substitute circuit work. But you got to us first. count us in!' He summed his story up for me with, 'Will that first couple actually get to serve as substitute traveling overseers? Maybe. But if they don't, will they still get called to Bethel? Probably not.'



The Globe

 One of Dad’s early sketches of the lobby of the new office complex envisioned a large globe with seating around it. It seemed appropriate to convey the international scope of the organization. As the plans went through several refinements, the globe continued to be a good idea. Based on the size of the lobby and the seating area, though, doing it for real was going to require an enormous globe. A brother was sent on a shopping trip. He quickly discovered that a globe that was any larger than the kind that normally adorns a school teacher’s desk was going to be ridiculously expensive. A globe the size Dad had specified would cost tens of thousands.

After a long, fruitless search the brother had given up. He was riding the elevator down from the last vendor he visited, ready to head back to Brooklyn to report his failure, when two men in suits got on the elevator. ‘How are you coming on getting rid of that old globe?’ one asked the other. ‘Nobody wants to pay anything for it,’ the other responded. ‘The best bid I’ve gotten for hauling it away is still going to cost us nearly a thousand bucks.’ Needless to say, the men got their problem globe removed for free. The art department gave it a fresh paint job (without its former national borders) and 25 Columbia Heights got a new globe for its lobby.



Not all the buildings were being torn down and replaced. Much of the former Squibb complex was being remodeled. As a brother was cleaning one of the deepest sub-basement areas of the 30 Columbia Heights building, he found a particularly stubborn piece of wood on the floor. Determined to leave no room imperfect, in true Bethel fashion he went to work on it with a pry bar. When it finally came loose, the East River began gushing in.

When Squibb Pharmaceuticals originally constructed the building in the 1920s, the room had been poured on higher ground as a large hollow concrete box. The box, called a caisson, had then been lowered into the river onto pilings that had been driven into the riverbed. To prevent it from floating away it had a hole in its top and its bottom. The river came in through the hole. As it flooded it settled onto the pilings. Then a diver went down and drove a wooden plug into the bottom hole. Air was then pumped into the box to displace the water, and the caisson became the sub-basement upon which the rest of the building was constructed.

Fixing the work of the over-zealous brother required another diver to go down to re-plug the hole, then another pump to get the East River back out to where it belonged.

The new office complex at 25-30 Columbia Heights was completed in 1981. Once again, Dad started saying ‘They’ll probably send us home now.’



 Dad never told me this story. It was related to me by Toby Turcot, the overseer of the Patterson construction project, many years later.

In 1978 the Society purchased land to build a new branch office in Germany. The governing body asked the German brothers to submit plans for what they could build in the first two-year phase of construction. When the plans were received, Brother Henschel took them to Dad and asked him to work up an estimate. Dad’s estimate was that, with the planned workforce, it would take 4 years to build that much. So Brother Henschel wrote back to the German branch, “We asked our Design/Build Department to look over your plans, and they don’t feel it is practical for a 2 year program.” Of course the German brothers replied something to the effect of ‘Ve are Churmans! Ve can do it!’ So the Governing Body asked Dad to go to Selters and help them come up with a more realistic plan.

Shortly thereafter, Dad went to Canada to assist with organizing construction of their new branch. Then a short trip to Nigeria and Ivory Coast for the same reason. At some point, Dad’s title became World Construction Overseer.

During one of those trips, while Dad was in Africa for a couple weeks, Crystal Swingle, the wife of Lyman Swingle of the governing body, approached Mom after breakfast.

“Where’s your husband?”

“He’s in Africa.”

“And why are you here?”

“Oh, well – he’s the construction expert, not me. I’m in housekeeping. I wouldn’t want the Society to waste money on a plane ticket for me.”

“Your place is with your husband,” Sister Swingle said. “While all those brothers are telling your husband what problems they’re dealing with, their wives might very well be telling you what problems they’re really dealing with.”

From then on, where Dad went, Mom went.


(Traffic in Lagos, Nigeria)

 Why were all the trips necessary? I’ll give you some examples. On Dad’s first trip to Nigeria he flew into Lagos, where the airport is, and where the old branch was. However, the 7 mile trip from the airport to the branch took nearly six hours due to the conditions in the overcrowded city. Dad saw 20-story buildings with no indoor plumbing: people were lined up at a standpipe on the sidewalk waiting to fill buckets to carry back up the 20 flights. Vendors on the street were hawking ‘rubies’, ‘emeralds’ and ‘yellow sapphires’. Not coincidentally, most of the traffic lights were missing their red, green and yellow glass lenses...

Ultimately, it was decided that trying to expand the existing branch in that messy metropolis made no sense. Property was acquired instead at a small town 200 miles away called Igieduma. It was actually faster to truck supplies and literature between the nearby port and Igieduma than it would have been to try to transport them into and out of the old branch in Lagos.

Here’s another example. Dad spoke by phone with the branch office of a Caribbean country. He told them when he’d be arriving and asked them to have 3 different potential building sites for him to look at, 'but don’t buy anything until I get there.’ When he arrived, the brothers very proudly showed him the beautiful building site… that they had just put a deposit on. Dad agreed it was beautiful land. However, it was down a steep slope from the road. ‘Every time it rains,’ Dad said, ‘you’re going to be shoveling mud out of your lobby. Now, go get your deposit back. I’ll go over to Haiti and come back. When I get back, have three different parcels for me to look at, and don’t put any money down on any of them.’ 

Dad would begin planning a trip to, say, Puerto Rico; and he would get a call from a brother on the Governing Body. ‘I hear you’re going to Puerto Rico. While you’re in the neighborhood, maybe you could jog over to El Salvador?’ By the time the trip was put together, it would be eight or ten weeks going to every construction project in the Caribbean, then Mexico, Columbia, Brazil...

When they returned, there would be a few weeks catching up with mail and phone calls and reports, putting out local fires, starting new estimates... and then there would be a problem in England or Spain that would need Dad to be on site. And then, ‘Well, since you’re going to England, could you just hop over to Germany...’

Those trips typically lasted three or four months and went to several stops in Europe, then jumped to South Africa, then wove their way north through Africa. Then on to Madagascar, Mauritius, maybe Thailand, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Hawaii; then back to Brooklyn.

When they went to Africa, Mom and Dad had to have two passports. Apartheid was going on in South Africa, and some other African countries would not allow you in if your passport had a South Africa stamp in it – Even if you were getting off a plane that had clearly just landed from South Africa!




 Here’s another story from Nigeria. Dad has always been known for his cowboy boots. (Don’t ask me why he wore them – he certainly wasn’t a cowboy, and at 6’3” he didn’t need the height. As one comedian said, ‘It’s kind of like wearing a welder’s helmet just because you think it’s a cool hat.’ But it was what he was comfortable in.)

We had a circuit overseer in the 60s who insisted that they were inappropriate for a presiding overseer. Dad went out and bought a pair of oxfords and wore them to every meeting for the next 3 years. When he got the letter from the branch telling the congregation about a new circuit overseer, the oxfords went in the trash.

At Brooklyn Bethel a brother with a similar mentality to that circuit overseer went to the office of Max Larson, the factory overseer, to complain about Dad’s boots.

“It isn’t appropriate attire for a Christian,” he said. “They are undignified. Especially in New York City. Especially for someone in a position of oversight.”

Max propped a leg up on his desk, and pulled up his pants cuff. “You mean boots like these?” he asked. Dad had brought Max a pair after his recent vacation back in Oregon.

On dad’s first visit to the construction site at Igieduma, his boots took a beating. That evening, there was a tap on his door. A young Bethel brother stood there.

“May I clean your boots?”

“No no, there’s no need for that. I’ll take care of them.” Dad felt it would look like the ‘great white man’ subjecting a lowly black brother to cleaning his boots. But he noticed a dejected look on the brother’s face as he walked away.

A few minutes later, another tap on the door. Different young Bethelite. “Please, may I clean up your boots?” This time, Dad graciously accepted. He realized the brothers really wanted to get a close look at cowboy boots and, of course, they wanted to render Dad a service.

The next morning, his boots were waiting outside his door, looking better than they had since they were new.



 On many of their stops in Africa it was almost impossible to get out of the airport without paying something to some official. Mom and Dad found that, often, their passports were not being accepted until they also opened their wallets. On one occasion, for example, when Dad opened his wallet to show a customs official his driver’s license, the man reached for the money that was in the wallet. Dad slapped the man’s hand, and the man just shrugged and grinned. In several of the countries they visited, they found that, unless you submitted some cash along with your paperwork, whether visas or building permits, the paperwork never seemed to get processed.

Mom and Dad asked the Bethel office about this persistent problem. The direction they were given eventually ended up as a Question From Readers in the October 1, 1986 Watchtower. In essence it said, if you’re paying someone to get around regulations, that’s a bribe; which, of course, a Christian would not do. But if you’re simply following the local custom of paying an official to perform the legal service he is authorized to do anyway, that’s a tip. From then on, when they were visiting those countries where that was the custom, their passport would have a small amount of cash tucked in it when they handed it over to be stamped.

On one trip to Africa there was a schedule change; an extra country was added to the itinerary. This necessitated a 3-day delay for a new visa, so the brothers took Mom and Dad on a safari. 3 days later they returned to the capitol. A young brother handed Mom and Dad their new visas and left. Then their host took them to the airport. On the way there, the host brother explained that the young brother had been at the embassy day and night, sleeping on the floor there, for the entire 3 days they had been on safari, to get the necessary stamps on the new paperwork.

In another example of African hospitality, the brothers in one country got carried away with a going-away party for Mom and Dad and lost track of time. Dad started fidgeting, as missing the flight would mean a delay of several days. The brothers told him not to worry, flights never left on time. When they finally got to the airport, very uncharacteristically the plane had in fact left early.

But the plane crashed, and Mom and Dad felt that Jehovah had had a hand in their missing it.





Mom and Dad knew that, if they checked their bags, at some point in their three- or four-month journey their bags were bound to be lost or stolen. So they decided to make do with carry-on luggage only. How do you pack for three months using only a carry-on?

When leaving Brooklyn in the winter, they usually went to Europe first, and they stayed at a Bethel in London, Germany, or wherever. Each Bethel had a room called ‘Donated Clothing,’ sort of like a thrift store but free. In whichever European Bethel was last on their list, Mom would take their winter clothes to Donated Clothing and pick up summer clothes, before catching the plane for their next hop to South Africa. Three months later, in Hawaii, if it was still cold weather in New York she’d take the summer clothes to Donated Clothing and swap them for winter clothes for the flight back to Brooklyn. In summer she’d do the opposite. More than once she picked up from Donated Clothing in a Bethel in some faraway country a skirt she’d left there on the previous trip.

Dad always wore a suit on the flight – partly because it made more sense than trying to pack it, and partly because Dad always that felt that flying was a big deal and you should dress up for it.

When they arrived wherever they were headed, Dad would hit the ground running, with rarely any time for field service. So he viewed the planes as his special territory. Preparing for a flight included packing his pockets. In his outside lower left suit pocket he carried a pocket bible; on his right side, a small Live Forever or Knowledge book; in an inside pocket, a set of magazines.

With all the traveling they were doing, Mom and Dad began to acquire a lot of “miles.” Because Dad was so tall, Mom would use some of the miles to upgrade the tickets the Society had bought for them from economy to first class so Dad would have more legroom.

As soon as they found their seats, Dad would stick out his hand to the nearest neighbor and introduce himself, and ask their name. His presentation went like this:

‘Are you flying on business?’ Since they were in first class, they usually were. ‘What business are you in?’ Then he’d give them all the time they wanted to tell him all about their business. When they finally yielded the floor, he’d say, ‘I’m flying on business, too. Let me tell you about my business.’ And his presentation usually ended with, 'We're building all these printeries, with all volunteer labor, so that we can produce literature like this at a very low cost.' And he’d hand them a book or a set of magazines. Some of these discussions lasted the entire flight.

One time the answer to his introductory question was, ‘I’m Lee Iacocca.’

 ‘Are you flying on business?’


Dad was always so focused on Society stuff he knew little about what was going on in the world. He had no idea who Lee Iacocca was, so he still followed up with, ‘What business are you in?’

I can only imagine the look on Mr. Iacocca’s face as he answered, ‘I’m the president of Chrysler.’

Dad of course followed with, ‘Tell me about your business.’



Part of the Squibb complex consisted of some small buildings that weren’t good for much. The Society applied for a variance from the city to re-zone the space for a 19-story high-rise residence building adjacent to (uphill from) 30 Columbia Heights. Although it wasn’t zoned for such a building, a variance was requested, and those requests were often granted. In this case, however, the neighbors protested, vehemently, to what they saw as a disruption of their view.

The mayor of New York at the time, Ed Koch, had a favorable opinion of Witnesses and he endorsed the variance, but the city decided to set up a public discussion. On Sept 29, 1988, over 1000 witnesses trooped to the Board of Estimate meeting about the variance. Many were give a few minutes at the podium.

It made an impressive witness. But ultimately, it was decided it would be better to keep the neighbors happy and to look into expanding elsewhere.

Two side bars came out of that roadblock. When the decision was made to abandon the plans for a tall residence building on Columbia Heights, Bethel was still cramped for residential room. Dad and Brother Larson met with an architectural firm to try to find a solution. The Society had purchased a block of old buildings across the street from the Factory in 1986. They had built a bridge across several lanes of traffic to it, so as to use part of the old buildings for paper storage. Would it be possible to turn some of that property to residential use?

‘No way’, said the architect. But there was a brother in Dad’s department whose primary job was paperwork, permits, zoning and the like. He was on a first name basis with everyone at the City’s building department. Dad sent him to see what he could do. Before the meeting with the architect was concluded, the brother was back with a permit in hand.

It turned out that, back in the 60s, when the Society had asked for the variance they needed to build Factory #2 (137 Pearl St.), the city had not only granted that variance, but they had re-zoned several of the blocks around it. That rezoning included the block across the street from the factory. And one of the allowable uses for that block allowed for a high-rise hotel – oddly, as it was an industrial area. So 20 years later the Society was able to build the 30-story residence at 90 Sands street without even requesting a variance.

The second sidebar was this: In 1984, the Society had purchased a large farm near Patterson, New York. The property was over 600 acres and included several houses and a couple barns. Initially, it was unclear how the property should be used. But with the roadblock to the new residence on Columbia Heights, plans to develop Patterson started cranking up in 1989.

Early construction workers at Patterson started being moved into the houses on the property. One of the large barns was converted into an equipment maintenance shop on the ground floor, and the hayloft was converted into a dining room that could seat a few dozen.

In the fall of that year my family and I flew into New York returning from a vacation in Grenada. We landed early on a Monday morning, so I called Mom to see if there was a chance to have lunch with them at Bethel before driving home to Massachusetts. The call was transferred a couple times, but she finally came on the phone.

‘We’re not in Brooklyn,’ she said. ‘We’re upstate in at a little town called Patterson – no, not New Jersey; Patterson, New York – it’s right on your way home, and we’d be glad to see you for lunch.’

When we arrived for lunch and climbed the stairs to the hay loft/dining room, seating was scarce. Consequently my wife and daughter sat at a table with Mom and some other sisters. I was invited to sit with Dad. Dad’s tablemates included Toby Turcot, the overseer of the Patterson Construction project; Gil Nazarof, Overseer of construction in Brooklyn and Dad’s assistant; and a couple brothers who assisted Max Larson and George Couch, the Bethel Home overseer. I had no business being at that table. What followed was a conversation I’ve never forgotten:

“What about the Art Department? Wouldn’t they want to be up here? The scenery is beautiful.”

“No, I asked them. They need to stay near the Writing Department.”

“And the Writing Department needs to stay close to the Governing Body; that makes sense. And the Governing Body isn’t going to want to move out here in the sticks as long as the bulk of the work is happening in Brooklyn.”

“Service Department?”

“They aren’t sure the Patterson Post Office could keep up with the volume of mail.”

“What about Gilead?”

“Well, I spoke to the overseer of Gilead. He said they’d be delighted to move here.”

“So! We have a taker. And where Gilead goes, the other schools will follow.”

“Perhaps this could be an education center.”

“Eventually, I think, more and more departments will end up here,” one brother said. “I've heard the brothers in the Recording department complain about the planes flying overhead in Brooklyn."

"The city is just getting so – unlivable.”

“You’re right. Right now we are dependent on the city for water, sewer, garbage and electrical service. We should try to make this site more self-sufficient.”

“And the closer we get to Armageddon the worse it’s going to get, and the more sense it will make for headquarters to be out of the city.”

“True. Brooklyn could even become unlivable before Armageddon.”

“You know, priorities will be changing after Armageddon, too. Right now, work flows from the Governing Body to writing and teaching, to branches publishing literature, to congregations organizing the publishers for preaching the good news. But after Armageddon it’s going to flow from headquarters to construction oversight, to regional disaster relief and construction departments, to local clean-up and construction groups organizing individual work assignments.”

 Patterson Farm became the Patterson Education Center. After its wastewater treatment plant was approved, the state of New York announced they would approve no more new treatment plants in watershed areas – Patterson’s was the last one.

Tours of a construction site aren’t possible. To satisfy curiosity the Society set up a Visitor Center – a couple prefab buildings full of pictures of the ongoing construction as well as drawings and models of what it would look like when finished. Outside, there was a staircase up to a viewing balcony on the roof.

In 1990 I took a couple vanloads of friends from my congregation for the ‘tour’. I noticed, across the road from the entrance, an office machine company. I was an out-of-work office machine repairman at the time, so I stopped in and introduced myself, and was hired immediately. I began driving from Worcester to Patterson early every Monday morning, returning Thursday evening. During the week I rented a room from a brother named Bill Murray.

When Bill had heard about the Patterson project he and his wife had sold their home and business in North Carolina and moved to Brewster, New York. They bought a piece of property and put in a large manufactured home. They set it up on a daylight basement, which they divided into four bedrooms. The rent from the bedrooms along with some part-time work Sister Murray did allowed Bill to ‘play in the dirt’ all day, as he put it. He was a commuter Bethelite, operating an excavator at the Patterson construction site.

My first day at the new job, as I was unfamiliar with the area, my boss assigned me to ride with another worker. (The job involved driving to people’s offices to fix their typewriters.) As we pulled out of the shop my new coworker pointed up the hill and said, “They’re building a college there. If I had the money, I’d build a bar right next to the shop. College kids love to drink!” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that while, yes, Bethelites love their libations as much as the next person, they wouldn’t be spending their limited allowance, or their little spare time, in a bar.

When we returned for the day, I said, ‘Pull in there,” pointing up the drive to the construction project. He took some persuading, but he finally did. When we got to the guard shack, he started apologizing for trespassing. I just leaned over him and waved at the brother on guard duty and said, ‘Hello, brother, we’re just going to the Visitor Center,’ and he waved us through. Even though it was just photos and artwork, my coworker was very impressed, and I had to remind him several times to try to censor his language.

A couple months later, my boss said, ‘The Lord’s smiling on me for hiring you. The Watchtower folks across the street just placed an order for 30 typewriters!’ I knew that with their buying power the Society could probably have saved a few bucks ordering the typewriters from a bigger dealer, but I believe this was their way of being a good neighbor.


Salvage cranes

 While Patterson was being built Dad got a call from a brother who was a dealer in heavy equipment. He knew of a couple cranes that had been delivered to a country in the Middle East. They had been offloaded but, due to a bankruptcy or a change in government or something they had sat on the dock, coated in Cosmoline, for a couple years. Because of the potential damage from salt and sand, no one wanted the cranes. The brother offered them to the Society cheap, with the understanding that they probably needed to be rebuilt. Dad agreed to the price. They were purchased and delivered to Patterson. The maintenance shop took them apart and found them to be perfect. They needed nothing. So the Society got two brand new cranes for the price of their weight in scrap.


Watch Tower

 One of the reasons Dad had to visit the actual job sites preparatory to a new construction project in a foreign country was to determine what building materials were available locally. While he favored concrete, in Nigeria it quickly became obvious there wasn’t enough cement-making capability in the whole country to keep up with what would be needed during the project. So the decision was taken to ship in metal buildings.

Large steel buildings were purchased from a firm in the U.S. They were shipped to Patterson, where they were assembled. Any necessary modifications were made. Then they were disassembled into the largest pieces that could be transported, and each piece was marked so that, once on site, the brothers in Nigeria could connect, for example, piece ‘134-A’ to the piece marked ‘135-A’, like putting together Legos or Lincoln Logs. Each piece was also stenciled with the word “Watchtower”. Then the pieces were trucked to Houston to be shipped to Nigeria.

As reported in the August 15, 1990 Watchtower, “It was an impressive sight. Huge piles of steel girders—over 500 tons of them—lay on the Houston, Texas, dock, stretching from one end to the other. A stevedore had the job of checking in the vast quantities for shipment. As he worked, he was amazed to see that all of them were marked “Watchtower.” At last he approached the man who was in charge of the consignment and asked: “Just how tall is this watchtower, anyway?”



Property line wall

 At a typical construction site in the U.S., it’s common to begin having building supplies delivered to the site days in advance of when the crew arrives. So, on one of Dad’s first branch projects in Africa, he ordered supplies and had them dropped off. When the crew arrived to begin work, the site had been picked clean.

After that, the first project begun on every job site worldwide was a 10-foot high concrete wall/fence that ran around the entire property line. Building supplies weren’t delivered until the site was secure.

To make the fence, brothers brought in low value equipment: a small concrete mixer, a tall tripod with a hand winch, and some forms. One form was used to make ‘planks’ of concrete, roughly 4” thick, 2 feet wide and about ten feet long. The other form would render a concrete ‘I-beam’ (or a ‘capital H’ beam, if you prefer) roughly 14 feet long. Holes were dug every 10 feet, and the tripod and winch were used to lift and stand the I-beams into the holes like fence posts with the grooves in line with each other. Then the planks could be winched up and lowered into the grooves, one on top of the other, to a height of about 10 feet.

The wall around the property at Igieduma is nearly 2 miles long.

After the real construction began, the fence tools mostly sat in a corner. At one project, some local brothers asked one of the overseers whether they could borrow the fence tools. When the brothers found out what they were going to do with them, they readily agreed. Some of the visiting international workers even helped.

After working with the construction crew, the local brothers had realized they could make a very nice Kingdom Hall using the same concrete beam-and-plank method.

That concrete wall around the branch property turned out to have another benefit, in more than one war-torn country:

The Watchtower of 1992 reported about Liberia, where a branch had been put up in the early 80s:

“We arranged special house procedures, including bomb drills. Thus, when opposing forces fired heavy artillery shells, we were trained to reach sheltered areas of the branch quickly. Although our ten-foot-high wall was some protection, it was not enough to keep out ricocheting bullets. Our roof soon took on the appearance of a pepper shaker because of all the holes it sustained!”


360 Furman

The Society bought 360 Furman in 1983. It was a massive building on the waterfront below Columbia Heights, a million square feet, larger than all four Brooklyn factory buildings put together. It had an elevator you could literally drive an entire semi truck onto.

It needed a complete rehab. Dad started looking for thermal windows to replace all the old single pane windows – literally acres and acres of glass. He called what he thought was a window supplier, and the man on the phone sneered, ‘We don’t sell windows, we sell the machines that make thermal windows.’ Dad apologized for bothering him and began to end the call, then caught himself. ‘How much do you get for one of those machines?’ The Society bought two. They ended up replacing every window in 360, as well as all the windows in every Bethel residence building, and in all the factory buildings, saving the cost of the machines many times over.

Another time, Dad was calling around to suppliers of – something... I forget the details. When he identified himself and the project and what he was looking for, the man who had answered the phone lowered his voice and said, ‘Brother Underwood? For that size of an order, you’ll get a better price if you call the company we buy them from. Here’s their number.’ The brother probably could have used the Witness connection to make a huge sale, even if he had given Dad a terrific discount, but he wanted the Society to get the best price possible. 

Stanley Theater

 In December, 1983, as I was visiting Dad and Mom for the weekend, Dad mentioned that he and another brother were driving over the bridge to look at a theater the Society had just helped the circuits to buy for an assembly hall. He invited me to ride along.

The other brother was named Dan and he had a penchant for Polack jokes. ‘Did you hear about the Polack terrorist who tried to blow up a car?’ Of course, I had no shortage of them myself, so Dan and I spent the trip trading Polack jokes.

When we got to Jersey we parked in front of a building with a beat up yellow-and-white marquee. It had a million holes for light bulbs, mostly empty. ‘What an eyesore,’ Dan remarked. ‘Be nice if we can tear that off there, put up a sign that says ‘Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.’

‘Unfortunately, it has to stay,’ Dad replied. ‘Because of the historical designation we won’t be allowed to change the outside appearance of the place at all. We’ll just have to spruce it up, repaint it, rewire it, hope for the best.’

When we stepped inside, the place reeked of nicotine and old, rancid popcorn grease. There was still a popcorn machine in the lobby. The lobby’s chandelier had been lowered to hang a few feet from the floor, and a brother was taking an inventory of what crystals were missing. Dozens of other brothers and sisters were disassembling the seats. They were being stacked up to be taken back to Bethel to be restored – there was a dip-tank full of paint remover big enough for several doors at 360 Furman.

There were four restrooms in the whole place: one Men’s and one Women’s off the main lobby and one each on the mezzanine. Each had about 3 toilets. Dad said, ‘I hate seeing sisters in line for the restrooms at assemblies. We’ll need to add to these, a lot.’

There were art deco touches throughout the building. On the glass Exit signs, for example, the script was bordered by a snake that seemed about to eat its own tail. There were murals on the walls. They were grungy, but they looked like they were genuine paintings by – somebody important – underneath the grime. But some of them were nudes. Others seemed to be depicting Greek myths.

‘Those will have to go,’ said Dan.

‘You can’t just paint over them!’ I said. ‘What if the guy was famous?’ Always the art lover, me.

The lobby was lined with huge pillars painted an ugly brown. In places, where the paint had peeled, you could see marble underneath that matched the marble wainscoting on the walls. ‘Now why would they paint that?’ Dad wondered out loud.

The doors separating the lobby from the auditorium also had what looked like 30 coats of brown paint on them. ‘We’ll get all that paint stripped off and probably find some nice steel doors underneath it,’ Dad said. ‘One coat of paint done right and they’ll look like brand new.’

If you have toured the Stanley Theater, you already know the solution to all these problems: the pillars turned out to be plaster, expertly made to look like marble. When pieces of the faux marble had crumbled, the former management hadn’t known how to fix it. So they’d simply spackled the gap and painted the pillars. The Society brought an elderly brother from Italy who knew the Venetian faux marble technique, and he repaired the pillars properly – and taught the trade to younger brothers. 

I was right about the artist – he did, later, become famous. But, in his early years, when he was hired to do the murals of the Stanley Theater, Willy Pogany hadn’t been comfortable trying to paint directly on plaster. So he’d painted on canvas and then attached it to the walls. The canvases were carefully peeled off the walls and sold. 

 (A painting by Willy Pogany)

The 10-foot wide chandelier in the lobby had been recycled from the old Waldorf Astoria that was being demolished back when the Stanley was being built.  A brother spent months visiting antique stores looking for crystals to match those missing from the chandeliers. He found them all. The art department transformed the glass snakes encircling the word ‘Exit’ into a rose with a long stem. And when the lobby doors were dipped in paint stripper, underneath was not steel; the doors were solid copper with solid brass fittings.

Two more restrooms and dozens of toilets were added. I was privileged to be at the dedication on September 7, 1985, where several experiences were related. The brother in charge of the plumbing said he’d never done a job bigger than a Kingdom Hall before.

“Let me tell you,” he said. “When you flush 40 toilets all at the same time, and they all work and nothing leaks or floods, you know you’re a plumber!”

The brothers who worked on the roof found it so deteriorated that they couldn’t even attach new roofing material to it. Their solution was to find the few places that were solid and use them as attachment points for beams. Then they built an entirely new roof a few inches above the old roof.

And when the crew got up to try to spruce up the ugly, yellow and white painted sheet metal marquee with the million lightbulb holes, they found another surprise: it wasn’t the original marquee. The original marquee was behind it. It had been made from solid copper, with no light bulb holes. Because it was the true original, the historical society couldn’t object when the ugly sheet metal “Stanley” sign was torn off.

Oh, and Dan, the lover of Polack jokes? I really hadn’t caught his last name, and spent the day just calling him “Dan.” He showed up at our circuit assembly a couple months later. His last name was Sydlik.



 On another visit a couple years later, Mom and Dad had some new friends. They were a couple doing temporary work, ‘for a couple months.’ When I asked what they were working on, the brother said, ‘Oh, all sorts of oddball stuff.’ I knew enough not to press further. Apparently the brother was doing something hush-hush.

Over the course of the weekend I found out they were from Denver (if my tired old memory serves.) I asked what he did in Denver. ‘We have stock footage company,’ he replied.

‘What does that mean?’

‘You know in a movie, when, say, Tom Hanks flies from Seattle to New York... you know they didn’t really film Tom’s flight, right? The studio calls us and says, “We need about 10 seconds of a plane taking off in Seattle daylight, and about 10 seconds of a similar plane landing in the dark in New York.” And we either have the footage or we get it made for far less than it would cost Hollywood to make it.’

A few months later I found out what the movie-making brother was doing for temp work at Bethel. We had the release of our first video, “Jehovah’s Witnesses – The Organization Behind the Name.” I also found out how the visiting couple had connected with Mom and Dad. Dad was in the video for a few seconds, asking a Japanese brother via an interpreter, ‘Are all these pipes going to be insulated?’ He forgot to wait for the brother to interpret the reply before he said, ‘Ah, good!’



 When we were in Bend Dad listed our home phone in the yellow pages under “Jehovah’s Witnesses”. (Back in those days, few Kingdom Halls had phones, and few if any phones had answering machines.) Since Bend is on a major thoroughfare through Oregon, it was a rare week when there wasn’t a call from a Witness passing through. In addition, in those early days, travel to circuit assemblies or travel to deliver public talks took us to every corner of Oregon.

Consequently, Dad knew a lot of brothers, many of whom worked in various construction trades. Many of them stayed in touch after Mom and Dad went to Bethel. Sometimes Dad would get a phone call from, for example, Jack and Nora Smith, that went something like this:

‘Hey Don. We just sold our house and our business. We’re footloose and fancy free. Is there anything we can do for the building work?’

‘Well, Germany is starting a new Branch project. If you can afford the plane tickets you could go there.’

Jack and Nora sent an application to the German Branch, and off they went to Germany. Bill and Helen Howe and their daughter had a similar conversation with Dad and ended up in South America. As the project was finishing up there would be another call; and Dad would direct them to another branch.

After this happened a few times, Mom said, “Does that seem right to you?”


“Well, that people who happen to know you can go help build branches, but other brothers who are just as qualified don’t get to go, just because they don’t know you?”

Shortly thereafter began a program called International Volunteer Construction Workers.

According to the 1988 Yearbook:

“During the month of November 1985, 11 volunteers—ranging in age from a 26-year-old single brother to grandparents 59 years old—left the United States for Africa. Their mission? To assist in the construction of a new branch facility in a country that serves more than 100,000 Witnesses. Since then, over 800 volunteers skilled in the construction trades and representing 12 branches have been helping on 13 branch construction projects.”

On one of those projects the Howe’s daughter met and married a temporary construction brother. When the project was over, Bill and Helen went on to their next project, and their daughter and her husband went to a different one.


Tilt-Up, part two

 By 1985 Dad had done a few tilt-up projects at Wallkill. But that year he got to use his tilt-up expertise for the first time on a branch project outside the U.S. Several multi-story buildings were to form the campus of the new branch in Costa Rica.

The September, 1987 Watchtower reported:  “What was so remarkable about these buildings? They were built with the tilt-up method—a first in Costa Rica. The foundation and pillars were built first. Then, right on the site, concrete sections of the walls were cast one on top of another in stacks. These precast wall sections were then tilted up and lifted by a crane and welded into their proper places. Finally, the roof went on, and all that remained to be done was the finishing details... Indeed, all of this was made possible by ‘a labor of love.’  Over 4,700 brothers and sisters, including 295 from other lands, labored for 24 months on the project. Much of the equipment and material was made on site. For example, at an early stage a two-story hoist, affectionately known by the brothers as Julio, was built. Cement mixers known as Bertha and Martha were purchased and overhauled for the project. Lamps, lighting fixtures, wrought-iron grillwork, Palladian marble steps and landings, and so on, were all made by brothers who have had no particular experience in these areas. ‘The enthusiasm for the project on the part of the brothers from this country was remarkable,’ declared the project supervisor.”

Note the reference to ‘welding’ the slabs into place. When Dad did his first tilt-up, the process at the time was for the cured slabs to be stood up and held in place with props, with a gap between each slab of about 4 inches. The props had to be fiddled with until the slabs were plumb and parallel. Then the gap was boxed in with a form, and concrete was poured in. But that meant keeping slabs propped up while you waited, again, for the columns to cure. Dad’s first improvement on this method was to form up and pour columns with slots down each side, while waiting for the slabs to cure. That way, slabs and columns were cured at about the same time. Then the slabs could be lifted high and slid down into the slots. It saved some time, but it still required a lot of expertise to form that H-shaped column, and a lot of maneuvering to get the slabs to slide down the slots. And it still left gaps to be filled. In the next iteration, Dad came up with forming T-shaped columns, with the crossbar of the T lined up with the outside of the building. Each column had steel plates molded in, attached to the rebar and flush with the surface of the concrete. Each slab also had steel exposed on its corners, attached to the rebar within the slab. In this way, the slabs no longer had to be lifted far in the air; they didn’t have to be slid down a slot; they could literally be “tilted” up into the space between two columns. While the crane held the slab in place, a welder could quickly stitch together the steel set into the column and the steel set into the slabs.

The 1991 Awake! reported about the tilt-up program:

“In the past five years or so, projects have been completed and dedicated in Panama, Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Haiti, Liberia, Austria, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, Guyana, Ghana, Hawaii, Portugal, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Peru, El Salvador, Mauritius, Japan, Honduras, Guatemala, Nigeria, Argentina, Australia, New Caledonia, Fiji, the Philippines, and Greece.”

Mom and Dad visited each of those construction sites, usually several times. By the time they came off the road in the late Nineties they had also visited Thailand, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, India, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe, Zaire, Russia and many other places.


(The entrance to the Design/Build Department in Brooklyn. Dad is in the upper left. Note the African brother in the lower left straightening nails.)


Straightening nails

In the late Eighties in Ghana, Mom saw an elderly, barefoot brother sitting cross-legged on the ground in one far corner of the jobsite. She approached to see what he was working at. He was straightening nails. He had created a job for himself by picking up nails around the jobsite and straightening them to be re-used. He told her his story. She made some notes and took a picture of him.

She gave her notes and photo to the Writing department. They were intrigued enough to send someone to interview him. His interview is on the back page of the May 22, 1992 Awake! accompanied by the photo mom snapped. It’s a great story.


World Traveler

 Mom was always fascinated with far-away places. When I was a kid, nearly every year she wrote to the Branch and told them we were interested in moving where the need was great. They always wrote back. One year, the answer was “Medellin, Colombia.” Mom wrote to Medellin’s equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce and asked questions about moving there. I didn’t understand this. I recall whining about it. ‘I’m not moving to South America. I don’t know anyone there. I don’t even speak the language!’ Another year it was Brownsville, Texas. Same routine: letter to the Chamber, trips to the library to learn about it, ‘I’m not moving there!’ etc.

In the sixties we had a circuit overseer named Keith Kennedy who had been a missionary in Korea. He asked if anyone would like to be pen pals with someone in Korea. Mom quickly agreed, and we soon started getting letters from a teenage brother named Kim Pan Ho. Mom would read his letters aloud at the supper table, and we’d laugh at some of his expressions. We watched him grow, in a way. We worried when he went to prison because of the draft.

What I didn’t understand until years later was that we were never going to move to Brownsville or Colombia; certainly not to Korea. Those letters to and from the Branch each year, and to and from Kim Pan Ho each month, were Mom’s way of seeing the world vicariously.

After a few years at Bethel Dad did have a speaking assignment at a convention in Brownsville, Texas. So Mom got to go there. They also went to Medellin, Colombia, not to mention dozens of other places, for branch construction.

And Kim Pan Ho, after being released from prison, went on to serve at the Korean Bethel, where he eventually was appointed to the Branch committee. In 1995 he, along with branch committee members from 40 other countries, was brought to New York for special Branch training. And Mom got to finally meet him in person. 


 In one socialist country that was planning their first branch, the only entry Dad could get was on a tourist visa. The country required that he stay in the designated hotel and be part of an official tour group, with a carefully planned itinerary. Every morning, Dad would wake up not feeling well. He’d make his apologies to the tour leader, and the tour group would get on the bus without him to go see the sights. Five minutes later he would enjoy a miraculous recovery. A brother from the branch committee would pull up to the front of the hotel and Dad would hop in. He spent the entire week with this strange illness.

In another country where the government kow-towed to the chief religion, there was one objection after another to the planned branch.

‘You’re a foreign religion. You don’t need that large of a building!’

‘Well, if we feel we do, and we can afford it...’

 ‘You’re a foreign corporation. You can’t own that large a piece of land.’

‘So we’ll subdivide it into individual lots so that a future owner won’t need to purchase the whole property.’

 ‘Okay. But you can’t have foreign ownership of contiguous lots.’

So the property was subdivided like a checkerboard with different owners for each square. So the ‘black’ squares might be held by Watchtower of New York or IBSA, the ‘red’ ones by one or more local JW corporations. But of course that meant several small buildings rather than one large one.

Finally, building permits were granted. One of the squares of the checkerboard held a small branch office building; the rest of them held four-plexes, with each apartment able to house up to four Bethelites.

The clergy organized a protest and hired buses to bring the protesters to the site. They wasted their money… there weren’t enough protestors to fill one bus. They took a bus to an asylum and filled it with patients and bussed them to the site. The patients were so happy to be outdoors they discarded the signs the clergy had given them and spent the day picking flowers.

But the church wasn’t done interfering. ‘There must be an archaeologist on the building site every time you do any digging. If any artifacts are found, all building must stop until the archaeological study is complete.’

The property was in an area with literally thousands of years of history. Yet not one scrap of an artifact was found during construction.

Amazing, right? I was amazed when Dad told me the story, and said so. But he said, ‘Well, actually, every time we needed to dig anything, we dug it up the night before, sifted the dirt and then refilled the hole, then dug it up again when the archaeologist was watching. We found hundreds of arrowheads, broken pots and metal fragments. It looked like a war had been fought there a couple thousand years ago.’ What happened to all the finds? ‘We took them a few hundred yards away and reburied them in the woods.’

I was shocked! How could you do something like that? There might have been something really significant to be learned. Dad’s reply was, ‘If you want to know more about that battle, you can ask the warriors who fought there when they come back in the resurrection. In the meantime, we have a branch to build.’

I’m not for a minute suggesting this was the right course of action. I’m confident that today the Design/Build department bends over backwards to be completely ethical.

One of Mom and Dad’s last construction trips was to a tropical third-world country planning its first branch. They were in their 70s by this point. They stayed in the only hotel within range of the building site. It had no air conditioning. Their room was nearly 100 degrees, with 90% humidity every day. They had been warned that the water was not fit to drink, cook with, or even bathe in. So Mom spent all day every day boiling water on a hot plate in the room. She prepared all their meals from scratch and cooked them thoroughly on the hot plate. She boiled their drinking water; she boiled water for bathing; she even did their laundry in water she’d boiled on the hot plate.

But the branch got built. 


 One line Dad heard over and over was, ‘We know you like tilt-up, Brother Underwood, but it won’t work here.’ In some places they were so adamant that tilt-up wouldn’t work for them that Dad had to basically threaten: ‘This is the way we build. If you insist on building some other way, you’ll have to do it without our help.’

As the new branch was being planned for Haiti, using the same method, he heard that objection, but also a new one. ‘You are wasting money on re-bar (the reinforcing steel inside the concrete.) This is not an earthquake zone. No one uses re-bar here.’ His reply was the same: ‘This is the way the Society chooses to build.’

January 12, 2010, proved the wisdom of that decision. The earthquake that devastated Haiti barely scratched the branch, and it was able to serve as a much-needed makeshift hospital. In addition, because the brothers who volunteered their labor during the branch project had learned to build correctly, only 6 of the 56 kingdom halls in Haiti were damaged, leaving the others in tact to serve as emergency facilities. While 154 of the friends died as a result of that earthquake, who knows how many might have been lost if the local brothers hadn’t experienced proper building techniques back in the 1980s?



 Mom and Dad were both in Bethel in Brooklyn when the planes struck the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. The stories they told were the same as what you’ve read in the magazines... people walking over the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan and being shown hospitality at Bethel... the Society’s loan of trucks and other equipment... the brothers who went to Ground Zero to offer comfort to the workers. Mom said smoke and stench drifted over from lower Manhattan for several weeks. No doubt many of the Bethelites had to breathe that.

Two years later, in July, 2003, Mom and Dad went to the international convention in Budapest, Hungary, as delegates. They arrived on Sunday the weekend before, and they spent Monday wandering around the city, playing tourist. That evening, Mom had a massive stroke and was declared dead the next day. She was 80.

The Society took care of all the arrangements. They moved Dad from his hotel room to a Bethel room in the branch. They arranged for a casket from a brother who makes them. Flying a body from a foreign country can be tricky, forms to fill out, etc., but the brothers took care of all of that.

The Society also invited all Mom and Dad’s family to come to Bethel and stay as long as we wanted. There were 20 of us who took them up on their invitation. All six of us kids; three spouses; five grandkids and two of their spouses; and 3 great-grandkids. A couple of us weren’t financially in a position to go, but our respective congregations came to the rescue.

Bethel treated us like royalty. We each were met by Bethelites at the airport. They provided us with gorgeous guest rooms, each with flowers, a gift basket, and an information sheet telling us where we needed to be and when, for meals, meetings, and Monday night Family Worship, and listing helpful phone numbers. Two couples – one that worked closely with Dad, and the other close friends of my little sister Jodie from her days as a Bethelite – spent all their time for several days keeping us company, arranging Bethel and Manhattan tours for us, and providing us with more food than any reasonable person could eat. Weekdays we were able to attend Morning Worship with the Bethel family.

Saturday noon meal, for example, was a feast prepared by the two couples I mentioned, Wendell and Lorrain Morgan, and Randy and Marion Turcot. When my nephew joked that he preferred anchovies in his salad, we nearly had to physically restrain Wendell from running out to buy some.



Sunday morning before the meeting we were all herded to the Promenade, a small park between Bethel and the East River. Arrangements had been made for a sister who is a professional photographer to do a family portrait. She patiently got us all lined up, asking us to move ‘a little more to the left’ to avoid a crane in the background. That same nephew said, “Avoid the crane? This is a construction family. We want the crane in the picture!’ The sister took him seriously and moved all of us to the right so she could take more pictures with the crane, and the rain held off just long enough for her to finish.

Three shopping bags full of sympathy cards from all over the world were delivered to Dad’s office. A young sister in Design/Build named Trisha took on the task of helping Dad sort through them, separating the ones from Bethelites worldwide into one pile, Witnesses outside Bethel into another, and non-Witnesses into a third. She worked with him to formulate a general message for each, and also helped him with more specific replies to certain individuals who were particularly close. All got a reply.

Being the angst-ridden nut that I am, I was bothered by all this fuss, taking Trisha and all these other brothers and sisters away from their important Bethel jobs, and I mentioned it to her. She gently reminded me that Bethel is not a factory; it is a family. “Today, this is my job,” she said.

 [Dad's office in 30 Columbia Heights. I shot this of him sorting through some of the hundreds of sympathy cards that arrived in the days after Mom's death.]

Seeing younger brothers coming and going with construction questions for my 80-year-old father prompted me to ask Trisha, ‘What’s Dad’s job now?’ I knew that his position of World Construction Overseer had been retired a few years earlier, replaced by the Design/Build Committee, of which Dad was merely one of 11 members. I couldn’t understand why anyone needed to check with him about anything.

She replied, “If Design/Build was a public talk, your dad would be the theme. That’s why they touch base with him. A brother might have a great idea, but it may not fit in with what the Society is doing as a whole.” 


On Monday evening before Family Worship, Mom’s funeral was conducted from the main Bethel Kingdom Hall in the 107 Columbia Heights building and broadcast over Bethel’s closed-circuit TV. Well over 1,000 viewed it. The next morning a small graveside service was held in Wallkill, attended by about 50 of us, conducted by brother Lon Schilling. He made a very moving point: he said that many who come to the Watchtower cemetery in Wallkill substitute the names on the markers there for the list of ‘the great cloud of witnesses’ in Hebrews 11, and that future visitors to the site will add mom’s name as well. 


The cemetery is affectionately known as ‘the launching pad’ because of so many anointed were buried there. But it is not exclusively for the anointed – some there, like Mom, looked forward to a resurrection to life here on Earth.  As I walked through the beautiful setting, I saw markers with the names of people I’ve met: Nathan Knorr, Frederick Franz, Maxwell Friend, Crystal Swingle, Karl Klein, Milton Henschel; and it moved me beyond words to think of my mom included in the ranks of those faithful witnesses.

As Dad’s health declined, his assignment changed. If you visited Brooklyn Bethel in the 2000s, you may have encountered him in the lobby, near the globe, entertaining visitors who were waiting for a tour. He had a huge stack of ‘before and after’ pictures of Kingdom Halls from around the world.



As Dad’s mental health was beginning to decay, we were concerned how he would fare without Mom. We need not have worried. Bethel took great care of him. He even survived the move to the Society’s Assisted Living facility upstate in Fishkill when the properties in Brooklyn were sold. He died in 2018 at 94, after 44 years in Bethel service.


Mom never knew about my writing career. I published my first book, The Minotaur Medallion, nearly 10 years after she died. I've written 3 more since then. I'm working on the next one, a sequel to my novel Unbroken.

Dad didn't really grasp my writing career, either. When I visited him, a couple years before he died, I pointed out my books I'd sent him sitting on a shelf in his room. He hadn't read them; he thought someone had sent them to him just because the author was named Underwood. 

This story isn't even close to complete. I've asked my siblings to forward their memories and photos. As they do so, I'll add them here. 


108 Months

As I write this, I am 71 years of age, 9 years short of Mom’s age when she died. 108 months. True, Dad lived 23 years past 71, but his last dozen years were spent fading into a hazy twilight of dementia, and I honestly don’t see that as my fate - we have vastly different modes of thinking. My brain works more like Mom's, I relate more to Mom’s life than Dad’s. Mom had frequent headaches throughout her life. I’ve had several headaches a week since I was a teen. The whole Underwood clan has been amazingly free of cancer and other severe diseases, so I don’t expect anything like that to do me in.Maybe I'll have Mom's mental sharpness and Dad's longevity, who knows?

But I do have diabetes.

When I was diagnosed with it about 15 years ago, my blood sugar was 373. I threw out every carbohydrate in the house and got it down below 126 in 90 days. Problem solved, right? At least, I thought so. Of course I was wrong; it crept up again over the years. About 3 years ago, I found that, even eating right, I couldn’t get the number down below 200. This morning it was 240. Diabetes changes with age, I think.

The symptoms I was warned about 15 years ago seem to be beginning. My eyesight has gotten worse. My joints all hurt all the time. A scratch on my leg takes forever to heal. A couple months ago I noticed my feet getting swollen at the end of the day. At first I just put my feet up and ignored it. Then it became a nightly thing. I googled ‘causes of edema’ and quickly determined that it could be a symptom of a heart damaged by diabetes.

I can get new glasses. I can walk more. I'll try. But I honestly don't expect to get out of this alive. I have 108 months. I have enough half-finished – or even unstarted – projects to keep me busy for the next 1000 months. But I don’t have 1000 months.So I have to start some serious prioritizing.

Every teen in every hall I’ve attended has had to endure the same interrogation from me: ‘When are you planning to go to Bethel? Have you filled out an LDC application? Where would you like to go for Need Greater work? What skills or trades do you have to support your pioneering?’ I’m sure in your mind you’re adjusting my wording to make me sound more tactful. Don’t bother, I’m not. I smile, but I'm blunt.

I read in Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah that the Jews in Jesus’ day had a saying: “A man who doesn’t teach his son a trade is raising a thief.” That’s why Jesus was in Matthew 13:55 called “the carpenter’s son,” and in Mark 6:3, “the carpenter.” His father taught him a trade. We can safely assume Jesus’ brothers also had serious building skills. Saul of Tarsus came from a family wealthy enough to send him to school “at the feet of Gamaliel.” (Acts 22:3) Yet he also knew the tent-making trade.

Dad never taught me a trade. I know very little about construction. In the course of my life I’ve been a vacuum cleaner salesman, a car salesman, a typewriter repairman, a fire extinguisher inspector, a customer support representative for a couple telephone companies and a couple cable companies, and a dozen other jobs. Most of those jobs required only a few days or, at most, weeks to learn. Few of them were adequate to support a pioneer lifestyle.

About 15 years after I left Bethel I was able to pioneer again for a few years. The typewriter company I had been working for in Worcester, Massachusetts, went belly-up. They gave me no notice that my job was going away. I went straight from their office to the purchasing office of UMass Medical Center, one of their accounts that it had been a part of my eight-hour day to service. I told them New England Office Products would no longer be sending me around every day at 3:00, but that I could still do the job if they wanted to simply pay me what they’d been paying NEOP. They agreed. Suddenly, I was making the same pay working from 3:00 to 5:00 that I’d been making the day before working from 8:00 to 5:00. How could I not pioneer?

Typewriters, of course, went away. A decade or so later, I was taking support calls at AT&T for a higher hourly rate than I needed to live on. I heard from someone that they worked a part-time schedule. I asked Human Resources about moving to part-time. They said no.

“But I know some other workers are part-time.”

“Yes, but they’re grandfathered in. We don’t offer that anymore.”

To myself I said, ‘My Father’s stronger than your father,’ and I started praying about it. A few months later, I got a call from Human Resources asking if I was still interested in part-time. So I was able to pioneer for a few more years.

AT&T Long Distance, like typewriters, went away. Cable companies are on their way out. However, fire extinguisher certification is still around. The reason I ask young ones these pointed questions is this: There’s no reason to haphazardly hope you’ll find a job with a weird schedule or relatively high pay to support pioneering. It is much smarter to plan for a job that pays a lot for a few hours. That’s why I wrote the book 99 Ways to Fire Your Boss.” If you can live on $600 a week, that’s great, you should; it should be your goal to live on as little as you can. But if you only make $15 an hour, you’ll spend all your time working. Learn a trade that pays $40 an hour and work at it for 15 hours a week, or $60 an hour and work at it 10 hours a week, and pioneer.

        A dozen years ago, I sat down at my computer to start my workday – I was doing call center work from home for the cable company – and a couple things were wrong: I had a significant pain in my chest, and I couldn’t see the screen. I’d already turned my phone on, so as I was responding “Tech Support, this is Bill, how can I help you?” to my first caller I took off my glasses and dragged the display up to the front of my desk so I could see. I turned my phone off before the next call came in.

        And that was the last regular workday of my life.

        I went to my eye doctor and got new glasses, even though mine were only a few months old. I didn’t immediately go to my doctor. I knew he’d assume it was a heart attack. I went instead to my chiropractor about the pain in my chest and explained the problem to him. He told me to go to the doctor but to suggest to them that I thought I might have a gall bladder problem. The doc sent me to get a scan of my gallbladder; when that came back negative he went ahead and did all the heart stuff, sending me for one test after another.

        After more than a year of tests I was diagnosed with “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” Even though the doctor was a Witness, when he said that I said (to myself) ‘You just made that up because you don’t know what’s wrong with me.’ It wasn’t until I saw the term in the March, 2012 Awake! magazine that I realized it was really a thing.

        The first few months, I could barely drive. A couple times I had to get rides to various doctors because traffic freaked me out. Most of the time, I very carefully scheduled my day so I wouldn’t need to leave the house near rush hour. I drove back streets to the store and the hall.

        I was exhausted all the time. Once I was so sick of being housebound I decided to walk around the block. About 30 minutes later, on the opposite side of the block, a little old lady in a walker approached me, bent over with my hands on my knees trying to get a breath, and asked, ‘Are you all right, sonny?’ I wasn’t; I had decided that this was the spot where I was going to spend the rest of my life, because there was no way I was ever going to get back to the house. (Us depressives tend to think in absolutes like that.)

        More than once the attendant or the mike handler would approach me during the meeting. ‘You okay, Bill?’ ‘Fine, why?’ ‘Well, you’re holding your chest like you’re having a heart attack...’

        I mis-timed my approach to the stage to read for the Watchtower study one Sunday and consequently had to speed up the last few steps. I spent the first paragraph gasping for breath. As the discussion before paragraph 2 was going on, I was still panting. I had to signal to another brother to come take my place.

        After a couple years, I really thought I’d conquered it. Months went by when I hardly gave it a thought. I’ve managed to deliver a few parts on the meeting. (Depending who’s driving) I can ride in the front seat in service. I got back to driving on the freeway; I get a bit anxious when there's a lot of traffic but I’ve survived.

        About a year before the pandemic we flew to Washington. As we were going through the zig-zag to take off shoes and belt, the chest pain came back, the shortness of breath, the feeling that the world was out to get me and I needed to be somewhere where there were fewer people around. That was the last time I’ve flown, and I’m pretty sure it will be my last time ever.

 I have 108 months. I need to prioritize. I recently bought a suit, and realized it will probably be my last one. I'd love to pioneer again, be a ministerial servant again, but I doubt if my health is going to let that happen. I'm working on a sequel to Unbroken. I might get it finished before the end of 2024, but I'm a slow writer. And I always envisioned that story as a trilogy, at least. I published The Minotaur Medallion 10 years ago now, and I've never written the sequel which anyone who's read it will tell you it clearly needs. Other writing projects present themselves from time to time, and every time the first question I have to ask is: Will I have time to complete that?

Check back from time to time. This story is a work in progress.

You can access the short story "The Day After Armageddon" here. Some who have read it have described it as a prequel to my best seller Resurrection Day.

 I've written over 150 columns of interest to serious students of the Bible, ranging from blood transfusion to holidays to science versus the Bible. Depending on your device, you should see a search box somewhere on this page where you can type in, for example, "blood" and find those columns that use the word. 

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