Arno River, Florence, Italy; June 2019

I was raised in Colby, Kansas, (far northwestern Kansas) out near the Kansas/Colorado border, where the arid wind always blows.  Colby is 235 miles east of Denver, CO, and 400 miles west of Kansas City. It’s out in the High Plains in the middle of nowhere. 🙂 It was a good place to grow up.

I am the second of 5 kids. I am 15 months behind my older sister. We are 3 boys and 2 girls.  Mom had all 5 kids by the time she was 30. She had 4 kids by the time she was 26, which was not all that unusual back then. I can only imagine.

Dad and mom were hard-working people. They grew up on farms on the Kansas High Plains. Neither was afraid to put in a full day’s work. My folks took us all to church, and they expected their kids to work hard. We all work hard, still. My dad used to joke that his favorite verse in the Bible was, “Work harder!” I can still hear my dad say, “Pull your weight, kids!”. Dad died in 2009, but I think he was proud of how we all kept “pulling our weight.”  

From the time I was 9 my Grandma (my mother’s mom) lived with us. My grandfather died at age 65, and my parents welcomed my Grandma Jennings right it to our home. We were 5 kids, 2 parents, the dog and grandma. Grandma helped cook, discipline the kids, helped with all the family chores, and let us watch TV with her. She made homemade bread that we ate with her homemade tomato preserves. Grandma went to church with us. She was part of our family. She ended up living with my dad and mom for more than 25 years. In 1991 she died at age 91.

In 1978 I married Jennifer Earles in Phoenix, Arizona. She was raised in Mesa, out in east Phoenix. She loved the Sonoran Desert — still does. Her favorite hike is in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. After getting married on a hot July 8 morning, we drove from Phoenix to Champaign-Urbana, IL, where we have lived for 41 years.

I served as a campus pastor for more than 20 years. Along the journey I  went through graduate school at the University of Illinois and really got to know Champaign-Urbana, especially church and campus life in this small university city. Today, Jennifer is a faculty member in the college of Media at the University of Illinois, where she teaches Science writing, editing, news-reporting and Introduction to Journalism.

We kept thinking along the way that we would move out of Champaign-Urbana – and many times we tried to get on our horse and get out of town — but it just never happened. Today we say, “This has been a good place to live for 41 years.” It’s been fun and interesting living in the midst of the world-renowned Big 10 University of Illinois. There are about 150,000 people in this place we’ve grown to call home. With thousands of international students living in the city, thanks to the university, you can get great ethnic food, even going to a Chinese restaurant with no menus in English. Jennifer and I have a favorite Thai restaurant and a favorite Korean Restaurant.

But Jennifer enjoys cooking, and so you can imagine where Don’s favorite restaurant is.

After my campus ministry days, I worked for 3 years in administration for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and then spent about 6 years serving in a larte Vineyard Church in Urbana [2,500], doing pastoral care.

For the last 9 years I have directed a ministry to pastors, a 501(c)(3) called Pastor-to-Pastor Initiatives. In this ministry, I meet with lots of pastors and Christian leaders and encourage them to stay the course. I counsel, mentor, coach, preach in churches, and occasionally serve congregations as their interim pastor.


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