On Tuesday, Oct. 8, 1957, my sixteen-year-old life was permanently altered. On that afternoon I returned home from school to find our living room filled with friends of my dad. They gracefully informed me that my dad was taken to heaven the day before in an airplane crash in Northern Ontario.
Included in that group were Myron and Thelma Cedarholm, Pastor Vernon Lyons and his assistant John Musser, and Pastor Richard Weeks. Dick Weeks had been a close friend of my father since enrolling as a student at Northern Baptist Seminary in 1941. That was the year of my birth, and the year my father became Senior Pastor at Tabernacle Baptist Church at the age of twenty-nine. This was the seminary church, and where many of the faculty and administration were members and leaders.
Dick Weeks, six years younger than my dad, began to develop a friendship with my father during that time. Fifteen years later that relationship grew when they both served as pastors on the south side of Chicago. My dad was at Marquette Manor Baptist Church, and Dick was at Donald Smith Memorial Baptist Church of Oak Lawn. It was natural for me to see these close friends rally to our home on that traumatic day. I don’t remember too much about that afternoon, but as I reflect over the years, I realize how blessed our family was to have faithful pastoral friends come to our side during our time of need.
(To the right the parsonage at 3411 W. 71st, Place, Chicago, IL.)
After graduating from Northern, Dick Weeks went on to earn a master’s degree in history at the prestigious University of Chicago. He also completed all the residency requirements at Northern for the Th.D. degree. My father had earned that degree in 1943, but by the late 1940s the seminary had fully embraced denominational loyalty. Because Dick Weeks did not remain loyal to the Convention, he was deprived of receiving his degree, although he had fulfilled all the requirements except for the completion of his dissertation.
Recently Dr. Weeks’ daughter, Ruth, wrote these words of explanation to me:
“He had finished all his ThD residence work…and was working on his thesis while pastoring the church plant in suburban Oak Lawn, which he helped start. He was almost done with the thesis, but not quite…….so he applied for an extension, as did others in his cohort. Extensions were granted to the other applicants, but not to him.
“He felt it was because he had left the ABC (Convention), and helped start the CBA of A. There was no way for him to start over – he thought God’s call to be a seminary professor was forever lost to him. It was a tough time. Sometime in the early 60s, Central Seminary published his thesis in a little booklet, entitled “The Keys to the Kingdom.” Around that same time, Pillsbury gave him the D.D. I’ve always looked at that conferral as the righting of a wrong, rather than an “honorary” degree. I think many of those in the CBA felt the same.”
Many years later I became aware of a little booklet that supplied invaluable insight into the formative ministry years of Dr. Weeks’ life. That publication, entitled The Story of Humility, came into my possession and it tells the account of his summer ministry exploits while a seminary student. The story told by classmate Elmer Strauss begins with this introduction, “It was a cold January evening in 1944 when Dick knocked on my dormitory door. He came in, ‘plunked’ down on the bed, and said, “Elmer, do you have any plans for the summer?”
The booklet then unfolds the adventurous tales of summer ministries by a team of Northern students, led by Dick and Elmer. For several summers they tramped all over the sparsely populated western Dakota regions as a gospel team. Especially intriguing is the account of how they acquired a 1931 Model A Ford automobile they named Humility as their transportation to traverse the rough dirt roads of the still wild Dakota west of the WWII years.
It is hard to believe that on U.S. Highway 18 the pavement abruptly came to an end and became a single lane of mud ruts. They recount this incident, “Two cars on the edge of the pavement had stopped and their drivers were putting ‘ice chains’ (better known as mud chains in the Dakotas) on their rear tires.” They go on to say, “Actually we didn’t have to steer the car because the ruts were so deep, we couldn’t get out of them.” As they journeyed westward, they would often need to get out and literally push the car forward in excessively muddy spots.
Their ministry escapades are worth reading. (Dr. Dick – Part 3 will be a link to “The Story of Humility.”) Their summer ministry of several years grew into a Bible teaching and memorization organization for children called The Challenger Club that lasted for many years. It was conducted by several members of the ministry team via old fashioned snail mail correspondence.
Years later I became involved in a noteworthy experience with Dr. Weeks during the week when Dr. Cedarholm resigned from the presidency of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in April of 1968. On Thursday afternoon of that fateful week, Fred Moritz and I were going about the campus listening to the many people milling about asking questions and discussing the events of the week. Fred and I had been dorm mates in college and were reconnecting after being in the ministry for several years. Fred said to me, “Let’s go see what Dr. Weeks has to say.” I thought that was a great idea and so we headed across the campus to the little gym where Dr. Weeks had been assigned his office. We were familiar with that building because part of one semester it was our temporary dormitory while Clearwaters Hall was being built.
We entered the small hallway and knocked on the door of the only office in that building. We heard a “come in” and opened the door to find Dr. Weeks behind his desk, and Dr. Peter Mustric sitting in a chair in front of the desk. We said something like, “Oh, excuse us, we did not know you were busy,” but Dr. Mustric said, “No, come in boys. We are about to call Dr. Clearwaters, and we’d like to have some witnesses.” Or something to that effect.
I knew Dr. Mustric well. In fact, my pastor, Bud Weniger, and I were house guests at that time with him at Cedarholm’s presidential residence on campus. Dr. Mustric was an interesting individual. He was an optometrist, hence a Doctor of Optometry, who then went into the ministry. In addition, he was a bachelor, and pastor at the First Baptist Church of Rockford, Illinois, which was an influential church at that time.
He was tall, dignified, and professional, but always friendly and gregarious. He proceeded to place a call to Dr. Clearwaters while Fred and I sat in on one side of the phone conversation. All I remember was that Dr. Weeks kept writing out questions for Peter to ask the good doctor on the other end of the line. After a while Doc Clearwaters evidently got rather animated and raised his voice so that Peter pulled the phone from his ear, and pleaded with Doc to calm down. He explained that he was only asking questions to gain an understanding of the disagreement.
It was a surreal experience for two young guys in the ministry. Fred was pastor in Oregon, Illinois, and I was an assistant pastor in Normal. Illinois. We never forgot that encounter. As weeks and months played out Dr. Mustric and Dr. Weeks wound up on different sides of the issue that brought Maranatha Baptist Bible College into existence. I know that on that day they were just two friends trying to find common ground for service in the Lord’s work.
Dr. Dick washing the dishes!