My Friend Bud – Part 6


Bud and I had grown together over the years. I knew how he thought, and what he expected. His pastoral leadership style, and then his AACS leadership role, were definitely different than his college administrative style and responsibilities. Especially different was relating to the large staff of the college that was divided into many departments. His expectations for student workers and hourly staff workers caused frustration many times to him. I tried at times to get ahead of problems, but that didn’t always work when immature students and inexperienced workers fell short of his expectations.

I knew that Doc Weniger lived by his daily “to do” task list. The night before he would write out his tasks for the following day on a yellow legal pad, and he would pursue those tasks with a singular focus. It was not a good sign when he went out of his office, armed with his yellow pad, looking for a staff person. In time I made him aware of how people were sometimes intimidated and overwhelmed by his forceful personality and stern direction. Sometimes his forceful intervention and correction was warranted, and other times it was not – but the average staff worker just didn’t know how to respond.

After I called attention to him about this problem, to his credit, he called a meeting of all the staff and acknowledged that frustration and anger arose at times in his response to staff. I believe there was improvement after that, but it was a reality of his powerful ways. Many leaders do not realize how forceful they are in personality. Bud had grown into this persona over many years of carrying the load of leadership. He carried some heavy burdens that contributed, in my opinion, to the building of stress in his life. For years I considered him as the person most capable to handle stress. I’ve come to the opinion that maybe I was wrong about that all along. He was a gifted leader; but he was human, and he was susceptible to stress.

The pressures of caring for Marilyn for many years, plus the burdens of leading the institution – especially not being able to please all the constituencies – and the weight of budgets and financial realities took its toll on him. In his later life circumstances and decisions brought him heartache and disappointments. He ultimately slipped into dementia and my last contacts with him were phone calls where he was upbeat, but struggled to remember things and seemed to focus on some simple pleasures of life.

I prefer to remember him as the animated cheerleader at MBBC athletic events; and his engaging interaction with students, children, church members, college patrons and friends, and a host of God’s servants from across the country who knew him for his leadership contributions.

  • He was a man of native intelligence. Smart and well trained, in addition to being capable of interacting with educational and political leaders, as well as construction workers and church members.
  • He was a man who was consistently responsible. He was absolutely committed to his calling, family, job, ministry, and the tasks of the day.
  • He was a man of incredible stamina. When we traveled together, and after we came home from a trip, I could not ever attain his energy and stamina. That used to bother me. Now, I realize it was his gift.
  • He was a man of unfailing determination. His dedication to planning was legendary, and a dogged determination to complete the project or task marked his life.

Later in life I was influenced by my dear friend and colleague Frank Hamrick. Frank taught me to see the Scriptures through a God focused perspective. He emphasized that the Bible does not present to us great men, but a great God – albeit a God who gifts, empowers, and uses men to accomplish His work. My friend Bud was greatly used by a great God. For this we can be grateful.

My Friend Bud – Part 5


In the fall of 1982 Bud and friend Ken Thelen dropped off their sons, Tim and Todd, at Maranatha to begin their college careers. Later Bud told me that he was concerned about lack of attractiveness around the campus and that prompted him to talk to Dr. Cedarholm. He said something like, “Cedar are you ready to retire, and do you still want me to come to lead Maranatha in the future?” Cedar’s response was something like, “Whew, I was afraid you didn’t want to come and so I was afraid to ask.” That conversation set things in motion for Bud to begin to give transitional leadership to MBBC in the spring semester, and was inaugurated as president to begin the 1983-84 school year.

When I arrived five years later at MBBC in 1988, I learned more of the story of the challenges facing Maranatha in 1982-83 when Bud began to take over the helm. Cedar was worn out at age 68, and the college was faced with several difficult issues. The institution was in a budget crunch, over staffed, and was endeavoring to face the fallout of previous financial decisions that needed to be addressed. Some of the issues included: The college had cosigned at local banks for student loans that were not being paid. Gifts for replacing the large windows in Old Main had been used for current obligations and the drafty windows were causing increased energy costs.

Bud tackled these issues with his characteristic focus and energy. In those early days of his presidency, he ruffled feathers, but in retrospect it initiated what some have called “the Second Maranatha Miracle.” The original miracle centered around the procurement of the property, buildings, furnishings and equipment. The miracle of the second fifteen years of the institution encompassed stabilizing the financial and administrative functions of the college, the expansion of the campus, strengthening academic programs, and the growth of the student body.

The current Maranatha website records that “no fewer than 39 building and remodeling projects were completed” during this era. This was where Bud was the most effective. He not only gave the vision for the projects, but he created the construction know how to make it happen. Because of experience he gained back in the days at Normal he learned how to be a general contractor, or work with contractors in an effective way.

He also brought financial credibility to the institution. Before he launched the Student Center fund raising project, Bud saw to it that state-of-the-art windows were installed in Old Main, and paid for out of general operating expenses. Once, that project was completed he embarked on the $450,000 Student Center project, which was the brilliant repurposing of a small gym and storage area into a beautiful two-level facility. Later, the building of the Fitness Center Gym and the Cedarholm Library were added to benefit the campus through his determined expertise.

In 1988 I went to join him at MBBC as Vice President for Administrative Affairs. Even though I have never had an accounting class in my life, I wound up as the Chief Financial Officer. I often said that I knew my main qualification for that aspect of my job was that he knew I was as tight as he was in financial matters. By the time I arrived the budget process and financial accountability were clearly established. For three years I supervised the financial office and was the person responsible to manage all the staff. One of my main responsibilities was to tell department leaders that if they spent all of their budget in the fall, there would be no more funding in the spring.

But it was in the supervision of the staff I met my greatest challenge in working for, and with, my friend, Bud. During all twenty years that I worked under him we had very few conflicts. Others at Maranatha had more difficulty than I did with his direct and powerful leadership style. Actually, I had few conflicts with him in this area – it was the task of being the go-between, and advisor to department leaders where I faced my greatest challenge.  

My Friend Bud – Part 4


Bud also led in the administrative work of organizing and leading the AACS Washington Conferences that were held in D.C. each year. Even though AACS president Dr. Al Janney presided at these events, it was Bud, and our staff from Normal, and later from the Fairfax office, that provided the planning and administrative structure for all the AACS programs. I oversaw the day-to-day operation, but it was Bud who was the leader. We worked very well together. I understood his high standards for everything from appearance, attention to detail, and striving for excellence.

During that time, he also initiated the AACS Student Competition that began at Tennessee Temple in April of 1979, but then moved to Bob Jones the next year to accommodate the crowd of contestants. This competition in Bible, Academics & Arts was the fruit of several dozen state associational competitions from the affiliated state chapters that made up AACS. There were many, many more high school, junior high, and elementary school students across the country participating in local and state competitions.  

In addition, he had the vision to work with other leaders in AACS to bring about Athletic Competitions, a Christian Honor Society, and other activities that helped to serve Christian schools nationwide. And he did all of this while still pastoring a thriving and growing church.

It was the intersection between the demands of moving AACS ahead, and the church program where I had the greatest challenge. Often, we would both fly out on Wednesday for a conference that was held on Thursday and Friday, and then fly back to Bloomington-Normal on Friday evening. I would be exhausted – and Bud seemed to be energized for the weekend of church ministry.

He had established a very effective Saturday morning men’s prayer breakfast that became a key discipleship factor in the church. I, along all the other pastoral staff members, were expected to be there. But the other guys hadn’t been flying back the night before to Chicago O’Hare and then commuting down to our community on a connecting flight. I loved the Saturday morning ministry, but it was difficult for me to keep up. Not for Bud.

He also gave very effective leadership in organizing the male leadership of the church into a large and active Deacon Board. By the early 1980s there were 27 deacons – and all were involved and contributing. He had years before reorganized an old separate board system of seven deacons and seven trustees into one group. As the church grew, he wisely expanded the deacons to include more and more talented and dedicated men.

He treated these men as equals and communicated extensively and clearly his ideas, vision, and goals. The deacons made decisions based on open discussion, and he listened – sometimes pausing for further study and discussion. He never ran ahead of the men. The board was organized into various action committees that oversaw and reported to the full board. We always had several biblically qualified “Elders” on the board. I served alongside my dear friend Evangelist Paul Levin for several years.

Deacon meetings were always spiritual highpoints and they were events that we looked forward to each month.

My Friend Bud – Part 3


In November of 1970, I became pastor at Faith Baptist in St. Paul, Minnesota. In January of 1971 Bud came to preach at my installation service, and our friendship strengthened over the next eight years. In 1975 he and I worked together to host the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship annual meeting at Faith. The year before that he engineered my election to the FBF board, and I still serve as an emeritus board member of FBFI today.

It was during my time in St. Paul that Bud became a strong and well-known leader. He started a Christian school and then became the leader in a new state Christian school organization. He became recognized as a substantive preacher and was invited to preach in many churches, schools and conferences.

Calvary experienced explosive growth during the 1970s, rising to over 1,000 in regular attendance. From 1970-1978 Bud led the church in five building programs that culminated in the 1,000+ seat auditorium that was completed in 1977 in time to host the FBF Conference. It was during this time that he was invited to join the board and executive committee of the American Association of Christian Schools. The AACS was still in a developmental state and in the summer of 1977 Dr. Al Janney, AACS President, asked Bud to consider taking over the administrative leadership of that growing, but struggling, organization.

It was in the early fall of 1977 Bud called me and asked if I would consider coming back to Normal to work with him in running this new venture? He said, “I don’t think there is any money, and I’m not sure what the number of schools are…but, would you pray about it?” I didn’t hear anything more until January when Bud called and asked me to fly to Illinois and then drive with him to Indianapolis to meet Al Janney. Dr. Janney did not know me at all – but, he trusted Bud and agreed to extend me an invitation to join the AACS staff as Field Director.

During our time ministering in Minnesota, Bud’s wife Marilyn was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and life began to change for the whole Weniger family. Connie and Marilyn had become close friends during our youth pastorate days, and so it was with mutual fondness that Connie and Marilyn anticipated renewing their relationship. Even though Marilyn’s condition progressed she maintained an indomitable spirit and continued to be a shining testimony of dependence on God’s strength.  

We moved back to Normal by the end of June in 1978 and a new relationship between Bud and me was started. Bud was full time pastor of the growing Calvary Baptist Church, but he was also Executive Vice President of the AACS, and I was to do the work of the association. The AACS offices were located in the church and shared much of the church office staff and equipment. My duties required much travel, although Bud also traveled to many Christian school meetings and conferences.

The church program and activities continued at a fast pace, but now both of us were heavily involved in travel all over the country. Bud had already launched the large AACS Midwest Conference that became an annual affair in October. It was held at the flagship Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago and drew over 2,000 attendees. He brought in nationally known speakers like former California Superintendent of Education Max Rafferty, Eagle Forum Founder Phyllis Schlafly, and North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. One year, Illinois Senator Chuck Percy asked to address the convention attendees so that he could assure them of his support.

Bud had grown to be an impressive personality with a strong platform persona and insightful organizational instincts that translated into the ability to bring growth and development. In the fall of 1981, he was even invited to appear on the nationally syndicated Phil Donahue TV show that emanated from WGN-TV in Chicago. I accompanied him on that trip and we rode to the studio in a chauffeured limo from the Hyatt Regency where we were put up for the night. Those were the days that the national media was just discovering the booming Christian school movement. AACS grew from about 600 member schools to 1,600 during the ten years I served under Bud’s leadership.

My Friend Bud – Part 2


Bud became well known as a tireless worker. His preaching was substantive and required diligent time in study. As his son Greg recently reminded me – he loved alliteration. But he always made sure his main points supported the exposition of the passage.

His personal evangelistic efforts were also constant and conspicuous because it became evident that he was leading the way in going to people’s homes and leading them to trust Christ. But as the church grew, he began to lead in building programs that focused on many hours of volunteer labor. It was often that two nights a week were designated as work nights. Many of the new members were motivated to come out to work – because they saw their pastor leading the way.

He also used a monthly church newsletter to promote and communicate the vision and plans that he was giving for building the church body and properties. In addition, he launched a radio broadcast that became well known in the community. He also wrote articles for the local newspaper and was constantly projecting a positive message for righteous living in the social life of the community. He was regarded as a strong voice for conservative and biblical principles and became widely respected in Central Illinois.

I thrived in that environment. As the youth pastor I inherited a small youth group because about ten leading high school graduates had just gone off to college. During the next four years a number of teenagers trusted Christ in the youth ministry. Because the church was attracting so many new families, I was able to bring their teens into a dynamic and growing youth ministry.

My first summer at Calvary I initiated an annual Western Camping trip that grew from 27 in 1967, to over 60 by my last summer in 1970.

I remember before leaving on that first trip Bud said to me, “What will you do if that bus breaks down?” I hadn’t thought of that yet, but said, “Be quiet. I don’t want to think about anything like that.” But the old 48 passenger International Harvester bus made it all the way to Denver and back.

We had regular youth activities that ultimately reached 75-100 teenagers most every weekend. Our campus ministry to Illinois State University grew to over 40 students attending each Sunday for a class that I taught, and to hear Pastor Weniger preach. College students were saved and discipled during those years, and the church welcomed them with open arms. Pastor Weniger was the heart and soul of all of that activity and outreach.

In the spring of 1970 Dr. Cedarholm invited Bud to give the baccalaureate address at Maranatha Baptist Bible College. I knew what this meant – the bestowal of an honorary degree – but I knew that the people of the church were clueless about such things. I called Doc Cedarholm and asked, “Are you giving Bud an honorary degree?” Cedar demurred and did not want to answer directly. I said, “Doc, the people at the church have no idea about these matters. It will be embarrassing for Bud to return and say to the church, ‘by the way over the weekend…’” Cedar cleared his throat and replied, “Well, you can tell the men at Calvary that their pastor will be honored in a significant way.”

I informed the Deacon Chairman and he made plans to make the trip to Watertown for the event. Bob Green, deacon chair, then gave a helpful announcement on Sunday morning that Pastor Weniger was now Dr. Weniger. But to the Calvary people he was always Pastor Weniger.

My Friend Bud – Part 1


I met Bud Weniger for the first time in August of 1957. He and his new bride Marilyn were honeymooning at the Turner cabin – right next door to our family cabin in northern Wisconsin. I remember that he was a cool guy and we water-skied together some. I was just a scrawny kid, not quite 16, who lived for water-skiing in the summer. I knew he was from the famed Weniger family, because his dad and three uncles were all preacher friends of my dad.

Little did I know at the time that within two months my dad would be taken to heaven in a plane crash. That tragic human event became a big part of my growing up and would result in giving me many mentors.  My dad’s reputation, and the respect that was given to him, introduced me to many men in the ministry. The first names of the senior “Weniger boys” – Arno, Archer, Ortiz, and Max – were often spoken in my home. Later several of Bud’s cousins were classmates of mine at Pillsbury College.

Drs. Ortiz, Bud, Arno Sr., Archer, & Max Weniger

When I was a college student, several years later, I would meet Bud again. He became pastor of First Baptist in International Falls, Minnesota, and was visiting our campus in Owatonna, Minnesota, for meetings and to see students from his church. I remember reconnecting with him briefly in the parking lot. I was impressed by his demeanor and the fact that he was a sharp dresser. He had adapted to the northern Minnesota environment and looked the part of an impressive Northwoods man.

About five years later I received a letter from him during my third year in seminary and it caused great excitement and interest. A year before Bud had taken the pastorate of Calvary Baptist in Normal, Illinois, and the growing ministry had prompted him to seek an assistant pastor. He wondered if I would be interested? I was very interested in joining him and the Lord worked it out so that we moved to Normal in the early fall of 1966. (This full story is told in my blog post at The Road to Normal.)

Those were four dynamic and impactful years in my life and ministry. Calvary was an established church congregation that lost its building and had to reorganize as an independent church just four years before Pastor Weniger arrived in late 1964. (A short account of that history is included at A Tale of Two Churches.) The remainder of the 1960s was a phenomenal growth time for that body of believers. Many people came to Christ during our 50 months as an assistant under Bud. In addition, the church was attracting numbers of wonderful Christians who were leaving mainline denominational churches in the area due to a drift toward liberal theology.

When we arrived, the average attendance was about 200. When we left in November of 1970 to take a pastorate, the attendance had mushroomed to regularly over 600. Pastor Weniger led in that growth with hard work, wisdom, and well-rounded communication skills. I learned much from him. When he arrived, there was a division in the church and he carefully pastored both factions and brought them together as the years increased. It didn’t hurt that new people were constantly coming in to take important leadership roles, still he did not lose people and he gave even-handed leadership to heal the wounds of the past.

He was also wise for his relative youth. I remember soon after I came that one day he said, “Come with me,” and we jumped in his car to visit a new couple in the church. His purpose was to apologize to them for repeating something that he had heard, that he learned was not true. He told this couple “I was wrong, will you forgive me?” I never forgot that experience. Not many people knew about it, but it was the right thing to do. That couple became valuable workers and assets in the church for years to come.

Next week: Part 2 – Dynamic Growth