I’ll never forget that day. It was a Thursday. April 21. 1994.
Kent Heaton came to take me to the airport. Dad and I were sitting in the sun room of the nursing home. I turned and said, “Dad, I’ve got to go home now. I’ve got a meeting that starts Sunday in Smyrna, TN. Anything you want to tell Norma and the kids?”
He looked up with a glint in those big blue eyes, with firm jaw, a wry grin, and the little nod of the head that he always did when he wanted to emphasize a point and said, “Tell ‘em to hang in there!”
Those were his final words to me. He died the following Monday. Tomorrow will mark the 20th anniversary of Dad’s passing from earth to heaven.
I have reflected on those words so many times. Simple. Succinct. Straightforward. Just like Dad! He was not a worldly, sophisticated man. He was a modest, no-nonsense, down to earth kind of man. “Hang in there!” That’s what Dad did. His whole life.
My father, Roy C. Weliever, was a part of “The Greatest Generation,” dubbed by Tom Brokaw who “gave so much and asked so little.” He was born on July 28,1918, in Montgomery County, Indiana, outside of little town called New Ross. He grew up working on the farm and lived through the Great Depression. Times were tough, but his family taught him what it meant “to hang in there!”
After graduating from the High School and serving two years in the Army, Dad moved to Indianapolis and began working at the U.S. Rubber Company, which later became Uniroyal. There he met Mattie Katherine Key, an 18 year old girl who had moved from Butler County, Kentucky, to find work. They married on October 26, 1946.
Soon after I was born in March of 1948, they moved to the country outside of Plainfield, Indiana, and lived there until Dad and Mom retired to Florida in 1976. On that little plot of ground, my brother, Bill and I, learned from Dad the values of hard work. Thrift. Honesty. Integrity. Decency. And dependability.
Dad never made a lot of money. But he lived by a common belief of that era that “it’s not much you make, it’s how much you save.” We learned to work, not whine. We learned when you produce something of value, it is rewarded. And we were taught that “life is not always fair.”
Soon after Dad and Mom were married, he made a commitment to Christ, and became a Christian. While my Mom had strong influence in Dad’s early spiritual growth, there was no doubt who was the leader of our home. He took discipleship seriously. I can still see him sitting in his big chair, reading the Bible. No meal was ever eaten before Dad lead our family in a fervent, heart-felt prayer. I can still hear the tone of reverence and respect in his voice when he prayed.
Dad was not an eloquent man, but in his own unpretentious way taught Bible classes. Gave devotional talks. Shared the gospel. Served as a deacon in the local church. And eventually was asked to be one of the Shepherds. Dad was responsible for many people obeying the Gospel through some, simple fill-in-blank Bible studies he taught. Raymond Harris once told me of a period one winter where he baptized 11 people who Dad had personally taught.
I can look back and see my Dad growing from a good follower of Christ, to a humble spiritual leader. He set before us a godly example. Demonstrated the virtue of self-discipline. And practiced personal spiritual renewal. Dad held firm to his convictions, and encouraged us to do the same.
My Dad believed, taught and exemplified that spiritual values were more important than physical matters. To “seek first the Kingdom of God.” “To lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” And “To trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”
Dad encouraged me to preach. He always provided a car filled with gas so I could go on preaching appointments as a “boy preacher” around central Indiana. But he also expected me to “practice what I preach.” I remember once receiving a letter from Dad while in college. He felt like I might have been getting “off track” in my daily life. He kindly admonished me. And then just wrote the reference Romans 12:1-2 at the bottom of the letter, which says…
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
As I grow closer to the age when Dad died, I’m reminded of my own mortality. My constant need for renewal. The importance of persistence. And the resolve to “press on toward the mark.”
The precious memory of my Dad encourages, inspires and motivates me. And his last words spurn me on to “hang in there!”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman