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Short Stories: Hiking the Huachuca Mountains with Deacon John

Miller Peak, August 1975 with my fifth grade Sunday School class. I was 18. I drove the boys to the base of Miller Peak, up a precarious mountain road, with a  borrowed 1950s stick-shift truck. They rode in the bed of the truck. Crazy times.

To the west and south of Sierra Vista, Arizona, lies the Huachuca Mountain range. I spent many hours hiking these mountains, both by myself and with my girlfriend at the time, Anita Farr. My hikes took me to the top of Miller Peak (9,466 feet), Carr Peak (9,229 feet), and Ramsay Canyon Preserve — a wonderful three-hundred-acre site perfect for watching hummingbirds and other wildlife. On many a summer Arizona evening, my girlfriend and I would take drives along the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains, parking in the vast darkness of night so we could enjoy the starry skies and do a bit of necking. On numerous daytime occasions, I would load my custom .22K Hornet single-shot rifle or 30-06 Marlin lever-action rifle into my car and travel to the same foothills to hunt jackrabbits and javelina. Fit and strong at 6 feet and 160 pounds, I loved the outdoors. There was so much to see and experience. While I am no longer young, fit, or strong, the desire to roam and explore still lives deep within me.

I moved to Sierra Vista in November 1974. My dad owned a gun store. While I would tend the store from time to time, I worked a full-time stocking job at Food Giant. As a devout Fundamentalist Baptist, I sought out a church to attend. For a few months, I drove to Tucson every Sunday — a 150-mile round-trip — so I could attend the Tucson Baptist Temple, pastored at the time by the veritable Louis Johnson. My dad would often travel to Tucson to set up a table at the local swap meet, so I would spend the afternoon helping him peddle firearms, ammunition, and whatever else he might have for sale on that particular day, then attend the evening service at Tucson Baptist. After a few months, I decided that the long drive to the Tucson Baptist Temple hindered me getting actively involved in the church, so I decided to find a church in Sierra Vista to attend. After visiting several churches, I set my affection on Sierra Vista Baptist Church — a Conservative Baptist Association congregation. I quickly became involved in the church, helping run a bus route and teaching Sunday school. It was here that I met Anita Farr. (Please see 1975: Anita, My First Love.) We immediately hit it off, beginning a five-month-long torrid love affair that ended in September 1975. After our breakup, I sold all my earthly possessions, hopped a Greyhound bus, and returned to northwest Ohio.

Before dating Anita, I set my sights on another church girl. She worked as a waitress at Sambo’s Restaurant. Her father was a deacon in the church. While she and I never connected, her father showed interest in me; an interest that I thought at the time was spiritual in nature. One Sunday, Deacon John came up to me after church and asked if I would be interested in going hiking with him in the Huachuca Mountain range west of Sierra Vista. He likely knew that I was an avid outdoorsman. I said yes, and agreed to meet him at his house on the following Saturday. I have no doubt that, in the back of my mind, I thought that getting in good with Dad might provide me an “in” with his attractive daughter. As it turned out, I got far more than I bargained for.

On Saturday, I drove to Deacon John’s home, parked my 1970 Ford Falcon, and rode with him to where we planned to hike. We had walked a mile or so from the car when Deacon John stopped and said to me that he was going to do some sunbathing and asked if I wanted to join him. I thought his request quite strange, and the strangeness turned into horror when he proceeded to take off all his clothing. I thought at the time, what have I gotten myself into? I was quite naïve about human sexuality in general, but my gut told me that there was something not right about what this man was asking me to do. I quickly mumbled, no thanks, and I walked away from Deacon John as fast as I could. I spent the next couple hours hiking the foothills, trying to put out of my mind that I was alone in the desert with a naked man whom I thought was a godly, spiritual Christian.

I eventually returned to where Deacon John had been sunbathing. He was still naked. I told him it was time for me to get back to town. He put his clothes back on and we walked back to the car, not saying a word to each other; nor did we say one word to each other on the ride back to Sierra Vista. Deacon John didn’t do any hiking that day, so I’m left to believe that he had nefarious intentions, considering that I was a naïve boy who attended church without his parents. After we arrived to his home, I quickly exited the car and thanked him for taking me “hiking.” I avoided Deacon John after that, and he showed no further interest in me. Years of experience and life later have led me to conclude that Deacon John was not interested in helping me develop spiritually; that his interest in me was physical and sexual. I’ve often wondered how many other boys Deacon John took “hiking,” and whether any of them fearfully succumbed to his offer to strip naked and lie with him on a blanket. Deacon John has long since gone to his “eternal” reward, but I can’t help but wonder if Deacon John was a sexual predator, hiding in plain sight amongst the God-fearing Christians at Sierra Vista Baptist Church. What a perfect place to troll for unsuspecting, trusting boys. Deacon John was a respected leader in the church. I can only imagine what might’ve happened if I had mentioned my experience with Deacon John to the church’s pastor or other leaders. Would they have believed me? I suspect not. I am sure I would have been told that I “misunderstood” Deacon John’s intentions; that he was a godly man who loved Jesus. I can’t, however, shake one thing: Deacon John never did do any hiking. Why is that?


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      Sierra Vista Baptist Church’s membership had a lot of soldiers from the Fort, mostly officers. Lots of movement in and out of the church due to assignment changes. Definitely a “different” church experience for me. I was friends with one of the Captains from the Fort. Another officer, Chuck Cofty, was obsessed with and offended by my girlfriend’s short skirts. I mentioned this here:

      “Your girlfriend’s skirt is too short and it is immodest.” (This judgment was said to me, not my girlfriend. I replied, don’t look. Were her skirts too short? Not from my vantage point.) — Chuck Cofty, Sierra Vista Baptist Church, Sierra Vista, Arizona

      Chuck later became an evangelist. I believe he was quite cozy with Bob Jones University.

      I also had a friend by the name of August Jaxel — an older single man. Great guy. It was his truck I used to take my Sunday School class to Miller Peak. Years later, he flew back east and stopped to see me while I was pastoring in southeast Ohio. I tried to reconnect with him when we lived Arizona in 2004, but he didn’t seem interested in doing so. We ate lunch together, chatted a bit, and that was that. He was still very much a Fundamentalist, and I was not. I always wondered if that was a problem for him. Regardless, I have many fond memories of spending time with him, including a flight to Tucson where he scared the living shit out of me.

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    My daughter is a capt also. She says it is alot different now and people are more accepting of diverse lifestyles. In her experience, she says the USAF is the least tolerant in the US military. I agree. See recent news articles about the Christian buttheads at the AF academy in Colorado Springs. Ugh.

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    She’s a capt also. She is a USMA grad and tells me the USAF has a shit ton of Christian crazies, more so than the Army these days. Check out the BS that has been going on at the AF Academy in Colorado Springs.

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    There’s no other explanation to me than that he was a predator. I recently met Annie, whose parents were pillars of the church we attended 20yrs ago. They told us they had a rebellious teenage daughter. By coincidence, we’ve met again and she’s told me her side of things They had allowed her brother to rape her from the age of 5yo till she was old enough to fight back. Hubby and I had a huge respect for her parents and for their best friend, another devout, wise x-tian who was a very popular chiropractor locally. Annie was 18yo when he offered to treat her injured ankle free of charge. And, she says, asked her to remove her jeans. When her parents then said she should consult him about a painful shoulder, she gave him the benefit of the doubt – and he asked her to remove her bra. She refused both times. Like all predators, he could spot the vulnerable and those he knew were powerless to report him. He was so well-respected professionally. I’d seen him stand a little too close to my teenage daughters after church, but it never occurred to me he was the pervert Annie had discovered he was. I just thought he was a kind, avuncular figure with a warm personality. I too was naive, it would never have occurred to me that Annie’s parents and the chiropractor were vile hypocrites. And Annie couldn’t accuse him, she’d be called a whore, a liar in the clutches of satan! I hope fervently that Deacon John didn’t have real victims, but sadly, suspect he did, like all predators always do! And, sadly there are untold numbers of them in churches everywhere.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    I have no doubt that Deacon John was a sexual predator, possibly—as ObstacleChick says—in the early stages of his “career.”

    He did what the priest who abused me and, I believe, every other sexual predator has done: He sensed vulnerability in you, Bruce, the way sharks sense blood.

    Perhaps it was your attraction to his daughter (preying on children and teenagers has nothing to do with the predator’s sexual orientation) or simply the loneliness that, I suspect, you sometimes felt as a result of your unstable family situation.

    I believe, however, that a sexual predator doesn’t have to know what their victim’s particular vulnerability; they simply have to sense that their potential prey is vulnerable.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    I have agree with every one else that the good Deacon was a sly sexual predator. You looked a lot younger than 17, Bruce. That may explain his interest in you. And yeah, with your coloring he ought to have considered it unhealthy for you to ever try desert sun bathing anyway.- really selfish on his part !! You could have been badly burned.

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    Suzanne is Salty

    There stood the famous nekkid man….. and you didn’t succumb. Agree with the poster above, asking a ginger to sunbath is reckless

    And Bruce, I have a tale of chicanery, avarice and stupidity that recently went down in my husband Jim’s church friends group where they tried to screw him over. There’s a reason I’m not attending Jim’s church..

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Bruce Gerencser