It’s time for Ohio legislators to put an end to the death penalty. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 2003, 20 Ohio inmates have been removed from death row “through exonerations, clemency, or sentence reductions because of intellectual disabilities.” In December 2014, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer testified before the House Criminal Justice Committee. Justice Pfeifer stated “The death penalty in Ohio has become what I call a death lottery…It’s very difficult to conclude that the death penalty, as it exists today, is anything but a bad gamble. That’s really not how a criminal justice system should work.”
Currently, Ohio legislators are working on bills that would prohibit the execution of those with severe mental illness, create an indigent defense fund, require crime labs and coroners to be certified, and prohibit the execution of anyone convicted solely on the testimony of jail house snitch. While these are great steps in the right direction, it is time for Ohio to altogether abolish the death penalty.
As Justice Pfeifer rightly noted, the death penalty has become a death lottery. Those of means have the ability to hire competent defense attorneys, often resulting in the death penalty being taken off the table. The poor, who can’t afford to hire an attorney, must rely on proper representation from a public defender. In many rural areas, the poor are often assigned an attorney with little capital case experience. While many public defenders do a great job defending indigent clients, there are times when they are not up to the task, lacking the necessary skill and time to adequately defend their client.
When a person’s life hangs in the balance, they deserve competent, aggressive representation. Attorneys who defend an indigent client are paid a pathetic fee and must often wait for months or years to be reimbursed by the state. If we are going to continue to use execution as the means to punish those convicted of a capital crime, then it is morally imperative that we make sure that those facing death have the same access to attorneys, expert witnesses, and crime labs, regardless of their ability to pay.
Currently, 140 men and 1 woman are awaiting execution in Ohio. Due to controversy over the drugs used in lethal injections, it is unlikely that there will be any executions until 2016. I would encourage Ohio legislators to use this time to find a way to bring an end to executions.
Killing someone because they committed a crime is rooted in the barbaric eye for an eye justice of the Old Testament. While many Christian sects now oppose the death penalty, Evangelicals and conservative Christians continue to demand death for those convicted of a capital crime. I ask, what happened to following in the footsteps of Jesus? Would Jesus, the Prince of Peace, approve of a criminal system that disproportionately punishes the poor and people of color? If Evangelicals, who overwhelmingly vote Republican, would get behind abolishing the death penalty, we can end this abhorrent practice.
Several weeks ago, someone contacted me and asked:
“Regarding the churches you pastored and started, do they still exist today or have they changed their names ? I could not find any of the church’s personal websites. Sorry if you feel I wasn’t trying hard enough. I don’t know what I missed as there are hundreds of ‘google’ links.”
When I get questions like this, I have to consider, what is the person’s motive for asking this question? Do they really want to know or are they part of a small group of tin hat Christians who think that my story is a lie. Yes, even after blogging for seven years, there are those who doubt that I am telling the truth. They question if I pastored when and where I said I did. One man told anyone who would listen that he knew someone that lived where I did at the time I lived there and they didn’t know who I was. This was PROOF, at least to this reason challenged Christian, that I was lying.
My gut told me that the aforementioned letter writer was just curious or nosy, so I decided to answer his question. He also asked a question about my mother’s suicide, a question I did not answer. While I gave him a brief rundown of the churches I pastored and what happened to them, I thought I would turn my email into a blog post.
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976. Polly in the first person in the first row from the left. Bruce is in the third row, eighth person from the left.
I was baptized at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
I was called to preach at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
I preached my first sermon for the Trinity Baptist Church high school youth group in 1972 at the age of fifteen. Bruce Turner helped me prepare the sermon. The text I preached from was 2 Corinthians 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
In the fall of 1976, at the age of nineteen, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. I met my wife at Midwestern. We married in July of 1978. In February 1979, unemployed and Polly six months pregnant, we dropped out of college and moved to Bryan, Ohio.
Montpelier Baptist Church, Montpelier, Ohio
In March of 1979, Jay Stuckey, pastor of the church, asked me become the bus pastor. My responsibility was to build up the bus ministry which consisted of one bus. On average, the bus brought in 15 or so riders. I went to work aggressively canvassing Montpelier in search of new bus riders. Several church members helped me with this task. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, the bus attendance was 88. The head of junior church met me in the church parking lot and asked me what he was supposed to do with all the children. I told him, that’s your problem. I just bring ’em in.
Several months later, the church bought another bus. On the first Sunday in October, the church had a record attendance of 500. The Sunday morning service was held at the Williams County Fairgrounds. We had dinner on the grounds, a quartet provided special music, and Ron English from the Sword of the Lord was the guest speaker. Tom Malone was scheduled to be the speaker, but, at the last moment, he cancelled on us. Bus attendance was around 150.
The church started an expansion program to accommodate the growing crowds, The next week after our big Sunday, I resigned as bus pastor and Polly and I packed up our household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio. Pastor Stuckey left the church a few years later. The church hired a pastor who was a fundamentalist on steroids. Attendance began to decline, he left, and another man became pastor. About a decade after I left the church, it closed its doors, unable to meet its mortgage payment. The Montpelier First Church of the Nazarene bought the building and continue to use it to this day.
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Bruce Gerencser’s ordination, 1983
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio
In January of 1981, my father-in-law and I started Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, one of the poorest communities in Ohio. I was the assistant pastor, primarily responsible for the church youth group. The church quickly grew with most of the growth coming from the burgeoning youth group. I was ordained in April of 1983, several months before Polly and I moved 20 miles south to start a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, Somerset Baptist Church.
In the early 1990’s, the church closed its doors.
Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985
Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio
In July of 1983, Somerset Baptist Church held its first service. There were 16 people in attendance. The church met in several rented buildings until it bought an abandoned Methodist church building in 1985 for $5,000. The building was built in 1831.
Over the years, church attendance rapidly grew, ebbed, and then declined after we could no longer afford to operate the bus ministry. In 1989, we started a tuition free Christian school for the children of the church. Most of the church members were quite poor, as was Perry county as a whole. Unemployment was high, and what good paying jobs there were disappeared when the mines began to lay off workers and close.
In February 1994, I resigned from the church and prepared to move to San Antonio, Texas to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Because I was a co-signer on the church mortgage and no one was willing to assume this responsibility, the church voted to close its doors. There were 54 people in attendance for our last service.
Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993
Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas
In March 1994, I began working as the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church, a Sovereign Grace (Calvinistic) Baptist church. My fellow pastor, Pat Horner, had started the church in the 1980’s. The church ran about 150-200 in attendance.(I am uncertain as to the exact number since attendance records were not kept) Horner and I alternated preaching, with me doing most of the preaching on Sunday night. While I was there, I helped the church start a Christian school and plant two churches, one in Stockdale, the other in Floresville. I also helped the church start a street preaching ministry and nursing home ministry.
Olive Branch Christian Union Church, Fayette, Ohio
In March 1995, a few weeks before my grandmother died, I assumed the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette Ohio, a rural church 23 miles northeast of where I now live. Olive Branch was a dying, inward grown church in need of CPR. Over the course of the next few months, I set about getting the church on the right track. The church was over 125 years old. I had never pastored an old, established church, but how hard could it be, right? Seven months later, I resigned from the church. Despite the best attendance numbers in decades, the church was increasingly upset with my brash, bull-headed style. It all came to a head one Sunday when one of the elders found out I had moved a table from the platform to storage. He confronted me just before Sunday morning service, demanding that I put the table back. I looked at him, said NO, and walked away. Three weeks later, I resigned, and Polly and I moved our mobile home off church property to a lot 1/2 mile north of the church. We sold the trailer in 2007 to the brother of a friends of ours.
Joe Redmond took over the church after I left. He remains the pastor to this day. The church does not have a website. The church is located at the corner of Williams County Rd P and US Hwy 127.
Polly Gerencser late 1990’s, none of this would have been possible without her.
Grace Baptist Church/Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio
In September 1995, two weeks after I had resigned from Olive Branch, I started a new Sovereign Grace Baptist church in nearby West Unity, Ohio. The church was called Grace Baptist Church. I would remain pastor of this church until July of 2002.
We bought the old West Unity library building to use as our meeting place. None of the families from Olive Branch came with me when I left the church, but over time three families left Olive Branch and joined Grace Baptist. In the late 1990’s we had a church conflict over contemporary music and spiritual gifts. Five families left the church. A few weeks later, we changed the name of the church to Our Father’s House, a nondenominational church.
It was during this time that I began to have serious health problems. In July 2002, for a variety of reasons, I resigned from the church. The church body decided that they didn’t want to continue on as a church, so they voted to close the doors and sell the building.
If I had to pick one church that had the nicest, most loving people, it would be this church. After the five families left, things were quite peaceful. This is the only church where Polly and I have the same opinion about the church. Great people, a pleasure to be around
Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan
In March of 2003, I assumed the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church, a small, dying Southern Baptist church in Clare, Michigan.
There is little good I can say about this church. I worked my ass off, the church body, for the most part, was quite passive, and in October of 2003, I resigned from the church. I never should have become the pastor of this church. It needed to die a quick death. I don’t mean to say that the people were bad people, for the most part they were typical Southern Baptists. Good people, intrenched in the ways of the past, and unable to their way clear to the future. The church and I were a wrong fit.
After we left, so did a few other families, moving on to nearby Southern Baptist churches. A year or two later, the church closed its door.
From October of 2003 to April 2005, I had numerous opportunities to pastor churches or start new works. In the end, Polly and I decided we no longer wanted to be in the ministry. All told, we spent 25 years in the ministry.
As many of you know, I see a secular counselor from time to time. More than once, he has challenged me over what he considers my naïveté about my fellow humans. For the longest time, I sincerely believed that if I just explained myself to people, they would at least understand where I am coming from. While they might not agree with me, they would at least understand my viewpoint. I now know that many people, especially Evangelical Christians, aren’t interested in understanding where I am coming from. They are not interested in my beliefs, explanations, or story. Armed with certainty, God living inside of them, and an inspired, infallible, inerrant text in the crooks of their elbows, they already know who and what I am. Nothing I say will change their opinion of me.
These kinds of people think they know the REAL reasons I left the ministry and left Christianity. They are certain they know exactly why I became an atheist. If my telling my story contradicts their conclusions, then I am lying, deceived, delusional, or a con-artist. Because their mind is already made up, anything that does not fit into the narrative they believe to be true is rejected out of hand. One commenter told me years ago, Bruce, I know you better than you know yourself. I think there are a lot of Evangelical Christians who think this way about me. They think their special relationship with God gives them an understanding of me that other people might not have. Most of these people have never met me and the only things they know about me are what they read on this blog. They are quite certain that they know me inside and out.
When I tell them I left Christianity primarily for intellectual reasons they don’t believe me. There must be some other reason, perhaps a “secret” reason why I am no longer a Christian. They cannot imagine how anyone, having all the training and experience I have, could ever intellectually reject Jesus Christ. They are like people who drive Fords. They love driving a Ford, and because they love driving a Ford, everyone else should too. They can’t imagine ever driving any other car but a Ford. When asked what kind of car their parents drove, they will proudly say, a Ford! It never dawns on them that perhaps the reason they drive a Ford is because their parents drove a Ford. They are convinced they drive a Ford because it is better than every other automobile make, even though they have never driven any other make of car but Ford.
Most of the atheists/agnostics I know were Christians before they became an atheist/agnostic. Many of them were serious, devoted followers of Jesus Christ. They attended church regularly, were active in the church, read and studied their Bible, prayed regularly, and financially contributed to the church. In every way they were true-blue Christians.
These atheists, like myself, reached a place where they began to have doubts questions about the Bible and Christianity. These doubts and questions led to more doubts and questions. They never intended to not be Christian, but as they read and studied they came to the conclusion that they could no longer believe the tenets of Christianity. They lost their faith in God, the Bible, and Christianity. Few people can understand the pain and heartache that they faced and continue to face as they walked away from that which was once most precious.
Many of my critics assume that I jumped from fundamentalist Christianity to atheism. They refuse to take a careful look at the path that led me to where I am today. It goes something like this:
Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christian
Evangelical Christian (Calvinistic)
I tried to find a natural stopping point as I slid down the slippery slope, but I couldn’t. No matter how much I tried to shut off my mind to the questions, they would continue to come to the forefront of my thinking and demand answers. It is the seeking of answers that finally led me to where I am today, and will lead me to where I will be tomorrow.
Many of those who refuse to accept my story at face value are sure that there is some other underlying motive for my unbelief. Brad, a commenter on a post I wrote about Steven Furtick, is an excellent example of this. Here is what he had to say:
I’m sorry to hear that you left the ministry and even more that you decided to leave Christ for a life of Atheism. I do agree with some of your comments about Furtick and his financial lifestyle.
I actually relate more with the approach of Francis Chan, as described in his book Crazy Love, which I’m assuming that you are probably familiar with. The reason I wanted to comment is because the bigger picture that you are missing is salvation. No matter if Furtick is making poor decisions regarding his finances, that does not change his salvation.
I’m concerned for you Bruce. I understand that I came on your website and read your blog, but as a Christian and believer in Christ, I feel like that someone needs to simply remind you of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and unfailing love. I wonder if you were hurt somehow in the church?
Why did you serve God for so many years and then decide to leave from the protection and shadow of his ‘wing’? If you were hurt in the church, I’m sorry for that. You can’t however, hold God accountable for something one of his crazy kids may have done! I had a bad experience at Wal-Mart one time, but I still go back and buy my groceries there!
I will pray for you and believe that you will come back to Christ. I am a licensed therapist (Masters in Counseling) and an ordained minister and I own a private practice and work with hurting people everyday. My experience is that hurt people, hurt people! I think there is a possibility that you are hurt and bitter. Maybe not. I do know that you are confused because you left God’s calling for your life! Peter Pan, you have forgotten how to fly! Don’t worry, God still loves you more than you could ever imagine. Prodigal son, when are you going to return to your Father?
Brad thinks there is an underlying reason for why I am no longer in the ministry and no longer a Christian. He made no effort to read anything else I wrote but the Steven Furtick post, and based on that post he read he “intuited” that I must be hurt.
I want to conclude this post by dealing with the notion that the reason I deconverted was due to some underlying emotional issue. For the longest time, I refused to see my deconversion as anything other than an intellectual pursuit. I knew that admitting that I was angry, jaded, cynical, or hurt would allow critics to dismiss everything else I wrote. All that would matter to them is that I left Christianity for some other reason than an intellectual one.
This coming September, it will been thirteen years since I pastored a church and seven years since I walked away from Christianity. As I continue to analyze and understand why I no longer believe, I now know the reasons are many. While the intellectual reasons are certainly the main reason I no longer believe in God, I now know that there was/is an emotional component to my deconversion.
Was I hurt in some way? No. There was no crisis event that led me to renounce my faith. There were five years between pastoring my last church and my loss of faith. During this five-year period, I had numerous opportunities to pastor. I could have started a new church, and as late as 2007, Polly and I had discussions about starting a church. I even contacted the Quaker/Friends denomination about starting a church in the Defiance, Ohio area. Until the last Sunday in November 2008, when I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, I still thought of myself as a Christian pastor. I knew I was hanging on by a thin thread, but I still thought I could intellectually make it work. In the end, I couldn’t. No one hurt me, no church so injured me that I had no other choice but to leave Christianity. If anything, my deconversion was more like a married couple who loved each other dearly but couldn’t stand to be around each other. My lifelong marriage to Christianity ended, not only for intellectual reasons, but because I could no longer stand to be around American Christianity.
Anger came after I deconverted. For the longest time, I was angry at myself for wasting so much of my life in the ministry. I was angry over how the ministry hurt my wife and children and how my preaching hurt other people. I was angry over what Evangelical Christianity was doing to America. But, most of all, I was angry at Evangelical Christians who refused to take me at face value and who refused to allow me to authentically tell my story.
While I can still get angry at belligerent, self-righteous, arrogant, cement-headed Christians, most of the time I just sigh and shake my head as they deconstruct my life or let me know that they know the REAL reason(s) I am not in the ministry or why I am no longer a Christian. I now know that I cannot make the blind see or the deaf hear. While I can readily accept their confession of faith in Jesus Christ at face value, they cannot grant me the same respect. I suspect this is because of who I am.
I am not just a generic, run-of-the-mill Christian turned atheist. I am not someone who was raised in the church and then when I became an adult, rejected the faith of my parents. I am a man who spent fifty years in the Christian church. I am a man who started preaching when he was fifteen. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. Even among the apostate pastors who are prominent today, I have more time on the job than most. Many pastors who deconvert do so after five or ten years in the ministry. Rare is the man who spends fifty years in the Evangelical church and walks away from it all. I think this is the real reason many of my most vocal critics try to reduce me to dog shit on the bottom of their shoes. I wonder if they, deep down, fear that if someone such as I can lose my faith, that it is possible they can too? Perhaps when the doubts and questions they say they never have come to the surface in the still of the night, those doubts and questions have my face. Perhaps they are like a few former parishioners who cannot talk to me anymore because they find my deconversion so unsettling? They wonder, how can this be? How can Pastor Bruce be an atheist? He led me to Christ, he baptized me, he taught me the Bible, he loved me, cared for me, and prayed for me. If Bruce is an atheist, is the faith of anyone safe?
Somerset Baptist Church Auditorium after Remodel, 1992
In July of 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. In 1985, we bought a Methodist church building near Mt Perry, Ohio for $5,000.00. The church, built in 1831 and one of the oldest Methodist buildings in Ohio, would be the church home until Polly and I moved away in 1994.
During the 11 years I was pastor, hundreds of church members came and went and we hauled thousands of kids to church on one of our four buses. For 5 years, we operated a private Christian school, open only to the children of the church. It was tuition-free.
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1983
Today, I uploaded over a hundred pictures from our time at Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset/Mt Perry, Ohio. I made the album public so readers of this blog could view them. You can see them here.
This was the church where I came of age as a pastor. In 1983, I was a hardcore, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor. When I moved away in 1994 to co-pastor Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, I was a committed Calvinistic, Reformed Baptist pastor. I went through tremendous intellectual and social transformation during these 11 years.
As I scanned the pictures, my mind was flooded with wonderful memories of the shared experiences I had with the church family. Yes, there were bad times, stupid times, dumb ass times. Yes, I was a fundamentalist and that brought all kinds of baggage with it. But, as I looked at the pictures, I didn’t think about beliefs. My thoughts were of the wonderful times we had. Yes, fundamentalism mentally and emotionally hurt and scarred me, but that does not mean there are no good memories. There are lots of them. In fact, the vast majority of the memories I have are good ones. Sometimes, when people deconvert they often become so fixated on the negative that happened that they forget the good times. I know I did.
Bruce Gerencser, 1991, Somerset Baptist Academy
I also shed some tears. There were a handful of people in the pictures who are now dead. Cancer, heart attacks, and car accidents claimed their lives and all I have left of them is the pictures and our shared memories.
After I posted the pictures to Facebook, I heard from a number of people who were once part of the church. Most of the people I heard from were children when I was at Somerset Baptist Church. They are now middle-aged with families of their own. Their parents, like me, are old and gray. It was nice to hear from them.
I decided to upload to Facebook all of the old pictures I have. They aren’t very good – the best a $20.00 camera could offer. In fact, they are down-right terrible. But, infused into the photos are memories, and it is those memories that matter. In the coming weeks, I will find out if the lesion on my pancreas is cancer. If it is, I know the prognosis is, “it sucks to be me.” I am OK with that, not that I have any choice in the matter. I wanted to upload these pictures while I could. Even without the current health problems I have, I know that I am on the shorter end of life. The sun is long in the western sky and I thought it best to share the photos while I could.
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985
I feel old today, as a man who has lived a long life. But, I also feel blessed to have lived a good life, a life marked by contradiction, conflict, grief, and change, along with happiness, joy, and goodness. It is the sum of my life.
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990’s
I wrote the following to inform those who don’t know me about my past and present life. While this is in no way the sum of my life, it should help to answer some of the questions readers might have. I try to be open and honest. If you have a personal question you would like me to answer, please send me an email or leave your question in the comment section.
Rural NW Ohio, the village of Ney. One stoplight, one gas station, one pizza place/bar, and one restaurant/bar. We have lived here since 2007.
Do you own your own home?
What color is your hair?
Well it used to be bright red, some say orange. These days, it is a faded, dull red, mostly white. (see picture above)
How tall are you?
How much do you weigh?
I currently weigh 365 pounds. I weighed 160 pounds at age 18, 180 pounds the day I got married, and 225 pounds five years after I married. I am twice the man I was on my wedding day.
Which hand are you?
Left, 100% left.
What color are your eyes?
They range from gray to sparkling blue. Polly says my eye color is determined by my mood.
What is your body shape?
I have short legs (29 inch inseam) and a long body. One man told me I was built like a fire plug.
What’s wrong with you?
How much time do you have? I have suffered with depression most of my life. I have Fibromyalgia, diagnosed in 1997. Since 2007, I have had non-specific neurological problems that affect my ability to stand and walk. I live with daily, unrelenting pain. I walk with a cane and often have to use a wheelchair.
What sports teams do you root for?
Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Louisville Bats, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Toledo Mud Hens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Ohio State football and basketball.
I am also a dirt track racing fan.
Did you play sports?
Yes, I played Little League and City League baseball and City League basketball. I played one year of junior high football.
I was usually good enough to make the team, but I tended to be on the far end of the bench (except for City League basketball, where I was a starter).
Should Pete Rose be in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame?
What do you like to do for fun or to relax?
Go anywhere with Polly.
Attend a sporting event with my sons.
Read non-fiction books.
Take a walk in the woods, or a walk anywhere with the love of my life by my side. These days, it is usually Polly pushing me in a wheelchair when we take walks.
What are your hobbies?
I am a serious amateur photographer. I use Sony, Tamron, and Sigma equipment.
I have extensive computer/Windows software knowledge. I build my own computers.
I also like to garden and work in the yard when I am able.
When did you buy your first computer?
1992, a V-Tech 286.
Who are your favorite authors?
Thomas Merton, Henry David Thoreau, Bart Ehrman, and Wendell Berry, along with countless other authors who have helped me along the way.
What is your favorite comic?
What foods do you like?
Do you drink alcohol?
Yes, I like wine and spirits. I am not a beer drinker.
What are your favorite restaurants?
Mad Anthony’s in Fort Wayne and Auburn, Indiana, Red Lobster, and Texas Roadhouse.
For dessert, I like Eric’s Ice Cream in Defiance, Ohio and Dietsch Brothers Ice Cream in Findlay, Ohio.
What is your favorite ice cream?
Rocky Road and Mint Chocolate Chip.
What is your favorite candies?
Double dipped chocolate malted milk balls from Dietsch’s, Clark, Zero, Zagnut, Snickers, and Milky Way candy bars, and Goetz’s Carmel Creams.
What communities have you lived in?
Over the past 58 years, I have lived in:
Ohio: Bryan (numerous times), Ney (twice), Farmer, Deshler, Harrod, Findlay, Mount Blanchard, Alvordton (twice), Newark (twice), Buckeye Lake, New Lexington (twice), Junction City, Mount Perry, Glenford, and Somerset.
California: San Diego and Chula Vista.
Arizona: Tucson, Sierra Vista, Hereford, and Yuma.
Michigan: Pontiac and Clare.
How many houses have you lived in?
16 houses by age 21 and 18 more houses since Polly and I have been married.
How many cars have you owned?
Over 60. The cheapest cost $25.00, the most expensive cost $29,000.00.
What car do you currently own?
2015 Ford Escape.
What was your favorite car?
The 1970 Chevrolet Nova SS I owned in the 1970s.
What was your least favorite car?
Any of the cars I owned that were made by American Motors.
Besides pastoring, what jobs have you worked?
Janitor, gas station attendant, short order cook, newspaper motor route, life insurance salesman, sweeper salesman, restaurant general manager, network manager, durable medical equipment supply office manager, dairy department manager, grocery stock clerk, workfare/court offender program manager, litter control manager/officer, building code enforcement officer, grant manager, real estate updater for auditor’s office, farm worker, mechanic, cable box repairman, shipping and receiving, turret lathe operator, and numerous general laborer jobs in factories.
What was your favorite job?
Restaurant general manager.
What is your favorite color?
What are your politics?
Liberal, progressive, socialist.
Are you an atheist?
Are you a humanist?
What is your worldview?
I am agnostic on the God question. I cannot know for certain if a god of some sort exists, but I think it is highly improbable. It is possible that a deity of some sort might someday reveal herself to us, but I highly doubt it. I am convinced that all of the deities in the human panoply of gods are the creation of humans.
I live my day-to-day life as an atheist. Thoughts of God never enter my mind unless I am writing an article for this website.
I try to live my life according to the humanist ideals spelled out in the various humanist manifestos.
Do you fear going to hell?
No more than I fear Mickey Mouse breaking into my house and stealing my TV.
In other words, since heaven, hell, and the devil are the fictions of humans, I don’t fear hell.
How many churches have you visited/preached at in your lifetime?
What can you tell me about your wife?
We met at Bible college. Polly is a pastor’s daughter. She is my lover and best friend. She is an awesome cook, a great seamstress, and she never lets me have all the covers.
What can you tell me about your kids?
Well, there are six of them, four sons and two daughters. Four of them are married and have children of their own. One of them is going through a divorce. Five of them are gainfully employed. Our oldest daughter has Down Syndrome.
Are your children Christian?
You’ll have to ask them. None of them is Evangelical and all of them have left the faith of their youth.
Do you have any siblings?
Yes, a brother and sister. They both live in Arizona (Chandler and Tombstone).
Are your parents still living?
No. My father died at the age of 49 from a stroke and my Mom committed suicide at the age of 54.
What kind of music do you like to listen to?
I like every style of music except rap, old-style country, and opera.
Who are your favorite artists?
Matt Nathanson, Eliza Gilkyson, Darius Rucker, Theory of a Deadman, Staind, Seether, Lucinda Williams, The Carpenters, Collective Soul, Sugarland.
What is your favorite movie?
Mosquito Coast and Hell in the Pacific.
If you could live any place in the world where would you live?
Anywhere near water as long as Polly is with me and my children live 20 minutes away.
Why do you blog?
I have a story to tell and blogging is my way of telling it.
Why do you stop blogging from time to time?
Depression and health problems.
Have you made a lot of money blogging?
Yes, millions of dollars. So much money that I don’t know what to do with it.
Serious answer? Last year, blog donations totaled about $2000. I don’t write to make money. I write because I want and need to.
Are you writing a book?
Yes, I started it a dozen times and I hope to have it done before I die. I signed a book contract last December. I hope to have it completed by the end of summer.
What’s most important to you?
What’s least important to you?
The approbation of others.
What is your favorite season?
If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?
You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.
Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.
Warning! What follows is not suitable for children or fundamentalist Christians.
If you have not read the serious version of Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Bruce Gerencser, please read it here.
I have noticed in the search logs that people are looking for information (more likely dirt) on Bruce Gerencser. They are entering search strings such as Bruce Gerencser, Bruce Gerencser sermons, Bruce Gerencser bio, etc. Many times they misspell my name, spelling Gerencser: Gerenscer, Gerenser, or Gerencer.
In order to facilitate their search for the Kim Kardashian lowdown on my life, I thought I would write two posts, a serious one and this one.
Where can I listen to your old sermons?
There are no online sermons of me preaching. For many years, all of my sermons were taped. I am sure there are tapes of my sermons gathering dust in former parishioner’s closets.
All told, I preached over 4,000 sermons.
What is your shoe size?
What clothes do you wear most of the time?
I wear blue jeans and tee shirts 99% of the time.
I still have a tie I bought in 1976. I haven’t worn a tie in almost ten years.
I don’t wear shorts in public and I have not taken my shirt off in public in over 30 years. I know all the babes in Ney are just waiting for me to go strutting down the street with no shirt. I am sure they will think, what a stud. Or maybe they will call 911.
I always wear a hat in public. Usually I wear a Reds or Bengals hat. In the winter, I wear wool fedoras.
What kind of underwear do you wear?
Currently, plaid boxers.
What is your…?
Don’t even ask. I am told that it is big enough. But, the person telling me this has only seen one flesh and blood man naked. Compared to what I have seen, uh, well somewhere on the internet, I doubt I will become a porn star any time soon.
Are you on Social Security?
No. Thanks to listening to well-off, hate-the-government preachers, I opted out of Social Security when I was 24 (seemed like a good, money-saving idea at the time). By the time I realized those preachers were full of shit and opted back in, it was too late. While I cannot draw Social Security Disability, I will be able to draw Social Security based on my secular work in July 2019.
Do you have animals?
Yes, I currently have a dog that somehow stayed behind when my youngest daughter moved out. I also have a cat. Polly tolerates and sometimes loves the animals. Thanks to my mother, I am a hopeless animal lover.
Do you kill spiders?
Never. It’s the Buddhist in me.
Are you afraid of snakes?
I do wish the snakes that stand in fundamentalist pulpits Sunday after Sunday would climb into a hole never to be seen again. Dare we hope?
What kind of temperament do you have?
Why, just ask my family. I am quiet, meek, passive, and never get angry. Okay, I might be lying just a wee bit.
Back in the real world, I am temperamental and have a wry sense of humor. I can quickly become angry, but my anger rapidly dissipates. I don’t hold grudges and I am quick to forgive.
My humor has gotten more risqué post-Jesus. I blame this on my children.
Do you have any identifying marks?
I am circumcised. That sure as hell had to hurt. I don’t remember it, but it sure left a scar.
I have a scar on my nose from skin cancer surgery, a scar on my left hand from carpal tunnel surgery, and a scar on my hip from cancer surgery.
I have a scar on my leg from being bit by a dog when I was 11.
I have short legs, a long body, and no butt. I have spent most of my life pulling up my pants and tucking in my shirt. I wear suspenders lest locals someday open their newspaper and read Local Atheist Moons Christians at Meijer.
What was your greatest sports achievement?
As a 12-year-old, I won third place in the Deshler Punt, Pass and Kick contest. There were four kids in my age group.
Are you allergic to anything?
Bees and Republicans.
If you had to concoct one meal, what would be in it?
The Whopper from Burger King, French fries from McDonald’s, onion rings from Sonic, washed down with a super-sized Pepsi. And then, for dessert, a banana split from Eric’s Ice Cream.
Man, I wish I could eat this meal right now. Sounds like a dying man’s last wish.
Do you swear?
Have you ever killed anyone?
Just myself, one fast food and junk food meal at a time.
Have you ever looked at pornography?
Really, you are asking this? I am a guy. Next question.
Have you ever committed adultery?
Yes. Jesus said if I look at a woman in lust I have committed adultery with her in my heart. I must admit I have an adulterous heart. My wife now says we are in an open marriage, so I can look but not touch. Touching will bring the death penalty.
Do you have any irrational fears?
One — flying on an airplane. I did it once and it ain’t happening again, ever! If my brother or sister in Arizona dies before me, they better keep them on ice until I get there. I will be taking the bus or Polly will be driving me. No planes. The good news is that I will likely die before they do, so I don’t have to worry about flying again.
Have you ever committed a crime?
Felony or misdemeanor?
I shoplifted clothing as a teenager, mainly Levi jeans. My Dad thought Rink’s Bargain City, also known as Bargain Shitty, and Twin Fair were fine clothing stores.
Years ago, I stiffed the IRS by not claiming cash gifts from parishioners as income. This is a common practice among clergy.
A teenage friend of mine and I stole his father’s 1955 Chevrolet and turfed a bunch of lawns. We made the newspaper the next day.
As a teenager I pelted cars with apples, water balloons, and snowballs. I now threaten to beat the shit out of kids who do the same to me.
I have had more traffic tickets than I can count, but none since 1985.
In 2014, I found $27 in a school parking lot. I thanked the Sky God for his blessing and put it in my pocket. I did look to see if anyone was nearby to whom the money might belong. My eyesight was pretty bad. After the game, I used the money to buy dinner.
What are your favorite sodas?
Pepsi, Suncrest Cream Soda, Jones Cream Soda, Big Red, and Faygo Rock and Rye.
I refuse to drink diet pop. Diet pop is like taking Vicodin without the Hydrocodone. Why bother?
What are seven things you hate?
Any team from Ann Arbor, Michigan that is playing Ohio State.
The Saint Louis Cardinals.
Fundamentalism, wherever it is found.
Rude, self-absorbed people.
Any fart but my own.
What is your favorite practical joke?
I put brown shoe polish on toilet paper and then came out of the bathroom screaming at my kids about who left the shitty toilet paper in the bathroom. Much to their horror, I proceeded to put the toilet paper in my mouth.
Have you ever used illegal drugs?
Never, but I sure would like a joint. I think it would help with my pain. Anyone from Colorado coming this way? Please, don’t send me pot in the mail. Front door deliveries only.
Have you ever had an affair?
Only with God, Jesus, and the church. They sure turned out to be lousy lovers.
What’s the oldest thing in your house?
You mean beside me and Polly?
Old photos of family are the treasure I hold on to. I have the baseball glove I bought at the age of 14 from JC Penny. I also have a knife my Dad gave me 47 years ago.
What are your favorite homemade desserts?
Vanilla pudding with vanilla wafers and meringue on top, but only if it is made exactly like my mom made it. Polly has finally perfected the recipe, so she no longer has to hear me say, “this ain’t like Mom’s.”
Oatmeal, raisin, and chocolate chip cookies.
Any cake my mother-in-law-makes.
Oreos — they are homemade, right?
What things do you refuse to get rid of?
I’ve had the same metal desk and file cabinet in my office for 33 years. They were made in the 1950s, back when Americans made stuff.
What was the first car you owned?
My first car was a 1960 Mercury Comet. I let an unlicensed friend of mine drive it one day and he lost control of it. The car hit a ditch bank and flipped over several times. He ended up in the back with the seat on top of him and I ended up with my head sticking out of where the windshield used to be. The car was totaled. I paid $200 for the car. To hear my friend tell it, we were going 100 mph when he lost control. The car had a six cylinder 144 CID motor, with a top speed of 68 mph. He was actually doing about 40 mph when he lost control.
What magazines do you read?
I now subscribe to Apple’s $9.99 a month magazine service. I read the magazines on my iPad Pro.
I also read magazines when I use the toilet. If no magazine is available, I read the ingredients on whatever is nearby. Always learning.
If you could sit anywhere with Polly where would it be?
Okay Bruce, they want a romantic answer. The fifty yard line at the Super Bowl is not what they are looking for.
On the banks of the Blanchard River, Riverside Park, Findlay, Ohio.
The eastern shore of Lake Michigan when the sun is setting.
What are your toilet habits?
I put the seat up when I pee and I don’t put it back down — that is IF I make it to the toilet before my bladder screams PEE! I have no ability to keep from urinating. So, when it is time to go, it is really time to go, like n-o-w.
I don’t care which way the toilet paper roll dispenses the paper.
Do you have a reoccurring dream?
Yes, and it involves Pamela Anderson. Enough said.
I hope you have had some fun with this post. I have no doubt this will not satisfy those looking to get some dirt on me or discover who the r-e-a-l Bruce Gerencser is. Who knows, maybe they will find out I am really a cross-dressing, vegan, University of Michigan-loving man. After all, the lies told about a person always make for better news than the truth.
In September of 1971 I began my ninth grade year at Central Junior High School in Findlay, Ohio. At home, my parents argued constantly, and seven months later, in April of 1972, they divorced. A few months after that, Mom married her first cousin and Dad married a 19-year-old who had a little girl.
Needless to say, life at home was anything but love, peace, and harmony. I hated my parents for getting divorced. I hated my Dad for marrying a girl who was only four years older than I.
I stayed away from home as much as I could. Dad was busy with his “new” family, so my siblings and I were left to our own devices. I spent a lot of time at the local YMCA. I didn’t have the money for a membership, so I learned the fine art of sneaking into the Y. The Y became my home away from home.
Dad started G and B Train Shop with Gary Zissler, a fellow deacon at the church. The store mainly sold Lionel, American Flyer, and HO trains. I worked at the store in the evenings. Dad paid me twenty-five cents an hour minus the cost of the pop I drank. Since we rarely had pop at home, I became a pop-a-holic while at the train shop.
Our family attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Trinity was a large Independent Baptist Church pastored by Gene Milioni. Ron Johnson was the assistant pastor and Bruce Turner was the youth pastor.
After Pastor Milioni married my Dad and his second wife, my Dad and my siblings stopped going to church. I, however, immersed myself in the church, attending church every time the doors were opened.
The church became my family. Most of my close friends attended Trinity and the church provided me with everything I found lacking in my home life. Even though I am now an atheist, I will forever be grateful for the support and social connection the church provided for me.
In the fall of 1972, my tenth grade year at Findlay High School, Al Lacy held a revival at Trinity Baptist Church. One night, I came under great conviction and I went down to the altar, confessed my sins, and asked Jesus to save me. A week later I was baptized, and not to long after that I publicly confessed before the church that I believed God was calling me into the ministry. I was fifteen.
My life changed dramatically after I got saved. I started carrying my Bible to school and I witnessed to my non-Christian friends. My non-Christian friends, those I played sports with, thought I had lost my mind, and some of my Christian friends did too.
I have always been an all-in kind of person. I don’t do half-way, so when it came to being a Christian I was 100% committed to Jesus. I took seriously what I heard the pastors preach. In my young mind, I saw the pastors as speaking for God. After all, everything they preached about came straight out of the Bible, God’s inspired, inerrant Word.
Trinity was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. The pastors preached against rock music, premarital sex, mixed swimming, going to movies, short skirts and pants on women, and long hair on men. Remember, it was the early 1970s and mini-skirts and maxi-dresses were popular and men wore their hair long. The pastors at Trinity were anti-counterculture, believing the love and peace generation was destroying America.
Like a good Baptist boy, I tried to follow the rules to the letter. God (or the pastor) said it, I believed it, and that settled it for me. One sin the pastors were against was any kind of dancing. Not just some types of dancing, they were against ALL dancing.
A few years ago, I wrote about how the no-dancing rule affected me:
I vividly remember ninth grade year at Central Jr High. The Phys Ed teacher decided to teach square dancing. I was all for learning to square dance. This would be my only opportunity to touch the cheerleaders. Unfortunately, Pastor Milioni put an end to my carnal desires. He came to school and made a fuss about the square dancing class. Next thing I know, I am being forced to sit with the fags (talking as we did in the 1970’s, I do not use such language today) who refused to take Phys Ed. This was a punishment worse than death. (Pastor Milioni also came to my school to complain about the choir singing Jesus Christ Superstar. I had to quit choir)
The school held regular dances, social events that everyone attended, well everyone but this good Baptist boy. I went through a period of time where I was really upset about all the rules and restrictions, so I would stay overnight with a non-Christian friend and I would go to the dances with him. I did this numerous times. I don’t know if my parents ever caught on. If they did, they never said a word.
I came through the 1970s with my Baptisthood intact. I never smoked cigarettes, drank, or smoked marijuana. I didn’t listen to rock music, kept my hair cut short, and I successfully made it through high school as a virgin. Not the I didn’t want to have sex, I did, but I was afraid of what might happen if I did and I didn’t think any of the church girls I dated were “willing.” I found out a few years ago, after talking to some of the girls I went to church with, that they were more “willing” than this naïve Baptist boy thought they were.
The first time I danced was at the wedding of one of my children. This was the first time for my wife too. My daughters-in-law cajoled us into dancing. Oh, what a sight we were. We may have been years away from our fundamentalist youth, but it was quite evident that we didn’t know anything about dancing.
How about you? If you were raised a fundamentalist and attended a public school, how did that affect your ability to be a normal student? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.
For some insight into this kind of thinking, here’s an excerpt from an article titled All Dancing is Dirty,written by David Stewart, an IFB zealot:
One of the most disgusting and sinful movies ever produced is “Dirty Dancing.” Dirty Dancing (1987) starred Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, and Jerry Orbach. The great evangelist, Billy Sunday, preached uncompromisingly against dancing—would to God that more preachers had the guts to do so today. The Apostle Paul cautions us in 1st Corinthians 7:1 concerning touching the opposite sex (i.e., a person to whom we are not married). Adultery begins with a mere “touch.”
No man should ever touch a woman to whom he is not married. This Scripture also applies to women. If it’s NOT good for a man to touch a woman to whom he is not married, then it is certainly not good for a woman to allow a man to touch her either (unless it’s her husband)…
… In night clubs all across America, dancing is a prelude to fornication, homosexuality, and abortion. People place their hands all over each other, violating God’s warnings against lust, lasciviousness, and unholy thoughts. People have become so hardened nowadays that morality is a joke to them (clearly evidenced by the godless late night shows on hellivision). The Word of God states that “Fools make a mock at sin…” (Proverb 14:9).
Just as the Hawaiians still blame and hates Christianity today for taking away their dirty-dancing centuries ago, so do many people around the world (as witnessed in the preceding quote from an occultist)…
…Dancing is just as sinful at high school proms, ballrooms, town gatherings, etc. Dancing and immodest dress are synonymous. Dancing leads to lasciviousness (i.e., immoral sexual desire). The ONLY place where dancing is acceptable is between a husband and wife in the privacy of their own home, and without observation by others. America has deteriorated into a sexually perverted nation, where sensual and suggestive dancing is commonplace. As a result, millions of unwanted babies continue to be murdered every year through abortion. This is a great evil in America! We have earned the title from Muslims of being THE GREAT SATAN!
Think about it … the average person today can’t help but laugh at the thought that dancing is a sin; yet millions of unplanned pregnancies continue to be terminated through murderous abortions. Is it surprising that a nation that sees no harm in murdering children would also see no harm in premarital sex, petting, dancing, pornography, stealing, divorcing, and filthy conversation? I think not…
…All dancing is of the Devil, whether it be the Tango, the Foxtrot, the Rumba, the Swing, et cetera. It’s because dancing is inherently fleshly. Some dancing schools even advertise “Touch Dancing.” Women who dance, immodestly expose their bodies, luring lustful men to sinfully gaze upon them. According to Jesus’ Words in Matthew 5:28, lust is sinful … But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Dancing has always been dirty and sinful…
…Even bally [ballet] dancing is sinful, VERY SINFUL, because the women dance in their underwear, giving explicit views of their body. Those women who dance while skating are filthy. It is offensive to God. Bally Dancing is sexually arousing and; therefore, extremely sinful. The same people who scoff at my preaching are the same people who have no problem with abortion, divorce, nor fornication…
…The bottom line is that dancing is a worldly entertainment, heathen. Dancing is a very physically activity, which basically gives men a dirty show to watch, and in many cases, touch. The Hawaiian hula is the filthiest dance on earth. I can understand why the Christian missionaries tried to mentor the natives away from it. People today criticize the early missionaries like they were bad people, and perhaps some of them were; but they were justified in trying to change the Hawaiian culture from one of paganism and sexual immorality to one of grace, chastity, belief in Jesus Christ, and decency. Hawaii is a very sinful place today, and the hula is as filthy as ever…
…No normal man can watch a women jumping around in tights without getting aroused. As Christians, we must rise above the filth and immorality of this sinful world. I’ve known people who were actively involved in some sort of dancing. In every case, they were worldly–going to gambling casinos, homosexual-friendly, drinking beer, attending nightclubs, indulging in sexual sins, running from God. I’ve never met one soulwinner who was a dancer. I’ve never met a dedicated, Christ-honoring, sin-hating Christian who went dancing. The unsaved world loves dancing, because it is sexually suggestive and filthy. Jesus didn’t dance…
The thinking demonstrated in Stewart’s article was what was behind the taboos at the churches I attended as a youth. Needless to say, years of this kind of abuse plays havoc with a persons ability to live normally.
Cars as they drive through the sleepy rural town we call home.
Folk music softly plays in the background, a nightly ritual that lulls my lover to sleep.
The wind is blowing briskly as the wind chimes sing their harmonies into the snowy night.
I can feel the cold draft from the wind as is pushes its way through the window frame of our 140 year home.
She is covered up, trying to warm herself as cold air blows over her head.
She lies beside me, just as she has these 36 years.
I look over at her and remind myself of what a great life we’ve had.
We have faced many battles that left us bruised and bloodied, but we survived. That’s what we are — survivors.
The Bible is right, there is a love that endures. She and I have that enduring love. Until death do us part, we promised each another one hot July day so many years ago.
Recent events have brought us face to face with our mortality, my mortality.
What if it is cancer? What if the hourglass is close to running out? Dare we ponder our own mortality and bitter end?
Come what may, I’ve had a good life. Whether I live till Christmas or another 20 years, I am grateful for the life she and I have shared.
Almost 40 years ago, a beautiful young girl dared to flirt with a brash redheaded boy. And just like that, in the blink of an eye, we lie here in the stillness of the night, our lives shaped and filled by our shared experiences.
I think of our children and our grandchildren. I want to wake her up and say, we did well, that we have more treasure than the richest man on earth.
I won’t wake her, she needs her sleep.
I hope she knows that I love her.
It’s almost 5 AM and I can feel the drugs beginning to win the battle. Sleep will soon come and if I awake another day will be mine.
The Gerencser Family, circa 1950s Front: Robert (my Dad) and Irene Middle: Grandpa Paul Rear: Paul (Paulie), Grandma Mary, Mary, and Helen
My grandparents immigrated from Hungary in the early part of the 20th century. I don’t know much about them. I was six years old when they died in 1963. Paul was born in 1888 and died of a heart attack in February of 1963. Mary, six years younger than her husband, died of a heart attack six weeks later.
Paul and Mary Nemett Gerencser (grr IN’ sir or grinsir) immigrated through Ellis Island and settled in Ohio. (I don’t think Paul and Mary were their given names.) I think they originally settled in the Akron/Cleveland area and then moved to northwest Ohio. Best I can tell from what few official records remain, Paul and Mary Gerencser owned a farm in Defiance County, lost it, and then bought a farm in Williams County on the northwest corner of Williams County Road 14 and Williams-Defiance County Line Road.
Grandma Mary Gerencser, 1919
Paul and Mary Gerencser had six children: Irene, Paul Jr, Steven, Helen, Mary, and Robert. Steven died in a farming accident as a young boy. Irene died in 2009 at the age of 87. Paul (Paulie) died in 2012 at the age of 88. Robert, my father, died in 1987 at the age of 49. Mary and Helen, both in their 80s, are still living.
The Gerencser homestead was torn down decades ago. The new owners built a ranch home in its place. The old farmhouse was a white two-story structure. I do remember a few things about the house. There was an enclosed back porch and Grandma kept big sacks of flour and sugar on the porch. I also remember the wood-fired stove. I think there was a water pump at the kitchen sink. The house did not have indoor plumbing. There was an outhouse for necessary daily functions.
Mary, Paulie, Paul, Robert Gerencser, 1940s
I do have a vivid memory of the creek that ran a few hundred yards from the back of the house. One year, Beaver Creek overran its banks and flood waters turned a portion of the low-lying farm ground into a lake. To a little boy the flood water looked like a huge lake but I am sure it was probably much smaller.
I don’t remember anything about my grandparents’ demeanor. I do remember they spoke Hungarian to each other. I don’t know if they spoke English in the home. My father, aunts and uncle, were schooled at the nearby one room school-house that sat on the southeast corner of Williams County Road 14 and US Highway 6. The one room school-house was torn down many years ago. My dad also went to school at Farmer, Ney, and Bryan. I do not know where any of my aunts or uncle attended school.
Mary and Robert Gerencser, 1930s
Paul and Mary Gerencser settled in northwest Ohio, Williams County, because a number of Hungarian immigrants already lived here. Derek Harvey, a Toledo, Ohio man, wrote an interesting article about the Hungarians who settled in NW Ohio:
An important immigrant group to Toledo and Northwest Ohio were the people that came from the area in Central Europe known as the Magyars. This area stretched from Poland to the North to Belgrade in the southern region. The area would also encompass the large area known as Transylvania. (No Dracula jokes) With the redrawing of borders after the first World War much would have been considered Hungary would have changed. Many large populations after this time would live in Romania, Slovakia and northern Yugoslavia. Some groups prior to World War 1 would be misidentified as Hungarians.
The largest group of this ethnic group 1.7 million came to the United States starting in 1880. Many would locate in the Birmingham neighborhood in Toledo. In 1900 there were almost 17,000 people living in Ohio that claimed this nationality. By 1920 the number would increase to 73,181. The primary group of immigration was males under the age of 30. Almost 90% of them were literate, but would take dangerous jobs that involved using their hands. This job areas in Toledo included automotive, glass and railroad industries. They tended to only come to the United States temporarily and over 50% would return to their homeland. Many would come back or just stay.
The religion of the Hungarians in Toledo was Catholic. Their home church in town St Stephen’s Catholic Church. The early population of this church was almost all Hungarian. This is a valuable place to check for church records for people of this nationality. The church was the center of their socialization activities. It would later become the center of their fraternal organizations. In Toledo a popular event was the Grape Harvest Festival and the Easter egg sprinkling. These groups and events played a important part of the assimilation of Hungarians into the fabric of Toledo. Family units in Hungarian early life extended beyond the immediate family. It was referred to as the “sib” and included aunts, uncles, cousins and godparents who might not be relatives.
A common practice after 1910 was for Hungarian families to take in recent immigrants primarily males. The husband and the boarders would work outside the home while the women would take care of the chores necessary for maintaining a household. The diet would lean towards meat and very few dairy, fruit or vegetables. Wonderful opportunities exist for more understanding of Hungarians genealogy. Great strides have taken place in many parts of the United States to get a better understanding of this group. There heritages are being preserved and new resources are being discovered daily.
From time to time I will run into local Hungarians who remember my dad or my aunts and uncle. Mary and Helen sang on the radio in the 1940s and every so often someone will ask me if I am related to them. When someone notices my last name and asks me, are you related to ____________, the answer is always yes. All the Gerencsers in northwest Ohio are related to one another. I have second and third cousins in the Chicago, Benton Harbor Michigan, and Akron/Cleveland area whom I have never met. Locally, I have a few first and second cousins.
Grandma Mary Gerencser with the Family Cat, Pickles.
When my aunt with Alzheimer’s was over at our house last year, she didn’t know who the woman in the picture was but she with delight said, oh there’s my cat Pickles.
I am not certain what my grandparent’s religion was, but I suspect they were Catholics.
I regret not taking time to know my family history while those who could tell it to me were still alive. My dad died 25 years ago and my grandparents died over 50 years ago. Such is the lament of a man growing old. As death comes nearer and nearer to my door, I think more and more about the past. I wonder…what was it like for my dad to grow up on a farm? I will never be able to ask questions like this. Sometimes, when we drive down US 15/127 to Bryan, I gaze off to the left as we pass the Williams-Defiance County Line. I try to picture my grandparents, my dad, and my aunts and uncle, working the ground and taking care of the farm. I wonder about their hardships, about the hard work it took to eek out a living from the flat land of Williams County Ohio
I have lots of questions…
*dates and ages are approximate. My recollections are not what they once were. One reason for writing this post is to have a written record of these things before I some day can no longer remember them.
A fourteen-year-old boy is playing with his Lionel trains in the basement of a rented house on Cherry St. in Findlay, Ohio. He loves playing with the trains, a love picked up from working at his Dad’s hobby store.
The boy hears footsteps coming down the basement stairs. It’s his Dad.
His Dad says, I need to talk to you.
This is strange, the boy thought. Dad never talks to me about anything.
Your Mom and I don’t love each other anymore, says the boy’s Dad, and we are getting a divorce.
And just like that, whatever shred of family the boy had was destroyed.
It wasn’t long before the divorce was final.
The boy is in ninth grade and it is graduation time. His parents both want to come to his graduation but the boy says, I am not going to graduation, and that was that.
Tenth grade. High School. All the ninth graders from Central, Donnell, and Glenwood would join the older students at Findlay High School, making the school one of the largest in Ohio.
The boy’s friends would all be there, His school friends, his church friends, and the boys he played baseball and basketball with.
The boy’s Dad remarried, a girl 18 years younger than his Dad. She has a baby. In a few short years the boy would be dating women the age of his Dad’s new wife. She was never more than Dad’s new wife. The boy had a mother, and he only needed one of those.
Fall turned to Winter and then one early Spring day the boy’s Dad says, we are moving to Arizona.
What? the boy thought. You can’t do this to me. All my friends are here. You promised, no more moving. Two and one-half years, the longest the boy ever lived in one place, and now he had to move.
Upset, angry, bitter, and no one seemed to care.
On a Saturday in March, 1973 the auctioneer’s voice rang out and everything but essentials are sold to strangers who came to gawk at household goods. And with auction proceeds in hand the Gerencsers pile into two cars and move to Tucson, Arizona. Later and the finance company would track down the boy’s Dad and repossess the cars. When the boy became a man he then understood why he had to move so suddenly and quickly 1,900 miles from his home.
The boy, despite hating his Dad for taking him away from his friends, is excited about the prospect of traveling across the country. So many things to see, so many new experiences to be had.
The Tucson Baptist Temple was a large church pastored by Louis Johnson, a preacher from Kentucky. The boy joined the church and started attending youth group. But, try as he might he couldn’t make friends. It wasn’t like his church home in Findlay where the boy had all kinds of friends, and even a few girl church friends. He feels very much alone.
With the move, the boy has to ride a city bus to his new school, Rincon High School. Right away he notices that some of the kids from the youth group attended Rincon, but they pretend they don’t know him. He feels quite alone.
Rincon had what was called open lunch. Every day the boy would go outside and sit on the grass and eat his lunch. One day, a beautiful Asian girl comes near the boy and sits down to eat her lunch. She is warm and friendly, and treats the boy like she has known him for years. And for the next ten weeks, on most days, she ate lunch with the boy from Ohio. Outside of the fat boy everyone made fun of who rode the bus, this would be the only friend the boy would make.
And then came summer, and the boy hopped a Greyhound bus and moved back to Ohio. With the help of his church and friends, the boy was able to go back to his old school, his old church, with his old friends. Life for the next year was grand, just as if he had never left.
The boy would have to move to his Mom’s home at the end of the school year. This move brought great unrest and turmoil to the boy’s life, but that is a story for another day.
The boy is an old man now, and as he watches The Sing-Off, he sees a girl that brings to his mind a time long ago, when a beautiful girl took the time to befriend a friendless boy from Ohio. It reminds him that moments of kindness are often remembered for a lifetime.
Christmas has played a part in my life ever since I entered the world in June of 1957. In this post I want to detail some of my memories about Christmas.
As a child, Christmas at the Gerencser home was a typical American Christmas. Family, food, and gifts. While there were never many gifts, my siblings and I always received several presents from our parents. My Dad filmed many Christmases with his 8mm movie camera. Sadly, after Dad died in 1985, the movies were either lost or destroyed.
Christmas, late 1950s. Dad with his movie camera.
In the 1960s Christmas at our home changed, and not for the best. My grandfather on my Mom’s side remarried. My grandmother remarried several times, but was divorced by the mid-1960s. My grandparents on my Dad’s side died in 1963. Grandpa Gerencser died February 1, 1963 and Grandma Gerencser died a month later on March 5th. So, I was left with Grandpa and Grandma Tieken and Grandma Rausch, and they didn’t get along.
In the 1950s, Grandpa Tieken and Grandma Rausch went through an acrimonious divorce, a divorce that resulted in neither parent being deemed fit to raise their children. They had two children, my mother Barbara and her brother Steve. This acrimony was on display in the 1960s when Bob and Barbara Gerencser gathered for Christmas with their three children, Butch (that’s me), Bobby, and Robin. Into our family gathering would come the grandparents, teeth bared, hateful towards the other, likely fueled by alcohol. The fighting got so bad that it was necessary for us to have two Christmas gatherings, one for each grandparent.
In the summer of 1970, we moved from Deshler, Ohio to Findlay, Ohio. In the spring of 1972, my parents divorced. Dad would marry a 19-year-old girl a few months later and Mom would marry her first cousin, a recent Texas prison parolee. From this point forward until I entered college, I have no recollections of Christmas. I am sure we celebrated Christmas. I am sure we had a tree, perhaps gave gifts, etc., but I have no recollection of it.
In the fall of 1976, I left Bryan, Ohio and moved to Pontiac, Michigan to enroll at Midwestern Baptist College, a fundamentalist Christian college noted for training men for the ministry. In September of 1976, I began dating a young, beautiful 17-year-old freshman girl named Polly. She would be the last girl I dated and two years later, in July of 1978, we married. This Sunday, Polly and I will celebrate our 39th Christmas together.
My first Christmas with Polly was in 1976. I drove from Bryan, Ohio to Polly’s parent’s home in Newark, Ohio. Polly’s Dad, Lee Shope, was the assistant pastor at the Newark Baptist Temple, a church pastored by her uncle Jim Dennis. The Shope family Christmas was a multifamily affair, with two sisters joining together to have the celebration. Christmas of 1976 was held at the home of Jim and Linda Dennis.
Being Polly’s boyfriend, I was topic of discussion and inspection. Needless to say, I failed the inspection and I am still the topic of discussion all these years later. I vividly remember Polly’s Uncle Jim letting the whole church know that I was there visiting Polly. He said, “Bruce and Polly have a shirt tail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirt tail is.” While I have no doubt Jim was trying to be funny, Polly and I were thoroughly embarrassed. This coming year we will celebrate 37 years of marriage, so the shirt tail has proven to be quite long.
As I entered the Dennis home, I was taken aback by how many gifts there were. Underneath the tree and flowing out from the tree were countless gifts, more gifts than my siblings and I received our entire childhood. The number of gifts, what I would later label an “orgy to consumerism,” continued unabated for many Christmases.
Polly’s family being a family of preachers — her Dad, Uncle, and Grandfather were preachers — they made sure they put a good word in for Jesus before the gift opening commenced. Every Christmas, one of the preachers, which later included Polly’s cousins and nephew, gave a short devotional reminding everyone that the birth of Jesus was the real meaning of Christmas. Interestingly, even though I was a pastor for 25 years, I was never asked to give the devotional.
After Polly and I married, we began to develop our own Christmas traditions. We spent Christmas Eve with Polly’s parents and Christmas Day with either my family in Bryan, Ohio or with my Mom at her home in Rochester, Indiana, and later Columbus, Ohio. Polly’s family Christmas continued to be marked by the gift giving orgy and lots of great food. Christmas with my Mom and family was much more of a measured affair. Mom made sure her grandkids got several gifts, as did my grandparents and Aunt Marijene. Christmas at Mom’s house continued until around 1990 when she and her husband Michael moved to Michigan. The move was somewhat unexpected and I came to understand later that they likely moved due to Michael’s shady business dealings with people who threatened to kill him. Mom would commit suicide in April 1992, while living near my sister in Quincy, Michigan.
Christmas 1983, Polly and I decided to have Christmas with my extended family at our home in Glenford, Ohio . I only remember two things from this Christmas: Grandpa and Grandma Tieken being their usual judgmental, pushy self and Mom being upset with me because I made her go outside to smoke. This would be the first and last time my extended family came to our home. For the next decade, not one member of my extended family came to our home, save a couple visits by the Tiekens. (whose visits were excruciatingly unpleasant)
Over time, I drifted away from my extended family. I began to see them as outsiders, someone of them in need of salvation. I regret distancing myself from my family, but like everything in the past there are no do-overs. We continued going to my Mom’s for Christmas until she moved to Michigan. We continued going to Polly’s parents home for Christmas until circumstances forced us to stop going. I will detail those circumstances in a moment.
In the late 1980’s, I came to the conclusion that Christmas was a pagan holiday, a holiday that no sold-out, on-fire Christian could ever celebrate. I unilaterally gave away all our Christmas decorations and we stopped giving our children gifts for Christmas. It’s not that we didn’t buy our children anything, we did. Our children, to this day, will joke that Christmas for them came when the income tax refund check showed up. Living in poverty with six children resulted in us, thanks to the Earned Income Credit, receiving a large income tax refund. When the check arrived, a one-time large infusion of cash into our bank account, we bought our children everything they needed, with “needed” being the key operative. While we bought the children clothes, shoes, underwear, and the like, we bought them very few toys. We left it to grandparents to buy them toys. We did make sure they had bicycles, BB guns, and firearms, but very few toys. Living as we did, 8 people in a 720 square foot, 12×60 battered, old trailer, required our children to spend a significant amount of time outside. Toys became whatever the kids picked up in the yard or woods. I have often wondered, looking at the wealth of toys our grandchildren have, if our children are not compensating for their childhood. I know, as we buy for our grandchildren, that we are.
During my “Christmas is Pagan Holiday” years, I routinely disparaged the gift orgy that went on at Polly’s parent’s home. At the time, I thought the money being spent on gifts could be better spent on evangelizing the lost. While I would later move away from the view that Christmas is a pagan holiday, I never lost the belief that many Christians are quite hypocritical when it comes to Christmas. Jesus is the Reason for the Season and Wise Men Still Seek Him, devout Christians tell us, but their orgiastic celebration of the true meaning of Christmas, consumerism, betrays what they really believe. After all, conduct reveals what we truly believe.
Over time, I allowed, remember, we were patriarchal in family structure, Polly to resume a low-key celebration of Christmas in our home. We had to buy new decorations because I gave all away our old antique decorations, given to us by our mothers, to Goodwill. For a time, we had an artificial Christmas tree. For the past decade or so we have bought a fresh Christmas tree. Since we moved back to rural NW Ohio in 2005, we have bought our tree each Christmas from the Lion’s Club in Bryan.
With my parents being dead, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Polly’s parents. This abruptly changed in 2010. I left the ministry in 2003 and abandoned Christianity in November 2008. In early 2009, I sent out my family shattering letter,Dear Family Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter fundamentally changed our relationship with Polly’s fundamentalist family.
Christmas of 2009 was best remembered by a huge elephant in the middle of the room, that elephant being Polly and I and the letter I sent the family. No one said anything, but the tension was quite noticeable.
2010 found us, just like every year since 1978, at Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve.This would be the last Christmas we would spend with Polly’s parents and her extended family. We decided to blend into the background, and besides short pleasantries, no one talked to us. Not that they didn’t want to. We found out later from one of our children that Polly’s uncle wanted to confront me about our defection from Christianity. Polly Mom’s put a kibosh on that, telling her brother-in-law that she had already lost one daughter and she was not going to lose another. (Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005)
I appreciate Polly’s Mom being willing to stand up to the man who is generally viewed as the spiritual head of the family. I am glad she put family first. If Polly’s uncle had confronted me there surely would have been an ugly fight. Whatever our differences may be, I deeply respect Polly’s parents. They are kind, loving people and I couldn’t ask for better in-laws.
Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and through the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism made for an uncomfortable evening.
Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephew’s had bought on the cheap at Odd Lots. One of Polly’s uncle’s grandchildren asked him what the plate was for. He replied, to go poo-poo on, poo-poo being the fundamentalist word for shit. This was the last straw for us.
On our way home the next day, I told Polly that I couldn’t do it any more and she said neither could she. So, we decided to stop going to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. We do try to see Polly’s parents during the holiday, but we no longer attend the family gathering on Christmas Eve. Making this decision saddened us, but we knew we had to make it. (BTW, our children still attend the Christmas Eve gathering)
We moved back to NW Ohio is July of 2005. Since then, our family has gathered for Christmas on the Sunday before Christmas. Doing this allows our children to avoid conflicts with their spouses family plans for Christmas. This past year, Polly’s parents drove up and joined us and they may do so again this year.
These days, Christmas for Polly and I is all about family, especially the grandkids. For us, Christmas has become a celebration of love, a celebration of the gift of a wonderful family. While we do not believe in the Christian God, we still enjoy Christmas music and all the other trappings of the Christmas season. It’s a cultural thing, no need to complicate things with religious demands. When twenty-three people pile into our grossly undersized living room to open presents, we will be reminded of how good we have it.
How about you? How has how you celebrate Christmas changed over the years? If you are now a non-Christian, how do you handle your Christian family? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.