Tag Archive: Dorm Life

1977: The Adventures of a Detroit Delivery Truck Driver

bruce midwestern baptist college pontiac michigan 1978

Bruce Gerencser, Midwestern Baptist College, 1978

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac Michigan from 1976 to 1979. Midwestern, founded in the 1950s by Dr. Tom Malone, is an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. Midwestern’s unaccredited status meant that students did not have access to federal or state grant or loan programs. Most students worked a part-time or full-time job to pay their tuition bill. Dormitory students, of course, also had the added expense of room and board. While Midwestern had a rudimentary cafeteria that provided a light breakfast and lunch, dormitory students were not required to eat there. Most dorm residents ate a combination of fast food and boxed/canned food. The dormitory had a kitchen with a microwave and a few tables. Every afternoon and evening, weird wafting smells circulated through the dormitory as students tried to “cook” their meals. I still have fond memories of the time my fiancée, who is now my wife, decided to surprise me with a microwave-cooked meal of liver. Needless to say, the liver was inedible. Students who worked at local fast food restaurants would often bring home throw-aways to either eat or give to their friends. The dormitory did not have refrigerators, so in the wintertime these throw-aways would often be stored — for days on end — outside the dormitory in a snow bank. This crude form of refrigeration would allow students to ” safely” eat three-day-old McDonald’s hamburgers. Ah, the good old days.

I worked a number of jobs while a student at Midwestern. One such job was working for Orchard Lake Cleaners — a now-closed commercial drycleaner and laundry. Each afternoon after classes I would load laundered uniforms, towels, and dust mops into a Ford F350 box delivery truck and make deliveries to Detroit homes and businesses. The man who operated the cleaners was an alcoholic. It was not uncommon for me to come back from my deliveries to find him passed out, head on desk, and a partially emptied bottle of booze nearby. More than once I had to wake him up so he could pay me my under-the-table wages for the week. As will become clear later in this story, this job proved to be quite exciting and dangerous.

Every day, I would load up the deliveries for that day and make my way to Detroit to make deliveries. Some were made to homes, others to businesses. I’ve often wondered if there was more to my deliveries than just laundry. Some of the businesses I delivered to were in seedy parts of Detroit. One day, as I pulled in to a downtown business to make a delivery, I noticed a man and a woman having sex in the backseat of a car. Another time, at the same location, I walked in on some sort of shakedown. I knew that I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, so I quickly shut the door and went back to the truck, leaving the order undelivered.

One day, I was driving down a Detroit city street on my way to my next delivery when a car turned on the one-way street and headed right toward me in the wrong direction. I successfully maneuvered the truck to avoid hitting the car head-on, but in doing so I clipped the mirrors off of several parked cars. I reported the accident to my boss, thinking that he would praise me for my astute driving skills. After all, I avoided an accident that would’ve likely totaled the truck. What I didn’t know is that there was no insurance on the truck. Needless to say, my boss was quite angry with me and wondered if perhaps he should get someone else to drive the truck.

Several days later, I was driving down one of Detroit’s many freeways and I noticed in the distance that several semi trucks were parked along the berm. Before I could slow down, I heard and felt a large BAM! on the top of the truck cab. What the heck (Baptist for hell)! I thought, as I quickly put on the brakes and pulled the truck to the berm. I got out of the truck and hopped up on the bumper to see what had hit the truck. Not only was there a huge dent in the cab, there was also a gash in the exterior metal face of the box. As I surveyed the damage, a beat up old car pulled in back of the truck and out jumped two white hippie looking men. They asked me what happened, and then proceeded to tell me that they were undercover Detroit cops. They were working nearby when they noticed a group of teenagers throwing cement blocks from the overpass to the roadway below. The semi trucks ahead of me had caught the blocks in the windshield, causing physical injury to one of the drivers. I was lucky that the block missed my windshield and hit the top of the cab instead. I am sure, at the time, that I thanked Jesus for watching out for me. Cue up Jesus Take the Wheel, right? I now know that I could have been seriously harmed or killed if the block had hit the windshield. Thrown a second sooner, and the block would have smashed into the windshield. Who knows what might have happened next.

Returning to the safe confines of the Orchard Lake Cleaners parking lot, I went into the office and told my boss that my truck driving days were over. Better to mindlessly run a machine than dodge criminals and concrete blocks. Several years later, someone dropped a bowling ball off an interstate overpass, instantly killing a woman. One second, often the difference between life and death. One second, and the life of Bruce Gerencser might have ended at the age of 19 on a Detroit freeway.

We’ve Only Just Begun

bruce and polly gerencser 2015

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Summer 2015

Forty years ago, a young man from the flatland of rural northwest Ohio moved to Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. Also enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College was a young woman who hailed from Bay City, Michigan. What follows is their story.

The young man packed his worldly goods into his beater of a car, and waving goodbye to his Mom, drove out of the trailer park, turned east on U.S. Hwy 6 and set a course for Pontiac, Michigan. His mother had kissed him goodbye, letting the young man know how proud she was that he was the first Gerencser to go to college. He pushed her away, uncomfortable with her display of affection, a behavior he would one day regret. The young man thought, finally, away from the craziness and the drunkard husband.

Two-and-a-half hours later, the young man turned off of Golf Drive onto the driveway for Midwestern Baptist College. He stopped his car in front of the dormitory so he could unload his belongings and move them to his assigned dorm room — room 207. On that day, the young man wore a maize and blue shirt with the number 75 on the front and the word REV on the back. This shirt was a gift from a young woman who hoped the young man would remember her. He didn’t, knowing that enrolling at Midwestern would provide him ample opportunity to meet attractive Fundamentalist women. He would soon learn that a wide-open field of romance would quickly fade in the beauty of a dark-haired, beautiful young woman.

Shortly after classes began in the fall of 1976, the young man and young dark-haired woman began flirting with one another. At first, they sent flirtatious notes, often meeting up for card games in the dormitory kitchen. While both of them would briefly date other people, by the end of September, the young man and young woman decided to give dating one another a try.

They were an odd match. The young woman was quiet and reserved, rarely speaking more than a few words. The young man, on the other hand, was a talker, and opinionated. He lived life in the fast lane, serving Jesus, yet pushing the lines of Fundamentalist decorum and acceptability. Years later, the young woman would tell him that she was drawn to his wildness — her bad boy.

Midwestern Baptist College — a Fundamentalist institution founded by Dr. Tom Malone, the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church  — had strict rules concerning dating and male/female interaction. Dating couples were only allowed to date on Saturday evening and after Sunday night church. Couples were required to double-date, and all dates had to be approved by dorm supervisors. Couples were not permitted to travel beyond a ten-mile radius from the college. Coupled were not permitted to have any physical contact with each other. Breaking this rule would result in being campused — meaning that offending couples were not allowed to date off campus. Repeated infractions led to being kicked out of school.

The young man and young woman quickly found that keeping the six-inch rule — the width of a songbook — was impossible. Fearing expulsion, they sought out other dating couples that also found the no-contact rule a strain on their relationships. On date nights, the young man and young woman could now snuggle close to one another and hold hands. As with all young couples with raging hormones, their desire for physical intimacy increased as time went along. Yet, fearing being discovered and expelled, the young man and young woman — for three months — didn’t kiss.

Christmas of 1976 found the young man visiting the young woman at the home of her parents in Newark, Ohio. The young woman’s father was a preacher — a recent graduate of Midwestern. Her father was the assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church pastored by the young woman’s uncle, Jim Dennis.

One evening, the young woman’s mother asked her to retrieve their clothing from the laundry room. The young man followed along, and it was there, in an apartment laundry room, the young couple kissed one another for the first time. Many kisses would follow, but neither of them would ever forget that one brief moment where they were able for the first time to express their love for one another.

Love for one another? Yes, their relationship quickly moved from casual to serious, culminating in the young couple’s engagement on Valentine’s Day 1977. A quarter-carat diamond engagement ring was purchased from Sears and Roebuck for $225, sealing their commitment to marry in July of 1978. Little did they know that the young woman’s mother would do everything in her power to foil their plans, going so far as to tell her daughter that she forbade her to marry the young man. He comes from a divorced family, her mother said, and divorce is hereditary.

After a year of pressuring the young couple to abandon their plans, the young woman’s mother relented and consented to the wedding — not that she had any other option. For the first time, the young woman stood up to her mom, telling her that she planned to run off and get married if she continued to oppose her marriage to the young man.

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

July 15, 1978, was a hot and humid day. There was no air conditioning at the Newark Baptist Temple, not that this mattered to the young couple. Their special day had finally arrived, the day when they would become Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser. Their friends from college, along with family members and church members, filled the pews to witness the joining of the young man and young woman in holy matrimony. Songs were sung, vows were exchanged, and then, with a kiss for luck, they were on their way, innocent of where their life together would take them.

Six weeks after their wedding, the young man came home from work and was met with the news, I’m pregnant. Nine months later, the first of the young couple’s six children was born in Bryan, Ohio. After almost three years at Midwestern, the young couple was forced to drop out of college and move to the Bryan – the birthplace of the young man. This would be the first of many moves for them. Over the next thirty-eight years they would move numerous times, living in dozens of rental houses.

Life was not easy for the young married couple. Ignorance about how to manage money quickly led to all sorts of problems. Years later, the young man, now a seasoned Baptist preacher, would remark, it took us a few years to figure out that you had to pay the electric bill to keep the lights on. They faced numerous problems, wondering if their marriage would survive – thus proving the young woman’s mother right: divorce is hereditary. Survive they did, and here on July 15th they will celebrate their thirty-eighth wedding anniversary.

The young couple walked out of the Newark Baptist Temple, cheered on by family and friends — two innocents wondering what fate would hold for them. Six children, one with Down Syndrome. Poverty. Moves to Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and Ohio. Bankruptcy. Health problems. Constant struggles to survive, living on poor wages and food stamps. Leaving the ministry and losing faith. Yet, despite stresses that often cause marriage failure, the commitment and love of the young couple endured. Seasoned by adversity and failure, the pair — now nearing their 60th birthdays — continue to honor the vows they made to one another years ago.

Later today, the ageing couple will celebrate their wedding anniversary with a meal at a fancy restaurant and a night of watching races at a local dirt track. They will make jokes with another, promising hot, torrid sex before the night is over. And more than likely, once they arrive home, they will each give the other the look, the one that says, I’m tired, maybe tomorrow. Climbing into bed, they will turn to one another — just as they have thousands of times before — and say, I love you. The young woman, now with gray hair and weathered skin, will quickly fall to sleep, leaving the young man to his thoughts; thoughts of a well-lived life, of love and commitment and adversity and failure. But thoughts, most of all, of the fact that he is the luckiest man alive.

Soon the young man — now with a white beard and failing health — will gently run his fingers through his sleeping love’s hair, pondering the life they have shared together. His mind will likely return to a basement laundry room and the moment where he realized that the young woman in his embrace was his one and only. Forty years later, she remains not only his wife and lover, but also his best friend and confidante. Life is good, he will say to himself as he drifts off to sleep, hoping that come morning he will have one more opportunity to say, I love you.

The Dormitory Years: Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac Michigan

bruce and polly gerencser 1976

Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976

From the fall of 1976 to the spring of 1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — was founded in 1953 by Dr. Tom Malone for the purpose of training men and women for the ministry. Dr Malone called Midwestern a character-building factory. Midwestern’s goal was to produce men who would pastor IFB churches and women who would be pastors wives. A small number of graduates would go on to become evangelists, missionaries, and Christian school teachers, but the primary objective was to train God-called men for the ministry.

Dr. Malone was a graduate of Bob Jones College and Wayne State University. While serving as chancellor of the college, he also pastored Emmanuel Baptist Church — one of the largest churches in America during the 1960s and 1970s. Dr. Malone was a native of Alabama and his southern style of preaching appealed to many of the southerners who had migrated to the north to find work in Pontiac/Detroit area automotive plants. Looking for some spiritual home cooking, these southerners flocked to Emmanuel to hear one of their own preach.

polly shope bruce gerencser 1977

Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser, February 1977, Midwestern Baptist College Sweetheart Banquet, the only time we were allowed to be closer than six inches apart. This picture was taken days after we got engaged.

Polly, while still a student at nearby Oakland Christian School, enrolled at Midwestern in January of 1976 and began taking classes. I enrolled 8 months later. Polly’s uncle, James Dennis, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, graduated from Midwestern in the 1960s. Her father, Lee “Cecil” Shope — called late in life to be a preacher — graduated from Midwestern in May of 1976. After graduation, Lee moved to Newark to be James Dennis’ assistant. He would later, with my help, start a church in nearby Buckeye Lake — Emmanuel Baptist Church. After Emmanuel closed its doors, Polly’s parents returned to the Baptist Temple. They remain, to this day, faithful members of the church.

The dorm at Midwestern was a two-story building with a finished basement. It was named after IFB giant and editor of the Sword of the Lord John R. Rice, and was home for single students. All single students — unless they lived nearby with their parents — were required to live in the dorm. The men lived on the first floor and the basement. Women lived on the second floor. The north men’s wing was called the party wing and the south men’s wing was called the spiritual wing. The basement was called the pit. I, thankfully, lived on the party wing.

The dorm supervisors were Ralph Bitner and his wife Sophie. A young, inept couple, the Bitners had no idea how normal, heterosexual young adults thought and lived. Their job to make sure we kept the rules, including keeping our rooms clean. Ralph was also responsible for the Sunday night Devotional/Singspiration held in the dorm common area.

Two older single male teachers lived in the dormitory. One was a man who suffered from some sort of mental illness. As long as he took his medications, he was fine. Sadly, thinking that God would help him live a “normal” life, this man would often stop taking his medications. This resulted in bizarre behavior, which at the time seemed quite funny. The other was a gay man who lived on the spiritual wing. He was quite effeminate, which was odd considering that Dr. Malone had zero tolerance for “sissy” men. This man had a student who lived with him.

Midwestern strictly regulated every aspect of dormitory life. Students were required to adhere a puritanical dress code. Midwestern also controlled who students could date, when they could date, and where they could go while on a date. Rule-breaking resulted in infractions being written on a demerit slip and turned into the dean of men. If students were written up, they were required to appear before the disciplinary committee to answer for their crimes. Most infractions were minor ,but other infractions — such as breaking the six-inch rule — could result in students being expelled from the college. (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule)

When dorm students left the college campus they were required to put their names and destinations on the sign-out sheet. This sheet was religiously checked by the Bitners. Students quickly learned how to manipulate the sign-out sheet so they would never be in violations of the rules. Dorm students were not permitted to go beyond a ten-mile radius from the college campus (an exception was made for work). Single dating was banned and couples could only date on Saturday and Sunday evening — and only then with permission from school administrators. Weekends were often a scramble as dating couples tried to find another couple to double date with. Dating couples who had problems keeping the six-inch rule would seek couples with a similar rule-breaking mindset. Most of the dorm students broke the no-touch, six-inch rule. Copping a feel for a Midwestern dorm student meant trying to secretly hold a girl’s hand.

Midwestern was an unaccredited college. Students were not eligible for federal or state financial aid. As a result, most students worked one or more jobs. Polly worked at several restaurants, cleaned offices, and did house cleaning for a rabbi and his wife during her college career. I worked numerous jobs, mostly second shift factory jobs. I also worked at several grocery stores, sold Kirby vacuüm cleaners, pumped gas, worked as a mechanic, and drove a truck for a local dry cleaner. I changed jobs so often that I was threatened with expulsion if I changed jobs again. These jobs paid between $3.00 and $5.00 an hour.

One of the teachers — knowing that I worked on automobiles — asked me if I was interested in a mechanic’s job. This teacher worked part-time for Anderson Honda on Telegraph Road, and my job there would be an entry-level position. I would primarily be responsible for prepping new cars, oil changes, and doing minor repairs. My starting wage was $7.00. After working for Anderson Honda for a few weeks, Dr. Malone called me into his office and told me that I would have to quit my job. He told me that I would just have to trust him, and that working at Anderson Honda was not good for me. I later learned that the Andersons used to attend Emmanuel Baptist church and left after having a falling out with Dr. Malone. I would later learn that the teacher — a married man — who offered me the job was having an affair with a woman who worked at Anderson Honda. That woman just so happened to be the wife of Midwestern’s dean of men. Both couples would later divorce.

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Shope Gerencser, May 1978

Polly and I started dating a few weeks after I enrolled at Midwestern. We tried our best to keep the six-inch rule, but it soon became impossible for us to keep our hands to ourselves. That said, we did not kiss each other for the first time until we had been dating for four months. Our first kiss took place during my visit to Polly’s Newark, Ohio home during Christmas break. Polly’s Mom asked her to go down to laundry room and check to see if the clothes were dry. I went along with Polly to help her check on the laundry. Amazingly, it took forever to ascertain if the clothes were dry.

Needless to say, when we returned to Midwestern in January of 1977, we had a huge problem on our hands. Let me explain it this way. It was like going to a Dairy Queen the first time for a milkshake. The milkshake was tasty, but after sampling that delight, every time you drove by a Dairy Queen you wanted to stop and get another milkshake. Kissing for Polly and me was like drinking a milkshake at Dairy Queen. Once we started we didn’t and couldn’t stop. For the next 18 months, Polly and I lived in fear of being caught — knowing that such dangerous living would likely result in us being expelled from school if we were caught.

In the spring of 1977 — six months after we started dating — I asked Polly to marry me. She said yes. I bought Polly an “expensive” diamond engagement ring. It had a 1/4 carat diamond and cost $225.00 at Sears and Roebuck. Years later, the diamond fell out of the cheap setting and it was lost. We sold the ring for scrap when gold prices started escalating. Our engagement only served to add fuel to the physical fire. Weekend dates became make-out sessions — times when we were free from the ever-watchful eyes of teachers, dorm supervisors, room monitors, and students who were saving their kisses for their wedding night.

During our sophomore year, Polly and I were caught breaking the six-inch rule. I played on the college basketball team. During practice one day I slapped at a basketball and severely dislocated the middle finger on my left hand. I had to go to the emergency room to get the finger put back in place (an excruciatingly painful procedure). Male students were required to wear a necktie to class, and thanks to my injured finger I was unable to tie mine. Polly and I would meet each weekday morning in the common room so we could walk together to classes. Unable to tie my necktie, I asked Polly to tie it for me. She did so, and we then walked to our classes. Unbeknownst to us, someone saw us break the six-inch rule and turned us in to the disciplinary committee. Ironically, the couple that turned us in were notorious six-inch rule breakers. It was rumored that they had rounded the bases and slid into home. Today, this couple is faithfully serving Jesus as pastor and pastor’s wife at a Southern Baptist church.

Polly and I made our required appearance before the disciplinary committee to answer for our crime. The disciplinary committee consisted of two men — Gary Mayberry, the dean of men and Don Zahurance, a recent Midwestern graduate. These “pious” men told us we had committed a serious breach of the six-inch rule. Zahurance even went so far as to suggest that I got some sort of sexual excitement from Polly tying my necktie. Each of us was given 50 demerits and warned that any future infractions would result in us being campused — not permitted to leave the campus or date — or expelled.

Dr. Tom Malone thought by having puritanical rules — similar to those he experienced at Bob Jones —it would keep students from engaging in more serious sexual behaviors. Dr. Malone was quite naïve, and outside of a few a self-righteous rules-keeping students, dating couples, with passion and fear, broke the six-inch rule. Whether it was in the back seat of a car while on a date or in an out-of-the-way corner of the college campus, dating dorm students found ways to act on their basic need for human connection and touch. I have come to understand that Midwestern, regardless of their intention, taught an aberrant, crippling form of moralism. Instead of quashing passion, it stoked it. Learning nothing from the countless moral failings of the past, Midwestern still enforces a strict moral code of conduct. (Please see The Midwestern Baptist College Handbook)

Midwestern prohibited freshmen students from marrying. Dorm students could not marry until the summer of their sophomore year. Students who broke this rule were required to drop out of school for one year. Needless to say, come the summer of our sophomore year, there were a number of couples who got married — Polly and myself included. Due to the difficulty in arranging housing, the college allowed couples who were planning on being married in the summer to look for housing before school let out in May. One couple rented a house that quickly turned into a place for couples to have sex. While Polly and I never went to this house, the couple who rented it were friends of ours and we knew that they, along with other couples, used the house for secret booty calls. Some of these couples are now in the ministry, and several are luminaries in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I find myself amused when I read their moralizing sermons and websites, remembering the time so many years ago, when they gave in to biology and passion and lost their virginity.

Several years ago, Polly and I drove to Pontiac to see what had become of the Midwestern campus and Emmanuel Baptist Church. We were saddened to see the places that once were a major part of our lives now closed and for sale — testifying to the bankruptcy of the IFB church movement. Midwestern still exists in a much smaller form as a ministry of a nearby IFB church. While Polly and I have many fond memories from our days at Midwestern, we are grateful that the college is but a shell of what it once was. No longer will Midwestern have the opportunity to infect large numbers of young people with its pernicious ideology.

Did you attend an IFB college and live in its dormitory? If so, please share your experiences in the comment section.