Tag Archive: Sierra Vista Baptist Church

1973-1976: Bruce, The Wandering Baptist

bruce gerencser 1976

Bruce Gerencser, 1976

In the spring of 1972, after fourteen years of marriage, my parents divorced. By then, my mother was generally considered a nut job. Her post-divorce actions: suing (and later winning) Winebrenner Nursing Home over wage discrimination, and marrying her recently-released-from-Texas-prison first cousin, only reinforced how she was negatively viewed by others. My adulterous father, on the other hand, was viewed as the aggrieved party. Several months after my parents’ divorce, my father married a nineteen-year-old local girl with a baby. Gene Millioni, the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio — an IFB church — performed the ceremony.

I was angry. How could my parents divorce, adding yet more turmoil to our home? And how could my supposedly Bible-believing pastor marry my father and his new teenager girlfriend? And who was this woman who thought she was going to be my new “mom?” After several months of seething anger, I calmed down a bit, accepting my new reality. Shortly after my father remarried, he moved us from a rental home on Cherry Street to one on the south side of town. This was par for the course when it came to my father. Rent a house, live there awhile, get behind on the rent, run out of ways to manipulate the landlord, and then be forced to move. At least this move was in the same town, same school.

bruce gerencser 1971

Bruce Gerencser, Ninth Grade, 1972, wearing “welfare” glasses. I was so embarrassed that I quickly earned enough money to buy wire-rimmed glasses

After my parents’ divorce and my father’s remarriage, my parents and siblings stopped attending church. I, however, threw myself headlong into the church. That fall, I was saved and baptized, and a few weeks later I announced to the church that God was calling me to be a preacher. I was fifteen. The church became my surrogate family. My parents had stopped being responsible caretakers years before, so I was pretty much on my own. I spent very little time at home. School, playing sports, attending church, and hanging out with my friends consumed most of my time. I wanted nothing to do with my father’s new wife, a feeling that was returned in spades. Our relationship would later explode, with her hitting me in the face with a leather belt, and me picking her up and hurling her into a cement wall, fracturing a vertebrate in her back.

In early March 1973, my father gathered us together and let it be known that we were moving to Tucson, Arizona. Not when school was over, but soon, as in, right away. My father was trying to outrun his creditors. Two weeks later, our household goods were auctioned off, and what remained was packed into a U-Haul. Off we went, 1,900 miles to Tucson. I cried on and off during our trip. My father had moved us here and there repeatedly over the years. A great adventure, he called it, but I hated him for repeatedly uprooting my life. We had lived in Findlay almost three years; the longest we lived anywhere. I attended the same school system for eighth, ninth, and most of tenth grades. Finally, my father was getting his act together. I had made friends both at church and school. I played city league basketball and baseball, and was actively involved in youth group activities. I had even preached my first sermon. And now, with a snap of his fingers, my father was burning my life to the ground. I felt I had a number of reasons to be wrought with emotion.

As I had done numerous times before, I adapted to my new circumstances. I found a new church to attend, the Tucson Baptist Temple. I tried to involve myself in the church’s youth group, but I never felt like I belonged. Besides, I missed my friends in Ohio. After classes ended at Rincon High School, I packed my meager belongings, hopped a Greyhound Bus, and moved to my mother’s home in Bryan, Ohio. Bryan wasn’t Findlay, but I did have some friends there from my days attending First Baptist Church in the 1960s. Reacquainting myself with these friends provided a short respite for me, but as summer wore on, I found myself yearning for the seeming stability and normalcy of my past life in Findlay.

In August 1973, I moved to Findlay and enrolled in eleventh grade at Riverdale High School. A young family at Trinity Baptist had agreed to let me live with them. While I would have to attend yet another new school, I would still be going to Trinity and have my old friends back, so I thought I could live with attending Riverdale. Besides, Riverdale was a small country school. This would afford me the opportunity to play high school basketball. Unfortunately, after a month or so, the family I was living with had a falling out with the pastor of Trinity, and they decided to start attending a Bible church in nearby Arlington. Once again, I was forced to abandon my friends for people I did not know.

In early October, the family I was living with let Bruce Turner (Please see Dear Bruce Turner), the youth pastor at Trinity, know that I could no longer live with them. No reason was given as to why other than it was “not working out.”  As I ponder this point in my life, I can’t help but wonder if the real reason was that the husband thought I was getting a bit too friendly with his wife. Regardless, I had to move. Bruce found me a new home, this time with Gladys Canterbury. Gladys, in her sixties, was a devout Fundamentalist Baptist. While I wondered how it would work out living with a senior citizen, doing so allowed me to regain much of the life I left behind when my father moved us to Arizona, so I agreed to move in with her.

Gladys went to court and had me made a ward of the court. This action gave me access to medical insurance and provided Gladys with a monthly check for caring for me. To provide for my own personal needs, I started working at Bill Knapp’s Restaurant as a busboy. I arranged my class schedule in such a way that I would be finished with my classes around noon. I would then walk or ride my bike to Bill Knapp’s, arriving in time to work the lunch schedule. Afterward, I would take an extended break and work the dinner schedule. Once again, I adapted to my new reality.

By May of 1974, I was tired of living with Gladys. She was a taskmaster, and often refused to let me hang out with my friends. I was used to going and doing whatever I wanted, so I found Gladys’ approach to caring for me to be quite oppressive. Certainly, she meant well, but I didn’t want to hang out with a senior citizen.  I suspect my feelings weren’t much different from those of my friends. Teenagers, right? I had also learned that Bruce Turner was leaving Trinity. He was my surrogate father, and his departure left a huge hole in me emotionally.

The second week of May, I called my mother and asked if I could move back in with her. She said yes, and a week later she drove to Findlay and picked me up. My secretive move caused quite a bit of turmoil. Gladys threatened to have the police return me to her home, but nothing came of her threats. I started attending First Baptist Church of Bryan, quickly reconnecting with old friends. I found employment at several places: Bob’s Dairy Freeze, Everhart’s Restaurant, and Myer’s Marathon.

I turned seventeen in June of 1974. I took driver’s training at Bryan High School, and prepared to enroll in my senior year. However, Bryan High told me that I would have to repeat eleventh grade; not because of failing grades, but because I left Findlay before school ended. Findlay High denied me credit for my entire junior year because I missed the last ten days of school. I was so angry over this decision that I decided, “fine, I’ll drop out of school!” And so I did.

By October of 1974, my mother was, once again, a patient at Toledo State Mental Hospital. For the next six weeks, I was the head of the home. Both of my younger siblings were still in school. I made sure they went to school, and then I went to work. Outside of that, life at my mother’s house was pretty much one long party. Somehow, my father got wind that we were living without parental supervision, and in November he came to Ohio, picked us up, and moved us back to Arizona. By then, he had moved to Sierra Vista and opened a gun store with a settlement check he received from Ohio Workmen’s Compensation for his back.

After settling into my new reality, I found a stocking job at Food Giant. I learned that I was quite good at grocery work, skills I would later ply into several good jobs. After visiting several churches, I decided to join Sierra Vista Baptist Church — a Conservative Baptist Association congregation. I quickly became involved with the church’s bus route and helped teach Sunday School. It was not long afterward that I started dating a girl named Anita Farr. Anita was, I believe, two years older than I. Anita would become my first real love. I was smitten, and it was not long before we talked of getting married. Anita was in college, so marriage would have to wait, but I had no doubt that she was the one for me.

I turned eighteen in June of 1975. Two months later, Anita returned to college. We planned to see each other as often as we could on weekends. I drove to Phoenix several times that fall. I would stay in the dorm and then we would spend the weekend running around and attending church. Everything seemed headed in the right direction, until it wasn’t. You see, I was immature and prone to jealousy. Anita was a free spirit who loved flirting with men. It was not long before our relationship crashed and burned.

polly bruce gerencser cranbrook gardens bloomfield hills michigan 1978

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Spring 1978, two months before our wedding.

Two weeks later, I packed up a couple of suitcases and caught a Greyhound Bus to Bryan, Ohio. I moved back in with my mom and took a job at Foodland as their dairy manager. I spent the next ten months having one of the most thrilling times of my life. I was an adult, had a good job, rented an apartment, owned my own car, and spent every waking hour either at work, church, or running around with my friends. I had no interest in serious relationships with the opposite sex. Anita cured me of that. I dated a good bit, but the moment things started turning serious I was off and running away. I was what you might call a serial dater.

In the spring of 1976, I decided it was time to act upon my call to the ministry. One friend of mine, Randy Rupp, laughed at me when I told him I was going to Bible college. He said, “you’ll never go!” But go I did, packing up my earthly belongings once again, and moving to Pontiac, Michigan to enroll for classes at Midwestern Baptist College — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. And with this move, my wanderings came to an end. Well, kind of . . . well, not really . . . but for twenty-nine months Midwestern was my home.

It was there I met the love of my life and got married. I thought, “everything is moving in the right direction!” Get married, graduate, start a new church, that was the plan. However, God/Bruce had other plans. Seven months after Polly and I said “I do” we . . . you guessed it . . . moved. And over the past forty years we have moved numerous times. New houses, new communities, new churches. The reasons and circumstances for these moves are many, but the driving motivation was, I believed at the time, God. After years of counseling, I now know that wanderlust drives my desire and need to move. Even today, wanderlust whispers in my ear and says, “hey wouldn’t you like to live in ____________?”  Always restless, I am — a restlessness birthed a lifetime ago as my father moved me from town to town, state to state, and house to house. While my reasons for moving  — mostly religious in nature — are different from my father’s, I still followed in his footsteps. We try so hard to break free from our parents, yet when it comes time for me to give an account of my life, it seems that the proverbial apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Like it or not, I am the son of Robert and Barbara Gerencser. Well, not really. Have I told you the story about my father not being my “real” father? I’ll save that for another day.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Hiking the Huachuca Mountains with Deacon John

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Let’s See a Movie: Jaws or Emmanuelle?

emmanuelle

In September of 1975, I drove from Sierra Vista, Arizona to Phoenix to visit my girlfriend. Anita, two years older than I, was a sophomore at Southwestern Conservative Baptist Bible College. Anita and I met at Sierra Vista Baptist Church. It was not long before I was head over heels in love with her, an attractive, temperamental woman with much more experience with the things of the world than her younger boyfriend. Our torrid nine-month relationship had all the trappings of a match made in heaven, but by the time my weekend visit was over our relationship was shattered and I was on my way back to Ohio on a Greyhound bus.

I stayed in the men’s dormitory while visiting Anita. One night, we decided to go see a movie, in violation of Southwestern’s code of conduct. We had two movies to choose from: Jaws and Emmanuelle. While most readers are quite familiar with Jaws, they might not be as familiar with Emmanuelle, a French soft-porn movie. Both Anita and I had what church leaders called a rebellious heart. While we attended church regularly, sang in the choir, and taught Sunday school, we loved living on the edge. When presented with the choice of Jaws or Emmanuelle, we briefly considered whether we should give into our rebellious nature and buy tickets to see Emmanuelle. Our Fundamentalist training ultimately won and we spent the next two hours watching a mechanical shark hunt and kill humans.

While our relationship ultimately burned in the flames of my jealousy and immaturity, I still have fond memories of the nine months Bruce and Anita were an inseparable pair. From Anita irritating the hell out of then-deacon Chuck Cofty  (link no longer active) with her miniskirts and employment at an alcohol-serving pizza place, to taking trips to Mexican border towns and hiking the Huachuca Mountains, we had a wonderful time. I still wonder to this day what might have happened had we chosen the other movie.

Note

Anita and I briefly stayed in touch, but a year later I moved to Pontiac, Michigan to begin studying for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College. I soon met a beautiful dark-haired girl whose beauty and quiet demeanor quickly quashed any thoughts of my nine month relationship with Anita. I have often wondered what became of Anita. Years ago, I heard rumors that she married, had children, and divorced.