Ohio State vs UCLA & The Dennises Take Missionary Discussions
I was reviewing the game roster, looking at the names of all the players on the UCLA football team and I noticed one of the players was
Molina. He and I played ball together at Santa Ana College and he picked up a full-ride scholarship and finished his last two years playing for UCLA. Well, I was sitting on the 50 yard line in the stadium and I noticed the UCLA team was on the same side we were sitting on so I walked down to the front row, looked around and sure enough, there was Molina. I yelled at him and he came over real quick, shook my hand and he said, “What are you doing all the way out here in Ohio at this game and why are you wearing a white shirt and tie at a football game?” I told him I was serving as a missionary for my church here in Ohio. He was totally blown away and said, “You’re kidding me, right? So you’re not playing ball this year?” I said, “No. Maybe later when I get off my mission but I’m doing this now.” I could tell by his facial expression that he thought I wussed out and quit. He then said, “Good luck man. See you later.” And that was it. I went back up to my seat and I was bothered because I wanted him to know WHY I was doing this, but he wouldn’t understand even if I did tell him. Sadly that is the way most of us jocks think; if you’re not playing the game, you’re not in the game, and you’re not one of ‘us’.
Harry Dennis was impressed a little, I think, that I actually did know one of the players on the UCLA team and that I really did play ball before my mission. It was a hard fought game and it ended in a tie, 17 to 17. Back then they allowed games to end in a tie. When the clock ran out, GAME OVER. I hated that rule. NO GAME should ever end in a tie. All of that hard work, someone needs to walk away a winner. Thank goodness that rule was changed.
After the game, Harry Dennis took my companion and me home and we all had a very good time together. I couldn’t thank Mr. Dennis enough. As a matter of fact, I told him this was my very first Pac 10 football game. I could tell that made Harry feel pretty good.
To my surprise, a few weeks later I got transferred to Parkersburg, West Virginia, just on the other side of the Ohio river. We got to see the
Dennises for one last AMAZING DINNER and then I was taken to the bus station and off I went. Being in Parkersburg, West VA was a very different place and setting than being in Westerville, Ohio. The upstairs apartment we had was in a home that was over 100 years old and the lady we rented from was a palm reader, of all things. Rose was the nicest lady ever and she had been boarding missionaries for years I was told. I tried to talk with her about the church and she would always get a kick out of all of my different approaches to her but she never let us teach her. But she took a real interest in me and she loved to tell the missionaries when they were getting transferred before it happened and she was usually right. It was a little spooky. One day she told me, “Elder Davis, you’re going to work in your mission office a lot and you’re going to work with and spend a lot of time helping the other missionaries.” I got a big chuckle out of that. I’d only been out about 7 months and had so much to learn and do. Then, a couple of weeks later she said, “Elder Davis, you’re getting transferred next week.” I told Rose, “Ive only been here about 3 months so I think you’re way off on this prediction.” But sure enough, the following week I got a letter informing me that I was to transfer to Cleveland, Ohio, as a trainer/district leader. Rose got a big kick out of being right on that one.
So I was off to Cleveland to train a new missionary who was from Springville, Utah. Val was a great missionary; upbeat, happy, and had a good, positive attitude and it was a real pleasure working and teaching with him. He really worked hard to study and learn his discussions. Then one night I got a phone call out of the blue. It was our Mission President, President Brewer, and he asked me if I would come and serve as one of his assistants to help him and Sister Brewer work with the missionaries and help run the mission office with the other missionary staff. I was so blown away and taken aback, I didn’t know what to say. You see, most missionaries in the past had not served in this capacity until they had been out for 18 to 20 months and had a lot of experience and had usually served as a trainer, District Leader, Zone Leader and had a good feel for the overall mission work. I had only been out 10 months and only been a trainer and District leader for 6 weeks which meant that over 70% of the missionaries currently serving had been out longer than me. We had two Elder Davises serving in the same mission so I asked President Brewer, “Sir, are you sure you have the right Elder Davis?” He said, “Well, lets see. You do have red hair, right?” I said, “Yes sir.” Then he said, “Then I think I have the right Elder Davis on the phone. So, do you accept? If so, I need you to be on a bus tomorrow headed for Columbus.” I said, “Yes sir. Yes sir. I will be there and I’m honored to help and work with you and the other missionaries and I will do my very best to do a good job, sir.”
All of a sudden President Brewer said to me, “Elder that won’t work for me.” I thought to myself, “I just told him I was gong to do my very best. How can anyone do more or better than their very best?” He said “Elder, I need you to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Trying to do your best is not good enough. You need to DO the job and make it work. Then it will be your best.” I said “Yes Sir. I will do the job and you will be pleased.” I then said, “I will see you tomorrow, sir” and hung up the phone. My companion heard most of the phone conversation and we were both blown away. I just sat on the edge of my bed and I said to myself, “This President Brewer is unreal. What’s he going to be like to work with? He’s not messing around. What have I gotten myself into now?” I had only met him once for a brief interview that lasted about 5 minutes but it was an interesting encounter in that short time, but that’s another story.
I had to call the Zone Leaders and tell them I needed a ride to the bus station in the morning. They said, “What for?” I said, “I just got a call from the Mission President and he has called me to be one of his assistants.” They started laughing and said, “Good joke Elder Davis. You have only been here 6 weeks. You have only been out on your mission for 10 months. I don’t think so. You didn’t get transferred because if you did, we would have gotten the call first. All transfers go though the Zone Leaders first, then we notify the missionaries. See, you don’t even know all the rules and procedures yet. NICE TRY ELDER, but you’re not fooling us for one minute, pal.” I said, “Well, that may be the way things are normally done, but this is a new Mission President and he may have a different way of doing things. You don’t have to believe me, but to cover your tails you may want to call the mission office or a staff member to verify my story. It’s no skin off my teeth, but if I don’t show up tomorrow at the mission office, I’ll be sure to let the Mission President know why.” Again they said, “Nice try Elder Davis, but you’re not going to trick us. “Get a good night’s sleep. Pleasant dreams. We will talk with you tomorrow. I said, “Ok, but I’m going to start packing now so I can say I was ready to go.” After about 30 minutes went by the Zone Leaders called me back and said, “You really are getting transferred. Are you freaking out Elder Davis? We are! I said, “I’m scared to death!” They said, “We will see you at 7:00 am and take you to the bus station.” I said, “That would be great!” especially since I was in a biking/walking area. Ha.
So in the morning I was off to the bus station and headed for Columbus. This is where I had started my mission and my first area was only about 30 minutes from Westerville. As I was sitting on the bus I started reflecting on some of the people I had met and the one person/family who I had baptized. Then, the next person who popped into my mind was Harry and I couldn’t remember his last name but I did remember the weird street he lived on; it was Mohican Drive. I had to see him again for sure this time.
Now back in the day, we all used what was called the Yellow Pages phone book. If you wanted to find someone, or some business, you had to thumb through these massive 4 to 5 inch books and look up whoever you wanted to find. They included names, addresses and phone numbers and most people were listed in these phone books back then. They were all alphabetized and so I said to myself, “I will go through a few pages each night. I will start with the A’s and go down each page looking for Mohican Drive. When I find that street and anyone who lives on that street, I will then see if their first names are Harry and Alice. If I do, BINGO, that will be them.
Columbus Ohio is or was the tenth most populist city in the US at that time and close to that still today, I think. So this phone book was MASSIVE and the names and numbers are not sorted according to the city people live in. That would have really helped out in a big way if they were. Let me just say that I’m so grateful that their last name was not Warlinskie or Zimmerman. When I got though all the A’s, B’s, C’s and into the D’s as I was using a little wooden ruler scrolling down the page, I suddenly saw the street Mohican Drive. I quickly looked to my left and sure enough I saw the names Harry and Alice DENNIS. That’s why I couldn’t remember their last name, because it was like a first name, DENNIS.
I let out the biggest yell. My companions knew what I was doing late each night in our apartment so they got a big kick out of me for even trying this. Bets were on I would either not find them or I would give up. When I found the Dennises listing they were amazed. Well, it was too late to call that night so the next day at about 7pm I called. Harry picked up the phone and answered “Dennises.” I said, “Is this Harry Dennis, the paper King of Ohio?” He said, ‘Who the heck is this?” Well, those weren’t his exact words but you get the drift. Ha. I said, “This is Elder Davis, the red headed missionary from California you took to the Ohio State-UCLA Football game. Do you remember me Harry?” He stared laughing and said. “Elder Davis, no one can forget you after seeing you just once. Ha! What are you doing, you red headed wood pecker AND where are you now serving?” I said, “I just got transferred a couple of days ago from Cleveland to Columbus, to work in the mission office.” He said, “Well thats great! So when are you coming over for dinner?” I said, “I thought you would never ask. You’re reading my mind.” He said, “Don’t get any big ideas, pal,” as he lightly chuckled. I said, “I would love to come over and see you, Alice and Shelly, but you pick a day and time that works best for you and your family Harry.”
He invited me to come over Saturday night. I then went to one of the missionaries in our mission office who had been out about 20 months. His name was Elder Johnson. He and I hit it off pretty good right from the start. I said to him, “Want to go and have the best DA, (dinner appointment), you have ever had in your entire life and mission or ever will have?” He said, “Sure, but I’ve had a few good one’s over my time out here.” I said, “If this isn’t the best DA you’ve ever had, I’ll polish your shoes for church Sunday or you’re going to polish mine if it is.” He laughed and said, ‘You’ve got a deal.” I then told him all about this family and what amazing members they would make.
So we were off to see the Dennises and it had been almost 7 months since I had seen them. Well, as soon as we walked into their home we got big bear hugs and slaps on the back. They took to Elder Johnson like a duck to water as I knew they would. That’s one of the reasons why I took him with me. The other reason was that he was a great missionary and had a great spirit about him, but the most important reason was, he was the one the Lord wanted me to bring with me. The dinner was the same thing; massive, hanging-off-the-plate-steak, massive baked potato, corn on the cob, salad and the half gallon of ice cream split between Elder Johnson and me. He leaned over half way through the dinner and said, “YOU WON!!! and I’ll do your shoes every week if you let me come with you to this house each time you come. Ha ha.”
After dinner as we were sitting around enjoying our ice cream and getting all caught up on what had happened on my mission over the past 7 months or so I said to Harry, “So when are you going to let me give you the missionary discussions?” He laughed and said, “Elder, I told you, I know them better than you.” Then he paused and said, “Well, I can’t say that anymore. I’m sure by now you know them very well. But like I said, I’m sure the message is still the same Elder Davis, right?” I then said “Yes, it’s the same message pretty much my friend, but would you give me a chance to share with you and your family how and why I know the gospel is true?” I’d like to have the privilege of sharing with you what the gospel of Jesus Christ means to me.” He paused for a minute, looked over at his wife, Alice, and she said, “It’s your call. If you want to, I will do it also.” Harry then pulled out his appointment book and said, “Ok, you Red Headed Tornado, this is what I’m willing to do: I will take two weeks and you can come over here three days each week. I’ll give you your turn and you have two weeks, that’s it. Is that fair?” I said, “I really appreciate that Harry but I have two requests.” He said, “NOW WHAT!!! You’re pushing your luck here a little, pal. If I didn’t like you so much it would be a flat ‘NO!’ so now whats the problem?”
I said, “There is no sense doing this unless we do it right. I’m not going to just go through the motions and come over here and tell you good night stories about our church and then tuck you in bed.” He busted out laughing. “So what do you want, you cocky little Red Head?” I said “One: You have to read all of the scriptures and pamphlets we give you for each discussion. I want you to take this seriously. Two: You have to go to church with us twice, once each weekend. If you do that, I will never bother you again about taking the missionary discussions.” I said, “I know you’re a man of your word. Do we have a deal Harry?” He got the biggest kick out of that, and said, “If you’re going to get all mushy and serious on me, I’ll just quit now.” He then said, “Ok ,you win. I will do your little request.” I gave him a big hug, along with Alice and their sweet little 5 year old daughter, Shelly. I then said, “We will see you Monday then, alright?”
As we left, I was so excited, as was Elder Johnson when we drove off. I then said to Elder Johnson, “I have to ask President Brewer for permission to leave the mission office and to teach after 7pm, which shouldn’t be a problem, so we can go and teach the Dennises.” Usually we were all done about that time with our work depending on the work load.
When we showed up and shared the Joseph Smith story that went very well and they knew most of the details on that. But when we got ready to leave I had us all kneel down as a family and we prayed. Harry asked Elder Johnson to say the prayer but Harry had us all hold hands as we knelt in a circle. I was really touched by that and the spirit was very felt as Elder Johnson and I bore our testimonies of the Father and the Son, and the Book of Mormon coming forth in these latter days through the prophet Joseph Smith.
The next two discussions went very well also and Harry would read the scriptures we gave him and his wife during each discussion and they were reading the material we gave them too. We also committed Harry to live the Word of Wisdom. Harry had a little smoking problem, maybe half a pack a day, and I asked him not to smoke at all until the two weeks were up. Little Shelly said, “You can do it daddy!” Now this first Sunday was going to be Fast and Testimony at church and this would be the first time the Dennises had ever come to an LDS meeting. We had already told all the ward members about this awesome family we were teaching and to give them a big, warm welcome. Elder Johnson and I drove over to their home that Sunday morning and then we rode with them to church in their nice, roomy car. Harry was wearing a three piece suit, Alice had on a very nice dress suit outfit, and little Shelly had on an amazing puffy Cinderellalike dress. I mean these guys were dressed to the nine’s. They could have been on the front cover of our Ensign Magazine. They looked like life long members.
As we walked into church, the members were so warm and gracious and we sat on the back row of the padded benches. Elder Johnson was on the inside with Sister Dennis next to him, then Shelly sat next to her mom, then me and then Harry sat at the end of the row. After the song and prayer and the sacrament, then testimonies started. About 30 minutes into the meeting, a few kids came up and shared their testimony. At this time Shelly was sitting on her dad’s knee, at the end of the row with him and all of a sudden, she just sprang up and went to the front of the chapel. Harry lunged out to grab her to keep her from going up to the front of the chapel. She was too quick, and now it was too late. Harry grabbed my leg and said, “This is all your fault. This better work out well.” I had a massive smile on my face but I could feel just what Harry and Alice must have been feeling to be in a church you have never been to before, you don’t know one single person there and you now have your daughter standing at the pulpit of a church, scared to death, wondering, “What is she going to say?” Alice gave Harry a look like, “WHAT HAPPENED!!!?”
As the bishop put the little stool up for her to stand on and then pulled the little mic down so she could talk, it seemed so quite that you could hear a pin drop in the chapel and what only took a few seconds seemed an eternity and this is what she said…… next Blog next month the 15th.