Walter and Bonnie Hodges retired to a small house on a few acres three miles from Sky Ranch. Walter had been an insurance agent in the Dallas area and had some knowledge of the ministry. When they bought their “homestead” it already had a root cellar, garden plot, blackberry patch, and persimmon, pecan and holly trees. To this they added beds of iris, daffodils and a cow named Trilby. Their life was simple, yet rich in many ways.
A couple weeks before camp was to open the first summer, Walter drove up in his cream colored 1965 Chevy pick-up. With his warm smile, he asked if he could look around. About an hour later Walter returned to report that the wire mesh under the mattresses on the old army bunk beds was sagging because the side springs were stretched out. He suggested the side springs could be replaced with wire to help solve the problem. He then offered to do the work. When I pointed out that there were over 200 bunks, each with four springs, he said he thought he could do it over time. Six days a week he worked for a couple hours, eat the lunch he had brought, and work a couple more hours. Each session more campers came, and Walter had the bunks ready.
When he learned that Sally Jo wanted to plant a five acre garden to teach gardening to the staff and campers and provide fresh vegetables for the kitchen, Walter was there to coach her. Every morning he came to help in the garden and work on the bunks, always wearing a smile and an old white shirt, dark pants, and a straw hat. Throughout the long growing season the garden produced more tomatoes than the campers could eat, plus potatoes, carrots, beans, squash, corn, cucumbers and okra,
Walter invited us to come by his house to meet Bonnie. Repeatedly through our seven years at Sky Ranch our family would stop by their house for a brief visit, and every time we stopped by, they gave us something: “go pick yourselves as many berries as you like”, “please pick yourselves some flowers”,” here is a bottle of jam”, “please enjoy a gallon of Trilby’s milk”, “the persimmons are ripe – take a few”, “Christmas is coming, enjoy this beautiful holly”.
Our three children always wanted to go to visit them – and to see what surprise they had for us. These visits were full of kidding and laughter and our family became very close to Walter and Bonnie. This relationship lifted our spirits!!
When Bonnie had a stroke, Walter placed a hospital bed in their living room, and focused all of his attention on caring for Bonnie, necessarily neglecting their little “estate”. We stepped up the regularity of our visits. The laughter and sharing continued.
Over several months Bonnie’s condition worsened, and we watched Walter’s health and strength gradually decline as he worked long hours caring for the wife he had loved for over 50 years. When Bonnie died, Walter was completely worn out. He assured us he would be like his neglected tomato plants: with care, sunshine and time he would be fine.
Seven years after we left Sky Ranch, our family was able to travel around the country in a borrowed RV. We were all looking forward to seeing Walter, particularly daughter Jenna who had been corresponding with him while in college. Two weeks before we were to visit Walter, he died. His son told us his father wanted us to have his 1965 Chevy pickup. We pulled the rust free truck behind the 43 foot RV from Mineola, Texas to our home in New York where son Dirk rebuilt the truck to original condition – except for replacing the oak bed with one made of bird?s eye maple and cherry. We continue to enjoy the truck and remember Walter and Bonnie with happy hearts.
Living In Partnership With God requires only that we give ourselves to God. What would God have us do with our lives? Use what He has entrusted to us. When we do, this will bring God joy, and God will use us to enrich the lives of others.
“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” — Matthew 5:16