In 1947, when the dining hall was being completed, chairs were purchased for the end of each table from a lodge that was closing. The first time I was in the dining hall, I noticed the caned seats of most of the sturdy chairs had broken through. After camp, when we had returned home, I learned that Al Dence, a retired minister, did caning. Al was 85 and had been a paraplegic since he was 74. He and his wife lived in his son David’s home, about 5 minutes from our home.
When I went to meet Al, he was in his small workshop in a closed-in porch. He greeted me warmly. I remember thinking he looked about 60 – and that he was very muscular from the waist up. I explained who I was, told about DL, and asked if he could replace the cane seats of perhaps 30 chairs. I explained that there was no deadline as the campers and staff could sit on the benches if necessary. Al said he would like to do the work as a gift to Deerfoot. This was wonderful as Deerfoot Lodge had almost no money. I would bring the chairs from DL to our home. Al called when he was ready for 3 more chairs, and I would pick up 3 repaired chairs. When summer came he, his wife, and his daughter would move to Al’s 50 acre farm in Wells which he had bought while a pastor in Northville in the 1930’s. He continued to re-cane the chairs, sending a message to camp (no phone) that he needed more chairs. He did excellent work and I looked forward to the 25 minute trip.
Al always greeted me with a smile – often a laugh! We would talk for a half hour or more. Being with Al was always an encouragement. As a child, Al had lock-jaw and was fed with a straw through a hole from a broken tooth. As he grew up, Al had enjoyed athletics. He served in the U.S. Army. As a pastor of small country churches, he enjoyed working with the congregations to up-grade their facilities. When a church in town could not hire anyone to repair their very tall, steep steeple, Al did the work. When he was 74, Al began to stumble. Three months later he was a paraplegic. His daughter-in-law, Ann, says that she never her Al complain – Never. He was thankful for the full health and strength he had enjoyed for so many years. As he got older, his mind remained razor sharp, but he became hard of hearing, and always prayed out loud. One night, when Al was 96, Ann went in to check on him before she went to bed. She heard him praying “I know, Lord, it won’t be long now. I can tell things are different”. He died within a few weeks.
I asked 86 year old Al Dence if he would speak to the campers and staff on a Sunday morning. “I would be delighted to!” We built a ramp and a raised platform. When Al was to speak, we rolled his wheel chair up onto the platform so everyone could see him.
Al spoke on Victory! He may have talked about being a paraplegic, but what I remember is when Al told about joining the United State Army. His first night in his military barracks Al knew he had a decision to make. Every night, when he was growing up, he had gotten down on his knees by his bed to pray. His decision: Did he have the courage to do this in the military barracks? Was he going to let his situation control his actions because of possible ridicule? Al decided he would get down on his knees – for he was not ashamed of his commitment to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“That was VICTORY” Al shouted, and in his excitement he pushed himself straight up in his wheel chair.
I have never forgotten that moment, or the man who lived a victorious life as a pastor, and during the 21 years in his wheelchair. Al Dence lived “In Partnership With God”.
The Apostle Paul wrote “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile”. Romans 1:16” Paul wrote of what happened as the result of his sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea “ II Corinthians 11:25