I always wanted to be a singer! I always wanted to sing Christian music. As a young boy I would put on my dad’s records of Southern Gospel Quartets and try to sing all the parts. That was my dream.
Being the son of a Pastor, I was able to realize my dream at a very young age. My dad Pastored small churches and I would always volunteer to sing the special music. Later on, my Father went into the Evangelistic field and we would travel and sing at revivals, conventions, camp meetings and concerts. The whole family would sing. All four boys and one daughter would participate. It was a huge blessing to be able to live out my dream as a young boy. This continued throughout my teen years until I married my wife Sheila on September 28, 1991. A short 8 months after our marriage, May 16, 1992 to be exact, we went to my parent’s house for my brother, Tom's eighteenth birthday party. We had a cookout, food fight, just a lot of fun. It was a great day. Sheila and I had to leave to watch a friend’s baby, and my parents took my sister, Abby to an animal show. They were on their way home from the animal show, coming through downtown Canton, when a drunk driver, going over 90 MPH ran a red light and hit my parent’s car broadside. The car rolled five times and was brought up against a cement wall. They were unable to locate me for several hours, but eventually they came to the house where Sheila and I were watching the baby. They told us an accident had happened and we needed to get to the hospital. We rushed over and they escorted us into the family room and informed us that my Father had passed away, my Mother probably wouldn’t survive the night, and my sister was getting medical attention in the ER. They asked me if I would tell my sister about our parents. I went into her room, she was getting some casts on and getting stitched up. I talked with her for a little bit, then she asked how are Mommy and Daddy… I told her that Daddy was in Heaven and Mommy was probably going to Heaven as well. She cried and asked for Daddy.
A nurse came in and told me they were getting my Mother prepared for surgery and they didn’t expect her to survive the surgery, so they wanted me to have the opportunity to say goodbye. I went in to see my Mother. She was not very recognizable. The car had hit on her side and her trauma was severe. I held her hand and let her know that I was there and that I loved her. She recognized me, and tried to speak. However, she was on a respirator and was not able to. She was trying to let me know that everything was okay. I knew she didn’t mean physically, but she was trying to tell me she knew where she was going.
They took her away to surgery and performed it that night. She was much stronger than they anticipated and lived through the night. The next few days were pretty much a whirlwind. We stayed at the hospital as they expected her to pass at any time. Day after day the doctors continued to be amazed at how strong my Mother was. At one point they started to believe she may even survive. During this time, I had to leave to go to the funeral home to make arrangements for my Father’s funeral. We had not told my Mother that he had passed away. While at the viewing for my Father, the hospital called me and let me know that she had indicated that she figured out that Dad had passed away. Needless to say, when I returned to the hospital that evening after the viewing, we had a few tears together. She was still on the respirator and unable to speak, but we could communicate. I told her we would video the funeral for her and she could watch it once she was able to.
There were many decisions we had to make about my Mother’s care and we made them believing that God was healing her and she would actually survive the accident. However, the length of time she was in the hospital and the severity of her injuries started to take their toll. My Mother swelled up to over 400 pounds from the trauma and severity of the injuries. Infection started to affect the healing process and we could tell that she was starting to decline. Sixteen days later, my Mother made her way home to Heaven. Just a few short weeks after we had my Father's funeral, we had my Mother's funeral as well. Both services were huge! People came from all over. My parents had touched many lives throughout their ministry. It was amazing to see the diverse people that came. From well known Pastors, to Government officials, to the poorest people in Stark County. They all lined up and came through to pay their respects to my parents. Some with stories of how my parents had helped them through a financial rough spot, or they had come to my parents for counselling. One of my friends who had been kicked out of his own home at the age of thirteen and had come to stay with us for a while stood there and wept. He said he had never had a "real Mom" until he met my Mother! The outpouring of love from so many and the Grace of God was the only way we were able to make it through that tough time.
After the funeral, my sister and youngest brother moved in with Sheila and me in our little two-bedroom place. Again, we had only been married eight months and now we have two kids… It was a unique way to start a marriage.
After losing my parents the way that I had, I lost the song in my heart. I lost the joy that a Christian knows when serving Jesus. I was broken. Not bitter, but broken. My dream of singing was over. I made up my mind that I was done singing. I was a Christian, but I would just go to church and be like everyone else. I wasn’t going to sing anymore. That is exactly what I did. For a year I went to church, sat in my seat and just did nothing. Miserable the whole time. A year went by and I got a call from a little church not far from me. They were getting ready for a revival and wanted to know if I would come and provide the music for the revival. I told them that I don’t do that. She said, I know, but we want you to come anyway. I told her I didn’t want to. She said she figured I’d say that and they still wanted me… I told her I didn’t have any music to sing with, she said she had already called my Aunt to play the piano for me… I figured she had won that round, and I went to sing for their revival. Turns out, the evangelist was also their District Superintendent and was in charge of all the churches in that area. After the revival I started getting phone calls from all of his churches asking me to come and sing. God had a plan! Even though I really didn’t want to sing, God had a plan. Not only did He open the doors for me to start singing again, He also gave me a new song in my heart, He gave me His joy, and He gave me my dream back! The God I serve is a healing Savior! He can pick up all the pieces of a broken heart and He can put it back together again. Today I sing and lift praise to glorify Him for all He’s done for me. He is a restoring Savior!
If you are out there and you have lost someone, or someone has wronged you, or you are just totally broken. Turn it over to my friend Jesus! He can heal your broken heart. He can restore you. He can put you back together again!!
Because of His grace and restoration, I can sing and lift my song to Him.
Shortly after my parents death, our friend, Bruce Hawthorn asked me to come work for him at the Christian Brotherhood Newsletter. My dad had worked with him for a while and I happily accepted the offer. I had been working there for about a year or so when the little church had me come sing for their revival. Bruce had heard me sing when I was with my parents so he decided to start having me sing for events that were being held at our offices. I did that a few times and then he found out several other guys could sing, so he had us put together a quartet. We would just sing a few Acapella songs for visitors and whatever events were happening at the office. Bruce was an evangelist and traveled and spoke quite a bit. He decided to have the quartet go with him for a weekend meeting. Well that started several years of traveling just about every week from coast to coast representing both the Christian Brotherhood and the Barberton Rescue Mission. We were on the road for weeks at a time and then would return to work our jobs until the next trip.One of the unique things we did as a quartet was we traveled on motorcycles when we could. Our bus would follow us with all the sound equipment and extra things we needed. Another unique thing we would do began in a little restaurant in PA. We had just sat down to eat for breakfast, only two other customers in the place, and Bruce leaned over to the quartet and said, why don’t you fellows sing those ladies a song? We looked at him like he was crazy!! We’re in a restaurant!! He said, I know, now sing! He was our boss, so we sang In The Garden, and How Great Thou Art. Those two ladies came over with tears in their eyes and thanked us for our boldness in singing about Jesus… I thought Bruce liked to eat before that, well after that experience we were getting off of exits looking for restaurants to sing in!! Every place we stopped Bruce would ask the waiter or waitress if they wanted to hear a song… They always said yes. We sang in every restaurant you can imagine, in the large corporate offices of the Hershey company, in rest areas, and everything in between. We would pull in on our motorcycles, people just saw a motorcycle gang. Then we would walk in and sing Amazing Grace and they couldn't figure out if we wanted to rob them or get them saved!! We had people come and ask us for prayer after we sang. We had people tell us they had been out of church for years and hearing us sing like that, they decided to re-dedicate their lives and return to church. It was a unique way of reaching people for Christ. When we would sing, we would then hand out free cd’s to anyone who wanted one. We used this as a witnessing tool. One time we were singing at The Needles National Park out in South Dakota. We then began handing out cd’s to people. An older couple came up and got one, then asked if they could exchange it for the other one as they had gotten that one last year when they heard us sing in Yellowstone National Park!! It was amazing to see what God could do through a song. Bruce knew he had been impressed to use whatever tool he had, and what he had was a few employees who could sing about Jesus and reach others for Christ.
I continued with both my solo and quartet careers until around 1999 and some of the guys moved away from our area and took other jobs so we could no longer keep the quartet together. I continued traveling with Bruce until he retired and came off the road. I then began my solo career in earnest. Typically, I would do around 150 concerts a year. Also around that time I met two other guys Sheldon Mencer and Steve Cheney, both great songwriters and singers. We got together and practiced a few times and decided to put together a trio and sing whenever we got the chance. We have recorded two cd’s and still do several select dates every year. The cd’s are available for purchase by clicking the link to my Store in the menu.
In 1993, the year following my parent's accident, my wife and I found out we were expecting our first child. Excitement, joy, and enthusiasm were some of the feelings we experienced! We thought that this may help the healing process after losing mom and dad. We had a completely normal pregnancy and expected nothing but the same with the birthing process. September 6 Sheila went into labor, we headed to the hospital excited to welcome our child!! After seventeen hours of labor, Brittany made her appearance into this world. I got my first look at her and knew right away that something was different. The doctors and nurses looked at each other with concern on their faces. They hurriedly wrapped Brittany and took her away. The doctor came over to the bed and confirmed my fears. We believe your daughter has Down Syndrome... We are going to run some tests and we'll come back and let you know. Devastated, disappointed, worried, and fearful. Those were some of the emotions that went through me when I heard the news. Sheila and I held each other and cried. The unknown is not a comforting place. All we knew was that our daughter was in danger and we couldn't help. The doctor confirmed with us the next day that our little girl did indeed have Down Syndrome. We were expecting this news and had already cried our tears. We didn't really know what all this diagnosis would mean. We just knew that our daughter would be different. I was not okay with that. I wanted the typical, beautiful, "normal" little baby girl. God had another plan! We had our struggles and tough times with our baby. Just like other new parents, we learned as we went. There was a little more learning to do with Brittany having Downs, but we knew that God had given us our daughter with special needs for a reason. The word different has always stood out to me when the doctor gave us the news. Different, your daughter will be different. Now 28 years later, as I look around at the worlds "normal", different isn't a bad thing. I think we all could be a little "different"! When I see my daughter struggle with things that the typical person just seems to fly right through, yes it pains me and I want to help her get through it, to understand it. Somehow she succeeds and those things that are so easy for others and hard for her, when she attempts and overcomes the obstacle, it just thrills me to see that! I see Jesus in her. I know that He looks down on her with the same affection and love and longs to one day welcome her Home. Brittany has overcome so many things throughout her lifetime. She has participated in dance, played baseball for over twenty years, and dealt with anxiety for many years, yet somehow she can look at me with her little smile and say "wuv you" and it just takes all of my cares away. There is just something about a special needs person, when they say "I love you", it is the most sincere and meaningful statement you will ever hear. Brittany is a beautiful young lady now. She still lives at home with Sheila and me and her dog Sophie.
Although many changes have come. Some good and some bad, I have seen the Lord working through me and using me to reach others for Him. My greatest desire is to please Him in everything I do. I want to reach people for Him and encourage Christians to keep on. I want to help the broken people who hear my song to know that Jesus can pick up the broken pieces of their hearts and mold them and make them in His image. God uses broken people!