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"How went that road trip?"

Dear friends of Vital Signs Ministries,                                April 2016

            Today is one of those especially hectic ones – two meetings, recording a week’s worth of radio programs, sending out the 100 letters that 11 of us wrote at our P.A.L. Night two nights ago, doing an afternoon “When Swing Was King” show, working on the next lecture in my Sunday school series on heaven, and, if the rain holds off this afternoon, getting my regular walk in.

            Actually, there have been several days like this in the last couple of weeks as we’re still trying to get caught up from our 2-week road trip that took our “When Swing Was King” ministry to San Antonio and Oklahoma City.  In each of those two cities, we were honored to receive amazing hospitality from two couples who have been beloved friends and pro-life colleagues of ours for many decades now – Bryan and Janet Lilius, and John and Janine Lehman.  You can read my detailed posts about our trip on Vital Signs Blog, but we thought you would also enjoy reading about it from the perspective of our respective hosts.  So, here you go.

            Bryan Lilius writes…From the moment Denny and Claire walked in the door, all the years melted away.  What a blessing to have friends like them come to visit. They had visited us in Boston after we left Omaha, and then in Berlin, Germany only weeks after we had arrived there.  But we had been in San Antonio for 25 years before Denny and Claire finally made it this far south.

            On Easter Sunday Denny taught our Sunday School Class on the resurrection of Jesus. Then Denny and Claire won the hearts of our whole family here by joining us for our family Easter celebration.  The Sotelos (our daughter Katie’s family), had heard so much about “our friends, the Hartfords,” and now they will be a part of their Easter memories.  It was a delightful day, with Katie, who was in junior high when we were in Omaha, and her daughter Kassie, 16, preparing a true celebration for all 17 of us.

            We had arranged for “When Swing was King” to be shown at 4 nursing homes on the north side of San Antonio. Each presentation was received with enthusiasm and gratitude.  Occasional tears were also seen among those watching the program.

            Then on Thursday we had our 5th program, a private home showing of “When Swing was King.”  Eight of our friends, many of whom are semi-housebound, joined us and you could see faces light up and hear humming when a favorite tune was played. One was even leading the orchestra. If you haven’t joined the Hartfords presenting this, you must.  The program is great, and the response of the guests was heartwarming. 

            When we first received the call from Claire that they were thinking about coming to San Antonio, she mentioned that there were only two “touristy” things they wanted to do here – see the Alamo and the Riverwalk.  We made sure they caught these must-see sights – and Denny was able to walk his regular 7 miles along the beautiful San Antonio River.  We went back downtown another day along with Katie and her girls to ride the riverboat and get the “official” tour.  Let’s all give Claire credit for overcoming her fear of boats and water!

            Still, the best thing for us was just sitting in the living room or around the dinner table with Denny and Claire, catching up on what has been happening in each other’s lives since we left Omaha in 1985.  And thinking a bit about what Heaven will be like.

            And Janine Lehman writes…“O-o-o-o-klahoma!  Where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain!”  And it swept Denny and Claire right to our house.  What a wonderful week we had.  I have so many good memories but I will try to mention just a few.  

            Spending time with the Hartfords and getting caught up on their lives and what's been happening in Omaha since we left 12 tears ago was a highlight.  We never ran out of things to talk about.  Finally getting to experience a “When Swing was King” show was even better than I imagined.  I know my daddy would have loved it.  Because of him I grew up loving the Big Band music and Denny and Claire put on quite a show.  The residents at the local nursing centers where we brought it expressed their delight and appreciation for the Hartfords coming all the way from Nebraska to bring them “their” music.  

            The Hartfords arrived on Saturday evening and we had a bite to eat and talked and talked.  Sunday morning John and Denny went to church early to set up coffee and Denny met our pastor (who is a brother to the Hartford’s pastor back in Omaha) and many other people.  Denny never meets a stranger.  He was looking around and met this cute little 11-year old girl who explained to him what went on in the Fellowship Hall for kids.  It turned out that it was our granddaughter, Meredith Friend.  That evening the whole Friend family came to eat.  Our daughter, Jenny, her husband, Chris, and our wonderful grandchildren; Meredith, 11; Caleb, 9; Will, 8; and Henry, 6.  Needless to say, they are a big part of our lives. 

            Monday we began our tour of the OKC area by going downtown to the National Memorial and Museum commemorating the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995.  It is a somber, beautiful, and respectful place.  We then drove around the city, ending up at the larger than life bronze sculptures honoring the Land Run of 1889.  They are quite a sight with unbelievable detail.  After further sightseeing we ended up at our favorite BBQ restaurant for a delicious meal.  That night Caleb had a baseball game that we all attended and cheered for our team.  

            Tuesday morning was an early breakfast at a retro cafe just off Route 66 then a further drive on the Mother Road to see a truly round barn.  We had to hurry back as we had scheduled “When Swing Was King” shows at two different facilities.  At both, the residents and staff were delighted with the program.  

            Wednesday morning was a time to rest a little.  Of course Denny got in his 7-mile walk (as he did every day, with Claire often joining him for the second half).  There were two shows planned for that afternoon, but one had to be cancelled due to a decision about room use from “higher up.”  The activities director was understandably upset but we assured her we understood.  That night Denny spoke at our Wednesday night Covenant Kids Club, telling the story of how God protected him and some native children in Africa from a very scary witch doctor.  The kids were impressed and had plenty of questions and comments for Denny.  

            Thursday morning it was off to the Cowboy Hall of Fame, a wonderful place I had been to as a child.  The art work by famous western artists, the sculptures by Remington and others, the tribute to early western movie stars (some from Oklahoma), and a full size replica of a western town were some of the highlights.  I wasn't sure we could tear Denny away but we did have the last “When Swing Was King” show on the schedule.  It was the largest group yet and the residents were spellbound by the music and pictures.  That evening Denny and Claire attended the play, The Fantasticks, at a local theater.  They loved it!  

            Because we live just a mile from Route 66, we enjoyed pointing out a few of the iconic places still around, like the iron bridge my family drove across on our way to California in 1960 and the Western Hotel which is pictured on a post card of Oklahoma which Denny showed when he played Route 66 during one of the “When Swing Was King” programs. (And yes, as the song says, “Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty.”) 

            Denny and Claire had to leave on Friday morning so we prayed together and waved goodbye.  It was a wonderful whirlwind of a week and the house felt so empty.  Our kitties looked for them.  Winston misses Denny because now there is no one to place ice hockey with him and Wiley misses not having anyone to guard at night.  We all hope they come back soon.  Thanks for the memories! 

            Thank you Liliuses and Lehmans for these reviews.  And, again, please accept Claire and my thanks for the magnificent hospitality you showed us, and the prayer and labor involved in setting up so many opportunities to minister with “When Swing Was King” to senior citizens in your towns.  We will never forget your many kindnesses. And it was such a wonderful blessing to minister alongside you like in days gone by.