Christmas is a time for remembering
old friends, and one of the people I always think
about this time of year, is the Reverend Dan Jespersen.
It was the summer of 1967. A buddy
and I had left Milwaukee, after finishing our law
school exams, and were driving to Alaska in an old
Volkswagen bug. We had heard a lot about Alaska,
the "Last Frontier" and we decided to spend our
summer vacation seeing what this State was all about.
We hoped to find summer jobs to help us with our
college expenses the next Fall.
All went well until we reached Fort
Nelson, B.C. Then the VW's engine stated making
goshawful noises. Fort Nelson, at that time, had
three or four service stations, none of which worked
on Volkswagens. The nearest VW garage was in Whitehorse,
some 600 miles away.
We thought about trucking the VW to
Whitehorse, and found a company with an empty truck
leaving for Whitehorse that afternoon. They said
they'd take the VW there for only 600 dollars! Six
hundred dollars was more than we paid for the VW
in the first place! It was more money than we had
in the world!
We thought about buying another car
and towing the VW to Whitehorse. Unfortunately,
there were only two cars for sale in Fort Nelson.
Their engines sounded worse than our Volkswagen's.
The bus company told us we could scrap
our VW and take a bus into Anchorage, but we were
limited to 40 pounds of luggage apiece. We would
have had to abandon most of our gear, which included
tents, sleeping bags, and fishing equipment.
We seemed to be stuck.
Then somebody remembered that the
local preacher used to have a Volkswagen. Maybe
he knew something about them. We promptly went to
see the Reverend Jespersen.
Dan Jespersen was the Pastor of the
Fort Nelson Alliance Church. The church was in an
old military barracks. Dan, his wife, and their
infant son lived in a small house in back of the
church. The church had only 7 or 8 families in attendance
at the time, and to survive, Dan worked part-time
as a bag boy in the grocery store.
Dan listened to our tale of woe and
the noises coming from the VW engine. He said he
thought he could help. He had a book in his parish
library entitled "How To Fix Your Volkswagen" and,
if we were willing to assist, he would take the
VW engine apart, see what was the matter, and order
new parts over the telephone from the VW garage
in Whitehorse. Dan figured he knew what was wrong
with our car, and he estimated he could repair it
with around $70 worth of new parts. If we were successful,
Dan said he would charge us the cost of the parts,
and $25 for his labors. We told him to go ahead.
For the next 5 or 6 days we worked
on the car by day, and slept in the church at night.
Dan and his wife fed us moose burgers and berry
pie. After the engine was torn down, the new parts
were ordered. When they arrived via mail plane,
we put them in the VW, and surprisingly enough,
it ran. Dan apologized however. The parts had cost
more than he thought they would. Since the total
parts bill was $120 rather than $70, Dan said we
did not have to pay him anything!
We disagreed. We gladly paid the parts
bill, slipped Dan $50 rather than the $25 he had
originally asked for, and headed, once more, for
The only problem we had on the rest
of the trip was that, somehow, we had goofed up
the wiring. Every time we would turn the lights
on, the engine would shut off. With the long daylight,
during the early part of the summer, we had no trouble.
But returning to Milwaukee in the Fall, we spent
a lot of time driving the Alcan in the dark. By
the time we got back home, the VW was tired. It
wouldn't go any faster than 32 miles per hour by
then, but we did make it home! 32 miles per hour
across North Dakota, however, does give a fellow
a lot of time to think about a lot of things.
We lost touch with Dan after that.
We tried to contact him several times without success,
until finally in 1982 while in B.C., we got a phone
number and called him. We renewed old acquaintances
and have kept in touch, at Christmas, ever since.
Several years ago, Dan called me and
told me that he had hoped to visit us when his Church
voted to send him to the Billy Graham Crusade in
Anchorage. Unfortunately, the Church couldn't raise
the money for him to come, but he hoped to make
it here eventually.
After talking to Barb, we sent Dan
the money to come to the Graham Crusade in Alaska.
As Barb put it, "He helped you to get to Alaska.
The least we can do is to help him get here!"
When Dan arrived here, he asked what
he could do to repay us. I told him that I was repaying
him, but that he could say a couple of prayers for
me at the Billy Graham Crusade. (Even though I'm
a Catholic boy, it doesn't hurt to have all my bases
That long ago summer of 1967, Dan
Jespersen gave me one of the best gifts I've ever
received. That gift was, of course, the chance to
experience Alaska. And during this Joyous Christmas
season, I still think of him with gratitude.