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The Value of Extension Ministries

A fellow student my first year at PBI, Jim Janz, was instrumental in a couple of involvements that carried me through my life. I had sung in church quartets since I was seventeen, and Jim knew others at PBI who might be interested in forming a quartet. Soon Ron Berg as first tenor, Jim as baritone, and Steve Imbach as bass were accompanied by Elmer Lavastida on piano, and we were off. One Saturday morning, I was walking from the men’s dorm toward the bookstore, when I met Jim in front of the high school boys’ dorm. I swung my hip at him, and looking up at me from the grass, Jim asked whether I had ever played football. He invited me to attend the first practice of the freshmen that afternoon. After two and one-half hours of getting beaten black and blue by Walt Keib and Berkley Jepson, I was an acceptable right guard and defensive tackle until I graduated.

I was involved in extension ministry from the summer of 1961, when Jack Sylvania and I went out to minister in nearby churches, until 1966, when I graduated from PHS, after graduating from PBI in 1964. I served in duets, male quartets, the original Men of Song, and as soloist with the big choir. I also served as chapel speaker during my senior years in Bible school. Then, as I went back to finish high school, I also went to small towns in the area to participate in street evangelism. Well-rounded, I would say, and with good preparation for future ministry as a missionary music and academic teacher at Black Forest Academy and in Vienna Christian School, and in years of school administration there. I also supervised many student teachers, including one who has become a noted Canadian conductor and CBC host.

In the summer of 1961, as Jack Sylvania and I were assigned summer-worker jobs tacking ceiling tiles onto the new dining room, we found that our voices blended quite nicely in duets, which sounded heavenly coming from the high scaffolding we were standing on. We got to go out several times to nearby churches on weekends. On one of those times, my hair had gotten to the point where PBI would not have been happy sending me out to represent them, so I went to the PBI barbershop in the basement of the infirmary, and asked Norman Pannell for a haircut. He pointed out the waiting line, so I said that I had learned haircutting at home, on seven younger brothers and my Dad, so he pointed to a chair, and Mr. Toliver, who had barely a rim of hair above his ears, was my first customer.

It passed inspection, and the next thing I knew, Mr. Imbach called me into the Men’s Dean’s office to ask whether I wanted to do an apprenticeship under Norman Pannell. Naturally, I said yes, and I spent the next five years doing gratis work in the barbershop. In the fall of 1964, I traveled to Calgary and took my quartet buddy, Phil Davis, to a barbershop to do my practical exam for my Alberta barber’s license.

I was able to use it to work my way through the University of Calgary, where I graduated with a B.Ed. in school music and social studies. This went well with my PBI diploma, which was also a special one created just for me, as I had done a complete Bible/Missions course as well as a complete Music course. I was set to direct bands, choirs, and to arrange music and compose it. The instrument I chose was that of Mr. Robert Snyder, the euphonium, which I studied with my professor, Dr. Walter Buehning.

The summer work experience led to many discussions about the music program at PBI. Popular groups at the time were Sixteen Singing Men and various male quartets, mostly associated with gospel radio broadcasts. Our PBI male choir had the sound to our ears of the rejects from the big choir, and we thought we could do better. Mentioning this to Art Wiebe and Ferdinand Berg, we found a ready ear. That fall, we formed the original Men of Song, interestingly made up of 16 young men, with Ferd Berg directing. Ernie James, who had joined PBI from Great Western Life Insurance, was an amazing pianist and accompanist. The next spring (1962), we set out in the old blue school bus, with Dean Brown driving, and David Berg as speaker, for Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Ferd had also become my voice teacher, and he found three other guys from our Bible school class, Joe Gradin, Phil Davis, and Keith Cannon, all singing in the Men of Song, to combine with me and form a class quartet. This became another extension group, and following the Men of Song tour, we took off for BC, Washington and Oregon, ending with an American Sunday School Union camp near Lewistown, Montana. A similar pattern was to follow the next summer, only this time we were on the road for four and one-half months instead of six weeks, plus the two-week Men of Song trip. Following our senior year, Keith Cannon, our bass, was unable to travel with us, so we adopted Dave Ibbotson and took him with us to Ontario and Quebec.

I remember going to a small church west of Three Hills one Sunday after our long summer tour, and as we were singing “Springs of Living Water” (a popular quartet number at the time where we had all our songs memorized), somehow I lost the words as I was about to begin my solo in the third verse. Being a bit of a composer, I simply faked the first line and got into the second line, while the rest of the quartet burst out laughing. Needless to say, that was not my finest moment, but it did provide a moment of relief for an otherwise pretty normal church service.

I could also tell about the time the rest of the quartet played an awful trick involving the Ontario Provincial Police, some escaped criminals from Drumheller Penitentiary, a car just like the one we were driving, and a pastor in northern Ontario, but I’ll forbear.

As I went back to high school, I was allowed to live in J-K Dorm; in fact, I was a floor boss for both years. Although I had not gone beyond grade 9, because I was running my father’s sawmill while most boys my age were completing high school, I was allowed to enter several Grade 12 courses, and I entered Grade 11 Math and Physics, as well as taking Typing 10 and German 20. I gave up voice lessons with Ferd, but took up beginner piano. I began coaching a quartet of high school boys and I joined a quartet of Bible school students, including my brother Ken and George Richardson and Sam Werdal, which sang in PBI programs.

Extension ministry was a vital part of my training at PBI, and I have profited greatly from my training at PBI. I still use it regularly.

Dick Derksen
PBI 1964
PHS 1966

Bonus: Jake Leverette's Extension Team Experience

This really underscores my age and the number of years since I graduated in 1954. We had a full time extension department with a director and several men traveling as evangelists. In the summer, we traveled with teams that had been preparing during the winter.

My first year I traveled with two teams in the summer over a period of 4.5 months. My wife and I had a lady’s team for the first 2 months then I had a men’s team for 2.5 months. My second summer I traveled with a mixed team; a husband and wife, and a trumpet player. My third year I travelled with a men’s team. We covered most of the United States and the provinces of Canada from Quebec west. We had an itinerary arranged for us and for 3.5 to 4.5 months, we had very few nights off.

In the winter, I travelled as an evangelist going to churches that had arranged with me in the summer because of the blessing they received through the ministry of the team. I would be out for 5 weeks in several churches for from 1 week to 2 weeks with meetings each night. Then I would return home for a short period and out again. 

It was a wonderful ministry with great blessing and many students came to school as a result of being touched by the Holy Spirit. I have rejoiced that God gave me that opportunity during the years of 1954 through 1956.

Jake Leverette
PBI 1954

These stories were inspired by our e-newsletter article about the “Take-over Teams” we implemented this year once COVID restrictions eased. If you are not receiving our Prairie Insider e-newsletter but would like to, please email alumni@prairie.edu or select your Subscription Preferences.

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