Pen Pals

In 1933 two seventh grade girls formed a friendship that would last their life times. One girl was from Clarinda, Iowa and the other from Basingstoke, England. It was purely a random draw that brought the two girls together. They began writing to each other, at a time when it took a letter at least a month to cross the ocean and find its destination. They continued to write through high school and college. One of the girls went to the University of Nebraska and the other to the equivalent of a teacher’s college in England. When the war hit in 1941 they continued to write as best they could.
Pat (my mom), graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1942 and began her teaching career as a kindergarten teacher in Grand Island, NB. Connie married a British soldier and began her teaching career. The war did not stop the sharing of their lives in letters. In 1944 Connie wrote Pat to tell her that her husband had been killed in North Africa. My mom said her tears stained the beautiful fountain pen ink letter from her widowed friend. Pat found herself and her teacher friends dancing at “Dime a Time” fundraisers at the USO events for the thousands of B-17 pilots departing to Europe, from the base in Grand Island.
The war ended and my mom married my dad Bill. They had met at a church picnic in Colorado Springs— and Connie met Arthur, who had returned from the battles in Europe. Bill and his brother started a business in Pueblo, and Arthur became a ‘Bobby’ in London. The letters continued about once a month and soon they were talking about their growing families.
A very early memory I have is a package arriving at Christmas time full of treats, Rupert Comic books, and the smells of a foreign country. I do know that when I was about five, we sent Godfrey Superman comics, saltwater taffy, and books for the adults. The exchange of packages came every year.
In 1953, we got a wonderful surprise package that had all sorts of Queen Elizabeth II Coronation memorabilia. It included a sterling silver replica of the Coronation Carriage. It is proudly displayed in MK’s shadow box in our hallway. About 15 years ago Connie called my mom to tell her that

she saw on the UK’s version of ‘Antique Roadshow’ that one just like it was worth a large chunk. Queen Elizabeth was truly one of the “Greatest of the Greatest Generation”. Mom and Connie shared a deep respect for her and the way she lived across half of one century and well into another.
They both had the privilege of meeting face to face. First in England, and then in the US during the 90’s. I will never forget Connie telling my kids at the dining room table about D-Day. “I was out hanging laundry on the clothes line and then hundreds of planes began to fly over. I knew it was the invasion. I just prayed for all those young men, as I knew many would not come home”. That Sunday, Arthur read the scriptures at FCC in Alamosa. Richard Burton would have done no better.
One last word on Queen Elizabeth. I was not prepared for the depth of grief I experienced as I watched her amazing life reviewed. I thought often of the pen pals who walked their lives with her. For them she was more than a hero or role model, she was truly a queen who was a mom.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Bill Pumphrey would have been 100 Today

My dad, William Charles Pumphrey aka “Bill” was born August 27, 1922. He lived until he was 77. Many of us who knew and loved him wondered if he had not smoked for 58 years, how long he might have lived. Oh well, his words to me on the 50th anniversary of D-Day: “Mark, I have had a great life. The heros in WWII were the ones who did not get to come back. I came back to Colorado, met your mom, had four great kids, eight grandkids, loved my business, got to travel a lot and enjoyed my life”. Bill, was a glider pilot in The War. He was an instructor at the glider base in Alliance, Nebraska. During the first 24 hours of the Normandy invasion 25% of the glider pilots were killed. My dad knew many of them.
“The next day after D-day they shut the base down and sent the rest of us to England. Six weeks later I was in Holland.” I later found out that he had one combat mission and when they landed the territory was already secured. “What did you do then”? I asked. “Well, they made me a co- pilot on C-47 transport planes. We flew supplies up to the front line.”
“Like what”? I naïvely asked. “Oh, gasoline, ammo, food, water, fresh troupes. Then we often brought the wounded back”. “Did you ever get shot at”? … stupid me. “Oh yes, every day. The hard part was in the briefing room where there would be empty desks from the day before. We knew what that meant”.
My sister Rita called my dad, “The bravest man I ever knew”. I am not sure that I knew any braver myself. He never drew attention to himself, unless of course he was wearing wild Bermuda shorts, with some crazy 1960’s print shirt. When he discovered “Jump Suits” he thought he had died and gone to fashion heaven. He seriously wore a camouflage jump suit to church once in Alamosa because we were headed fishing right after the services.
My dad loved to fish. When I was four he took me on “opening day” which used to be Memorial Day weekend. This is TRUE— I caught five brook trout on my own and I have the 8mm movie to prove it. As all of his grandkids can attest, that he was way happier if we caught more fish than if he did. His fishing moved from fly fishing, to bank fishing, to fishing off a boat. Up until the year he died he spent hours at Lake Pueblo with any grandkid he could round up, or by himself. My mom said, sometime after his death, “I would love to know what he thought about all those hours”.

He was be best read man I have ever known and he integrated that into a world view that was ever expanding. I never once ever, heard him say a judgmental thing about anyone. He almost always got the Final Jeopardy answer right no matter what the category. He was the one that said to me in the 1990’s “The marriage between the Republican Party and Right wing religion is a marriage made in HELL. It will will be the undoing of both of them”. We are watching it happen before our eyes. He was both a Republican and a Christian and the idea of Christian Nationalism was what he faced with the millions of other young soldiers, in the Nazis.
Well, enough of the serious stuff. I was blessed with a father who was— quirky, OCD, loving, funny, brilliant, kind, generous, and if my sister Rita was right, the bravest man she had ever known. She should know because he wore ‘night gowns’ and once he came down the street to bring her home way past her curfew, yes, wearing his night gown.
Happy Birthday “Wild Bill P.” Onward and Upward,

Annual Meetings

I am certainly an extrovert, and that would be no surprise to those of you who know me. If it’s a gathering of folk I generally like to be there. I am most always up for meeting new people so sitting at a table of strangers lights me up. Today my “development” had its annual meeting. They bribed us with free food and bingo. We got the usual handouts of financial reports and projects as we came in to the meeting. I braced myself for the questions that come from the personalities that like to “pick the pepper out of the fly poop”. The “nitpickers” did not disappoint and provided me with— “I have been studying the sprinkler system flow and I will be bringing the board my personal study” or “I think they could do a better job weeding the 3rd roundabout”.
After the presentation on the “business” they opened the “feed line” and the masses lined up to eat the “bribe”. MK was graciously getting food for two, as I don’t do well in buffet lines with my cane—(a very painful concession to state of affairs). I found myself sitting with a recently widowed woman who provided me with real conversation. Her comment to me was “These meetings are always the same, I think some people like to hear the sound of their voice”. I said, “Have you ever been to annual meeting at a church”? She gave me a knowing laugh.
The truth is, being part of a volunteer board can be very important. So much of what makes things work are done by countless volunteers. I have spent my working life on both sides of the equation. I have greatly depended on boards to do ‘the work’ in positions where I am paid. I have also found myself on a wide variety of boards which I still enjoy. Yes, the work can be tedious, frustrating and even irritating. However, the board “heard” my hope that they would keep lap-swimming going through September. A board member came up to me and said with a wink, “We are going to see what we can do”.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Testing Chaos Theory

One of my secret pleasures during this Covid mess: about once a month in a Starbucks drive through I pay for the person behind me. It is truly a random act, with the hidden agenda of trying, in a very small way, to redirect a tiny piece of the universe. Chaos theory says that a butterfly meandering through the Amazon can affect us. So, this is my shot at trying to affect change. I am always careful to zip away as they are picking up their order. I need no thank you. My joy comes in making up stories about how a free Mocha Frappuccino might land in the lap of someone who just needs a boost.
I know there is a Netflix series in this plot, but I take more joy in just making up my own plots of how a random trip through a drive through, shifted anger to gratitude. I have being doing this about two years, and it’s never premeditated, but rather, raw impulse.
Fridays I usually spend the morning gathering with a few kindred spirits at Cherry Creek State Park. I swing by the same Starbucks so than I can get a fresh drink to take to the gathering. The woman at the window who almost always greets is named “Shorty”. Shorty always remembers my name and to be in her presence is to feel important. Yesterday, after getting my Venti Iced Coffee with a pump of mocha and coconut milk. I told Shorty I was paying for the guy behind me who was alone in modest Toyota. She hit the pay button and said, “Well Mark, this is over $23– do you still want to pay”? I thought for a moment knowing I had $25left on the card and said—“Sure, I can’t back out now”. I took my exit and thought, “Who knows what all he got”.
Well, when I got to the park the receipt came up on my Starbucks app. I opened it and the app showed me the entire order. There were two fancy drinks and two breakfast sandwiches. I have no idea who he is, but I know exactly what he and a mystery guest had for breakfast. I went in and checked the balance on my account—$1.56. I had more left than I thought. So much of my life has been shaped by the generosity of others. Every dime I have made in 45 years of pastoral ministry has been given to me by others. That is not lost on me. When I see a guy on dialysis, in a wheel chair, sitting on the front row of church making sure his offering is given, it makes me want to be present to the work I am still doing.

Some would call this ‘paying it forward’— that works sort of. For me its not so much about paying but passing. Paying has an expectation with it. “I give, I get”. There is another kind of giving—“I give because I have been given to”. Well, next month I will have a reloaded Starbucks card and when the impulse strikes I will get to play this game one more time. Maybe behind me will be a 3/4 ton diesel truck with two American flags and MAGA stickers and the nudge of that spirit that never lies will say, “Alright Mark, pony up”!!!
Onward and Upward, Mark


For years I never gave the month of August much credit. What I remember is that it signaled the end of summer break and going back to school. About the best thing I do remember is that in Pueblo the end of August meant that the State Fair was running. I can still smell the corn dogs, the rabbit pavilion and the unmistakable accent of the announcer at the rodeo. Somewhere in the that last 30 years or so, I began to appreciate all the special joys of August.

Yes, August brings the birthday of my step-daughter Faith, my Uncle Paul just turned 96, my granddaughter Michaela turned 27 and at the end of the month my dad would have turned 100. On Monday, August 1, I picked up a 35 years of Sobriety chip at the mother ship of recovery in the West— York Street.

On August 11th the king of homegrown Colorado produce, Dominic DiSanti—lead farmer of DiSanti farms, tells me that is the day that all of the vegetables, save green chili, are at their peak. We will be making a road trip to Pueblo to stock up on corn, squash, tomatoes, melons, beets, carrots, cucumbers, onions, and big hugs from this wonderful family. I will also receive my order of a lug of Palisade peaches from the Western slope. I would put up a Colorado peach against any peach from Georgia.

On or about August 23rd there will be a shift in the weather. This phenomenon has been noted by a number of my friends. It is subtle, but there is a turn towards autumn that is palpable. The air feels and smells different. The next three plus months are heaven. Warm days, and cool nights. The trees signaling the long rest of winter. August is a pivotal month. We still get the many gifts of summer, but the monsoon moisture comes in the form of powerful but short lived afternoon showers.
I have been converted to being an August lover. It’s a month to savor and enjoy. And I promise you this— the sweet corn from Pueblo will stand up to anything from Iowa or Olathe.
Onward and Upward, Mark

How did You ever end up as a Minister???

Tomorrow July 31 will mark exactly 45 years of ordained ministry for me. This past month I went to a reunion where I was with people that have known me since 1967. More than once I had the sincere question posed to me, “Mark, I admit I never saw you as a minister. How did that happen”? I am never offended by the question, in fact I have wondered the same thing. My answer was usually something like this—“Well, neither did I. It was sort of an experiment that worked. I backed into ministry”. The one thing I was never going to be was a local church pastor. Well, six local churches later I admit I was mistaken.
The irony of my 41 years of life in the local church is that I love it. My greatest fear about “the still small voice of a call” was that if I was a pastor I couldn’t be who I really was. Well, with some loving guard rails I have managed to be “me”. I call myself a narrative theologian. Simply stated, “the divine is revealed and encountered through story”. So whether it is through preaching or listening to another’s story, the mystery of loving connection comes.
In these 45 years I have served in the following roles— Institutional chaplain at the Enid State School, associate minister at Central Christian Church, Pueblo, senior pastor at First Christian Church in Alamosa, and then as a ‘yoked pastor’ also serving the First Christian Church of Monte Vista. Then, moving on from “The Valley”, I served nearly 18 years as the senior pastor of South Broadway Christian Church in Denver. I failed retirement, and went to work as a Lyft driver following a three month stint as an interim at First Christian in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In 2017 I became ‘pastoral duct tape’ at the First Christian Church of Greeley—I am now well into my 6th year there.
In the great imagination of God, I found my way into a life where I can honestly say “I love what I have been able to do”. A local church pastor who is connected with their congregation is much like the family doctor. I get to be with people at every twist and turn of life. Ministry is not about having answers but being present to life, grace, pain, sorrow, joy, transitions, birth, death, and having fun living with people on the journey.
I am a blessed man because I have been able to live my life doing what I love to do. Onward and Upward,

Camp Runamuck II

“Camp Runamuck” was a sitcom that ran for one year in 1966. I was a senior in HS then but since I had spent about 20 weeks of my life in one camp or another I truly found it fun. Camp Runamuck was the boys camp and across the Runamuck River was the Camp Devine— yes the girls camp. Runamuck was run Commander Wivenhoe— who could not stand kids. This week with the help of my daughter Amy, son-in-law Christian and my Nephew Jed and his “gift from God” wife Allie, we pulled off a family vacation where the 10 of us managed to negotiate five days of continuous ‘family time’. The kids ranged from 7-18 which provides a challenge of its own.
We did everything from karaoke, to floating the San Jaun River. I had not been in that close company with kids for a while. Anytime I head into a family event there is the fantasy vs. reality of the experience. This time my reasonably high hopes were exceeded by reality. I think my favorite times were the meal times when we would circle the table and spend a couple of hours telling stories—the kids were great contributors. The best story was about my great nephew Weston and the day he cut his own hair. Of course the video of his conversation with his dad Jed, that we watched about 5 times on the iPad, helped.
Our 13 year old granddaughter on the second day went into the “I am bored” whine of young teen. Grandma Mary Kay headed off to Walmart and returned with a ‘needle point’ kit which Zoe had never done. By Saturday she was well on her way to a pretty nice still-life. Her cousin Emily —aged 9– showed up that day and wanted to join in the effort. She took right off on her project. The great part is that they were part of the group as they stitched away.
We stayed connected for five days ( yes I did have my own napping cave and lap pool). My son in law Christian was ordered by wife Amy that he was going for the week. He is in the midst of opening the first ever brewery in Hood County, Texas. His 60 hour weeks were taking its toll. I bet he spent five hours a day on the east facing deck where he got the beautiful mountain mornings and the shady afternoons. I literally watched the stress fall off him through the week.
I don’t want this week to sound too copacetic— there were tears, time outs, spills, debates about the “real facts” of passed events. More than once the order was given, “I don’t care what you want to do do get in the van and lets go”. We were certainly aware that there were gaps in our attendance as my sister Rita (Jed’s mom) and Dave were on Covid lock down which is par for the course in any family event in 2022.
Last night before dinner there were numerous conversations and kid noises going on all at once for at least 20 minutes. It was the noise of joy and connection. Yes it was a raucous cacophony which sounded like love. Today I came to the gathering place to say goodbye— I was hugged and loved by every one of them. Today my six hour drive home was fueled by knowing that sometimes things really do turn out even better than expected.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Fun Valley

There are those movies you can watch every year and laugh at the right spots, even knowing exactly what is coming. The 1983 “Vacation” by National Lampoon is one of those movies. Little did I realize that three years after it’s release I would be moving to the heart of where much of the story takes place—the San Luis Valley. The “old Sonic Drive-In” in Alamosa’s stall #14, was the exact spot where Chevy Chase and his family had one of their classic scenes on their way to Wally World. If you remember this all takes place in their ‘pea-green’ monster station wagon. The 11 years we lived there, from 1986-97, that slot was the prized space for “Happy Hour” and cherry limeade with a large order of tater tots and onion rings. Somehow, to be seen in the same slot that made “Vacation” a cult favorite, made one feel special, even in the midst of nowhere.
One of the next scenes takes place near South Fork, Colorado at a Kamp Komfort— which is really “Fun Valley”. Fun Valley is at the base of Wolf Creek Pass headed west. Every time I drive by it in the summer its allure escapes me. Yesterday I saw at least 400 RV’s that run in size from the 14 ft variety to the 50 ft land yachts. They were packed in this area along the South Fork of the Rio Grande River. Looking down at the scene it reminds one of something you might see in New Delhi. The only difference is that the backdrop is the wondrous San Jaun mountains and the crystal clear river running by.
I realize I might be stepping on some road warrior toes, but for the life of me I cannot see why someone would load up their $100,000 fifth wheel to go spend a week crammed in something less than a ghetto for aluminum homes on wheels, and a couple of thousand strangers playing horseshoes, bingo or firing up 300 barbecue grills. I never go by that place that it is not packed with “fun seekers”. Back when I could, my idea of camping was backpacking with a group of friends and getting as far away from traffic, streets, and civilization as we could. I guess “Fun is where you find it”— “to each his own’. Fun Valley must be fun for folks who like to bring the suburbs in a very condensed version to a backdrop of mountain splendor.
As I was driving into South Fork on our way to Pagosa Springs I noticed a huge construction project. It is a new RV camping park that will dwarf Fun Valley. There will be spots for 100’s of RVs along with maybe 50 tiny home

style cabins. On a day when the heat index in Ft. Worth is 111’ I guess I can see why sitting on your ‘pull out’ porch in 78’ Colorado July might sound good. As for me I go to Texas in either October or April—and I have plenty of fun.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Enid America

A crossword favorite is: “A four letter city in Oklahoma”— Enid. My first trip to the heart of the Cherokee Strip was in 1966. I went there on a recruiting trip to ‘check out’ Phillips University. I was certain that I would NOT GO THERE, however the charm, warmth and academics took me out of Colorado. I began my freshman year in the fall of 1967 and thus began a 55–year connection with a city of 60,000, whose skyline had not mountains but massive grain elevators.
My most recent trip there was to attend the 100th anniversary of Gridiron Club—which I pledged in 1968. Believe it or not, Phillips once had a stellar football team which recorded a 10-0 victory over the University of Texas “Longhorns”. For whatever reason I began to keep count of my trips back and forth from Colorado to Oklahoma. After completing 20 round trips to finish my doctorate from 92-95, I had logged 115 trips. This means that I burned up a good car in the Panhandle of Oklahoma. In 55 years I have watched farms melt into the ground as they have been abandoned, while at the same time thousands of wind turbines have sprouted along the route.

I have a love/hate relationship with Enid. I have made great friendships there, I have three degrees from all things Phillips, yet there are times I found its myopic, parochial, conservative politics, shallow and selfish. A few months ago we had new neighbors move in across the street. He was a retired history professor with a PhD from Oklahoma State. In our first meeting I asked him if he knew my favorite Phillips U. history prof, and he quickly responded “It was a well known fact among educators in Oklahoma that in the last half of the 20th century, Phillips University was the best school in that part of the country”.

Fate and Enid provided me with two children, four nephews, and two handfuls of grandkids. It was the place of memories of great joy and deep sorrow… such is any place that matters. I plan to visit there again this fall where I am going to this beautiful farm and watch my friend Mark’s bird dogs show off.
Oh yes—Enid got the nickname “Enid America” from John Denver when he walked out in 1972 to a packed auditorium and said, “Hello Enid America”. In that very same space I saw Linda Ronstadt, Lilly Tomlin, and

Sugarloaf play… and believe it or not I was a cowboy dancer in “Destry Rides Again”!!!
Tomorrow is July 4th—From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam…we are blessed. Whether that be at a baseball game in Enid or cooling off in the mountains at Pagosa Springs (that’s me bragging), we are one nation still trying to live out this gift we call America.
Onward and Upward, Mark


“Green and Gold our colors bold we honor faithfully, here’s to you Old Franklin, Elementary”. The lines from one of the many songs I learned singing from the back row of the Ben Franklin Elementary Choir. The highlight of the beginning of my choir career was being part of a “living Christmas Tree”, which was filled with about five tiers of kids singing their hearts out. I loved to sing especially when part of a group.
In 8th and 9th grade I had the best choir teacher ever—Mike Stefanic— who filled us with stories about growing up in Crested Butte, Colorado, where they would often ski off the second story on their snow bound home. I can still sing a number of the Rogers and Hammerstein songs we learned for the all school talent show. I am not sure why but when I hit high school I dropped choir, probably because I thought I was too cool.
I did not pick up singing in a choir until 1987 when we formed a choir at First Christian in Alamosa. I even took voice lessons from the choir director where I learned “Caro Mio Bene” by Mozart. Singing in Italian was a challenge but it was fun. From 94-97 we combined choirs from the Alamosa and Monte Vista churches— which was double the fun. The choirs would join about twice a month sharing in worship 19 miles apart.
When I got to South Broadway CC in Denver in 1997, we were able to grow the choir from about 10 to 25. One Christmas we combined with three other churches and pulled off a mighty fine cantata. When I retired in 2015 my choir days went on the shelf. All of this background leads me to a tribute I want to make today, to a man we had a memorial service for, at First Christian Church in Greeley.
I went to Greeley FCC in early 2017 to help them transition. Five years later we are still transitioning. Soon I joined their choir. I found myself sitting next to Gary D, who I soon realized was the best bass with whom I had ever sang. It turns out he had degrees in choral music and had been singing longer than I had been alive. One night I said to Gary, “Feel free to coach or critique me as I have never sang next to somebody who was so accomplished”. We slowly became a part of the best men’s section with whomI have ever sung.

I have heard it said, “When you sing you pray twice”. Today I was part of a combined choir that sang one of Gary’s favorite anthems. There is no more beautiful instrument than the combination of human voices. Something happens when they are joined together and life and love fills the space.
Thanks Gary, for your patience and making me a much better baritone. Onward and Upward,