Back in 2014, when my friend Arel was just 99, he thanked me for a sermon I preached on the Armor of God. I replied, “It looks like you’ve got your armor on, Arel.”
He replied, “Well, it’s pretty dented up.”
Perhaps, but our church is excited about Arel’s upcoming 100th birthday party! We plan to polish up his armor with lots of love and maybe a little roasting while we’re at it.
A century ago, on April 23, 1915, Victor Arel Henry was welcomed into this world in Texline, Texas, by Earnest and Mary Henry. The Henrys lived in New Mexico, but soon moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1921, a riot destroyed over a thousand Tulsa homes as Earnest hid for three days in a grain elevator. So they resettled in Bonanza, Colorado, where Arel’s dad heard there was a place called Clarkston, Washington, where you could grow anything—a virtual “Garden of Eden.” So when Arel was eight, they packed up the ol’ Model-T and moved to the Lewis-Clark valley where Earnest began growing vegetables. 92 years later, Arel still thinks this valley is a “the best place in the world.”
Around 1935, Arel entertained the notion of becoming a hobo. One spring day, without telling anyone, he began walking from Clarkston Heights toward the Orchards in Lewiston, Idaho. A little hitch-hiking and some train hopping later, he showed up in Oklahoma to see his grandmother. He worked all summer with relatives in New Mexico and finally turned toward home in the fall. Along the way, in Colorado, his lack of a coat became an issue. One night he begged for a bed in a local jail and they let him have one. Despite being sick and hungry, he made it to Lewiston where Earnest spotted him on the side of the road and took him home. Thus, it was early in life that Arel learned it is better to work than be a hobo.
And work he did, well into his 70s.
Arel is what we call a “BRC-squared” church member (born and raised in the Church of Christ). For 100 years, he has passed through church doors three times a week, except when on the road. He met his future wife, Grace, at the Lewiston Church of Christ. They married in 1939 and stayed hitched until Grace passed away 71 years later.
Arel worked with his hands. Farming and sawyer work drew Arel and Grace to three states while raising five children: Jan, Jim, Larry, Tom, and Dan. Beginning in Lewiston, they resettled in Wallowa, OR, Steamboat Springs, CO, and Kuna, ID, before returning to Lewiston where they built a home in the Orchards. Later, at 62, Arel gave up the saw mill to take up trucking for the next 13 years.
When the 21st century arrived, Arel was 85. His son Jim took him up the North Fork of the Clearwater River where they hiked the Nub. That’s a 5,000 foot climb over 5 miles, one way. Arel did not quite make it to the tip top but I think I’ll leave that detail out.
Amy Adams, of Lewiston, recalls how her granddad delivered Meals on Wheels for “old” people until he was about 90. She describes Arel as gentle and kind, contrasting the stereotypical old man who gets cranky with age.
Arel loves to sing. He led his church in singing for decades but his song-leading days were behind him when I arrived as the new minister in 2011. One Sunday, I preached on the topic of singing praise to God. Arel thanked me in tears. He later explained that after nearly a century of listening, he had heard plenty of sermons against musical instruments but never one in full praise of singing.
Two years later, Arel hit another musical milestone—he danced! His dance partners were his great grandchildren. One of the band-members was his preacher, which Arel said later would not have amused his dad. Having been taught that dancing is wrong, Arel now thanks God for letting him live long enough to learn to enjoy such family-bonding opportunities guilt free.
Today, Arel listens to sermons with headphones but still sings the bass parts on key. He may not sing from the front or stand behind our pulpit, but his 100-year ongoing sermon may be the best one our church has seen. In the end, shiny armor is over –rated. I’d much rather fight the good fight alongside the guy whose armor is dented up.