High school years are never easy, but some find them harder than others. Such was the case with my friend Kevin. Kevin came from a large family and had both energy and mischief to burn. The fall of 1976 was one of those periods when he was having a particularly hard time with school, authority figures and life in general. Kevin had lived in our small town and the associated Bible school and community long enough to really know the lay of the land. He attended PHS for the second semester of his grade eleven year, had struggled with authority and had been asked not to return in the fall. Kevin had wanted to go to PHS to get away from his parent's authority, but it was like jumping straight out of the frying pan and into the fire! That summer he wrote a long letter of remorse to the dean and the school decided to let him come back for his grade twelve year.
As fate would have it, that September, a fellow by the name of Cameron enrolled in our school and joined our grade ten class. Cameron was at least eighteen and unknown to any of us, had already been in trouble with the law. The reality of the situation was probably that Cameron had been "sent" to our school to try and help reform him and get him on the straight and narrow. This was fairly common in those days and often introduced students into our midst that were wise beyond their years and probably not the best influence on their fellow students. Now, an eighteen year old hardly fits in with a grade ten class of fifteen and sixteen year olds so Cameron struck out to find more suitable companions. As the old saying goes, "Birds of a feather flock together"; Cameron and Kevin made a fine pair as they dreamed up their next adventure.
Kevin came down with the flu and was admitted to the campus infirmary. While there, he managed to steal some pain pills from the dispensary. After he was discharged from the infirmary, he and Cameron would take the pills and stay up all night. They hung out, walked around, and tried to stay out of sight of the night watchmen. One night, they stumbled across a big ring of keys that were lost or possibly misplaced by the night watchmen or some other staff member. PBI had a graded system of keys. Some were keyed for limited access to individual rooms, departments, etc. Others were master keys and would allow access to the entire campus. The boys tried a few doors and found out that they could get into any building on campus. They had in their possession a master key! The question became, which buildings should they conquer?
In 1976, the campus of Prairie Bible Institute was BIG. It comprised 120 acres, over 300 staff, close to 1000 students and several dozen departments that did everything from pasteurizing milk from the farm, to selling groceries, gas and books. Kevin knew the layout and the culture well. He knew that every night the night watchmen made their rounds of the campus. It was basically the same route night after night. You could almost set your watch by these guys, especially when they would open up the Dining Hall for a round of grub in the middle of the night! Kevin also knew there were a half dozen sources of revenue on the campus and at certain times these locations were completely unmanned. The Staff Store, Bookroom, and Post Office became their targets that fateful night.
As it turns out their timing could not have been better. The chosen time for their misdeeds coincided nicely with preparations for the annual fall missionary conference. This world renowned conference ran from early Thursday morning through Sunday evening. Several thousand people would gather in the large Tabernacle and partake of a full program of speakers, missionaries and music. The Friday evening before conference week was a perfect night for an adventure of this magnitude. As luck would have it, because of preparations for the conference, the department heads had not been able to take their cash to the central cashier's wicket at the closing of Friday's business. This was where all of the accounting for the school was undertaken. A further bonus was that they would probably not miss anything until Monday when they returned to work. At each location the boys were met with a whack of cash. Remember this was before credit and debit cards were de riguer. Before they knew it they had amassed several thousand dollars and several hundred postage stamps. I'm not sure what they were planning to do with the stamps, but I feel quite confident in saying it wasn't to mail out a prayer letter.
Now what should they do? It was decided that they should hide the money and lay low for a few days.
The boys decided that they would stash the cash in the false ceiling of the ladies restroom on the third floor of the main classroom building. Sneaking into the restroom, standing on a toilet seat, they quickly lifted the panel and the bag of cash was safe and sound. Cameron had cooked up a plan to steal a vehicle and head for Toronto where he assured Kevin that he knew some people who could fix them up with new ID's. Kevin may have been foolish and under the influence, but even to him that didn't sound like a good plan. Kevin talked Cameron into sticking around. No one knew anything, they were safe, he assured him.
Monday morning dawned and the tired staff made their way back to their various places of service. It didn't take long until the cry was sounded and the entire campus was buzzing with news of the "Great Robbery". Who could have done it? How did they know there was all this cash laying about? How was it that no one saw them? The questions came fast and furious. It seemed that no one knew anything, no one had seen anything, and the boys thought they were scott free!
Later that weekend, they were out walking around Three Hills and decided to check the town school and see if any doors were open. Maybe they figured they were on a roll, I don't know. They found a door that had been left open and went in. Once inside they broke into the school office. They were not able to find any money or anything to steal . . . bummer! Heading back to the dorm around 1:30 in the morning, they were walking through an alley when a policeman spotted them. He pulled into the alley and asked the boys what they were doing. There just happened to be a dog walking nearby so Kevin told him they were out walking their dog. The officer seemed to buy that and let them go on their way. The wheels started turning and the boys panicked. The realized that come morning, when the break in at the school was discovered, they would be remembered and identified. They decided to confess to the crime! This confession was only for the Three Hills school break in. They proclaimed their innocence about the break-ins at Prairie. The boys were expelled from PHS and a court date was set. Cameron left town to return home and get a job while he waited for the court date. Kevin waited for his parents to come down and pick him up.
In those days, attendance at all meetings was required. It was taken by row checkers who made sure your bottom was warming a hard wooden pew and if it wasn't, you were turned in to a higher authority who would then issue you a "D" , short for detention. An accumulation of D's earned you the right to perform some manual labor. This could take the form of painting in the campus boiler house, raking leaves, shoveling snow or whatever could be thought up to help you remember to behave yourself in the future. This row checker system had the added benefit of being able to scrutinize you to make sure you were wearing a tie and that you had a regulation hair cut. On the far side of the auditorium, (or "The Jordan" as it was called), the girls were going through a similar check for skirt length, make up, hairstyle, etc.
Kevin decided that he would attend one of the conference meetings that evening. He sat through a round of congregational singing, some special music, and announcements. Then it was the missionary's turn to speak. During the course of his talk he mentioned that on his way to the conference his car had broken down. He had to have it towed into town and was now facing large bills with no money to pay them.
They say that the Lord works in mysterious ways and at this juncture in time, Kevin was actually listening to the speaker! Maybe it was the mention of a car ( all things vehicles he loved ) that caught his attention or maybe it was this poor fellow's plight, I'm not really sure. After the main speaker and closing invitation and hymn, (which was likely multiple verses of Just As I Am), Kevin shot out of his seat, just as he was, and made his way to the front of the auditorium where the missionary was greeting people. He stood in line and when it was his turn to have a word, he mentioned that he just happened to know where a source of cash was that could help the critical situation with the man's vehicle. In hushed tones, Kevin instructed the missionary to help himself to as much cash as he needed and leave the rest there. He then gave the guy detailed instructions on how to find the location of this wonderful provision. Because Cameron had already returned home, it was impossible to check with him regarding this generous gesture, let alone the fact that their stash would be diluted due to Kevin's generosity. Be that as it may, Kevin heard the appeal, knew of a solution and went ahead and made the offer to the needy missionary.
Now it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that when you've been offered a nebulous amount of cash stored in such a dubious location as the ceiling of the ladies restroom, you may just have some reservations as to the source of these funds. The missionary was so stunned by the offer, he neglected to get the donor's name as Kevin quietly slipped back into the crowd. Shocked and a little bewildered, the missionary immediately hurried off to find the boy's dean whom he was sure could help shed some light on this curious situation. He quickly explained his recent conversation with a young high school student and then asked if there had been any missing money reported in the last few days. As a matter of fact there was! This certainly aroused the dean's curiosity. The dean and a couple of staff made their way to the secret location. Lo and behold, in the third floor ladies restroom, above stall three on top of the ceiling tile, was a canvas bag containing several thousand dollars and the stamps, just as the boys had left it. Taking the cash back to his office, the dean was just as puzzled as the missionary. After getting a description of the "donor", they returned to the conference.
The boy's dean, being a fairly savvy individual, immediately knew who the short list of suspects would be. He headed off to find the anonymous donor armed with a very good description from Mr. Missionary. The plot quickly unraveled. This time the police were called and charges were laid against both boys. Cameron, because of his prior record, was sent back to prison and Kevin was placed on probation.
The story does not end there. I have known Kevin almost my entire life, and although he had struggles through some of those years and went through some very rough patches, through God's grace and mercy, his life was turned around. Transformed, Kevin is married to a wonderful lady. Together they have a great family and have become grandparents in recent years. Our families are good friends and to this day Kevin is one of the most generous people you will ever meet. He would do anything to help you including giving you the shirt off his back.
Like back in '76, Kevin knows that it is "much better to give than to receive".
Names have been changed to protect the guilty! "Kevin" is in no way trying to run or hide from his past. He actually asked me to use his real name in this story, but because of not being able to get the same permission from Cameron, I changed them both. Cathy has often told "Kevin" and his wife that they should write their story, as it is amazing in so many ways. What I have recounted here is just a small glimpse.
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.