One of my friends from High School, Steve, was attending college in Enid, Oklahoma, where he met and got engaged to a fellow student named Joy Riffle, the daughter of the mayor of Enid; Harley Riffle. Steve was going to school full time and working at Sears in Enid full time to pay for his education, so he didnâ€™t have much spare time to drive back to Colorado for visits to his parents. One Thanksgiving season Steve worked extra hours at Sears before the Thanksgiving holiday so that he could finally come visit his parents.
So, after having worked a double shift, he drove from Enid, Oklahoma to Pueblo and arrived only to be told the moment he entered his parents door that while he had been enroute, his future father in law had suddenly passed away from a heart attack. Steve came to me to ask me if I would be willing to drive him back immediately to comfort his fiancĂ©. I grabbed a grocery bag, threw in a couple changes of clothes, called my job at McDonalds to tell them I would be gone for a week or so. They said no. So I quit, because my friend that needed my help.
Steve lived on campus at Phillips University which didnâ€™t allow for overnight guests, however his future mother in law and newly widowed woman asked me to stay in the guest room of their luxury home. I grew up poor, and never been inside such a beautiful home, let alone be invited to stay. I was now jobless, so there was no hurry to get back to Pueblo, and ironically, there werenâ€™t any of their family members to welcome visitors who dropped by to pay their respects.
Mrs. Riffle asked me to receive any visitors and offer coffee, tea, or food which was being delivered by the car load. Mrs. Riffle stayed in her bedroom weeping and mourning. Steve and his fiancĂ© spent all their time away from the house to avoid having to deal with so many visitors and try to be cordial in a terrible circumstance. So here I was at age 19 greeting total strangers into the house of grief, and accepting their condolences, cards, and flowers, and food on behalf of a grieving family I also didnâ€™t know at all.
Two of the 100s of visitors became significant to me in the days and weeks to come. The first, was a well dressed man who said he and Mayor Riffle had been good friends and gave his name to me as David Hall. I told him that Mrs. Riffle didnâ€™t wish to receive any visitors, and that I was merely a guest by circumstance. He asked if it would be okay if he just hung out for a while in case Mrs. Riffle came out for a bite to eat or a drink of water. I obliged, and there sitting in the living room the two of us; a 19 year old kid and a business man with nothing to talk about.
Mr. Hall asked about me, and relevant questions as to how I came to be the ambassador to a family I didnâ€™t know. He told me several stories about his friendship with the recently deceased mayor. We must have talked for hours and hours until he said he should probably leave and get back to work. As he was leaving I asked if he had a business card or something that I could give Mrs. Riffle so she would know that he cared enough to stay to pay his respects. He handed me his card which said â€śDavid Hall, Governorâ€ť. I looked not fully grasping, and he said, â€śIâ€™m the Governor of Oklahomaâ€ť.
I was impressed that a man that important would spend so long with me, a poor dumb kid from Colorado. He said he was impressed with me and would like to spend more time to get to know me.
The second influential person I met was an elderly Aunt of the widow who arrived the day before the funeral, and stayed in the second guest room. She was an incredibly spiritual woman who spent hours and hours with me. She really inspired me a lot. On the day of the funeral Mrs. Riffle asked if I would escort her and sit with her at the funeral. I couldnâ€™t imagine why she would ask me and not her future son in law, my friend Steve.Â She insisted that I be the one, so I did.
Going to the funeral of a total stranger is an awkward experience, but to have the widow clinging to me as we entered the packed church and the looks of surprise from people who clearly had no idea who I was made feel really intimidated. It was the largest funeral I had ever witnessed. The church had a capacity of thousands and was filled to standing room only, with hundreds more standing outside in reverence. The 6 or 7 mile drive to the cemetery was free of all traffic, every single car was parked along the side of the road in both directions with thousands of people lining the roadway. I thought that the man must have been truly loved by so many people to warrant this kind of response.
After 3 months in Enid I made one good friend, and took a full time job at a newly opened Winchells Donut shop, but McDonaldâ€™s called and asked if I would please come back to Pueblo to manage one of their outlets, so I quit the donut shop, said goodbye to my new friend Maggie Houston, and took a flight back to Pueblo to manage a McDonalds.
I had grown fond of Enid, Oklahoma, and had spent many more hours with the Governor getting to know each other well, we had become unlikely friends. I had also spent so much more time with that elderly Aunt that I came to love her as dearly as my own Aunt Mary who was a missionary in the jungles of the Amazon in Brazil.
I missed my new friends from Oklahoma and kind of latched on to an older guy who worked for meat McDonaldâ€™sÂ as kind of a father figure. He had two sons my age who became like brothers to me. John Krupka, his wife, and his sons became like family. If I was off work and they were off work, we were at Johns house watching football or playing a board game. I felt so much at home with them. I grew to truly love the entire Krupka family.
Late one night, after the brothers and Mrs. Krupka had gone to bed John asked me to stick around and watch TV because he said he knew he wouldnâ€™t be able to sleep. We watched until midnight or so until the tv station went off air, and as I got up to leave, John reached into the seat cushion of the sofa and pulled out a pistol and put it to his temple.
I was stunned! What the heck? Why? John began weeping and saying he was an alcoholic and that his family deserved better than him. I begged and pleaded with him to give me the gun, please donâ€™t do this. I told him that he was the father I wished I could have. Nothing. Finally , in desperation, I told John that Jesus Christ could fix everything if he would only tell God everything he just told me and ask for Christ to save him.
To my absolute amazement, that did the trick. John handed me the gun and dropped to the floor in a mass of weeping agony and despair. I ran and woke his family, and we all escorted John to the hospital, where I visited him every single day for a month. He became a devout Christian, stopped drinking and lived happily until a very old age, and got to know his grandchildren.
But God wasnâ€™t done. I couldnâ€™t justify to myself why Jesus Christ was such a great idea to help John Krupka when I myself hadnâ€™t bothered to receive Christ. So, after about a month of the inner conflict I decided it was time I took my own advice, and I too accepted Christ on October 20, 1973 at age 20.
*In researching this for relevant links I looked up former mayors of Enid, Oklahoma and Riffle is NOT listed! So who was this guy anyway? Â Why did my friend tell me he was mayor if that wasn't the case? Why was he so beloved by so many?Â
It took all the tragedy of my youth, the death of a total stranger, the influence of an elderly woman I didnâ€™t know, and a state Governor, and the love a family I cared for, the suicide of an elderly man I love, and the near suicide of a man who was like a father to me to finally get me to accept the free gift of salvation and glory in Christ.
We all have our own story to tell. I donâ€™t think my own story is more significant than yours. My hope and prayer is that no matter how bad things get in our lives, my own testimony is that God is loving enough and powerful enough and wise enough to fix even the most horrible situations to bring us into the Kingdom.
Thank you Lord, for your son Jesus, who took the burden of my sins so that I could live in your Kingdom in happiness and joy forever.
In love and service,