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Clayton Knudtson – Class of 1953

Clayton Knudtson – Class of 1953

I have a two-fold reason for my sharing my story. First, is to extol a prayer attesting to God's goodness. Second, is to show that although God knows our needs before we speak, we need to seek His provision, His wisdom, and His grace.
In no way do I want this to be "braggadocio." I am not overly intellectual, and I am not a financial wizard. The new Vanguard University mantra is that Your Story Matters. I have found that to be true and would like tell mine to the supporters of this worthy institution...

On April 27, 1926, the cutest baby ever delivered at Trinity Hospital was born in Minot, North Dakota. After a year in the big city, I moved to an abandoned prairie cottage that my Dad renovated. We had nearly a section of pasture and grain-fields. The 1930's were very economically cruel. Those times make today's bad economy seem like paradise. One evening we had only garden tomatoes for supper. We had no seasoning, so my mother had me walk over the hills for half a mile to our neighbor to borrow a spoonful of salt. One Saturday night, we went to town and mother allowed me a treat - She gave me a quarter to get a nickel candy bar. When I went in, there was my cousin and her cute friends. Everyone laughed when I, a blond-headed farm boy in bib overalls, said, "Give me 3 Snickers!" (of course Mom nearly killed me for only getting a dime back). A nickel was a lot of money then.

I attended a consolidated school in Donnybrook seven miles from the farm for my first two years of school. Sometimes, I rode the school bus – covered wagon/sled drawn by a team of mules – about 2 ½ miles from the house. And other times, I stayed with my grandmother in a small village 4 miles closer to the school. My last six years of elementary school were spent at a country school which only had ten students, which was the amount of students the school needed to stay open. I remember the county school superintendent came for an inspection and joined us kids in drowning gophers at the end of the school day.

In the mid-30's, almost everyone was on Relief... except my Dad's parents. My Grandpa and Grandma were immigrants, and they were so proud to be in a new country and own free land that they refused any help. The federal government allotted food to everyone during that time. Honestly, I hated seeing and tasting the big brass colored #10 cans of mutton almost to this day.

The WPA provided jobs, so my Dad became the road superintendent. They created dirt and grass ditches. The workers were derided as Cal-Trans are today – they leaned on their shovels!

I went back to Donnybrook for High School. I worked very hard and made good grades. I was exempt from my Algebra finals and became Valedictorian of my Class of 1944 graduating class.

World War II was in full swing and shortly after graduation I was drafted. I joined the Navy and became part of the Great Lakes Naval Choir. We performed at various venues and sang over WGN Chicago. We even sang for President Roosevelt's funeral. I had the honor of a solo lead once, but I am embarrassed to say that I started out two notes ahead of everyone else! We sang for President Roosevelt's funeral.

When I finished Advanced Base Naval training in California (we landed the Marines on the islands), I missed foreign assignment twice. Once they started at "A" and stopped at Knudtson. The next time they started at "Z" and stopped at Knudtson. I am sure that all of my gear and my .30 caliber rifle are on the beach at Okinawa somewhere! All in all, God preserved me from going abroad.

Finally, I was sent to a base at San Pedro. From there I was put on the USS Alabama, which had just returned from the victory over Japan. One of my first assignments was a 2am watch near the very high radar antenna. One morning, when I was finished and went to bed?a series of bunks hung on chains? someone slapped my feet and shouted, "Get out of there, hit the deck!" It was another sailor who was drunk and had been demoted as far as you could go. I was not a Christian at the time, so my response was choice words telling him where he should go next. The next thing I knew, I was being awakened by a Chief Petty officer! I explained I had just got off a 4 hour watch, but he explained that the guy was actually his messenger. Therefore, when I insulted him, I was insulting the officer. Therefore, I was sent to serve permanent Kitchen duty from then on.

After messing up a pail of potatoes, the Cook asked that I relive the Baker who had just returned from liberty and wanted to sleep on the flour sacks. I was then put in charge of the bake shop. I had new sleeping quarters and was no longer a part of Division 5 that was in charge of the 5 inch cannon.

My bunk mate was a vocally impaired man from North Carolina. He had a Bible and always went ashore for church. It wasn't long until I joined Jones for church. One day, Jones brought some friends of his from church. Someone from the ship yelled, "Look! Jones is bringing ladies aboard." At the mention of female company, everyone scrambled to do whatever we could to help them down the ship's ladder and stairs... being gentlemen and holding their arms, of course.

The war had just ended but rationing was still in effect. I had access to the kitchen, so I was able to get a tin of pepper (impossible when ashore) and a cube of butter to send with the Ladies. Jones, in his Carolina slur, introduced me to his blonde friend, "Souf Dakota, I want you to meet Nofe Dakota!" This was my first meeting of Jeanne, my bride of 50 years and who died of brain cancer in 1993.

When I visited church again, they were in the midst of a Pentecostal revival. I was a bit scared at first. Later in the service, Jeanne's mother asked me, "Son, would you like to come up and give your heart to Jesus?" What a change! That was December 1945, and it gets better every year.

Do you think God knew about this when I missed the alphabetical ship-out list twice?
In March, my ship sailed to San Francisco but not before I asked Jeanne a very important question. And she answered Yes!

My Dad began correspondence with the two North Dakota senators. He claimed hardship because farm help was not available. Soon, both of those representatives contacted me. They asked if I would be able to help, but my time on the ship was still not over.

In my position as baker of the ship, people (even officers) would often beg for things like bread from me. I was used to seeing an officer next to me as I sat down near the entry hatch. One such time, I was tired and responded grumpily, "Yes, what do you want?" He responded, "If you knew what I had you wouldn't be so disrespectful." I immediately sprang to attention, and he handed me my discharge papers. He said he remembered the chaplain delivering my request. He laughed then because he thought such special delivery was not necessary. God definitely knew though!

I left the ship in Bremerton, Washington and after a detour to visit Jeanne in Long Beach, I went back to farming in North Dakota. As soon as the crop was in, I headed back to Long Beach and returned with Jeanne. Having no running water, no electricity, and no car was a definite contrast for this city girl. I went around town with my Farmall H tractor with Jeanne standing on the draw bar and her arms around my waist. Eventually, I purchased a Model A Ford sedan. Things continued to work in Jeanne's favor as I built a cistern beside the house and hand pump in the kitchen. Next, I put up a small tower on the roof, attached a carved wooden blade propeller to a 6-volt generator and produced electricity for a 6 volt bulb in all 4 rooms of the house.

We attended church in Minot about 37 miles away. I was elected Sunday school superintendent. On afternoon, the pastor and I drove to the little school house where I attended school. We started revival meetings with good attendance for such a thinly populated community.

Soon my parents who also moved to Minot became very active Christians, especially in evangelism. Mother was in charge of children's church. Dad became an active Gideon and traveled with R.G. Le Tourneau in his plane. He became president of the North Dakota Gideon's and taught personal evangelism in many churches in North Dakota and Montana. Sadly, Dad and Mother were traveling to a Railroad Evangelistic convention in Canada when an out-of-control car killed my Mom in 1977.

I had the opportunity to preach and teach at various churches from 1946-1948. In 1948, I went to Lee College in Cleveland, Tennessee. I was invited to speak at a few hill-country homes that housed such wonderful Bible loving people.

In 1949, I attended North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, Minnesota where my first son was born in the spring of 1950. I was the youth leader at the Church of God.

I stopped farming in 1950 and headed for California with all my worldly possessions, a wife, daughter, and son, in a pickup truck with a small house trailer.

I lived on Newport Blvd – now 55 freeway – from the present Vanguard University for two years. My Class of 1952 gave their class name – Vanguards – as their gift to Southern California Bible College. I graduated magna cum laude in 1952 and received another BA in 1953. I was president of the CoWeds Club of married college students. Richard Shakarian was a freshman when I graduated in 1953. His father was Demos. To supplement my Veteran's school aid, I worked an 8 hour swing shift with a two hour drive at Reeves Rubber Plant in San Clemente. Needless to say, after two years I almost had a nervous breakdown. In the summer of 1953, after completing degree work at Orange Coast Junior College, I hitched up my trailer and moved my family to Glendale where I taught at the Kahnack Academy where a former classmate, Richard Fort, was the principal.

Many of the kids attending Kahnack Academy were saved, and I baptized a couple of them. In 1955, when my son was attending kindergarten, his teacher taught a lesson on a "black heart." He woke me that night crying and said, "Dad, my heart is black. What should I do?" We knelt down on the bathroom rug and he asked Jesus for a cleansed heart. Praise God, he has kept it clean for 55 years!

By December 1954, my salary as Vice Principal was $30. To help ends meet, I continued my swing shift and worked weekends at Bellwood Door Co and at Rheems Barrel factory to put bread on the table. After two years, I became principal/superintendent, and my family moved into a house. During the harsh times, I didn't have gas to put in my vehicle. One of my teachers gave me a quarter; gasoline at was 23 cents.

In 1957, the first oil well in Ward County to my old farm in North Dakota. It lasted a short time but was exciting and helpful financially. I have a picture of a $50 check I received in May 1957. It was plugged and abandoned, but a new one was drilled in 1983 near my old barn. It is still a producer, but only profited about $800 in 2010. It is located on the edge of the biggest oil shale field in North America?the Baaken.

In spite of all the financial burdens, I still worked hard on my studies and received another BA from Los Angeles State College in 1960. Then, I earned a Master's Degree from LA State in 1965. In 1968, I received a Life Time Teaching Diploma from the state of California.

In 1961, I resigned my position at Kahnack, and taught 5th grade at Edison Elementary in Glendale. A year later, we sold our house and moved to Santa Ana after receiving a teaching appointment at Palisades School in Capistrano Beach.

I thank the Lord daily that I "tithed" my life directing Christian school. In 1974, I joined the Christian Campers Club led by Tom Rodgers. I became the president of the Orange county chapter and eventually the governor of the CA state group. Dale and Roy Rodgers sang at our California Christian Campers club Christmas banquet in 1987 while my wife Jeanne played piano for them.

My public school salary was quite good, so I started selling real estate. In 25 years, I owned apartments, rental houses, and dabbled in stocks and bonds. When my two boys came of age they started their own real estate businesses.

I helped plant several new churches in Santa Ana and Fountain Valley. Also, I had many mission experiences. I have helped finance radio broadcasts in Guatemala for over 15 years. My first trip to Guatemala was in 1988 with Wycliffe Bible Translators to learn about the progress of the translation into Tzutujil, the language of much of the country. I had lunch with President Rios Mont, who is famous for putting down the communist rebels. He described the battle with a map of the Americas as representing a human body and said, "Communists are a hemorrhoid that needs to be removed!"

I was with Wycliffe for the dedication of the new translation in 1993. While there I was part of a team that built homes for widows whose husbands had been slaughtered by the war.

I have traveled extensively in countries like Egypt, Greece, and Israel. I did a short medical mission in western India in 1004. I nearly died from 5 different bacteria after being rushed back to the USA to Kaiser Hospital – I had been in jungle and hill country.

I was honored in 1996 to be invited to speak at the Sunday ecumenical service at my high school reunion in Donnybrook to which even the local churches attended. Many of my relatives were also there. At the close, I recited the Sinners Prayer and invited all in the audience to join in silence or out loud. My uncle, who did not attend church, sat with a bowed head and prayed it with me. He died less than a year later.
I built a house in Shingletown, CA and helped start New Life Christian Center in 1990. I still have CD's of the concerts we hosted concerts from 1995-1997. I organized a neighborhood bank and called it Hilltop Harmony.

When my wife died in 1993, all of my property was divided into two Trusts. Each year I have to do a financial report. Remember my fabulous salary of $30 from December 1954? Well, the Lord has blessed me for a lot more than that now. The financial stress that I dealt with for so long has lessened considerably.

I thank God every day that He had other plans for me than a bullet on a foreign battlefield. Praise the Lord and to God be the Glory for his faithfulness today!

Clay Knudtson
Class of 1952