Going ahead like you’ve got good sense—part two

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series. Part one appeared in the March 28-April 3, 2007, issue.

Dennis LaRoque had balanced his life as a newlywed with an infant son and a promising career as an engineer at Alcoa in Indiana. When he was drafted into military service in 1970, new adventures began. Here is part two of his story.

Sitting on the peach-upholstered Victorian settee, Dennis LaRoque finished his oatmeal with raisins and his muffin, while we chatted in the beautiful, antique-filled parlor of the Beiderbecke Inn in Davenport, Iowa, where he and his wife Pam operate the historic bed and breakfast. He continued his story, relating how life changed after he was drafted in 1970.

“My number was 42,” he said. “I had looked into officer candidate school…and public health. Those didn’t work out. So, I said, we’ll go ahead like we’ve got good sense.”

He headed to Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri, the basic training ground for Korea because climates are similar.

Turmoil over Vietnam still raged, and Dennis had considered becoming a conscientious objector, but decided against it.

“I thought, I’ll just put my faith in God and see what happens,” he said. “God is a good God. He blessed us.”

He put in for radio repair, but they noticed his degree and asked if he’d thought about the Science and Engineering Corps.

“You had to have a master’s degree or six months experience,” he said. “I had worked exactly three months (that summer) and because the next year I was married, stayed in school, and didn’t work for anyone else. Alcoa picked up those three months and tacked it on to the front. I had exactly six months work experience.”

On the parade ground, practicing for final graduation ceremonies, the sergeant called Dennis out of line and sent him to talk to a civil servant.

“She must have been 105,” he said. “She said, ‘Sonny, I have a problem. I have a set of orders that says infantry and another set of orders that say Science and Engineer’s Corps. What do I do?’”

“I processed that for a few seconds,” Dennis said. “I want that one,” referring to the Science and Engineers’ Corp assignment.

He was stationed at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, and he was thrilled that his family was able to be there with him. Another surprise—he was even released early from this assignment, because of the exit strategy that the Army had to get troops out of Vietnam. Alcoa hired Dennis back, but it was Pittsburgh, not Davenport.

Daughter, Lisa, was born while they were in Pittsburgh. Then, they were transferred to Rockdale, Texas. In Rockdale, they adopted Robert. Pam had heard about hard-to-place children. Robert, a Mexican-American child, was classified as hard-to-place, and also has eye problems and mental disabilities.

“Robert has been a blessing…and a challenge…hyperactive, attention-deficit, and mentally disabled,” Dennis said.

They missed family in Davenport, and eventually succeeded in returning there.

The grandfather clock chimes sounded again, nine times, and a train choo-chooed going through Davenport.

Besides engineering, now as a consultant, and maintaining Beiderbecke Inn, Dennis pastors the Community of Christ Church, a re-organized spin-off from the Church of the Latter-Day Saints.

“It’s the biggest of the (spin-off) churches that are not Mormon. We believe God has always talked to all people,” Dennis explained.

At a church conference, Dennis and Pam felt God calling them to work with inner-city youth in Davenport.

“We started working at the food pantry, the homeless shelter and youth groups, and decided you can’t be effective unless you live in the area,” Dennis said. “We started looking for housing. There wasn’t anything available. We looked at several houses in pretty bad shape and found this house…vacant for a year…owned by the bank. We didn’t know it had been a bed and breakfast. Pam had always expressed that she wanted to run a bed and breakfast.”

They also started rehab on a ministry house in Davenport.

“The church helped us buy a house a block away…to have children’s programs there,” he said. “We’ve just opened a food pantry, and have church services and fellowship services there.”

There’s also a tutoring program.

“Some people get more out of 24 hours than others,” I said.

My hungry husband began peeking into the parlor, letting me know Pam’s luxurious spread of egg casserole, pastries, juice, fruit and coffee was ready.

“Any regrets about any of your decisions?” I asked.

“I would do it all over again in a heartbeat,” he said. “Pam is the love of my life. God put us together for a reason, and I hope we’re carrying out at least part of that reason. The one thing I always try to do is to go ahead like I’ve got good sense.”

“That’s farmer talk?”

“I guess so.”

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at stradingerm@inwave1.com.

from the April 4-10, 2007, issue

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