It’s not in every pastor’s office you find a weather station and a chemist’s lab. Pastor David J. Meyer had both, along with a Tesla coil and a telescope, and a giant weather chart behind his desk where he recorded meteorological data. But then, David was never an ordinary man.
He was a small town boy, from Clintonville, Wisconsin, the fourth generation on his father’s side to grow up in the little Fox Valley community, after Prussian immigrants, Jacob and Gertrude Meyer made a new home there, most likely in the mid 1800’s. Jacob served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
Theirs was a colorful family. Their son, Henry, was a fur trapper by trade and earned the moniker, “Wildcat Hank” for his vivid tales of adventure, collected along his canoe travels up the Wolf River and beyond, into Ontario, Canada. That was where the real wilderness was yet to be found toward the end of the 19th century. He married a widow, Caroline Tyrell, after they met at the boarding house she kept with her mother. She had originally come from the village of Mille Roches, Ontario, in Canada, which is now flooded under the St. Lawrence Seaway.
One of their children was called Frank, a left-handed fiddle player who worked in Clintonville’s Four Wheel Drive plant. He married Genevieve Dery, the daughter of a French woman from Marseilles. She learned French culinary arts from her mother, and her cooking ability was remembered as remarkable.
Frank and Genevieve’s son, Gordon, also worked at the Four Wheel Drive plant as a machinist. He settled down with Alvina Rusch in a small square house in Clintonville, where they raised nine children in two bedrooms (well, three if you counted the laundry room that doubled as a bedroom for the girls). David was number eight of those nine children.
By the time David was little, the house was full of activity: a brother who took too long brushing his teeth in the only bathroom, an older sister who entertained him with fanciful stories about a made-up character named “Louie Liverwurst,” an uncle Barney who used to dump bags of candy on the floor and roar with laughter to watch the kids scramble after it all.
His mother, Alvina, had a keen sense of humor and worked hard to keep the house running smoothly. She kept a big garden, canned a legendary German pickle so fiesty that when you bit into it, it bit back, and she filled the little house with the scent of baking pies, coffee cakes, and fresh home fried doughnuts. Gordon, his father, put in long days at the plant and loved bluegrass music. It must have brought back all the dance tunes his father, Frank, had played on his fiddle. The Meyers always loved music, and while their grandparents had been alive there were nights of fun and dancing, as Grandma Genevieve played along with him on the accordion.
David grew into a bright, precocious child and attended St. Martin’s Lutheran School through eighth grade, where he was required to memorize a Bible verse every day. His sharp memory captured hundreds of scriptures and stored them up, allowing him to recall verses seemingly without effort throughout his entire life.
David inherited his family’s musical gifts. As a child, he taught himself to play the concertina his mother bought for him, in pearlescent red plastic with white buttons on each side. Reaching high school, he took up the tuba, playing a sousaphone in the High School Marching band. His interests were always intense and widely varied. He worked two paper routes, delivering both the morning and evening news to support these avid hobbies, which included classical music (Beethoven was a favorite), meteorology, astronomy, locksmithing, and chemistry.
People who knew him as a teen say it was always exciting to go to DJ’s house (as he was known in those days). It was hard to tell what he might do next: once he sent up his own weather balloon, barometer attached, or you could find him out mapping the skies with his telescope, inviting kids to breathe helium, or concocting homemade firecrackers for the Fourth of July. At a school dance he was once heard shouting angrily at the band when they played “Roll Over Beethoven,” incensed at the perceived insult to that great composer. When he wasn’t engrossed in one of his projects at home, “DJ” spent time goofing around with his High School buddies, an eclectic bunch who applied their collective talents to tease up adolescent trouble around town.
In High School, he became fascinated with the German language, taking four years of class and memorizing songs and poetry, which he could recite years later, like Goethe’s “Der Erlkönig.” Throughout his life, David always relished an opportunity to use his conversational skills.
During the High School years, David also developed an interest in astrology, which he began to pursue with his characteristic intensity. He bought books and studied it well enough to draw up his own charts, which he used to design horoscopes for classmates in school. He looked at astrology as just another of his sciences, albeit a rather entertaining one, no doubt. It certainly had attracted attention in school.
But then something went wrong. One of the girls in school gave him a hard time, apparently teasing him about his star charts. He lashed out, and before he knew it, he had issued a prediction that the girl would find herself in an auto accident in a certain place, at a certain time. It came true.
Shaken, David consulted his charts and realized they had indeed indicated a disaster, but he had never even looked beforehand. He never forgot the incident, and looking back, he always remarked that on that day he realized astrology was not science after all, but something supernatural.
In 1968, David graduated High School and that Fall, he entered the Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, where he studied business and marketing for two years, earning an Associate of Arts Degree. It was on weekends home he found himself debating an old friend, Jim, on matters of religion. Jim had converted from Catholicism to an Apostolic Pentecostal persuasion, and the two stood on their respective pedestals, clashing on points of doctrine, since David was a staunch Lutheran, arguing from the works of Martin Luther, which he cherished deeply.
Shortly before his nineteenth birthday, he found he could no longer resist Jim’s message and felt drawn to go to the local United Pentecostal church. Here he was convicted of his sins and resolved to follow God in a new way. He was baptized and sought to be filled with the Holy Ghost as taught in the Book of Acts, but found for some reason, it hadn’t happened yet.
Searching for that reason, he went to a bookseller and bought a Bible. It had a little ribbon marker which was tucked between two pages when he removed it from its packaging. Rather than the customary place in the Psalms, however, the ribbon was in the Book of Isaiah, chapter 47. He always said his eye fell right away on verses 13-14, and he said they were burned into his memory.
“Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.
“ Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: there shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it.”
Pricked, he resolved himself to gather up his astrology books and charts and burn them, renouncing them for good. He did just that, and said while gathering them up, he felt twinges of doubt, a little voice urging him not to burn them. But burn them he did, and soon after, he received the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Filled with passion, he started to preach on the streets in his hometown, feeling the need to share the real gospel with the same people he had formerly evangelized into astrology. He felt it was the only thing he could do to right his mistakes.
Before long, David was aspiring to become a minister in the United Pentecostal Church. In 1970, he first met Shirley Wedlund at a UPC church camp that summer. Shirley was a musically gifted history student at the UW-Eau Claire. At that time, they just talked. Shirley was a busy girl. She had just returned from a seminar in St. Louis, MO and was in the midst of organizing an outreach ministry on campus, one which was going to be instrumental in bringing many to the Lord.
One and a half years, a sister’s wedding, and lots of letters later, they were married in September 1971. They had an outdoor ceremony in her parents’ back yard, surrounded by beautiful northern Wisconsin forest and loved ones wishing them well.
David and Shirley lived for the first two years in Appleton, Wisconsin, after David had a vision which he said gave him the exact address of an Apostolic church in that city. David and Shirley worked with children in the neighborhood, setting up a children’s center called “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” and organizing a Vacation Bible School. David worked for a local hardware store, where he gained valuable experience as a locksmith and held the added responsibility of managing the paint department as well.
In 1973, they moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where Shirley continued studies at the UW campus while they did campus outreach as part of the United Pentecostal Church (UPC) there. In 1974, they had been praying about starting a new church on their own.
While on the road one day, they had car trouble and made a detour into the small town of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin for repairs. Looking around, David felt a strong pull toward Beaver Dam, which was about a 40 minute drive from Madison. Much happened that year: while Shirley was pregnant with their first child, the young couple overcame insurmountable odds to buy a house on North University Avenue. As it turned out, there were three families already in the Beaver Dam area who were new converts from the Milwaukee UPC congregation. David and Shirley founded a fledgling church in their front room, and soon the three families had turned into a larger group. In November, they welcomed a daughter, Ruth Gretchen.
As their church expanded, they moved into a small brick building that had been built many years before by Greek Orthodox congregation on South Spring Street. The Greek Bishops came and removed their ceremonial fixtures, and the building soon rang out with rousing Pentecostal choruses and fiery preaching instead.
David supported his young family by building a locksmith trade in town, and in 1976, the second of eight children was born, Nathaniel James, followed by Sarah Faith in 1979, and Rebekah Joy, who arrived during the middle of a Pie Social on Father’s Day, 1981.
It was around this time David found himself going his separate way from the United Pentecostal Church. Some of the congregation stayed, but many decided to remain with the denomination, finding other churches in the UPC to attend. It was also around this time, in 1981 that he wrote the first issue of the Last Trumpet Newsletter, drafted on an electric typewriter. Although the first issue was mailed out to names chosen randomly from the phone book, it quickly began to grow.
At home, there was “never a dull moment,” as David liked to put it. The house on University Avenue had three stories in all, and there was activity in every corner of it. There were four children, then soon five, when Samuel David arrived in 1983. There was always an assortment of birds at any given time: including parakeets and the mourning doves David raised for his highly entertaining stage magic. He was a popular local venue, performing at schools and libraries, for birthday parties, and Sunday School. The doves were always a big hit when he would “change them” into a birthday cake at the end of the show.
Whenever he wasn’t preparing for another church service, or writing responses to letters from readers of the Last Trumpet, he was occupied rekeying deadbolt tumblers, pin kit spread out before him in its myriad colors, or cutting keys in his shop. Someone might knock at the door at any time with a broken lock in hand, or call in the middle of the night after a domestic disturbance, begging him to come change the locks. He had large customers as well, including local factories and institutions, and even the Department of Military Affairs.
In 1985, Jayne Priscilla was born. It was around this time home school became a more viable option for families, and by 1986, David and Shirley were becoming weary with the public school’s philosophy and approach. That Fall, they took the plunge and decided to teach all of their children at home. A seventh child, Victoria Beth, arrived the following May.
David pastored the church in Beaver Dam over the years, but also held services in people’s homes in different parts of the state, including Portage, Fond du Lac, and Pickett, a farming community where held regular services for many years. By this time he had partially retired from his lock business in favor of a full time job with the University of Wisconsin (first at the UW-Parkside, then the UW-Oshkosh campus). He would finish up in Oshkosh and drive home—an hour’s commute in good weather. After a weekly service in Pickett, he would finally pull into the driveway at a late hour, even on frigid winter nights.
His youngest daughter, Anna Elizabeth, was born in 1990, shortly before his eldest turned sixteen. Eight was a full house. David worked hard, but he still made time to be with his family. He taught chemistry and astronomy to the kids, or gathered everyone around for some music: he loved to bring out his concertina and play German folk songs, or entertain everyone with stories about his hometown. He made all the people from town seem like a living cast of characters from the Andy Griffith Show, only better.
He also liked to take impromptu family time away. Sometimes it was as simple as piling into the Buick station wagon and going for a ride out of town, coasting down some rural hill, just to see how far the car would make it with his foot off the gas pedal. Sometimes it was a drive up to Bay Beach Amusement park in Green Bay, or a picnic at a county park. One of David’s favorite spots was Door County. Some years the family rented a cabin on the shores of Lake Michigan and took it slow, ambling around the peninsula’s back roads eating fresh Bing cherries and exploring lighthouses.
As the years continued to pass, Last Trumpet expanded. David and Shirley began to travel: sometimes just to visit and minister to an individual, sometimes to a group. There were trips to New York City, to Washington State, and Jamaica, to name a few. The children began to reach adulthood and grandchildren arrived. Several of the kids joined him in full time employment for Last Trumpet. David loved spending time with his grandchildren, and somehow found time to pursue some of his lifelong interests, teaching chemistry classes, demonstrating his Tesla coil, even preparing colloidal silver. He started working on more languages, like Japanese and Yiddish, rekindled his love of the tuba, and began learning the recorder.
Despite several serious battles with illness, he never slowed his pace, teaching and writing even at times when he felt physically weak. He was always the go-to person in the family for matters of everyday business and was generous with his children, trying to encourage them with gifts that furthered their abilities.
When the final illness came that brought his time on earth to a close, he made a point of telling his wife and children how much he loved them. He seemed to know his time was coming near. Though he was in unrelenting pain, he even tried to lighten things a little, playing an old-school recording he had found of “This Old House.” The song met with a bittersweet reception among the family, as they realized what he was telling them.
When he celebrated his 60th birthday, he was in St Mary’s hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, unable to speak, but he made great effort to acknowledge his wife and children, who were gathered at his bedside. They were together three days later, on June 8, 2010, when he passed from this life into eternity. As he had been there, eager and excited, when each of them entered the world, his children were there with him when he departed.
Just as he filled the room whenever he walked into it, his memory will always fill our hearts.
- © 2011 Ruth Gretchen Meyer Barbieri