In His Service

by Bob Bach

It was a cold autumn day in 1947. The field was sloppy–a sea of mud from the steady rain and sleet. But for the shivering faithful fans who showed up, it was the scene of a bruising football game between Wright J.C. and North Park, also a junior college at that time. Right in the middle of the pack, Phil Danielson, a tackle and military veteran, was in a bruising struggle with his opponent across the line. The sounds of big bodies colliding, mixed with grunts and cheers, resounded up and down the field. Phil found himself at the bottom of a muddy pile of bodies after one of the off tackle running plays; his opponent right at the bottom with him. As they untangled and struggled to their feet shaking off their muddy paws, Phil’s opponent stopped and stared at Phil’s left hand. “Hey, Man,” he yelled. “Is that a wedding ring? Are you married?” Phil realized that in his haste to suit up for the game, he had forgotten to take off his wedding ring. “ Yeah,” he replied to the big defensive lineman from Wright, “I’m married.” Struggling to his feet, the linemen from Wright hollered out to his teammates, “Hey, check this out, this guy is nuts, he’s married!” Several members of the Wright team gathered around, shook their helmet covered heads in amazement, and slowly headed back to their huddle. They didn’t realize that this mud-splattered guy with a wedding ring was at least ten years older than any of them.

That married North Park lineman was Phil Danielson, a 27 year old veteran from Providence, Rhode Island, one of a couple dozen North Park football players on the 1947 Viking team coached by Bibbs Anderson. They were a competitive bunch who won a few, lost a few, and tied a few. They had a little locker room in the corner of the basement of the old gym, now Hamming Hall, and they would trudge daily down Foster Avenue in their football gear to River Park where they would find an open area in which to practice. “Hey, it was a lot of fun,” remembers Phil. “We had a scrappy bunch of guys. Pete Peterson and Paul “PJ” Johnson were a couple of good ends, and a skinny 17 year old kid named Lloyd Ahlem came out as a punter. Hockey was really my first love, but there was no hockey at North Park, so football was our collision sport.” Actually there was a little hockey at North Park. Phil and some other students who had played the game, would flood the area at the corner of Foster and Kedzie and get into pick-up games in the deep of winter. An aggressive slap shot would often send the puck skidding into the street.

Phil was one of a group of World War II veterans who showed up at North Park in the fall of 1946. His father, David, was a Providence policeman and his mother, Harriet, was the daughter of missionaries to Trinidad. When he was ten, his mother died and his grandmother came to live with them. After a year, Phil and his sister, Helen, went to live with his father’s two sisters until his father re-married in 1932. They attended the Covenant Church in Providence. Phil was active in Sunday School and Youth Groups, and he met Dorothy Johnson there. She became part of his group of friends at church.

After graduation from Providence Central High School (1937), he went to work in a local machine shop. In 1942 he entered military service and began basic training at Maxwell Field in Alabama. Phil spent the majority of his military time at Fort Myers, Florida with the Army Air Corp. “I was living a pretty rough life there,” he recalled, but it was during that time that he experienced a spiritual awakening. “One evening, my roommate came to me and said, ‘Let’s go to town tonight and get drunk.’ ‘Okay,’ I replied, even though I had a nagging reservation about it.

“While reaching for my shaving kit in my foot locker, I saw my New Testament sitting there. Before shaving, I picked it up and sat on my bunk and started thumbing through it. The pages fell open to the third chapter of II Timothy. Verses 14 and 15 jumped out at me. ‘But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.’”

“That was enough for me,” he said, realizing that his life he was not in line with what he had learned in his youth at Providence Covenant. “I didn’t shave, and I didn’t go to town.” He also started thinking a lot about Dorothy Johnson, even though they had never dated. He had received some letters from her because she and others from the church were writing to servicemen. Phil realized he wanted to know Dorothy better, and he began to write to her. When he wrote, she would write back. “I was a lousy letter-writer,” he remembered with a chuckle. “But she would write back whenever I wrote to her. I decided to see her when I got home on leave.” And he did, and they dated. Each time he was home on leave, it was a date with Dorothy. On his last leave, he brought a ring back with him; they got engaged. On February 12, 1944, they married and went back to Fort Myers together.

Phil was released from the service in 1946 and he and Dorothy returned to Providence. A couple pastors–Burton Nelson at Providence Covenant and Roger Palmquist at nearby Warwick had significant influence on Phil. Since Warwick had no evening service, they would join with the Providence congregation on Sunday nights, especially for Singspirations. Because of the influence of these two men, Phil became interested in attending North Park. Ten years out of high school, he needed to sharpen his academic skills. He enrolled in night classes at Brown University and honed up on the basics. Oscar Olson, Dean of Admissions, accepted the credits Phil earned from the Ivy League school and admitted him to North Park–on probation.

When Phil and Dorothy arrived at North Park in the fall of 1946, they almost turned around and returned home because there was no place for them to live–there was no married housing at that time. Fortunately they became house parents at Chapin Hall, an orphanage near campus, where they could live and board.

In his second year at North Park, Phil went to Eric Hawkinson, Dean of the Seminary, and expressed his desire to take some seminary classes along with the regular education courses he was taking at the college. “I’ve been waiting for you to come by,” replied Dean Hawkinson. Known affectionately as the “Sarge From The Big War” by some of the Vets at North Park, Hawkinson still carried shrapnel in his body from wounds received in World War I. “He went out of his way to help us Vets,” recalls Phil. “And I’ll never forget his advice to prospective pastors. ‘Remember,’ he would say, ‘You are to be a Shepherd to your congregation, not a Sergeant. You are to guide, not to push.’” While Phil was in Seminary, Dorothy worked as secretary to Dean Hawkinson. She was the first secretary to work in the newly opened Seminary building—Nyvall Hall. During the winter of 1949 while still in Seminary, Phil served the Galesburg, Illinois, Covenant Church (200 miles from North Park) as interim pastor. He traveled by train spending Saturday through Monday in Galesburg. His senior year he served Irving Park Covenant in Chicago as interim pastor.

He graduated from Seminary in 1951 and Irving Park called him as permanent pastor where he served until 1955. Two children were born to Phil and Dorothy in Chicago. Lois, the eldest, is married to John Satterberg, Chaplain at Covenant Village in Golden Valley, Minnesota. David, born during Irving Park days, is a physician at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and currently serves on the Covenant Board of Benevolence.

Phil went from Irving Park Covenant, to Buffalo, New York, and served there until 1960. From way out West in California a call came from the Kingsburg Covenant Church which he served until 1967. Next he served in Omaha, Nebraska. In 1976, he accepted a call to St. Petersburg, Florida, where he pastored until 1985.

Following his pastorate in St. Petersburg, Phil and Dorothy moved to Turlock, California. Phil became the first full time Chaplain at Covenant Village, a denominational retirement community. Phil retired from active pastoral ministry in 1990 and he and Dorothy moved onto the Covenant Village campus and became full time residents.

“It has been a sacred privilege to have served as a pastor,” Phil says. “God has led us from the East to the West, to the North and to the South. I have often thought how humbling it is to stand in the pulpit and be charged with the responsibility of opening God’s Word to the people. How God ever used a guy like me, I’ll never know. I could have taken a wayward path, but God through His Word rescued me and put me on the upward way. Dorothy has been by my side on this journey for over 60 years. I am so blessed! She has been a wonderful pastor’s wife; I couldn’t have done it without her.”

These days, Phil tools around the Covenant Village campus in a motorized wheelchair. He still has that sonorous preacher’s voice and that wedding ring that was caked with gridiron mud 60 years ago, still fits nicely on his finger.