In the early hours this past Monday morning my friend Chuck finished his earthly journey. Chuck had a profound impact on my life and I can safely say that I have been forever changed by his influence over the past 35 years. He was an employer, teacher, mentor, counselor, benefactor, and friend. Our relationship serves as an example of how much one person can influence another, and God has taught me innumerable lessons through it.
I met Chuck when I was 15. I had been cast in a role of Heartland Productions film, Face in the Mirror, and Chuck was an executive for the company in the marketing department. Chuck was gifted by God with a particular charisma that drew people to him and I’ve always marveled at it. I still remember seeing him on the set and wanting to know who he was. Eventually we met and I was surprised when he seemed to take a particular interest in me. I had just made a decision to follow Jesus earlier that year and Chuck wanted to learn more about my story. We made plans to meet and talk.
When the film was released, Chuck asked me to help with a few marketing efforts. That led to him offering me an after school job cleaning and repairing 35mm films, which then led to him asking if I’d like to do a weekly bible study at 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday mornings in his office. For two years Chuck taught me to study God’s Message, to memorize it, and he instilled in me an appreciation for spiritual discipline. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t write my chapter-a-day blog posts if it weren’t for Chuck planting the seeds of spiritual discipline in me on those early Tuesday mornings back in the early 1980s.
One of the other lessons that came from our relationship in those early years was not one I believe Chuck necessarily intended. Our strengths have their corollary weaknesses and, despite a protege’s penchant for placing mentors on a pedestal, I learned over time that Chuck was a driver. He had his own ideas about that paths I should take in life. He pushed me in multiple ways. He pushed hard. In fact, Chuck once confessed to me that he’d thought he’d pushed me harder than any one he’d ever mentored. Things broke.
For a number of years Chuck and I did not communicate. I went to college, got married, and had children. It had been about six years when I made contact with Chuck again. We got together and talked about our falling out and the years of silence between us. We admitted our mutual failings, expressed our mutual forgiveness and our relationship resumed.
It was a year or so later that I found myself suddenly in need of a job. When Chuck learned of this he asked to meet with me immediately. Years earlier he’d left the production company where he worked during my high school years. He and his wife, Charleen, started a management consulting firm under their name, c wenger group. Chuck said he thought he might have full time work for me in 6-12 months. He promised me that if I would take a step of faith to start with them part time, he would commit to trying to build an opportunity for me with the group. I took the step of faith. Things moved even faster than expected. Within just a month or two there was plenty of work for me to do. That was 21 years ago.
I entered a new phase of Chuck’s mentoring. This time it was not as a young spiritual sojourner but as a young businessman. The group was small at that point. In those early years our semi-monthly staff meetings were at the Wenger’s kitchen table with Chuck, Charleen, Scott (a fellow colleague from the Heartland Production days, who had already been working with the group for a few years), and me. Chuck and I traveled together on business a lot in those early years. We worked together, served together, and prayed together. We spent countless hours together on the road. The group grew and Chuck journeyed beside me and continued to mentor me during those tumultuous years when a young man confronts his demons and learns what it means to be a man.
It wasn’t all work. Chuck, Scott and I also served at BSF together. We sailed Lake Superior together with our colleagues. The three of us journeyed to Israel together. Chuck and I spent time together at his place in Florida, and I have so many fond memories of late nights on his deck overlooking the Intercostal waterway enjoying good wine, great cigars, laughter, and conversation that was enjoyable, challenging and inspiring.
The journey was not without its share of challenges. One of the greatest lessons I took from our relationship over the years was the perseverance required through life’s ups and downs. When you do business on a daily basis with another person it tends to reveal both strengths and blind spots, sometimes in unexpected ways. Chuck and I had strong similarities and marked disparities. We often brought out the best in each other and at times struggled intensely with each other’s weaknesses. Yet there was always between us love, admiration and appreciation built on our mutual faith in and devotion to Jesus.
Charleen died in the late 1990s, and Chuck chose to retire at the end of 2004. Scott and I took over as owners of c wenger group in January 2005. Chuck remained on as Chairman of our advisory board and continued to provide wise counsel to the end. I feel perpetually honored that Scott and I were entrusted with leading the company he and Char began.
Each of our life journeys are affected by others. A few years ago I took the time to recount all of the ways Chuck made a profound impact on my life. I thanked Chuck for each one. This week, as I process my own grief at his passing, I find myself recounting all of them again, and thanking God for each one, and for Chuck. I hope that I influence a few lives a just a fraction of the ways Chuck influenced mine.