Last week (July 14-16, 2015) I had a sudden opportunity to go to Utah for a quick work project for former Navy SEAL and Author Rob Roy. It was a good opportunity for me to return “home” and to also visit with two of my life’s most influential and long lasting friends, namely Jonathan Jensen and Russ Graves. I was blessed to spend a couple of hours with each of them (I will detail more at the end of this post).
It all started in the late summer of 1973 as my step-father was transferred from Bozeman, Montana to Salt Lake City, more specifically, Murray, Utah. At that time I would attend my third different high school in three years as I started as a senior at Murray High School.
We had moved to the heart of Mormon country and I was not Mormon. But, as a fairly religious 16 year old, I decided to learn more about this church by also choosing to attend seminary, which in those days was held in a building just off of the high school campus and could be attended during school hours.
Through seminary I had the opportunity to meet new people and this was where I first met Jonathan and Russ. It turned out that I lived in their neighborhood (and also their Church Ward).
Jonathan and Russ were part of the “in crowd” at Murray. They were popular, they were on the football team and had lots of friends. I was fortunate to become acquainted with them as one residing in their ward. I was often invited to participate in church youth activities with them, which I relished. I really felt lucky.
Having lived in Montana for three years (and loving it!), I spoke a lot about the state and thus received the nickname “Monty Montana” from Jonathan. I didn’t mind the nickname and it stuck through my senior year and beyond. Everyone at Murray knew me as “Monty.” Even to this day I chuckle about that nickname, the only other one I really had besides my now well known “Sumoflam.”
As I pondered this early friendship the last couple of days, I was struck by the selfless and caring nature that Jonathan, Russ and a few other choice souls, mainly from the Murray 20th Ward, befriended this sort of braggish kid from Montana. I had come from a fairly dysfunctional family, wasn’t Mormon and was starting all over again in trying to make friends as a senior in high school while still trying to find myself. Ultimately, these friends, and especially Jonathan and Russ, changed my life direction for ever and for good.
As the school year progressed I visited Jonathan’s house often. He lived about a block away. His father Boyd was the Bishop of the Ward and ultimately became like a second father to me as I attended church and eventually became a member in 1975. I spent a lot of time at Jonathan’s house because there was so much contention in my home. I wasn’t happy there, but I felt loved and accepted at the Jensen house.
The same could be said for Russ. He and I got on very well. We were both jokers and experts at the art of the pun. He lived a couple of blocks away and I visited his home often as well. In fact, his mother Doris became like a second mother to me. Unlike Jonathan, Russ grew up in more modest circumstances. His father had died a number of years before and his mother was a single mother raising a large family. I think that Russ and I appreciated each other because neither of us had much. But, the one thing I loved about Russ’s home was the love I felt whenever I visited. Not the love for me…but the love in the household. And I loved going there.
As I mentioned above, I eventually joined the church in January 1975 and Jonathan was the one that baptized me. I was grateful for this. You see, I was kicked out of the house for wanting to do this.
I need to note here that these guys were not interested in me as a “potential member” of the church. They were interested in me as a person, as an individual and as a friend. They were really the first true friends I had ever had in my short 17 years of life. I relished this friendship and it was the love and unselfishness nature of these guys that ultimately made me feel that I was where I was supposed to be,
In fact, I am certain that my kind Heavenly Father placed them in my path and facilitated the way for us to become long lasting friends. And these two, Jonathan and Russ, have continued to be close friends through the years, despite any distance or length of time without communication.
They left on their LDS Missions in 1975, Jonathan to Sweden and Russ to Canada. I was fortunate to still have other friends from the ward, but I really missed them. I had a fairly good job for an 18 year old and in December 1975 I too received a call to serve a mission to Nagoya Japan. Just the day before I had been offered a big job opportunity for an 18 year old and I had to spend a weekend stewing whether to serve a mission or to take this high paying job. In the end, and unbeknownst to either Jonathan or Russ, I chose the mission and it was due to their excellent examples and their unfettered and unselfish friendship for me that led me to make this correct decision.
After returning home from my mission I spent many fun times with these guys. I went to see Marx Brothers movies with Russ many times. I ultimately moved into a house in Provo with Jonathan as I attended BYU. The friendship continued. When I married my sweetheart Julianne, Jonathan came to the wedding in Arizona. I was honored and grateful that my “brother” would take the time to come down from Utah for my special day.
Through the years since the 1970s, our paths diverted as I went to Japan and they got busy. We rarely stayed in touch, but in those times when we did get together, it was as if there had never been a separation in time. It was like old times. In 2004, Russ and one of his sons made the trip to Kentucky to visit and then we ventured to Memphis to attend the Liberty Bowl as BYU played Louisville. It was a fun time for us. Louisville beat BYU, but that was not the memory I cherished. It was time with my good friend Russ Graves that I valued and cherished.
In October 2007 I had the opportunity to attend a huge missionary reunion in Bountiful, Utah, which is where Jonathan lives to this day. As the true selfless individual he was, he offered me a place to stay at his home during the visit. It was great to see all of those with whom I served on my mission with, but the real treat was spending some time with Jonathan and his family. I attended a football game, I visited with his Dad and we spent some quality time together. I was amazed at how he made sure he had time to spend with me in the short three days I was there. It was great to get to know his children. He also took me into Murray to meet with Russ. We had a great time together.
Over the years, I have been able to call Jonathan for consoling, advice or to just fill him in on life. He too has called me. We don’t communicate often. He has a huge family and is a busy attorney. My conversations with Russ are even fewer. Russ has about 15 children and has done well as a software developer.
And now, in 2015, all of us are in our late 50s (and will all be in our 60s before 2016 is over). All of three of us are grandparents. All of us have had children serve missions. But, the lasting, unselfish friendships still remain. And last week’s events were a testament to this.
My flight to Salt Lake City last Tuesday had some unexpected schedule changes and this caused Rob Roy’s staff some challenges in trying to get me picked up at the airport. I had already let Jonathan know I was coming in and that I had hoped we could meet up, even for a few minutes.
As I arrived in Salt Lake, I received a text message from Rob Roy’s staff that they were going to have trouble getting me picked up. So, I called Jonathan to see what his schedule was like. Fortunately for me, he had enough flexibility to come out and pick me up, even on the spur of the moment. This is the same place that he picked me up in April 1978 as I returned home from my mission. It was not my parents…it was my best friend Jonathan Jensen. And here he was 37 years later again picking me up. We went for a drive south to have something to eat (and in typical Jonathan fashion he treated me). I had let him know about the schedule mess up and Jonathan said he would take me to Sundance resort. Bottom line, he literally dropped everything to accommodate me…the same selflessness he had shown me in 1973 as he became a new friend to a lost and lonely soul in high school. I was overwhelmed.
We took a fabulous drive past the Draper Temple and saw a spectacular view of the Salt Lake Valley. From there, he took me back behind the mountain and into Alpine, UT (which, ironically, is where my father in law Maurice Bateman grew up). We took the beautifully scenic Alpine Loop up and over into the approach to Provo Canyon and ultimately Sundance Resort.
Jonathan could have easily said he was too busy to take me to Sundance and I would have totally understood. But, he took me up there and then spent time talking. We reminisced, as we always do, but we also talked about his father, who passed away in 2014, we talked about his children and their missions, their marriages and then we talked about his grandchildren. I got my stuff together and we walked and sat on a bench with a great view of the lovely Mt. Timpanogos. I was at home in the Utah Mountains and spending time with one of my all time heroes. And he made the time to do so. We parted ways finally as he needed to return. However, he got into Lehi and discovered I had left my wallet in the car. Despite his schedule, being tired, etc., he turned around and brought it all the way back up to Sundance. And that is ALWAYS how Jonathan has been…selfless, caring and loving. I am so indebted to this guy I will never be able to repay him.
While I was with Jonathan, we called Russ. We were all friends of course, and have gotten together in the past. Unfortunately, Russ couldn’t make it, but he did offer to pick me up on Thursday morning. I was staying in a hotel in Orem, UT and Russ showed up to get me early. Once again, like Jonathan, he moved his schedule around on the spur of the moment to do this. We enjoyed a nice breakfast, had conversations about family, talked Marx Brothers and Russ whipped off his puns as always. He told me about his dear mother, who is now in her 80s and in a nursing home. We visited his lovely (and huge) home in Murray, where I go to see the family missionary wall, the grandchildren wall and experience the joy and warmth of his home. I got to chat with his sweet wife Gayle, whom I still recall as the young sweet girl from Wyoming I knew in the late 1970s as she and Russ were married. Then, like Jonathan, Russ exhibited his unselfishness and loving nature and took me into the Salt Lake airport for my flight back to Kentucky.
Over the years I have developed dozens of good friendships. Many of them will be eternal friendships. But, of all the friends and acquaintances I have, there are none to rival the bonds that have developed over the years with Jonathan Jensen and Russ Graves. Indeed, I owe my very life’s course to them. They changed my life forever (and for better) and for this, I will always treasure the friendship. They have taught me over and over what true friends are.
Thank you Jonathan and Russ.