Countdown 365: #234 – 40th Anniversary of LDS Mission

My passport photo for my LDS Mission, taken in February 1976

My passport photo for my LDS Mission, taken in February 1976

There are some events in one’s life that are turning points…big decisions that impact the remainder of one’s life.  Today I celebrate the 40th Anniversary of one of those events.  It was 40 years ago today that I entered the Language Training Mission (LTM) in Provo, Utah to learn Japanese and prepare to serve as an LDS Missionary in the Japan Nagoya Mission. This singular event would literally have a myriad impacts on the direction of my life, the life of my wife and of my children.

Prior to this event only three real others were as momentous…my mother taking me away from my father and moving to New Mexico (something that I had no control over but had a massive impact on my life), my decision to convert to the LDS Church in 1975 (and thus be asked to leave the house at age 17 as a result) and then the actual decision to serve versus the decision to take what would have been a high paying job in 1975.

Speaking at my Missionary Farewell in Murray, UT - Feb. 8, 1976

Speaking at my Missionary Farewell in Murray, UT – Feb. 8, 1976

Pondering life's choices as a young missionary

Pondering life’s choices as a young missionary

With each decision made at a crossroads in life (or a fork in the road of life if you prefer), a whole string of consequences unseen is set in motion (until the next crossroad, which then again leads to another set of unforeseen life events). But this mission to serve the Lord in Japan (not to mention all of the service to the Japanese people) had a profound impact on my life, my testimony, friends I have made and, ultimately my career choices. And, as I approach my 60th of year of life, I can look back and consider all of the things that WOULD NOT have occurred in my life had I not made that one decision. Honestly, I am awestruck.

Over the course of my mission I wrote over 1000 pages of journal entries.

Over the course of my mission I wrote over 1000 pages of journal entries and dozens of letters home to family and friends.

So, on February 12, 1976 I was taken to Provo and it began.  I wrote on Page 1 of the first of my many journals about this event:

“Today was my first day.  It was really great. We had many inspiring talks and learned much about the mission and mission fields.  Elder Stewart Simons from Cyprus High and Elder Marc White from Murray were my fist companions. Elder Marc and I went to school together, so its a real blessing. Its been a tough, long, hot day, but a very meaningful one.I’m so grateful to serve the Lord.”

My two LTM Companions as they looked in 1976. This was scanned from my Missionary Journal.

My two LTM Companions as they looked in 1976. This was scanned from my Missionary Journal.

Hanging with Elder White and Elder Simons at the Provo Temple on Feb. 18, 1976

Hanging with Elder White and Elder Simons at the Provo Temple on Feb. 18, 1976

I learned from both Elder Simons and Elder White.  It was nice to have one of them as someone I knew.  I was a stranger in a strange land.  Later on in Japan, Elder White became my zone leader and we grew very close.  We have stayed in touch casually over the years.  He was a real blessing to me.

Our LTM Group in Provo, UT

Our LTM Group in Provo, UT (L-R: Sister ?, Elder Bartholomew, Elder Bateman, Elder White, Elder Call, Elder Hadley, Elder Simons, Sister Hawley and me)

I was one of many in the group to enter the LTM that day.  The LTM was in an old Catholic School in Provo that the Church had purchased.  This was before the days of the Missionary Training Center (MTC) and just shortly after the days of the Japanese LTM being in Hawaii.

In my District I had four other Elders including Elder Bartholomew from Rancho Palace Verdes, CA; Elder Bateman from Edmonton, AB; Elder Hadley from Sandy, UT (who I am still in contact with after all these years); and Elder Call from Heber City, UT. (see the photo above)

On February 14, 1976 I wrote: “I am so happy that I’m here at this time to be able to work together with other elders and learn Japanese and the Gospel of our loving Father. The LTM is really an experience with 20 elders to a room, two districts to a room. I am really learning to love other elders. Especially those in my district and especially Elder White and Elder Simons. I’ve learned many new phrases and words.  Today we learned our testimony and a simple prayer.  I’m trying to memorize it, but its hard. I do have my testimony memorized.  I am praying muchly now so that I may be closer to the Lord.”

Being welcomed at Nagoya Airport by the Mission President Satoru Sato and his wife, along with some other Nagoya Elders already serving. April 14, 1976

Being welcomed at Nagoya Airport by the Mission President Satoru Sato and his wife, along with some other Nagoya Elders already serving. April 14, 1976

Boarding a train in Nagoya to head to my first branch in Kanazawa

Boarding a train in Nagoya to head to my first branch in Kanazawa

I could go on and on about the experience in the LTM.  It was a learning experience in so many ways. But, eventually it was over and on April 13, 1976 we all left for Nagoya, Japan.  I had never been on a 747 and never flown overseas. (I’ll actually write more about this on my Countdown Day #173).

During my missionary days I served in the Japan Sea side towns of Kanazawa, Fukui and Takaoka, as well as in Ogaki (near Gifu – where my daughter Amaree served part of her mission in 2001 and 2002), Nagoya and the lovely town of Fuji City at the base of Mt. Fuji.

I met an extraordinary number of wonderful Japanese Latter-day Saints and myriads of other lovely Japanese people.  I learned about Buddhism and Shintoism.  I learned and excelled at the language.  It was a wonderful experience.

Accompanying a blind investigator on a train. Like today, I almost always had a camera with me.

Accompanying a blind investigator on a train. Like today, I almost always had a camera with me.

Following are a few more photos from my mission.  I have hundreds. My first “selfie” is also included. My mission was a blessing in my life in so many years.  I am humbled and grateful to be celebrating the 40th Anniversary of beginning this amazing adventure and am really touched by all of the sweet memories flowing through my mind as I reflect back.

A few years ago we had a Missionary Reunion in Salt Lake City and I was able to catch up with many of those with whom I served during my two years from 1976-78.  It was wonderful to catch up with them and see where their lives had taken them. Some have been very successful, others not so much.  Some of those with whom I served have gone inactive or even left the LDS Church.  These things happen.  But, I cherish the friendships and, even today, stay in touch with many of these former missionaries (Thank you Facebook!!), even those that are no longer associated with the church.  A mission does amazing things to one’s life.

Always writing and pondering.

Always writing and pondering. Ogaki, Japan 1977

My first companion in the field, Elder Fullmer from Utah. This was in Kanazawa in April 1976

My first companion in the field, Elder Fullmer from Utah. This was in Kanazawa in April 1976 (Dig those 70’s era neckties!!)

Riding a train - an almost daily occurrence in Japan

Riding a train – an almost daily occurrence in Japan

My fist selfie! Took this in the mirror at a barber shop after the bird landed on my shoulder.

My fist selfie! Took this in the mirror at a barber shop after the bird landed on my shoulder.

Fooling around with the Ogaki Elders in 1977

Fooling around with the Ogaki Elders in 1977

With Elders and some members in Takaoka, Japan in the winter of 1976

With Elders and some members in Takaoka, Japan in the winter of 1976

Lazing in bed on a cold morning (we had no heaters - just oil stoves that had to be turned off at night). This was in Fuji City in January 1978

Lazing in bed on a cold morning (we had no heaters – just oil stoves that had to be turned off at night). This was in Fuji City in January 1978

On top of Mt. Fuji, April 1978, just before I left for home.

On top of Mt. Fuji, April 1978, just before I left for home.

Street "Dendo" (Proselyting) in Ogaki, Japan in 1977. I wrote all of the Japanese on the poster while dressed in the Yukata

Street “Dendo” (Proselyting) in Ogaki, Japan in 1977. I wrote all of the Japanese on the poster while dressed in the Yukata

With companion Elder Lee Richan. We had become very close friends. He passed away a couple of years ago (2013)

With companion Elder Lee Richan. We had become very close friends over the years. He passed away a couple of years ago (2013)

The busy Mormon Missionary on a hot summer day in Japan in 1977

The busy Mormon Missionary on a hot summer day in Japan in 1977

 

40 Years Ago this year: I Didn’t See This Coming

A little over 40 years ago this year I completed my last semester of high school in 1974 at Murray High School in Murray, Utah. In many respects, it seems like just yesterday, but then there are other pieces that make it seem like it was ages ago. I am amazed at how quickly 40 years has passed!

David 40 years after graduating high school in 1974

David 40 years after graduating high school in 1974

The year 1974 marked a new direction for me and my life as I took many avenues towards the location where I am now, 40 years later. I had no idea in 1974 what the next five years of my life would bring me and how that five years of my life would have a profound impact on the direction and course that the rest of my life has taken me.

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David Kravetz 1974 shortly before graduation

Graduation from Murray High School in Utah in 1974

Graduation from Murray High School in Utah in 1974

Within a year of my graduation I had gotten a new full-time job and I was traveling quite a bit for Alta Distributing, which was a record and tape rack jobber. This began to fulfill my wanderlust of being able to travel on the road while at the same time fulfilling my joy in music.

One year after high school while working for Alta Distributing

One year after high school while working for Alta Distributing

During my senior year of high school I had begun learning about the Mormon church. Most of my friends during my senior year were LDS members and all lived in my general neighborhood. They were amazing examples to me and treated me like a brother which was a defining note in terms of my eventually joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in January 1975.

Hanging with a couple of my friends from high school

Hanging with a couple of my friends from high school (Brett Davies & Scott Brown)

My graduation in May 1974 marked an unusual event for me as it was the only time in all of my school years that both my stepmother Marjorie and my stepfather Joe attended a school event of mine together. One or the other had, on occasion, been to one of my band concerts or other events, but never had both of them shown up together at any of my events until my graduation. The fact that they attended my graduation is absolutely a fond memory for me. I can even remember the steakhouse that they took me out to after graduation that night for my graduation dinner.

A rare photo of my step father Joe Kravetz and my step mother Marge - ca. 1978

A rare photo of my step father Joe Kravetz and my step mother Marge – ca. 1978

Within a year of my graduation I was kicked out of the house for my following the teachings of the Mormon church. Over the years my relationship with my step parents had bounced up and down.  Though never terrible, there was never that real close feeling of being part of a truly connected family. I can’t blame either Marjorie or Joe, as they had many troubles in their lives. They had troubles between each other and then they had the challenges of trying to raise a pretty much dysfunctional family.

Another rare photo - the only known complete family photo of all of the Kravetz Clan - ca. 1978

Another rare photo – the only known complete family photo of all of the Kravetz Clan – ca. 1978

The year 1974 also created memories in relationship to the music that was popular back then as well as some of the movies during that period. There was a great hit by Bachman Turner Overdrive called “Taking Care of Business” which had become popular in 1974 and has remained one of my theme songs throughout my life. Disco began making its moves in 1974 as well and I was (and continue to be) fond of that music genre to this day.

The Hobbit - I was addicted to Tolkien by the end of 1974

The Hobbit – I was addicted to Tolkien by the end of 1974

It was during the spring of 1974 that I had my first dabbling into J.R.R. Tolkien works. I had to read “The Hobbit” in my English class that spring and I don’t believe that I had ever become so engrossed in a book as I did with “The Hobbit” in 1974. Soon thereafter, and also during that semester in school, I read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. Needless to say, I was enthralled by the Lord of the Rings and by J.R.R. Tolkien’s other writings. Even back then, despite the great advances in movie technology, I had to wait over 30 years for the first real Lord of the Rings movie to appear. Interestingly enough, at that time the musical group Chicago had released their sixth album and one of the songs on the album was “Wishing You Were Here“. I listened to that album many many times in 1974 and many of them were down in my deep dark bedroom that had no windows as I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Even today when I hear that song, as I did back then, it makes me think of Bilbo Baggins wishing Gandalf were there in the lonely cave as he was being chased by Gollum.

Rock Concert shot from 1975 in Salt Lake City

Rock Concert shot from 1975 in Salt Lake City – Neil Diamond

I had my first ventures into arena rock concerts in 1974, attending shows such as Loggins and Messina, the Doobie Brothers, America and Billy Joel. That year Elton John released his album Yellow Brick Road and had a tour associated with it, including one stop at the University of Utah’s arena. I was able to attend that show, and it turned out to be one of my most memorable concerts of all time. It was also in 1974 that I saw a group called Steppenwolf perform in Salt Lake City. At that time the lead guitarist was named Bobby Cochran. Little did I know back then that 35 years later I would be friends with that same Bobby Cochran and would be traveling with him as he performed with Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours. I am grateful to be friends with Bobby, who is a guy and an amazing guitarist.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the time that I have spent with him in our travels.

John Kaye of Steppenwolf in Salt Lake City, 1975

John Kaye of Steppenwolf in Salt Lake City, 1975

Bobby Cochran, then with Steppenwolf in 1975

Bobby Cochran, then with Steppenwolf in 1975

Here I am with Bobby Cochran in 2011

Here I am with Bobby Cochran in 2011

As my schooling in 1974 came to an end, I had become a fairly accomplished saxophone player on both the tenor and baritone saxophones. I was taking lessons from a  well-known jazz musician at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. I actually had dreams of joining a band very similar to Chicago or Blood, Sweat and Tears, and practiced my heart out to do so.

I played the Baritone Sax all through high school

I played the Baritone Sax all through high school

Here I am in 1973 with the Bozeman High School Jazz Band

Here I am in 1973 with the Bozeman High School Jazz Band

But, at that time, little did I know, that my life would change dramatically upon being baptized into the LDS (Mormon) Church. My dreams of becoming a professional rock musician faded away. Within a year from my baptism in January 1975, I was called on a mission and went to serve the church in Nagoya, Japan.

Serving as a missionary in Fuji, Japan 1978

Serving as a missionary in Fuji, Japan 1978

Even on my mission I loved to write and have fun

Even on my mission I loved to write and have fun

That two years of my life in Japan ultimately changed the entire direction of my life. After serving from 1976 to 1978, and upon my return to the states, I have spent a good part of the last 35 years involved in full-time work with Japanese-related businesses and even returned to Japan for four years with my family in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Thanks to my time as a missionary I worked in Japan.  Here I am with then British Foreign Minister Sir Geoffrey Howe and Oita Prefecture Mayor Morihiko Hiramatsu

Thanks to my time as a missionary I worked in Japan. Here I am with then British Foreign Minister Sir Geoffrey Howe and Oita Prefecture Mayor Morihiko Hiramatsu

I spent three days with Olympic Gold Medalist Nadia Comaneci during her visit to Kyushu in 1990

I spent three days with Olympic Gold Medalist Nadia Comaneci during her visit to Kyushu in 1990

Indeed, Japan is an integral part of my life now and something that did not even occur to me as a senior in high school 40 years ago.

Indeed, Japanese culture is a deep part of my life.  I have the Samurai spirit!

Indeed, Japanese culture is a deep part of my life. I have the Samurai spirit!

Upon my return from Japan, I initially attended Brigham Young University and it was there that my met my eternal sweetheart Julianne Bateman. Just a little over five years after my graduation from high school I was married to her and my life once again took a whole new wonderful direction for me as I began a family of my own. In about one month (as I write this) I will celebrate my 35th anniversary with this wonderful woman!

An early photo of Julianne and me shortly after our engagement in 1979.  Notice...no moustache!

An early photo of Julianne and me shortly after our engagement in 1979. Notice…no mustache!

Our Wedding Photo 1979 - we celebrate 35 years in July 2014

Our Wedding Photo 1979 – we celebrate 35 years in July 2014

I Married Up!!

I Married Up!!

Julianne and David in 2011 in Lexington, KY.  I love this photo

Julianne and David in 2011 in Lexington, KY. I love this photo

As a senior in high school I had not even had a girlfriend. In fact, I didn’t even have my first kiss until I was already graduated in the summer of 1974. There is no doubt that I had hidden crushes on a couple of cute girls in high school, but between my insecurity in dealing with girls and the fact that I was not a member the Mormon church, I had a few hurdles in front of me that kept me from getting anywhere with any of them. I certainly was not a shy person. I never have been. But I was really scared to death to ask any girls out on a date because I was afraid of rejection. Ironically, in my later years, probably about five years ago, I had occasion to visit Salt Lake City.  During that visit I was able to drop by and see one of the girls that I had a crush on and had become friends with through church. She has had a difficult life as she has struggled through a couple of marriages, but is still the sweet girl that I knew back in the mid-1970s. I told her at the time of my visit that I had a crush on her in high school. She told me that she knew that, and wondered why I had never asked her out on a date. She told me that she would have most certainly gone out with me on a date back then. Oh well, we both went our directions and I am very happily married to my wonderful sweetheart and she too seems to be happy in her current situation.

The first photo I ever saw of my natural father Joe Laurienzo.  I did not even know of him until 1974.  I saw this in 1975

The first photo I ever saw of my natural father Joe Laurienzo. I did not even know of him until 1974. I saw this in 1975

Another major discovery from 1974 was my finding out who my birth father was. That too was a life-changing experience for me. I had been disenfranchised from my natural mother for many years, and as an 18-year-old I had decided that it was time for me to reach out to her. Fortunately for me, in 1975 I was able to contact my real father and speak to him on the phone, which I did a couple of times. I am grateful for that experience as I never got to meet him. When we moved to Kentucky in 1992, I was finally close enough to Cleveland to try, but by the time I had an opportunity, he had already passed away…in fact, it had only been two weeks prior to my plans to go up there. Nonetheless, over the last few years I have grown very close to my Laurienzo sisters and brother in Cleveland as a result. I have also visited my father’s grave.

David with most of his Laurienzo siblings

David with most of his Laurienzo siblings

Visiting my natural father's grave in Cleveland, OH

Visiting my natural father’s grave in Cleveland, OH

Seeing my natural mother Orene (aka Jennierose Lavendar) in 1976

Seeing my natural mother Orene (aka Jennierose Lavendar) in 1976

Finally, as I think back on this 40 years since 1974,  I must openly say that I have been very, very blessed. I still have friendships from 40 years ago that mean a great deal to me. During that 40 years I have ventured overseas numerous times, I have had wonderful experiences with jobs, I have met people from all over the world, I have been married and had five wonderful children and now nine grandchildren.

My wife and children in 2009

My wife and children in 2009

Hanging with my grandchildren in 2012

Hanging with my grandchildren in 2012

I have been blessed to be able to develop a number of skills that I never imagined I would have back then (indeed, some of them, such as internet work and web design were completely unimaginable since they didn’t yet exist!!).  Some of the skills I have acquired over the years include the ability to write, photography, travel, singing and music, the ability to make friends wherever I go. And yes, I have become friends with rock stars and have actually toured with a band (Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours).  I still am associated with that band, so even my high school dream of being in a band partially came true.

Singing on stage with Antsy McClain in 2007

Singing on stage with Antsy McClain in 2007

On tour with Antsy McClain in San Francisco around 2005

On tour with Antsy McClain in San Francisco around 2005

On a boat Island Hopping in the Philippines

On a boat Island Hopping in the Philippines 2006

Visiting Kyoto, Japan in 1987

Visiting Kyoto, Japan in 1987

It is amazing how one’s life can take so many turns and go in a direction that one could never dream of as an 18-year-old graduate of high school.

Visiting the Tulum ruins in Mexico

Visiting the Tulum ruins in Mexico

Visiting NYC in 1990

Visiting NYC in 1990

Life is truly awesome! But it’s only getting better!

Life is Awesome but only getting better 40 years after graduating high school

Life is Awesome but only getting better 40 years after graduating high school