Once in awhile, God blesses you with something extra special. On a sunny Friday afternoon at the end of August, my two boys and I stopped by my parent’s house in Wasilla to visit. As we were about to leave, my father took me into his garage and in a quiet voice said, “Listen. Can you drive back to Wasilla tomorrow morning and meet us at Sarah’s house? There are a couple of people stopping by that you might like to meet … but you can’t tell anyone about it!”
“Who are they, Dad?”
“I’m not telling you unless you promise to keep it under your hat.”
I swore I’d keep it a secret, so Dad finally let me know what was going on. The next morning we’d be barbecuing with the Duck Dynasty gang!
This was going to be a treat for all of us. Even though we live worlds away from each other, we share many of the same values and interests. We were all raised to hunt, fish, and appreciate nature. And although none of us are perfect, we try our best to follow the Lord and treat others with respect.
Early Saturday morning we loaded the pick-up truck and headed north to the Valley. Arriving at my sister, Sarah’s, house, we were greeted by her husband, Todd, Clark Perry, and some of their buddies. They had worked late into the previous night setting up for the shindig and slow roasting the delicious meats we’d be enjoying a little later that day. Bristol, Piper, and Willow were busy tending to the little kids while Sarah and Grandma Sally scrambled to prepare the salads and other finger foods. Other guests … mostly close friends and family, continued to arrive.
At 11:30, a non-descript grey van rolled into the driveway and the Duck Dynasty crew, or “the duck guys,” as we all called them, emerged. Much to our surprise, they were followed by a white vehicle containing the Reverend Franklin Graham, his wife Jane, and their son Will.
Handshakes and hugs were exchanged, and the whole group made themselves at home.
You couldn’t have picked a nicer day. The sun shone brightly over the Chugach Mountains, and the only thing disturbing the mirror-like surface of Lake Lucille were the occasional ducks that quietly glided across the water.
Dad and I walked Phil Robertson and Uncle Si down to the water’s edge where Dad gave them some background on Alaska history and geography. Most of the talk centered around ducks as Dad explained that we used to hunt them on this very lake forty years beforehand. Phil mentioned that duck hunting season in Louisiana opens in November and closes in February. The television crews shut down at that time while he and the family hunt every one of those days.
Phil Robertson is not the bigoted, hateful redneck the media has tried so hard to make him out to be. He is well-educated with a master’s degree and is very well spoken, although he has a penchant for “telling it like it is.” He certainly has the courage of his convictions. When Duck Dynasty was in its infancy Phil was told that he could have a family prayer at the end of each show as long as he didn’t mention Jesus. He simply said, “No Jesus, no show.”
That strong will and moral conviction has served him well for many years. When he was the starting quarterback at Louisiana Tech (ahead of future Hall of Famer, Terry Bradshaw), he walked away from football to pursue his real passion: hunting and fishing. He told my dad, “Terry went for the bucks, I went for the ducks.”
After a short and successful stint as a school teacher, he followed his heart and got into the duck call manufacturing business. At the time, Phil felt that the duck calls on the market were too showy. He set out to create a call that perfectly mimicked ducks … not one that that would win a typical duck calling contest. He was quoted as saying, “No duck would even place in a duck calling contest.”
In 1973, Phil obtained a patent on his duck call and the Duck Commander Company was born. It wasn’t instant success though. Phil spent countless days driving from one store to the other attempting to convince them to sell his duck calls. More often than not, the door was slammed in his face. While he concentrated on his business, the rest of the family contributed by running a small commercial fishing operation. In Phil’s best-selling book, Happy, Happy, Happy, he tells the story of coming upon a couple of fellows robbing fish from one of his nets. Instead of turning them in or taking the law into his own hands, he pulled up next to them and loaded their boat up with more fish. He told them that if they needed fish that badly, next time they should just ask for permission to take them first. That little lesson probably stayed with those men a lot longer than any negative consequences would have, and it sure shows you what great character Phil possesses.
My fourteen-year old niece, Ocean, approached Phil and asked him if he’d take a picture with her. Phil jokingly asked her if she was dating anyone. She said no, so Phil proceeded to tell her, “Before you do date someone, you’ve got to ask them two questions: #1, Do you follow Jesus? #2, Do you have a job? If the answer to either one of those is no, then run the other way!”
Mark Tennant, my father-in-law, joined us lakeside and struck up a conversation with Uncle Si. If you’ve ever wondered why Si never puts down that blue plastic cup, it’s because it was sent to him over forty years ago by his mother when he was serving our country in Vietnam. I guess it’s like a security blanket for him and a way for him to stay connected to his mom. By the way, Si is said to drink up to two gallons of sweet tea a day from that cup.
Like all of the Robertsons, Si was great. I asked him if he ever got tired of all the picture taking, handshakes, and everything else that comes along with being a celebrity. He casually replied, “It’s all part a’ the deal, Jack.” After talking with him for just a couple of minutes, I could understand why his book, Si-Cology, sold so well!
Sarah called down to us to come gather with everyone for a pre-meal prayer. If you doubt the sincerity of the family prayer at the end of each Duck Dynasty episode, put it to rest. It’s the real deal. Phil and Kay’s oldest son, Alan (he’s the only guy in the family who’s beardless) led us in an inspiring prayer where he thanked the Lord for the beautiful backdrop that Alaska provided and for the food we were about to eat. Alan is a polished speaker having spent over twenty years as a preacher. He didn’t even blink at the pressure of leading the prayer beside one of the most well-known evangelists in the world, Franklin Graham.
Franklin and Sarah have known each other for years. Sarah and Bristol, along with Greta Van Susteren, accompanied him to Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010 left tens of thousands of Haitians homeless and without drinking water. Samaritan’s Purse, the charitable organization that Franklin runs, provided relief for those people, and Sarah, Bristol, Greta, and Franklin were right there on the front lines. When disaster strikes anywhere on the planet, Samaritan’s Purse is often one of the first, and sometimes the only organization on the scene.
Samaritan’s Purse was founded in 1970 by Bob Pierce as a world hunger relief organization. Following Pierce’s death in 1979, Reverend Graham was elected as its new president. At the time, Franklin was also head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He decided to resign from that position and devote his energy to growing Samaritan’s Purse. Today, the organization has a nearly half-billion dollar budget and is working in more than 100 countries providing disaster relief, feeding programs, construction projects, health and medical programs, water and sanitation facilities, and agricultural aid. They also run “Operation Christmas Child,” which delivers approximately 10 million shoe boxes of Christmas gifts to less fortunate children around the world.
In addition to all of that, “Operation Heal Our Patriots” was launched in June of 2012 as a way to help our returning wounded veterans readjust to life away from war zones. A get-away lodge was constructed for these vets and their spouses here in Alaska.
Reverend Graham had stopped by to visit the Palins on his way to the lodge at Port Alsworth on beautiful Lake Clark in southwest Alaska. Accompanying Franklin was his lovely wife Jane, and his look-alike son, Will. Jane is one of those people who makes you feel at home within a minute. She reminds me of my own mother … smiling, humble, photo shy, and easy to talk to.
You can tell the genes run strong in the Graham family. Not only does Will look like his dad and his famous grandfather, Billy, but he’s got the same strong, confident voice and manner. Will is following family tradition and holds the title of Executive Director of the Billy Graham Training Center. I asked him how his grandfather was doing … I knew he’d been quite ill earlier this year. Will said that back in December they called the family in to say their goodbyes … they really didn’t think he’d make it through the month. To everyone’s surprise, he rebounded and is doing fairly well now. Will commented that Billy jokes that he’s 95 and a half now. Just like a little one who thinks it’s important to add that “half” onto his own age. When you hit 90, you may start doing the same thing.
It’s always great to meet unpretentious,
genuinely nice people who, although famous,
are using their fame to try to make
this world a better place.
We spent the next couple of hours eating and visiting. My mother, whose age I won’t divulge here, took her first ride ever on a Segway. She looked like a teenager cruising down the driveway.
Todd gathered us together one more time and asked Phil to lead us in a final prayer. As “the duck guys” piled into their van, Jep, the youngest Robertson, asked Sarah to sign one of her Going Rogue books for Uncle Si. Pretty soon, she was signing books for the whole clan. It was funny to our family … we were all a little starstruck by the Robertsons, and they seemed starstruck by Sarah. Before the van doors closed, Miss Kay thanked Sarah for her courage in not always taking the politically correct path. Sarah thanked them for the same thing.
From the barbecue, the Robertsons headed over to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer where they were scheduled to speak. I asked Phil earlier what he was going to say and he said he was just going to wing it. Here’s a good example of why you should take a lot of what the media reports with a grain of salt: The Huffington Post, and a few other news outlets, reported that the Robertsons speaking at the Fair was going to divide Alaskans and would be met with boycotts and protests. My mother-in-law, Jean, waited over an hour in line to hear them, and sat through the whole program without noticing anything the least bit negative. The audience obviously loved the Robertsons.
The next morning, I got a call from Mom telling me that they were about to board a plane and fly out to Port Alsworth with the Grahams. The Duck Dynasty crew would be meeting them there. The purpose of this trip was to greet wounded veterans and their spouses who were out there on a retreat. Samaritan’s Purse has constructed a center on the shores of Lake Clark where vets returning from combat can spend time with their spouses getting to know each other again. War changes people. And the adjustment many veterans (and their spouses) have to make when they return home can be especially challenging. As far as I know, this may be the only place in the country that provides this kind of thing for our servicemen.
Dad told me that you wouldn’t believe how those soldiers’ faces lit up when “the duck guys” emerged from the plane. He said they were pretty excited about getting to meet Sarah too … I think they appreciate how much she’s always supported them.
I asked my mother to write something about her trip and here are her words:
“We were so fortunate to spend the afternoon in Port Alsworth on the shores of Lake Clark where Samaritan’s Purse has developed a beautiful spot for Wounded Warriors and their spouses to have a week of complete relaxation, beauty, fishing and inspiration. Each couple has a beautiful cabin cleverly decorated in different motifs. The grounds are gorgeous and the meals prepared by excellent chefs are first class. The huge staff of mostly volunteers has made it an ideal spot for the couples to reconnect after the emotional and physical stress of deployment while serving our country. It was a privilege to see first-hand this aspect of Samaritan’s Purse. We’ve known for years of the good this organization has done in Alaska as well as throughout the U.S. and the world. We’re so thankful that the Grahams have selected such a gorgeous place for our well-deserving military couples. And we are very thankful for the residents of Port Alsworth who showed up to welcome the soldiers with flags waving and heartfelt handshakes.”
All-in-all, it was a pretty exciting weekend. It’s always great to meet unpretentious, genuinely nice people who, although famous, are using their fame to try to make this world a better place. That’s pretty refreshing in today’s society.