In 1918 Frank Forbes married Elsie Appenzeller in their hometown of Rago in eastern Colorado. After the Great Depression, they settled on a 640-acre farm near Akron where they raised their five children.
The youngest three, Donald, Frank Jr. and Robert (Bob) were rowdy boys who grew up with knives and guns in their hands, and frequently skipped school to play pool at the local tavern. They were also in trouble with law enforcement officials for reckless driving and ignoring hunting regulations.
“We were wild and irresponsible,” recalled Frank, now the only surviving offspring. “No respect, no religion, no purpose in life.”
Enter Mr. Schade
Eventually Don went to Loveland, Colo., to find work and was hired by an Adventist contractor named Everett Schade. Mr. Schade soon realized this young man was very intelligent, despite his lack of formal education. Don could make anything with his hands using the simplest of tools.
Schade and his wife took a special interest in Don and often invited him to their home. Before long they were studying the Bible together. The words of Scripture sank deep into Don’s heart and by the time he was drafted to serve in the Korean War, he was already keeping the Sabbath. He knew that officially becoming a Seventh-day Adventist would make it easier for him to follow his conscience. So shortly before he shipped out, Don was baptized.
The war was a terrible, life-altering experience for him. Although he rarely talked about it, he never forgot the horrors he saw while stationed in a field hospital just behind the front lines. When the war was finally over, Don returned to his former job in Loveland working for Mr. Schade.
A life-saving miracle
Don wanted his brothers to also find peace and purpose, as he had in his new life. Frank had started smoking and drinking and knew he needed to get away and start over. Frank saw how Don had changed, and it did not take much persuading for Frank and Bob to join him in Loveland.
Schade offered them steady work building houses, and he and Don devised a plan. They positioned themselves so one of the brothers was always between them as they worked, and while they measured, hammered and sawed they talked about God and the Bible.
The younger brothers, however, didn’t want anything to do with religion, and angry words were often exchanged. At one point, they even threw Don out of the house where they lived.
The turning point came when Frank and Bob were nearly killed during a reckless, high-speed Saturday night “road race.” They and their three passengers were thrown from the car, which was totaled during the terrible crash. The state patrolman who came to the scene of the accident told Frank, who had been driving, it was a miracle any of them were alive.
As he lay in a hospital bed that fateful night, Frank determined to change his ways. He never smoked or drank again, and began to read the Bible his mother had given him many years ago. Through it all Mr. Schade was there–calmly and kindly offering guidance—and soon thereafter Frank and Bob were baptized.
Award-winning marksmen turn conscientious objectors
Frank admits some would have considered their baptisms to be premature. “It was January 1954 when Elder Raymond Wing baptized us in Loveland,” said Frank. “We didn’t really know much about Adventists, but Bob and I were going into the Army that month. And though we had volunteered for the draft, we didn’t want to carry weapons.”
Despite the fact that all three young men were excellent marksmen (Don and Bob won Colorado State shooting championships), they never touched guns while in the Army. The previous summer Frank and Bob had gone to Michigan to attend a cadet training program under the leadership of Union College’s Dr. Everett Dick, qualifying them to serve as medical cadets in the Army.
As they moved from one Army post to another during their two-year term of service, Frank and Bob studied themselves into the beliefs of the Adventist church. “I did all the Bible lessons by correspondence, and read the Conflict of the Ages series and all the Testimonies,” recalls Frank.
Frank and Bob’s final Army assignment was at Ft. McClellan in Alabama. As their term of service was nearing completion, an
Adventist woman named Mrs. Adams, who had taken the brothers under her wing, prodded them to decide what they wanted to do with their lives. Eventually she convinced them they should take advantage of the GI Bill and go to college on Uncle Sam’s dollar.
Provisional admission: a foot in the door
“Mrs. Adams told us there was an Adventist college in Lincoln, Neb., and it would be a good place for us. So that’s where we headed,” said Frank. They arrived on the campus of Union
College in fall 1956, eager to enroll and begin their studies. The college’s registrar, however, was less than impressed with their lack of formal education. Although they had taken their GEDs, they did not have high school diplomas.
“We went round and round,” chuckled Frank, recalling their conversation. “Finally she agreed to admit us on a provisional basis if we would take classes at Union College Academy, as it was called then. So there we were, in our 20s and out of the Army, sitting in basic math and English classes with 14- and 15–year-olds.”
Don also came to Lincoln, but spent only one day on the campus before deciding college life was not for him. “Classroom learning was too confining for him,” explained Don’s daughter, Pamela Forbes, a career educator currently serving as associate director of education for the Central California Conference. “He was a hands-on learner, an innovator and an inventor.”
So Don and his bride, Virginia (Post), bought a farm in Tennessee where she had grown up and raised their four children there: Pamela, Debbie, Michael and Lawrence (Bo).
In the meantime, Bob graduated from Union College with a degree in religion. A few years later, he and his wife Betty (Bloom) went to Malawi, Africa, as missionaries with their children, Brad and Beth. A third child, Barry, was born during their 13 years there.
Frank chose to become an elementary school teacher. He graduated in summer 1962 and taught in Adventist schools—often grades 1-8 in one room—for 35 years in Wyoming, Nebraska and Tennessee. He and his wife, Myrna (Banta) also raised three children: Brian, Bruce and Brenda.
Circles of service
Not only did the Forbes brothers serve the Adventist Church faithfully for over three decades, they modeled their Christian faith for their children and taught them to value education. All their offspring attended Adventist schools, and at the time of this writing five hold leadership positions in the Adventist Church.
“It’s truly a miracle how God used one man to completely change the lives of the Forbes brothers,” said Brad Forbes ’82, director of AdventSource, a ministry resource center located in Lincoln, Neb. “Mr. Schade is an inspiration to us all as we hear how he intentionally mentored them.”
Bruce Forbes ’86 and Barry Forbes, who have taught at Union College for 16 and 25 years respectively, agreed that the second miracle was Union College faculty recognizing the potential of “rough farm boys” and helping them develop their talents.
“I try to remember the facts about my dad when he came to Union, and how unprepared he was to succeed,” said Barry, chair of the Division of Business and Computer Science. “That helps me relate to students who need extra encouragement.”
Bruce, chair of the Division of Fine Arts, added that high school grades and college entrance exam scores are “only one indicator of potential. What matters most is attitude—a willingness to learn and work hard.”
In December 2014, Frank’s granddaughter, Kelti Dickerson Barcelow, graduated from Union with a degree in history. She has been leading a Pathfinder march and drill team at her church for the past three years.
Frank’s grandson, James Dickerson, is a sophomore at Union studying exercise science. He works at Campus Ministries as the concert coordinator for Friday evening vespers.
About the author: Brenda Forbes Dickerson ’86 is the editor of Outlook magazine.
By Brenda Forbes Dickerson ’86