Tribute to Kenny and Donna Flaspoehler
July 20, 2007
By Benjamin T. Hoak
If you’ve attended Heritage Baptist Church for any length of time, you know the Flaspoehlers. Slightly crazier than the average couple, they’ll leave a huge hole when they’re gone. It’s hard to think of HBC without them because they’ve affected so many people in so many ways – sometimes goofy, sometimes compassionate, sometimes motivational, but always memorable.
Think, for instance, of their names. Their last name is unpronounceable – or at least unspellable – the first time you hear it. You can’t count the number of times they’ve been referred to as the “Flashpoehlers.” And I bet half of us still can’t spell it correctly. As for their first names, if we call Darv by her real name, people will be looking around, wondering who this “Donna” lady is. And Kenny’s nickname of “Coach” came from the young people because he was just that for many of us – a coach who encouraged, exhorted, challenged and laughed with us.
Speaking of nicknames, at some point, Coach and Darv took to bestowing them on anyone and everyone. Though they’re now grown and have their own families, Steve and Jon Wilson will be forever known as Gus and Al, even to people not from our church. And if you don’t know who P.A. (Party Animal) is, well, just look who’s in charge of entertainment for the evening. Not many kids at Heritage have escaped without some sort of name that their mother certainly never chose.
Kenny’s skill with words and the guitar have surfaced in many ways over the years. From the funny (The Ballad of Terri Ann Tong) to the poignant (Chad’s Song) to the scriptural (Noah), his melodies are still ringing in our ears. He was a mainstay of entertainment at the classic Tong hayrides, doing everything from leading group singing (Hey Lottie, Lottie) to participating in sketches to acting in general like the lunatic that he is.
Many of us remember crowding into the stairwells at the church building, turning out the lights and hunkering down for an old-fashioned ghost story from Coach. We’d flood out at the end, dripping from the accumulated moisture in that small space, but always knowing we’d heard a classic, Coach’s voice pitch-perfect every step of the way, a born storyteller.
To step onto an athletic field or court with Coach was to enter a field of battle – especially if it was for the annual Flaspoehler Turkey Bowl, for which I’m sure he’ll make a few return trips to Owensboro. Sports with him were always intense, never easy and always worth it. And it wasn’t just traditional games that he thrived on. His tennis ball relays are legendary. He even tried his hand at adventure racing – I’m sure Darv is just glad he survived.
Some of us had the privilege – if you can call it that – of camping with Kenny. And while certain things that happened on those trips cannot be repeated under pain of death, we’ll just say that the “Human Compass” was not infallible.
And then there were the times when the phone would ring and there would be a wacko on the other end of the line, wanting to know if this would be a good time to deliver the 10 tons of tuna salad you had requested on your front lawn. He’d always have an outlandish name, an even more outlandish back story and a voice that defied description. San Antonio has no idea what’s about to hit them. It’s not widely known, but the real reason Coach and Darv are moving is that he has run out of prank phone call victims in Owensboro.
Never a computer man, Kenny wrote out most things – thoughts, songs, landscape drawings – on a yellow legal pad. Also never one to sit idle, his brain was constantly at work, thinking, planning, creating, whether it was ridiculous made up names – Moge Grotchitoge, anyone? – or a mission action society that we know today as M.A.S.H.
If you needed an event planned, Darv was your woman. She could and would do it all, with an enthusiasm that was infectious. You never worried about having something to talk about with her, and you’d even get excited about whatever it was, even if you’d never thought about the topic in your life. She was always into something – volunteering at her kids’ school, planning receptions, keeping books on the side, exercising, decorating homes.
The Flaspoehlers built a thriving landscape business from the ground up. If you weren’t at work by “7 bells” every morning, you were burning daylight. Many a man from Heritage Baptist Church has donned the illustrious green shirt and spent very long days digging holes, spreading mulch and sweating under a blazing sun. Some employees lasted longer than others. Some thought they’d never escape. And while you wouldn’t get rich driving one of the green trucks around town, you would learn to work, and you’d learn to do the job correctly. You’d also learn that even when the boss had been off the jobsite all day (he claimed he was “bidding on other jobs,”) he still got the credit from the homeowner because his name – spelled correctly – was on the shirts.
The Flaspoehlers’ home was always open – literally. A perpetually unlocked door out on Hayden Bridge Road invited in friends, employees, neighbors, burglars . . . whoever happened by. You could sit and chat for hours and never feel like you were overstaying your welcome.
Family has been second only to God in their lives. From their four kids to the extended Flaspoehler and Wells clans, Kenny and Darv have poured their lives into those closest to them. At anything from church services to sporting events to holiday gatherings, you’d be likely to see quite a few family members – and none of them would be too shy about giving their opinions. Kenny also holds the distinction of giving the longest – and best – answer I’ve ever heard to the question, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”
Over the years, Kenny and Darv have been constants teaching Sunday School as well – Darv with the little kids, Kenny with the older ones. Just about every child at HBC has probably been in one of their classes and been affected by their passion for serving God. That always came out whenever Kenny got behind the pulpit also. We would come away challenged, convicted and inspired.
While the landscaping business was good, it didn’t scratch where Kenny itched. He longed to do more, to have an eternal impact, especially upon young people. So he made it happen. He went back to college. He studied. He got his daughter to type his term papers. He drove to Bowling Green for classes. And he earned his teaching degree.
That pursuit of eternal excellence is now leading the Flaspoehlers away from here. It would have been easy to stay in Owensboro. It would have been easy to find a teaching job, coach a football team, get involved, say they were having an impact. But God didn’t call the Flaspoehlers to something easy. They’re not made for easy. Their gifts, their talents, their personalities are put together for something more. God has called them to where they’re needed, to where they can get their hands dirty in reaching souls for Christ. That’s the burden of their hearts and they can’t ignore it.
To know the Flaspoehlers is to love them. To love them means it’s hard to say goodbye. They have been friends, mentors, colleagues, fellow laborers in the Gospel. We’ll miss them tremendously. Owensboro’s loss is San Antonio’s gain. We send them with our blessing. This separation is but for a moment, and then we’ll have eternity. Godspeed to you, our dear friends. Godspeed.