“Where you from?” asked the young sailor of his fellow inductee in ’67. “Kalamazoo,” the lad responded. “No, really” returned the questioner, “where you from?”
Kalamazoo was indeed the birthplace of Dave Drenth, the first of five children; two younger brothers and sisters. Their father was a carpenter, Mom a homemaker. Dave explained that he “grew up in the Reformed Church” and rituals of childhood would find family members reading out loud, verse by Bible verse around the dinner table after the evening meal. Those seeds sown early have continued to bear fruit in Chaplain Dave of Sacramento, California, and what he explains is his “relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Dave, 71, began riding at 16 and his first adventure behind handlebars was with a Sears Allstate Moped and then a “Thrifty, Nifty Honda 50” a sales pitch coined in the early ’60s.
Graduating in 1965, by ’66 his low number for the military draft was likely to send him to Vietnam. He chuckled explaining why he chose the Navy: “I thought it might leave me better off.”
Always good at wrenching, Dave would become a Navy Engineman, taking on the study needed to achieve the role. According to Wikipedia a Navy Engineman’s duties include “aligning piping systems for oil, water, and air for controlling the operation of diesel engines used for ship propulsion and service systems,” but when ships are steam powered, the tasks might be tending diesel generators used to produce electrical power, watching over HVAC systems or other preventive maintenance.
Dave would serve on three ships, in the West Pacific initially on the USS Pickaway, and back home to be first crew on the USS White Plains, well out of the combat zone. Then returning to the combat zone aboard the USS Rainier it would be “engine room time for me.” He got out of the military in 1970 and armed with his new-and-improved skills, began working in machining in the Sacramento area.
It wasn’t long before he went into business for himself in steel fabrication. For 24 years his shop made ends meet but 9/11 found client projects drying up. Although he remained in business for the better part of a year afterward, the books were in the red. He began side jobs making individual parts locally and explained, “I was 65K upside down in April ’02 and by June, was on even ground.” He worked from ’05–‘16 for a local machine shop doing design and fabrication on automatic transmission parts, learning to use a CNC and putting together transmission kits.
Dave rides a 1975 Honda Goldwing, purchased new. In the 43 years since he’s managed to ride in 49 states, Canada, Mexico and Alaska putting on 476,000 clicks. In ’83 he discovered the Christian Motorcyclists Association and rode with them for 31 years. He was also with the Sierra Road Riders Association, an organization of about 40 different clubs. It was with that organization that his chaplaincy found him responsible for a page in the SRR’s monthly newsletter and for worship services at bike campouts. Often those requesting Chaplain Dave did so because of overhearing him speak and to their surprise, realizing they were moved. In time, to reach more campers Dave was mic’d up. One club even fined members if they weren’t in attendance at the outdoor services.
It was in ’85 that Dave and his wife Annette bought a home just south of downtown Sacramento, a $26,000 single story to which they’d add a floor by ’92. Growing up 12 miles apart in Michigan, attending different schools, after meeting at a summer getaway in Colorado Springs, a three-year courtship resulted in Dave and Annette’s marriage 50 years ago.
In 1991 the Sacramento chapter of SSR disbanded and a popular run that had been a staple of the group since ’84 was aiming to slip through the cracks. Dave decided to step in, renaming it “Chaplain Dave’s Run.” Within a few years Dave had marinated steaks on the barbecue for over a thousand attendees with two barbecue pits plating meals in 3 ½ hours. Dave recalled, “Everyone raved about the steaks.”
The official club chaplaincy ended in ’01 but Dave has continued to perform marriages, funeral services and has been present for the dying and for those suffering loss. He’s served in the great outdoors, in hospitals, houses of worship and the occasional clubhouse. From the early days of becoming a chaplain, Dave recognized how he might serve and stepped up.
Dave Drenth is a pleasure to engage and it’s unsurprising that his demeanor has disarmed the unsuspecting. A medical challenge of late has been an adjustment for Dave, but medications solve the noticeable shaking that sometimes accompanies Parkinson’s disease. Accepting it with grace, he said, “God is good.”