Friday, June 4, 2010

Hall of Fame: The Big Dogs

The First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee was fortunate enough to own a bus when I arrived there in 1994.  I had always wanted to be part of a youth ministry with its own bus; I thought that had to be a huge advantage when it came to trips and big events.  I was right- the bus was a wonderful ministry tool.  But it would have been useless without people who were willing to drive it!

As I began to plan our first ski trip for January of 1995, I discovered that we had a couple of men in the church for whom driving the bus for the youth was a ministry.  They were both fathers of youth group kids, and both loved giving their time to drive the monster bus.  The late Vern Watson (on right) was a homicide detective.  David Johns (left) was a...well, I was never sure!  I know he had an important role in the planning of the Poinciana community just outside of Kissimmee.  In any case, Dave and Vern were the official bus drivers for our ski trips.  They scheduled vacation around the event.  They told me their feelings would be hurt if they didn't get to drive!  This was clearly very important to them, and it only took one trip to understand why- nobody on these trips had more fun than Vern and Dave!  We knew them as The Big Dogs;  Vern even had a big dog tattoo.  They took Jerry Hanbery (pictured with Vern below) under their wings, and he became the BDIT- Big Dog in Training!  They took their roles in our ministry very seriously, and we could not have done all that we did without them.

Sitting up front and listening to them talk was worth the price of the ski trip.  Whoever was driving was receiving constant advice, insults and harassment from the other, sitting right behind the driver's seat.  There was constant playful bickering, just like an old married couple.  They were not just drivers; they were the entertainment!  Dave would put a sock on his hand and reach out his window, then back in through Vern's and talk to him like a puppet.  The youth and youth counselors all had to sleep 4 to a room, while the drivers got their own room.  Vern would annually offer to share his room with anyone who felt slighted, as long as they understood that he slept naked.  No takers were ever found.  They always kept the long bus rides fun, and Vern's tiny bladder kept the distance between stops to a minimum.  More stories of their adventures will be told along side of other ski trip stories as time goes by, but until we sold the bus in 1999, they were a huge part of our student ministry.

As much as they loved to to annoy each other (see Dave holding up Vern!), Dave and Vern also loved to harass the other adults on our trips. They always paid particular attention to Cathy Thacker (now Rev. Cathy Thacker!) and Dr. Jill Painter (to whom Vern would later be father-in-law).  One of my favorite memories of them involved my own near death experience.  Jill had given me this huge chewy sweet tart, and as I swallowed a piece of it I began to choke.  I coughed and tried to catch my breath, but nothing was working.  No one seemed too concerned, and when I finally got my throat cleared Dave, Vern and I began give Dr. Jill grief because she had not come to my rescue.  She told them she did not know that I was really choking because I had not given the international distress signal- grabbing my throat.  Vern laughed and said that he thought the international distress signal for choking was yelling, "Oh shoot ( he didn't say shoot, but this is a family blog...) I'm choking!"  I think we all laughed for about an hour.  And this was the kind of thing that happened every time they were with us.  The Big Dogs made every trip they were on better- and there is nothing more you can ask for from adult voluteers.

For their dedication, their ministry and their spirit of fun and adventure, Vern Watson and David Johns become the first adults inducted into my Youth Group Hall of Fame.  

Because of Jesus,


  1. Those two were a hoot. If memory serves me well, I remember one time Mr. Watson (I believe it was...with the assistance of Mr. Johns) had to do some fancy driving during a ski trip when the bus tires were not getting traction on the snow and the bus was sliding backward (if I remember correctly)...and there was a hill or something behind the bus. And I think Ms. Thacker drew a picture of it. :)

  2. Thanks for the memoroies! I sure do miss my dad.

  3. Me too, Becky! He was a great guy and a good friend!

  4. Daniel enjoyed looking at the picture of Paw Paw's tatoo. Driving the bus was always something he loved to do. He could get away from everyday worries. Thanks

  5. Glad Daniel enjoyed it, Brian. Your dad was a very special guy.

  6. I am glad to see that in the picture of Vern and Jerry that you can see Vern's coffee stirrer. He was never without that! What a wonderful man... I sure do miss him... You know that John and I went on our first "official" date from the Watson's house... you could have heard a pin drop when they asked us what we were doing, and we said we were going to a movie... Vern's comment was: "By yourselves?" I was 25 and John was 22. I think we were old enough... I still laugh remembering his face... thanks for the post about BIG DOG!

  7. What a great story, Carlene! Thanks for sharing your memories of the BIG DOG- someone none of us will ever foget!


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