Gleanings From a Life of Service
By Josh Valone
Keith Estes, a Clearwater resident since 1955, is a man who can speak easily on the topic of service. Whether it be service to his country or a higher power altogether, Estes has devoted much of his life to an ideal that becomes more scarce with each passing year.
His service began in a familiar place for so many members of the "greatest generation," after Estes was drafted into the US Army. He received 17 weeks basic training at Camp Roberts in California, preparing to take part in the invasion of Japan. President Harry Truman's fateful decision to drop the atomic bomb would eventually send him to the opposite side of the globe.
"I remember being on the firing line when the first atom bomb went off," he recalled. "We were supposed to lose 500,000 men in Japan, but we didn't even make the trip. I took a college course once where they said we shouldn't have dropped the bomb, but I can't agree with that. Of course I would have been on the front line, that probably has something to do with my support of his decision."
So rather than taking part in an invasion, Estes traveled to Germany in a "victory ship" to assist with the reconstruction of Europe. What he found was a continent picking up the pieces after years of conflict. "It was desolate. There were so many displaced persons, some of them needed to find a way home, and others didn't want to go home because they might be killed. Cities were completely bombed out, just ruins. I remember driving down to the dump to deliver some trash and I saw people literally fighting over garbage. It was a terrible thing."
After completing his tour of duty, Estes returned home. The first thing he remembers seeing was perhaps our nation's most famous symbol. "I was excited to come home, of course, and we were sailing to New York harbor. I saw the Statue of Liberty as we approached shore, and tears came to my eyes."
Having already served his country, Estes turned his attention to a higher power. He accepted Jesus Christ as his savior at age 22, and that decision would shape his life following his time in the armed forces. After attending Trinity College and received a Bachelor of Arts, Estes began looking for work. The Salvation Army offered he and his wife, Delores, who he has now been married to for over 50 years, a job running a homeless shelter known as the Red Shield Lodge.
After five years they moved on. Estes inquired at the employment office and was told there was an opening at Chapel-By-The-Sea. He's been serving the local community through the church ever since, including being an assistant at First Congregational Church and then Christian Education Director at Chapel-By-The-Sea, but perhaps his most well known ministry is a column he has written weekly for the last 20 years.
"I remember asking the Garris', who owned the Beach Views at the time, if I could write a Bible column for the paper. They were very gracious, and supported the idea." That column has been a staple of the Beach Views, later renamed The Clearwater Gazette, ever since.
It can be a challenge to consistently produce anything for two decades, but he insists that it is never difficult to find new material for his column. "Someone asked me one time, 'how do you write an article like that?' and I told them the Bible is voluminous." Estes expects he'll continue his service in this way for years to come, carrying on a pattern he has followed throughout his life. "One of my old instructors said 'I was determined to master this book, but this book mastered me'. There is so much to discover, I'll never find everything. So I share a little of what I find, but there's always more."
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