Captain’s Log-18 March 2011-My Friend Dennis Sturdevant

Beautiful mountain scenery of Mozambique that Dennis and I flew by to pick up the Halo Trust man injured by a mine.

I had just gotten my private pilot’s license so I told the boys in my Sunday school class that I would take them all for a ride.  Darren, Dennis’ brother could not bear to do it without his big brother having a shot at it as well so he asked me if Dennis could come to.  He assured me that his big brother had always wanted to be a mission pilot with JAARS and this would be his first time to see what flying was really like.  I told him it would be fine.   So, I gave Dennis and Darren their first rides in an airplane.  He did go to JAARS and was accepted but he and Nancy, his lovely wife, felt that they were being called in a different direction.  He went on to start his own Helicopter Company and also became a Board Member of MAF, who I work with, and really did us all proud.

Dennis took this picture as we strapped the mine victim into the plane and got him on oxygen for the trip back to the hospital

Whenever we were back in the states I went out to their little Chehalem airport, in back of Newberg, Oregon to where Precision Helicopters sat nestled among mountains surrounded by oak trees, horse ranches and Hazel nut orchards.   It is a truly beautiful place to learn to fly.  I helped Dennis flying fire patrol for the forest service and he helped me get my helicopter rating.  Now, I spend my days trying to get my bush planes into the shortest little spots I can, while Dennis can whip his MD500 into a hole between huge pine trees backwards.  I loved the idea of it and I got to do it with a little help from my friend.  On one trip back to the states I got my private pilot helicopter license and the next time back I got my Commercial License.  It was great fun and a real change from what I had been doing in Africa.

When Dennis became a board member with MAF, he was required to come to a field where we work to see what it is really like and he naturally came to Zimbabwe to visit us.

It was a truly memorable time for both of us.  He went on many flights with me, including a trip to Mozambique.  We were just coming in to land in Nampula when Dave LePoidevin, our Mozambique program manager, got on the HF radio. At one point there was estimated to be 1.5 land mines per every man, woman and child in the country and now a man with Halo Trust, a demining organization, had just been blown up while trying to clear a minefield and we had been asked to take an emergency flight to pick him up and bring him to the hospital in Nampula.

Dressed up for demining with protective gear in front of the Halo Trust vehicle at one of the mine sights where they worked. There are still uncovered areas of your body, as you can see, but the bulk of the blast is taken by the gear.

We were very happy to be able to jump in and help.  As we loaded the patient into the plane, we put our hands on him and prayed for him and I remember great peace coming over his face.  It was a beautiful flight back through some spectacular granite mountains that would be a rock climbers dream.  It really made an impression on Dennis.

Dennis provides the food for our trip to the valley and for lots of others as well.  Here we are by an African Star Chestnut tree in the Umi River valley.

At the end of his stay, I arranged a visit to my great friend, Dudley Roger’s, hunting area in Gokwe, where Dennis was able to take a kudu and impala for the meat supply in the hunting camp and our trip down the valley.

Then we drove on to our other close friends, Bill and Meryl Taylor, in Chalala in the Bumi Hills area on Lake Kariba.  They spend their days doing an elephant study on the lake shore and we have had some remarkable experiences with them there.   Some weeks before, they were sitting in their vehicle watching a group of elephants walk down to the lake when a young baby elephant broke away from the group, came right up to the truck on Meryl’s side and lifted its’ little leg to reveal a snare cutting deep into its’ flesh.  It was as though he knew Bill would help and expected him to pull out his wire cutters on the spot and take it off right there.  As one does.  But Bill didn’t have wire cutters with him in the truck.  That kind of thing doesn’t happen twice, so Bill got on the horn and tried for all he was worth to get a vet up to do a snare removal exercise.  He knew of at least 4 eles carrying snares in the area alone.

A young elephant having had a snare around it back right leg. We see trunks cut off or hanging by bits of skin which must be incredibly painful. click on to see well.

We showed up just in time for the operation and it just so happened they needed someone to be safety backup for the Vet with the dart gun.  This can be dangerous, as the elephant may very well take offense at being darted in the bum and just come and stomp you!  So, someone with  guides license and a rifle needs to be there to control the situation if necessary.  I had my trusty .416 with me and got the privilege of being that guy.  Dennis and Cher were able to come along and we first went for the little ele that had held his foot up to Meryl.  The plan was to dart the mother and, because the baby will stay beside the downed mom, someone would then run up and pole-syringe the baby.  It was a odd situation and something I will never forget.  The group was split in two with the mother and baby by themselves; a perfect setup. The rest of the group were down the shoreline about 100 meters to the right, eating peacefully.   Bill Taylor was in his vehicle by them with all our people and I was with Roger Perry, with the dart gun, and a few others.  As we came up to the mother she trumpeted, knowing something was up.  But there was no reaction at all from the other elephants!  Then, as the vet fired, she did the elephant rumble thing, which is undoubtedly coupled with infrasound communication not audible to human ears, and the whole right side group turned and ran, and I mean ran, to her aid.   The mom was down and the baby stood beside her.  Men approached looking very menacing, but before we could do anything the matriarch of the group charged in, wrapped her trunk around the little one’s neck and literally swept the baby elephant away between her legs and right into the middle of the rest of the group. In spite of our attempts to drive her back by firing a Tru-Flare Bear Banger over her head, which is usually very effective, she never hesitated.  I was very impressed with this matriarch’s bravery and her knowledge of what to do to foil our plans.  We just had to wait for another day.  Bill helped the downed mother by talking softly to her and covering her eye with her ear to protect it from sun damage.  She was given the antidote and within seconds she popped back up onto her feet and slowly joined the rest of the group.

Dennis and I watch Roger Perry and the team work on the snared bull elephant. The antidote works very fast and he was back up in a minute after we were finished.

Then we went for one of the big bulls that had a snare buried deeply in its’ ankle.  It was out on the grassy shoreline but as we approached it “casually” strolled toward the mopane scrub for more cover.  It was not the best situation as our view was now restricted and the bull could come at us without our seeing him till he was right on us.

As Roger and I started to enter the mopane, one of the cow elephants at the edge of the lake started sneaking up toward us.  Cher signaled from the vehicle that a cow elephant was coming in from behind.  I turned and saw her but I was worried about tipping off the bull to our position if I tried to yell her off, so as she came around the corner I stuck up my hand like a metro cop stopping traffic and the cow hit her brakes, turned and ran off.  Cher was impressed, and I was just a little surprised at how nicely it worked, but I was too busy to stop and think about it then.

We got right in close to the bull but he turned quickly and stared straight at us, giving no shot for the dart gun.  Finally I decided to yell and he pivoted around, giving Roger the chance to put a perfect shot into his bum.  He ran out to the edge of the mopane by the grass before going down and we were able to assist him with the snare and recovery.

It was wonderful to get to share all this with Dennis.  It’s the kind of thing that not everyone gets to take part in and he loved it.

Amazing Granite Inselbergs that cover Mozambique countryside make flying wonderful

Each time I came to visit in the states Dennis would just fire up a helicopter, which I thought was very cool, and let me fly it.  We would go up into the mountains and see elk or go have lunch at “Flying M” ranch or something else fun and special.  We talked deeply and encouraged each other.

I heard last month that Dennis had been diagnosed with virile liver cancer and today, only a month later, I have heard that he passed away yesterday.  I want to say that he could fly a helicopter like nobody I have ever seen, he could shoot straight and he told the truth.  But there are deeper things than that.  He was a good man and a good friend.  Not because he was so “good”.  He never would have said that about himself.  But he was covered with grace.   In a way that leaves you with the feeling that he really was very good indeed.  Grace is amazing that way.

He wrote to me on my blog when I was feeling a lull in hearing God talk to me.  He said some great things, probably the most important being to keep showing up to talk and listen.  I really like that.  The other thing that he said was that the silences are not for nothing.  They serve a purpose.  We don’t always know why, but I have been thinking hard on that.  I was thinking about how I go into the bush with friends who have taught me much, like Piet Clemence or Bill Taylor or Dudley Rogers.  If I am always with them I am in a learning mode and not really thinking for myself.  I experience things, but the ‘answer man’ is always there with the best idea.  But when I go alone, something changes.  I make decisions the best I can.  I make choices that need to be made because I have to and  that makes me grow in my ability to choose well.  Sometimes my choices are right and sometimes they aren’t but I grow because I have to do it myself.  It is easier when Piet or Bill or Dudley is there, but easy is not always best for me.  Maybe that is what Dennis was getting at.  Thanks for that my friend.  I will always remember you.

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16 Responses to Captain’s Log-18 March 2011-My Friend Dennis Sturdevant

  1. Lula Venera says:

    Man… the inselberg photo was great!!! I was in Malema by work (brazilian agricultural research) and described a soil profile near that mountain… I took a lot of photos of this mountain, maybe called Lema Mount… and I dreamed climbing it!!! I knew that another researchers from France or Germany lived on the top of the hill for one week… I have to do that!!!!

    • jcadd says:

      Hi Lula, Mozambique is amazing for inselbergs. I use them as navigation aids as I fly that country. There are some wonderful shapes. One that looks like a long steam train, one a Porche 911, many that look like great whales breaking the water surface with the trees looking like water splashing all around. There were big gum drops and one even looks like the entrance to a train tunnel. It is nice to know someone is studying them. Thanks for writing in.

  2. Don Grondin says:

    Nancy, Tyler & Mitchell:
    I was saddened to learn today of the news that Dennis has passed away and now lives in the house of the LORD forever. He was not only a client of mine but one who I thought of as a friend. Dennis would always refer other clients to me and when flight training was an issue for our transition pilots, the insurance industry knew and respected the training conducted by Dennis Sturdevant was the very best!
    I’m sure Tyler will follow in his Dad’s footsteps.

    I would like to pass on to the family a poem that reminds me so much of Dennis which reads as follows:
    Who has lived well, laughed often and loved much;
    Who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children;
    Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
    Who leaves the world better than He found it;
    Who looked for the best in others,
    And gave the best he had.

    – Don

  3. Scott Canfield says:

    A couple years ago, I went to Dennis and Nancy’s house for a visit. We talked about God and church. Dennis was very encouraging, even inspiring. On the way home I thought to myself, why aren’t we closer friends? I reasoned that it was because there just wasn’t enough time. In Heaven there will be no shortage of time; it will be awesome!

    • jcadd says:

      Hey Scott, That will be awesome won’t it?! I sometimes think that I am not using the time I have for the things I really value. It is too much work to go and visit or I think I am spending time with my family because we are both watching the same TV program. Thanks for the good reminder to make a visit to our friends. I am looking forward to ours soon. Cheers, Jon

  4. Alice Maurer says:

    Thanks for sharing this tribute, Jon. Being a life-long friend of his Mom, I prayed for Dennis before he was born, and off and on through the years. But I learned more about him thru your blog than I had ever known. Blessings on you and Cher too!

  5. Curt Ankeny says:

    Good ole friend Jon. Thanks for the wonderful tribute to Dennis Sturdevant. Having been away from Newberg since 1985 I was not aware of all that he did nor about his successful business and wonderful family. I have always appreciated the freedom you have in expressing your love for everyone you meet; and your generosity in providing hugs.

    • jcadd says:

      Hey Curt, I always love hearing from you. We miss you in Newberg whenever we are there. I wish you were going to be there when we get back for a few months. I would love to give you a big hug. Love you my friend and brother. Jon

  6. Wayne Chapman says:

    Thanks Jon for this insight both to your friendship with Dennis as well as your work there. Dennis was special and had so much influences in so many places.


    • jcadd says:

      Hey Wayne, Long time my friend. Great to hear from you. Yes, Dennis was special and he will be missed by many as I know he will be missed my me. Thanks for writing in. Jon

  7. Sandy Dormer says:

    I was shocked to hear of Dennis’s passing. Such a fine person and family man. Two fine young Sons; a credit to their wonderful parents.
    I remember reading in our local paper, years ago, about how Dennis started his business; I was so impressed. I remember thinking that I wish I had that sort of panache. I think his Sons are displaying that same spunk and ability that Dennis had. Dennis will be missed by so many of us.

  8. Ken Scott says:

    I met Dennis years ago when I was searching a helicopter rating. His reputation as the best was so right on. He was patient, firm and fair. Onetime when getting my Turbine transition after buying a Hughes OH-6 from him, we we out flying and he was testing me on quick stops. He was frustrated with me and said “ken we are doing quick stops all the way back to the airport” which by the way was a good 30 miles…., GULP… I must had done 80 of them before he started laughing. He had such a way of teaching. I grew to love him very much. Today as I cry over him leaving and never getting the chance to tell him so. I find my self at peace as I know God has other plans for him. I hope to see him again some day. I will never forget you Dennis…..never.

  9. Bryan Joyce says:

    Thanks for the very nice tribute to Dennis. I am sorry to hear of Dennis untimely passing.

    I’ve known Dennis & Nancy for many years. In fact I took Dennis & Nancy’s engagement photos at the airport he later bought and ran Precision Helicopters from. I also took flight instruction through Chehalem Airpark.

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