The Rev. Curt Frankhauser hadn't yet agreed to be the Cass County Sheriff's Office's volunteer chaplain when a deputy asked him to do his first death notification in 1979.
He wasn't sure he wanted the post, but he went along to comfort family members of a man who died in a car accident in north Fargo.
A couple of Sundays later, Frankhauser shared the experience at Fargo's First Assembly of God Church, where he had recently been hired as an assistant pastor. After his testimony, a young man approached him, thanking him for the sermon.
You see, a 16-year-old Ryan Anderson told Frankhauser, I am the son of the man who died.
Frankhauser prayed with Anderson, and encouraged him to accept Jesus into his heart. Anderson, now 49, still chokes up when he talks about the exchange. He was leading a lifestyle that "not only was going to get me killed but also was against God."
Frankhauser's words that day helped turn it all around, Anderson said.
"He was just there. He was God's messenger who was following the lead of the Holy Spirit everywhere," Anderson said.
Thirty-three years later, Frankhauser, now pastor of Maranatha Free Lutheran Church's congregation in Ulen, Minn., is retiring from chaplaincy. He received a gold watch this falls, same as retiring deputies, but he leaves behind a distinct legacy.
'DAY OR NIGHT'
Through the decades, Frankhauser, 65, has always made himself available for death notification calls and to the sheriff's department employees, said Chief Deputy Jim Thoreson.
"Day or night, weekends, it didn't matter when we called on him," Thoreson said. "He was always there to answer the bell for us."
Perhaps most significant is the way Frankhauser has responded to needs of Cass County Jail inmates.
Since becoming chaplain in 1979, Frankhauser has built Jail Chaplains, a nonprofit organization that provides about 30 hours of programming in the jail each week, including Bible studies, parenting classes, anger management and even knitting. It pays for a full-time chaplain in the jail, and coordinates 25 volunteers who lead Jail Chaplains programs.
It's not a legacy he always wanted.
Frankhauser was in the military. His brother was in law enforcement. His heart was with the deputies, not the convicts, he said.
But, like Anderson said, Frankhauser followed the lead of the Holy Spirit, even into a jail cell of his own one time.
"Every time I went into the jail . I just continually saw the effect I was having," Frankhauser said. "If Jesus were here, that's where he would be."
TRASH TO TREASURE
It takes a compassionate heart to minister to people convicted of a crime. But it also takes street smarts, Frankhauser said. All mercy will get you eaten alive.
Page 2 of 3 - After about a decade of jail ministry, Frankhauser admits he became hard-hearted. He was tired of being searched each time he entered, of sitting in a small room in a hot jail. He would wait a couple days before responding to inmate visit requests.
One day, an inmate called him out on his bad attitude. You don't even want to be here, he told Frankhauser. You don't even like me.
Frankhauser said he was right.
So he asked then Sheriff Don Rudnick, who had recruited Frankhauser in the first place, to throw him in jail for a couple days.
Deputies brought him in through the drunk tank, he said. He spent time on each floor, needing to tell bigger lies for why he was there each level he moved up. His family came to visit him as if he were a real inmate.
Frankhauser watched the clock. Five minutes felt like an eternity. And he'd been making inmates wait days to see him.
The experience changed his motivation, he said. He told volunteers it's an honor and privilege to minister at a jail.
"The jail is a place where people are thrown away. We go in this junk pile and try to make treasure out of it," he said.
The job of ministering to inmates quickly became too large for one person, Frankhauser said, even more so as the inmate population grew. Today there are 200 to 230 inmates housed daily.
One thing Frankhauser says he excels at is being a talent scout. He identified volunteers who could go into the jail.
In 2005, he hand-picked businessmen to help him set up a nonprofit, now known as Jail Chaplains.
More recently, he approached Former North Dakota First Lady Nancy Schafer at a department store about joining the Jail Chaplains' board of directors.
Sgt. Ben Schwandt, who manages the programs division at the Cass County Jail, said Jail Chaplains and the jail have a good partnership. The volunteers have access unheard of at other facilities, largely thanks to the trust Frankhauser has built over three decades.
"I've heard from many inmates that the Cass County Jail is really where they learn their lesson in life and really where they find their faith, because they're not exposed to this kind of programming before," Schwandt said.
The work of Jail Chaplains is fundamental in achieving Sheriff Paul Laney's mandate that the jail not warehouse people, but give them a chance at rehabilitation and reintegration into the community, he said.
"It's been very helpful in maintaining a structured, well-run and quiet facility," Schwandt said.
Through donations, Jail Chaplains employs Mike Sonju as a full-time chaplain. It recently brought on a female chaplain and started renting office space. Its next venture is a potential partnership to create transitional housing for individuals coming out of jail, where they would have a safe place to live and be matched with faith-based role models.
Page 3 of 3 - Frankhauser said he resisted each step, each budget increase. But he followed the Spirit.
Gerri Leach, who has taken over for Frankhauser as executive director of Jail Chaplains, describes Frankhauser as a "prayer warrior" with "a heart to reach out to broken individuals."
"I think sometimes we think pastors are different than we are as parishioners, but they're human just like we are," Leach says. "What makes any of us different is when we do what the Lord asks us to do even when we don't feel like it, or feel like we're equipped to do it. It's reaching beyond. It's taking a calling that's beyond what we see as our capabilities."