OELWEIN – Most parents have a tendency to mix up their children. However, this was not the case when Anthony Arends was drafted into the Army in place of his older brother in 1952.
It wasn’t until his return to the U.S. that the Little Rock native became aware of the switch when the draft personnel jokingly asked him if he was glad he’d gone in early. They explained that Arends’ parents had volunteered him instead.
“I was upset, but I had this feeling inside that God had a plan for my life from day one. He kept me out of so many situations,” Arends said in a 2011 interview with the Grout Museum. “I just had a real interesting life and it was because God loves me.”
After being drafted, Arends was sent to a camp in California for basic training. He couldn’t hit anything when attempting to qualify for the M1 rifle. He had trouble crawling under barbed wire — constantly asking where the end was and even crawling the wrong way. It was difficult getting used to the strict structure and schedule of military life, too.
So he focused on getting involved with the United Service Organization, which is responsible for providing live entertainment programs and services to the U.S. armed forces members and their families.
He walked into the office and asked if they needed help. After learning about his experience in theater and singing, they accepted his offer. He began teaching dances to new performers and performing himself.
The USO brought Arends great joy and opportunities as “entertainment was my field.” One night, he was introduced to Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, stars of “Singing in the Rain,” and joined them on stage to perform a song from the movie.
Arends was set to sail to Korea, but was sent to Fort Hood, Texas, for training with a tank battalion. There, a colonel asked Arends if he could type, and he said yes, immediately becoming the officer’s secretary.
He received orders to Germany, but instead was sent to Indianapolis. He later returned to Texas and remained the colonel’s secretary for the remainder of his service.
Arends matured and his faith in God strengthened while in service. After being discharged, he became a pastor and served in small churches across the country. He began in Loyal, Okla., then Moana, La., before returning to Sioux Falls, where he grew up.
He met and married his wife in 1963, and they have four daughters — Molly, Marie, Melissa and Maria. He calls them his M&M’s.
Arends took a break from the ministry to work for JC Penney, a job, he said, “that was God building me up to know the many different things I’d have to do in his service.”
Eventually, he returned to the ministry and preached in Rushmore where he was ordained as a Baptist minister in Presbyterian churches, but was asked to leave due to the religious differences.
He then preached for nearly 15 years at a Baptist church in Sumner before finally settling in Oelwien.
Arends now resides in Florida with his family.
To this day, Arends values the experiences he had in the service and has kept his uniform — a 34-inch jacket and 24-inch waist trousers. The clothes remind him of his friends calling him “Skinny” because he weighed 130 pounds.
“Life has been a mixture of enough joy and enough bitterness and enough hatred that when I mix them all together, love came out the top,” Arends said. “My whole life has just been a joy, and I’ve lived it to the fullest and am going to keeping doing that as long as I can.”