By Ray Ferris
Few people have had a longer relationship with Leslie Diestelkamp than I. When I was born, he was a lad of eleven and one-half years in my home, having been with my mother and father from the time of their marriage almost four years earlier. Even so, our association was limited as he was away in high school and working out of the home by the time I was able to be aware of what a “big brother” could mean in a family setting. He was, nevertheless, an impressive influence in my early years.
He married before I was ten years old, and I can well remember his effort to persuade me to trade my new rifle for his first daughter, Wanda, when she was born. Of course, I refused to think of sacrificing my treasured gun for a baby, and he was not required to reveal that he was only teasing. Many who knew him did not realize his love for humor and desire to tease. On numerous trips we made with others in later years to lectures, debates, etc. he would be involved in almost unbelievable pranks to help such long journeys to be times of enjoyment and fun. Participating in an effort to convince a waitress that one of his companions was being transferred to a mental institution, while enjoying the con-fusion of the waitress and his companion; calling a well-known preacher to try to convince him he ought to provide for an indigent who was begging help from the church, etc. are examples of his humor and fun. He was, nevertheless, one who was extremely driven to accomplish any work of which he was a part, in an expeditious manner, and that was especially true of any work that was spiritual in nature.
This was never more apparent than in the early days of the publication of Truth Magazine, later to become the Guardian of Truth. In the mid-fifties, when a group of us met in the home of Bryan Vinson, Jr. to talk of the possibilities of such an undertaking, Leslie was there and became an ardent proponent of such a task. He really desired the paper to be one that could be mailed free of charge, but was willing to be part of what was eventually begun in October 1956, as the first issue of the paper appeared. He was al-ways available to help in every way. Bryan Vinson, Jr. was editor until the magazine was taken over by Cecil Willis, and Leslie and Gordon Pennock served as Associate Editors during that period. Rarely did an issue of the paper appear without an article from his pen, and in addition he was editor of a section of “News Briefs” in the early years of the publication. Regularly he was present as we read galley proofs for correction, then assembled final printed pages, stapled them, addressed them, sorted them as required by the Post Office, and delivered the final product to the Post Office for mailing. He served with others of us on a “Board of Directors” responsible for those early years, and was a participant when we provided individual financial assistance to supplement money from subscriptions and advertising. At times the “Board of Directors” had to borrow funds for such help.
He was with us on several occasions as we went to lectures in Texas and Florida to make special efforts to sell subscriptions to the magazine. It was extremely urgent that we in-crease the number of subscriptions for financial reasons, and we wanted to establish a reading clientele in various parts of the nation, and ultimately, the world. It is my considered judgment that great good was accomplished by this paper in its early days, especially in the Chicagoland area, in the battle against institutions, sponsoring churches, general benevolence from church treasuries, secular use of church buildings, etc. There was a close-knit group who spent many hours together in that effort in a number of different print shops, offices, and homes. Leslie was always a significant part of such efforts.
After Cecil Willis assumed responsibility in every way for production of the paper, most of us who had been so involved through those first six years, breathed a sigh of relief, and did little to further the continued success of the paper, seldom writing material for publication in it. But such was not true of Leslie. Even though he did begin the free paper he had envisioned years earlier (Think on These Things) in 1969, and wrote most the material contained therein, he continued to be a frequent writer in the pages of Truth Magazine, and later in Guardian of Truth. When it was necessary for Cecil Willis to step aside in that effort, and at a time when the magazine was at a low ebb, a series of articles by Leslie in 1978 on the family was a “shot in the arm” that helped the paper. That series became the publication known as The Family Circle, and was later revised to be used as a text for class study on the family. Both were published by the Cogdill Foundation, and both are out of print at the present.
Although Leslie was not an aggressive proponent of his own views, he was al-ways ready to engage in discussion of all matters that involved what he conscientiously believed. This is evident by any search of recent pages of Guardian of Truth. His voice and pen were at the very heart of the controversy of recent years regarding the “Grace Fellowship” discussions. While it is true Leslie made statements with which many were not happy, and that includes some that I personally believe to be ill advised, anyone who really knew him knows he was not a Calvinist neo, or otherwise, and to charge him as such is not responsible or charitable.
As I travel throughout this land and meet brethren, there is hardly a place one can go that his name is not known and respected. What man in this century has had greater influence in the promotion of evangelism in every part of the world? His family is a living monument to his dedication to the spirituality of the “family circle” about which he wrote and preached so often. The overflow crowds at the memorial services in Aurora, Illinois, where he lived at the time of his death, and at St. James, Missouri, in the area where he was raised and began his first work of preaching the word, were surely testimonials to the love and respect of a host of brethren for him.
Many pages of material could be writ-ten of the seventy-two plus years of my association with this man from my birth to his death September 12, 1995, but may it suffice to say that without question “there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel.”
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No. 23, p. 14-15
December 7, 1995