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HOMETOWN HEROES: Delivering faith through purpose

David Sundine found Christ at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1970s, and the Air Force veteran has kept the faith close ever since--through his work as a foster parent, as a jail chaplain, and as a mentor to youth throughout Grand Forks.

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David Sundine shows family photos displayed on his stairway. Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald.

David Sundine found Christ at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1970s, and the Air Force veteran has kept the faith close ever since-through his work as a foster parent, as a jail chaplain, and as a mentor to youth throughout Grand Forks.

The 63-year-old East Grand Forks is a grandfather to 15. He works as a supervisor in UND's electronics shop, a job vaguely like a chief mechanic for the university's electronic hardware, from key card readers to computers.

But he it's the time spent serving others that prompted his nomination for "Hometown Heroes," an annual Herald distinction for those who find ways to impact the community.

"I think it's just part of serving the Lord with whatever gifts and talents and interests that I have," Sundine said. "We just accept the assignment that he gives and the interests that he gives and the gifts that he gives."

Finding a path

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Sundine's path towards service started decades ago, when graduated from Illinois's Rockford East High School in 1970 and then went on to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He didn't stay long, though-the early '70s were the height of the Vietnam War, he explained, and with a low draft number, Sundine decided to join the Air Force.

Before he shipped out, he met Ben, a campus Christian leader who found him in a dorm building while Sundine ironed his ROTC clothes. Ben asked him to pray with him, Sundine said, and at first he said no. But the more he thought about it, the more important the opportunity began to feel.

"I'm not sure what happened over that weekend, but I realized that what I was doing in my life wasn't working," said Sundine, joking that he was a "distracted student" back in the 1970s. He ultimately decided to become a committed Christian.

Sundine took his first assignment with the Air Force in Minot, where he worked first with communication and security systems, before becoming an instructor and later a technical engineer for weapons systems. In 1986, he was a career development course writer at an Air Force Technical school in Illinois. He came to the Grand Forks Air Force Base in 1993 and worked as an equipment supervisor.

All the while, he and his wife Cheryl-his high school sweetheart, whom he married in 1972-were working and growing together. As early as their time in Minot, they worked with youth at a local church.

"He's certainly worthy of it, in my opinion," Cheryl Sundine said of the Hometown Heroes nomination. "I think that's an awesome thing to honor people, when they do well. They don't do it because they're looking for recognition, they do it because they've got a big heart."

A life of service

After coming to Grand Forks, Sundine started putting down many of the roots he's best known for today.

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In 1994, he got involved with the Royal Rangers at Valley Christian Church. Many of those involved compare it to the Boy Scouts, but with a strong religious bent. Sundine doesn't like that comparison.

"It's different in that our specific aim is to develop godly young men," Sundine said. "I want to take them on this journey for godly manhood. Boys have this question-do I have what it takes to become a man?"

Through canoe trips, merit badges, and talks on leadership in the Valley Christian Church kitchen, that's what Sundine has strived to do, and it's made an impression on those around him-and not just the boys.

Morgan Walsh began volunteering with the Royal Rangers in the years after Sundine joined. He said it's been a joy not only to teach alongside him, but to learn from him.

"When I was growing up, I didn't have much of a father figure," Walsh said. "I had a dad who was a very hardworking guy, but let me put it this way, he maybe treated us a little rougher than most parents would have."

Walsh said he's grown from learning all of his "Dave-isms"-like from the time a few of the Royal Rangers boys broke a light fixture, and Sundine had to say to them, "Boys, we don't affix blame. We fix the situation."

In 2000, Sundine became a jail chaplain at Grand Forks County Correctional Facility, taking on the role after being invited to fill in for a departing work colleague.

"The whole point is that Christ is worthy to be known and be made known," Sundine said, recounting Christ's teaching to feed the hungry and give aid to the sick. "Jesus tells us that when we've done it unto the least of these, we've done it unto him."

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The Lord needs him and his fellow jail chaplains there, and the ministry helps to change inmates' lives, Sundine said.

"I get to know them, I get to appreciate the fellowship. I see them as individuals who have crossed the line and have regrets and want different results in their life," he said. "I can relate to that."

He's served as a foster parent, too. Sundine and his wife took in five of their grandchildren in the mid-2000s when family matters called for it, and went on to take care of six other children through foster or respite care in coming years.

"We know that parents go through rough times, and they need help and the kids need to be in a safe home, a loving home, where they can be loved and cared for, while their parents are getting help," Cheryl Sundine said. "So we do it, because we love kids."

David Sundine said he doesn't plan to take on any more roles in the community, but that he does hope to stay involved until he's at least 85-and that means he's got at least 20 more years in the community.

"It's meaningful," Sundine said. "And we all find satisfaction in doing the meaningful in life and the purposeful."

Related Topics: FAITHFAMILY
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