Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

‘I plan to keep on with my ministry as long as I can’

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 6, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Deacon Bob King and his performing partner, Paddy Maguire. (IR photo)

Deacon Bob King, 82, a member of the first group of deacons ordained for the Diocese of Spokane in 1978, recently retired from parish ministry at Medical Lake’s St. Anne Parish. But he isn’t about to abandon his ministry as a deacon entirely.

Deacon King has served since the early 1970s at Lakeland Village, a community for the developmentally disabled located near Medical Lake.

The journey to the Diocese of Spokane and the permanent diaconate began for Robert King in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where he was born Oct. 4, 1923, to parents with French (his father) and French Canadian (his mother) origins.

He had one brother and one sister. Life was relatively uneventful until 13-year-old Robert’s father died unexpectedly while out of town on business, in Chicago. An artist, during the Great Depression of the 1930s Bob’s father painted pictures on the walls of bars – among other things – to make ends meet. The family was living in Memphis, Tenn., at the time.

“After my dad died,” Deacon King recalls, “my grandma and my aunt came down from Wisconsin, and we all went to Chicago. We hawked everything my dad had, and we left in the night because we couldn’t pay the rent. We went back to Fond du Lac, and we lived with Grandma. We went to school there, and I graduated from Fond du Lac Senior High School. I left a month early to join the Navy, and they sent me my diploma.”

Bob joined the Navy in May of 1941 but was given a medical discharge the following November, just before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered World War II. While still a teenager, Bob King told his mother that he wanted to become a priest, but she told him that the family couldn’t afford it. So he taught himself the skills of ventriloquism, bought himself a very inexpensive dummy – a “vent” – and began helping to support the family while he was still in high school. “I never even read a book about it,” he says.

A neighbor lady, witnessing Bob’s ventriloquism skills, said, “We’re having a little card party next week. Could you entertain for us?”

“Sure,” the young man said.

“I had three jokes,” Deacon Bob King recalls, “and she paid me 25 cents. Later, I won an amateur talent contest in Fond du Lac, and from there the word spread. They called me ‘the boy wonder.’”

After leaving the Navy, young King did his part by taking his show on the road for the U.S.O., entertaining the troops. Being an entertainer would become Bob’s work for many years. Early on, he met and became friends with two famous ventriloquists of the era, Paul Winchell and Edgar Bergan. “I did the camp shows for the U.S.O. all during World War II,” he says.

After many years of entertaining, in the early 1950s Bob and his wife – she has since died – moved to Spokane, where he helped out in various ways at a home for disabled people in the Gonzaga area. In the early ‘60s Bob King was hired at Lakeland Village as recreation director.

Deacon King recalls one boy, about seven years old, who would never speak. He hit on the idea of using his ventriloquist’s dummy and discovered that the boy would speak to the dummy but no one else.

Then a member of Mary Queen Parish, the pastor at the time took notice of Bob King’s many hours of service each week on behalf of the parish. When the call went out for men to apply for the newly established formation program for deacons, the priest recommended Bob.

Ordained in 1978, Deacon King has served in only two parishes, first in Mary Queen, then, after moving to Medical Lake, in St. Anne Parish.

“I’ve loved every minute of it,” he remarks a little wistfully, “but I plan to keep on with my ministry at Lakeland Village for as long as I can.”

Although he retired from full-time employment at Lakeland in the early 1980s, Deacon Bob King fills the part-time position of chaplain there. He conducts Communion services on weekends and is available whenever he’s needed at other times. “I conduct the services, then go around and visit the cottages,” he explains. “I deal with about 80 people there.”

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