Variety has spiced the life of Elder Robert Kent Dellenbach, newly called member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy.
Elder Dellenbach (pronounced Dellenbaw) is a businessman and entrepreneur who has a resume of accomplishments that gives new meaning to the definition of diversity. He also has been a faithful Church leader, serving, in the words of one person, "energetically and unselfishly, without thought for personal recognition."And always evident through the tapestry of his life are the consistent threads of testimony, hard work, love of people and commitment to his wife, Mary Jayne, and their three sons.
"We've had a lot of variety, but I think when you boil it all down, the key is dealing with people, in trying to help them," reflected Elder Dellenbach, a sturdy 5-foot 9-inch bundle of energy. "We have had some unusual experiences and some great opportunities, and met wonderful people all over the world. I try to see things from the point of view of the other person, have tried to see that the people who worked for me got something out of their work that was meaningful to them. I always felt that we were not boss and employees, but we were a team. I've made some mistakes, but I've trusted people. In a way, I have an empathy for the underdog."
That empathy has root in a humble upbringing with one brother and three sisters on his grandfather's homestead in Clinton, Utah, about 10 miles southwest of Ogden.
"I didn't know until I was in high school that we were a poor family," Elder Dellenbach remembered. "We didn't have floor coverings in the old farm house, just wooden floors. To this day, I can't take off my shoes in the house and walk around relaxed, because I used to get slivers in my feet. We never had any frills when we were kids."
But they did have plenty of fun.
"We lived on a farm where my father and mother had children and animals, and they loved them both," said Elder Dellenbach. "We had a literal Noah's ark – cows, chickens, pigs, goats, rabbits, ducks, cats and dogs."
He recalled one winter when the rabbits "were just driving us crazy." The animals' water troughs would freeze, and the children would have to break the ice out and give them fresh water. "Our hands would get cold, and we were complaining, so my mother said, `Turn the rabbits loose if you don't want to feed and water them.' So we turned them loose – 50 rabbits – and they went everywhere.
"We had no rabbits by the end of the day. My dad got home and just about died."
Elder Dellenbach laughed when telling the story, but said it wasn't too funny at the time.
He also recalled spending many long days in the fields with migrant workers from other parts of the world – something that contributed to his tolerance of all people.
His wife said, "One person has said of Bob, `He can walk with kings without losing the common touch.' He has a great love of people and can get along with all kinds of people, regardless of where they stand in the social or economic strata of life. He is so happy and enthusiastic, a lot of fun. He has a happy disposition and great love for the gospel. He also is undaunted and won't let anything stop him when it comes to overcoming challenges."
As a boy, the new Seventy and some of his young friends took on the task of building a tree hut high in a huge cottonwood tree. They took some lumber from an old collapsed building and built what he called a "nice fort."
"One weekday afternoon we had gotten hold of some paint and were starting to paint the inside of the hut when my mother called and said, `It's time to go to Primary.' I didn't want to go, because we were having so much fun. But she talked me into it – you know how mothers are. So I went, but reluctantly."
The others stayed to finish the paint job. Eager to walk on the wet floor, they decided to help hurry the drying process by rolling up some newspaper, lighting it with a match and drying the paint with the "torch."
"Of course, the paint ignited and the place went up in flames. Fortunately, they got out of there without being seriously hurt. But when I got home from Primary, there was nothing left. The wood was so parched and dry that it went up in a second. It was a good lesson to go to Primary."
For Elder Dellenbach, the summers as a boy were also filled with hours at a nearby swimming hole, playing Pony Express on horses, jumping from haylofts and shooting baskets through an old barrel hoop on the side of the barn.
"I don't remember as a boy spending any time in the house," Elder Dellenbach laughed.
He grew up to serve as student body president of Davis High School, started college at the University of Utah and then left for a mission in Germany, serving under Elder Theodore M. Burton and as an assistant to Elder Alvin R. Dyer in the European Mission.
Following his service, he returned to the University of Utah, where he subsequently graduated in international studies. While there he began seriously dating Mary Jayne Broadbent. The couple was married Aug. 17, 1962, in the Manti Temple.
"We actually met several years previous to that when I was in high school," Sister Dellenbach noted. "We double-dated once. Then I did not see him again until I was out of college and teaching school. A good friend of mine introduced me to him again. We went to Church on our first date. It was a significant beginning. We've been going to Church ever since."
When he proposed under the moonlight on Temple Square, Elder Dellenbach gave Mary Jayne a white rose and told her: "My life is going to be one big adventure. I'm inviting you to come along."
"It has been an adventure," Sister Dellenbach said, reflectively.
The couple moved to Provo, Utah, where Elder Dellenbach earned an MBA. While there, the two were "dorm parents" for about 80 young women.
From there they moved to Southern California, where Elder Dellenbach worked for Mobil Oil Co. for a year and a half. One day in 1965 he received a telegram from someone in Alaska he hadn't met, saying he had been recommended to be the director of student activities at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.
"I arranged for some time and went up there and fell in love with Alaska," Elder Dellenbach said.
The family packed all they could into a small trailer, and Elder Dellenbach drove by himself from Los Angeles to Fairbanks. Sister Dellenbach flew up later with their two children, then ages 2 and six months.
While making the drive in October, Elder Dellenbach traveled 1,200 miles of gravel road, sometimes plowing through a foot of snow. One morning he came face to face with a huge bull moose in the middle of the road.
"It had snowed the night before, and I stopped the car. This animal was the most gorgeous, beautiful bull moose you could imagine. I had heard stories of moose ramming your radiator, and here I was 200 miles from civilization. I looked at him, and he looked at me. I told him, `I'm not going to hurt you; take your time; I'll wait for you; you've got the road!'
"Finally, the old bull wiggled his head a little bit and sidled off to the side of the road and down the hill. Then I went on. But for a minute there, he had control."
The Dellenbachs loved Alaska, despite the winters' short days and bitter cold. They were there four years, while Elder Dellenbach worked as director of student activities, business manager and assistant to the vice president at the university. He also taught some classes in political science and business administration. He served in the Church as a bishop.
The family left Fairbanks to return to California, where Elder Dellenbach worked as business director for a student housing project, and as director of special projects for the Salk Institute. Then they returned to Anchorage, Alaska, where he was vice president and then president of Alaska Methodist University – the first non-Methodist to serve as head of the institution.
He was called to be stake president the same week he was appointed university president.
"It was a great experience," reflected Elder Dellenbach. "I did a lot of work with the Methodist Church. Many of their ministers would ask me to speak at church on Sunday. I'd go and quote the prophet Alma or Nephi or David O. McKay. I'd talk about the university to some extent, but also about brotherly love and kindness – things we know to be part of basic Christian doctrine."
That experience came to an end when the Dellenbachs left for Washington D.C. From there for two years, Elder Dellenbach would commute to the Soviet Union for Control Data Corp. to gather Soviet technology and market it abroad.
"I learned again the same story that people aren't any different, no matter where you go. They have anxieties and fears, they love and want to be loved. They want to know of their self-worth. I had a great experience."
He then moved to Salt Lake City and was called to served as president of the Germany Duesseldorf and Germany Munich missions from 1981 to 1984, pursuing other business activities upon his return.
Through it all, he has felt the guiding hand of the Lord in his decisions.
"Sometimes we have had to step to the edge of light and then take one step beyond in faith. Sometimes we didn't know absolutely, but had faith that something was the right thing to do. And sometimes you know by doing it. You then have to make the decision right once you've made it.
"In reality, the only really good thing I've done through all these experiences was marrying Mary Jayne. It's all been interesting, but if you take Mary Jayne out of the equation, none of it would have worked because she was the one who was the steadying influence."
The Dellenbachs were surprised and humbled by his call to the Second Quorum of the Seventy, to which he was sustained on March 31. Elder Dellenbach said he would regularly pray for the General Authorities, and the first night after he was set apart it set him back a bit to kneel at his bedside and realize he was a part of that leadership.
Sister Dellenbach's mother, Louie Gill Richards Broadbent, said that her son-in-law is a "very spiritual, happy man whose religion means everything to him. He's a very hard worker who sticks to things and gets the job done."
Elder Dellenbach smiled appreciatively when told of the tribute, then quipped. "Like Elder [SpencerT Condie said at conference, `Behind every new General Authority is a surprised mother-in-law.' "
His three sons also hold him in high regard, praising his work ethic, creativity and unselfish devotion to family. They all remember fondly much time spent fishing, skiing and snowmobiling – especially in Alaska. Their father would attend their debate tournaments, ball games and other extracurricular events. And the Dellenbach home was always a haven for neighborhood friends of all ages.
They have only added to the adventure.
Elder Robert K. Dellenbach
- Family: Born May 10, 1937, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Frank H. and Leona Katherine Conshafter Dellenbach. Married Mary Jayne Broadbent Aug. 17, 1962, in the Manti Temple; parents of three sons; two grandchildren.
- Education: Graduated from the University of Utah in 1962 in international studies; graduated from BYU in 1964 with MBA.
- Employment: business manager and assistant to vice president of University of Alaska; director of special projects for Salk Institute; vice president and president of Alaska Methodist University (now Alaska Pacific University); director of Institute for Advanced Technology for Control Data Corp. (Soviet Union Project); president of pension services company; acting president of Salt Lake Visitors and Convention Bureau; consultant and development of environmental projects (recycling, asbestos abatement).
- Previous Church service: Regional representative; president of Germany Duesseldorf and Germany Munich missions; stake president; bishop; stake executive secretary; stake Sunday School president; stake missionary.