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Finding religion at the county fair

By Staff | Aug 2, 2008

Each time I was at the Faribault County Fair I kept running into some of the same people day after day.

A few of them I expected to see, because I knew they were working there for the week. That included the fair board members and their hired workers, as well as the 4-H people and the members of the Faribault County Historical Society.

There was another man there every day, however, and it took me a while to determine who he was, and what his function at the fair might be.

Everyone called him Chaplain Dave.

Being new to the area, I at first thought he must be a pastor at a church in the county somewhere. Eventually I learned that I was wrong in that assumption.

I saw Chaplain Dave at many of the events and observed that he was giving a prayer before such activities as the motokazie races, the rodeo and the demolition derby.

He was at other events, and even did some of the announcing at the Outstanding Senior Citizen program.

I learned that he had a chapel in a camper trailer at one end of the fairgrounds, and also that he led the morning prayer service in the historic church at the fairgrounds each day.

But just who was this guy?

When I asked him, he said that his name was indeed Chaplain Dave as embroidered on his shirt. His last name was Hertle and he was from Omaha, Neb.

So why on earth would he be at the Faribault County Fair in Blue Earth?

He has been coming to this fair for 12 years, and his mission is to be available to anyone who wants to talk about Christ in their lives.

“And I just want to help out wherever they (the fair board) need me to,” he says.

He used to go to quite a few county fairs in Minnesota and the Midwest, but this year will only make it to this one in Blue Earth.

“I grew up in Jackson, so I am familiar with this area,” he says. Twelve years ago he was invited by someone on the fair board to come here and have a chapel at the fair.

He has been coming back ever since, and the cost of his stay is sponsored by a local group. It is not sponsored by the fair, says Daryl Murray, fair manager, although they are glad to have him here.

Chaplain Dave’s actual job is to minister to over-the-road truck drivers for an organization called ‘Transport for Christ.’

‘Transport for Christ’ has 26 chapels across the highway system of the U.S., Hertle says. One of those is at the famous Sapp’s Truck Stop in Omaha, where he and another chaplain, Wayne, minister to hundreds of truckers each year.

“We hold church services on Sunday mornings and they are full,” Hertle says. “A lot of truckers run on Sundays and can’t get home to their own church.”

Besides the services, the two chaplains do a lot of counseling to the drivers.

“Times are bad out on the road,” Hertle says. “High diesel prices are making it financially rough on many of the guys, and trucking firms are going out of business by the hundreds.”

Chaplain Dave says he sees a lot of road rage, depression and even suicidal tendencies.

“We try to help them as best we can, or advise them to seek more help,” he adds.

He knows what the open road is like. Before working for ‘Transport for Christ,’ Hertle was a truck driver himself for many years.

“I’ve logged over a million miles on the road,” he says.

The Omaha chapel is one of 26 that ‘Transport for Christ’ operates in the states. Plus they have seven more in Canada and several in Russia and one in Zambia, Africa.

“Our goal is to have 40 or 50 in the states so that a trucker would never be more than a day’s drive from one of our chapels,” Hertle said. “Funding that many is not the problem, but finding that many chaplains is.”

But once again I had to ask, “Why come to Blue Earth?”

“Because they ask me to,” Chaplain Dave says with a huge grin. “And besides, I like it here.”