By Stephanie Dawn
When I was still a very little girl my mom wrote Del a letter about me, and in her letter she told Del that I pronounced her name as Del Del Delker. Del responded by writing a letter to me, and she referred to herself as Del Del Delker in her letter. I remember my mom informing me of Del’s letter and reading it to me. The only thing I remember about the letter was that Del used the word “hug,” revealing her love for children, a fact that I would later experience firsthand. I absolutely loved her children’s music! Like all little children I had an active imagination and loved to pretend, and once when I was listening to one of her children’s albums I imagined myself talking to her.
The first time I met Del was at the Minnesota camp meeting when I was four years old. Our meeting was very brief. I was in my mother’s arms and Del said, “Hi there precious.” She asked me for a kiss and then gave me a kiss on the cheek. Even though I loved her singing I didn’t know what to say to her, so I said nothing. However, I made up for lost time when I met her again two years later. Our meeting once again took place at the Minnesota camp meeting. We had much more time to spend together, and this time I talked her ear off. Del patiently listened and acknowledged me as I talked nonstop, jumping from one subject to another. Every time I brought up a new subject I said, “Guess what.” She eventually teased me by saying, “I think we’ll call you Stephanie guess what Stomberg, or Stephanie Dawn guess what.” Later she talked about me in front of the audience, much to my surprise. At the end of the camp meeting I wanted to say good-bye to her, and I remember the loving tone in her voice when she said, “Good-bye sweet heart.” Many years later I had a phone conversation with Del in which I shared my memory of talking with her when I was six years old. When I told her that I talked her ear off she said, “People have always wondered why I have only one ear.”
When I was nine years old Del came back to the Minnesota camp meeting, and she agreed to sing with me. We decided to sing the song “Jesus Loves Me/Oh How He Loves You and Me.” Our plan was to sing it acapella, and Del would harmonize with me. Our attempt to sing together probably called forth Del’s best professional skills and patience in public, because we never finished the song. I kept correcting her in front of the audience every time she sang a wrong word, much to the mortification of my poor mother. Del finally gave up our attempt at singing together and suggested that I sing a song by myself.
A year later I redeemed myself by singing a song with her all the way through. It took place at the Washington camp meeting. It was also at this camp meeting that I met H.M.S. Richards Jr. At that time I was learning Morse Code. H.M.S. Richards Jr. was a ham radio operator, and the two of us used our voices to beep messages back and forth to each other. As a child I got bored listening to sermons, but H.M.S. Richards Jr.’s sermons were the first sermons I enjoyed. I loved how he acted out Bible stories on stage, even using sound effects. However, I became indignant as I heard him continually teasing Del about the fact that she was older than him. He repeatedly exaggerated the age difference between the two of them by saying, “I heard Del sing when I was a little boy!” Finally one day I said to Del, “You’re not just gonna sit there and take that!” “Oh I’ve got a cunning plan!” She replied. During the meeting that evening she sang the hymn “Lo, What a Glorious Sight Appears.” When she finished singing she said, “That song was sung in the mid 1880’s. Brother Richards knows all about that! He was there! And I want to dedicate this song to him because it’s Father’s Day, and he’s just like a father to me, in that he tells me what to do.” It was during this meeting that Del and I sang together. Del sang the song “Lover of the Children,” and after she finished singing she said, “That song was for a special friend.” Then she asked me to join her on the stage. She talked with me for a little while, and during our on stage conversation she told me that we had two things in common. The first thing was that we both loved to sing, and the second thing was that we both loved Jesus. Then we sang a song together, and her accompanist played piano for us. The song we sang was called “I love My Jesus.” I sang the melody, and Del harmonized with me on the chorus. After we finished singing Del said, “Stephanie, we have an appointment to meet in Heaven. Then you can see me for the first time, and I’ll be young!” After the meeting was over Del asked me, “Was it you who made a mistake or was it me?” When I said, “I think it was me,” She playfully said in a sing song voice, “Aha! Stephanie made a mistake! Stephanie made a mistake!” After the ordeal I had put her through the year before by repeatedly correcting her in front of the audience I think she was glad to see the tables turn.
I was with Del at two camp meetings that summer, first at the Washington camp meeting and then at the Montana camp meeting. It was during one of these camp meetings that Del gave me a special surprise. She decided to sing the song “Let the Sunshine In,” and she dedicated the song to me, saying to the audience, “She’s such a little sweet heart.” Of course this got my attention, and I sat up straight and smiled. When Del saw my reaction she added, “She’s sitting up straight and smiling now.”
It was also during one of these camp meetings that Del and I discovered we had something else in common. Del presented a children’s program for the junior class, and I was in the class. One of the songs she sang was “Down By the Creek Bank.” She sang with the accompaniment track that was used when she recorded this song for one of her children’s albums. She had kids sing with her in the recording, and the kids laughed at the end of the song. After singing the song in the junior class Del explained to us how she got the kids to laugh in the recording. The kids were not in a laughing mood, because they were very tired after arriving at the studio from school. Right before Del demonstrated to us how she got the kids to laugh she said, “I have another talent that isn’t singing.” Then she stuck her tongue out and touched her nose. That was how she got the kids to laugh at the end of the song. My mom was with me in the junior class, and I’m sure she was the one who told me that Del had just touched her nose with her tongue. I too, am able to touch my nose with my tongue, and of course I just had to show Del. I touched my nose with my tongue right there in the junior class. Later Del and I had an on stage conversation in the auditorium. During that conversation I announced, “And we both can touch our noses with our tongues.” Then we demonstrated our “talent” for the audience. It was not exactly the most professional moment in our singing careers, but it was fun nonetheless.
But the lighthearted, humorous moments are not the only memories I have. I also vividly remember Del’s gentle, compassionate side. I believe it was at the end of the Montana camp meeting that I had to say good-bye to her, and I was in tears. My mom brought me over to her and asked her to comfort me, and she asked me what was wrong. “I’m gonna miss you!” I sobbed. I will never forget the tenderness in her voice as she took the time to comfort me. She patiently listened to everything I had to say. At one point during that conversation I was complaining about something. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it might have had something to do with how people treated me because of my blindness. As a way of showing me how much she cared she sang the words “I Care” from a children’s song that she had recorded entitled “I care.” It was Del’s love for me that led me to say to people as a child, “Del doesn’t just find time; she makes time.”
Another memory I have of Del took place when I sang a song at her church. I was nine years old at the time. After I finished singing my dad started leading me back to the pew where my mom was sitting, but Del motioned to my dad to bring me over to her. Suddenly two hands took hold of me, and those hands did not belong to my mother. Del pulled me in beside her, and I sat with her for the rest of the church service. The song I had just finished singing was “My tribute,” and Del told me that was one of her favorite songs. After the service was over I started talking to Del nonstop, which was my typical behavior. As Del listened to me she turned to someone else and said, “I wish everyone was as glad to see me as she is.”
It was when I sang at the Voice of Prophecy booth at the 1990 General Conference session in Indianapolis, Indiana that Del took on the role of mentor as well as friend. I was 10 years old at the time. After I finished singing one of my songs Del told me how many people I was singing in front of, but she hastened to add, “Don’t let that go to your head.” She wanted me to give all of the glory to God. When I finished singing people complimented me, and Del was right there, urging me to say thank you. She was trying to teach me the importance of responding appropriately and interacting with people in a professional manner. She wanted me to be warm and friendly.
But it was not just professional skills that Del endeavored to teach me during that General Conference session. She also wanted me to understand the importance of ministering to people who were hurting. I vividly remember the incredible way in which she used a particular situation to teach me this. An elderly woman started to talk to me about my singing, and she broke down crying. I didn’t know how to respond to this, but Del immediately took the situation in hand. She comforted the woman by giving her a hug, but she didn’t stop there. She then turned to me and tried to help me connect with this woman by explaining to me the hurt that people in her situation experience. Del handled the situation beautifully by ministering to the woman and teaching me a much needed lesson about compassion at the same time. Many years later after Del retired she said to me on the phone, “You’ve picked up where I left off.” So it is my goal to put into practice the lessons she taught me.
I have memories of Del that demonstrate her loyalty as a friend. One of these memories took place during my childhood when I decided to call her. As soon as she knew it was me she said, “I made a list of things to do, and one of the things on my list was to call you.” She wanted me to know that I was important to her. Another example of her loyalty took place when I was 12 years old. She once again came to the Minnesota camp meeting. I was sitting in the auditorium as she rehearsed on stage. Hardly anyone was in the auditorium. When she finished rehearsing she said into the microphone, “Hi Steph. How are you doing babe?” Shortly after that she came down from the stage to talk with me. When she asked me what was knew in my life I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I didn’t say much. Del was concerned about the fact that I was quieter than usual, but she didn’t have a chance to express her concern. We were unable to talk any further, and I didn’t see her for the rest of the camp meeting. I went home with my family and didn’t even think about how quiet I had been when talking with Del, but Del hadn’t forgotten. One day I was away from home, and when I got back my oldest brother informed me that Del had called while I was gone. She was concerned because I sounded depressed when she talked with me at camp meeting. I was not depressed at the time, but Del was in tune with me and knew that something was different. In the midst of her busy schedule she could have let it go, but She took the time to check up on me.
Another example of this occurred when I was in my late 20’s. I decided to call Del. I was extremely ill at the time, and Del was struggling with health issues as well. We were both very downhearted, but even in the midst of Del’s own suffering she thought of me. Shortly after our conversation ended she called me back and said, “I noticed that during our conversation you sounded blue. Let me pray for you.” Del was just as blue as I was during that conversation, and yet her thoughts were not just centered upon herself. She considered my pain as well as her own, even though she was feeling miserable. I am certain that this is only one example in which Del put others above herself by showing them compassion.
When I was about 9 or 10 years old I remember riding in someone’s car, and a cassette of Del’s music was playing. This was the first time I heard the song “Shoulder To Shoulder.” I never imagined at the time that Del and I would sing that song together years later, but that is exactly what happened. It took place during a Voice of Prophecy event at the Arlington (TX) SDA Church, and I was 19 or 20 years old at the time. Before Del and I sang we bantered playfully back and forth on stage. At one point during that exchange Del said to the audience, “Not only does she steal my songs, but she sings them better than I do!” Her accompanist, Phil Draper, blurted out, “Amen!” then Del said, “When you have friends like Phil who needs enemies!” After we finished talking we sang “Shoulder To Shoulder” together. Dann, my stepfather and pianist, accompanied us. Del sang the melody, and I harmonized with her. We gave each other a hug at the end of the song. I will always treasure that memory.
Del was always very good at making people laugh just by being herself. At the end of one of our phone conversations I thanked her for spending time with me, and she said, “The privilege was all yours.” During another one of our phone conversations I accidentally disconnected the call. When I called her back she said, “I have issues with people who hang up on me.” Many years ago I sent her our Christmas album, and she wrote a letter to me in response. She said in part of her letter, “You’re getting too good for my good! I ought to have you banished to Siberia!” Back in 2013 we visited her at a rehabilitation hospital where she was staying after suffering a fall. During our visit a nurse came in and said to her, “If you need anything let me know.” Del didn’t miss a beat. “How about money?” was her reply. The last time my family and I visited Del was in December of 2017. During our visit my mom took a picture of Del and me and texted it to Phil Draper. Phil called me to tell me how much he loved the picture. Since we were still visiting Del I handed her my phone so that she could talk to Phil. After saying hi to him she asked, “So how are you doing, what are you doing, and why?” Del was known for her one liners. Upon receiving compliments she often said, “I’ll give you a half hour to stop saying that!” She would often jokingly compliment herself and then add, “If you don’t believe it just ask me!” Many times she playfully referred to herself as being humble and proud of it.
But there was more to Del than her sense of humor. She also had an incredible heart for ministry. She made a point of trying to engage with people and connect with them on an individual level. She took a personal interest in others and did her best to make them feel as though they mattered. She treated those who were hurting with tenderness and compassion and was ever ready to provide a hug when needed. She took the time to mentor and counsel those who needed guidance. The tone in her voice reflected the love that was in her heart. Her gift for ministering to others through her words and actions was just as special as her beautiful singing voice.
When I was in my 20’s Del sent me a humorous card for my birthday along with a letter. The birthday card talked about having a poor memory and then said, “Anyway, Merry Christmas.” Del wrote in the card, “You’ll understand when you get to be as mature as I am.” She then referred to herself as having a photographic memory but running out of film. The letter she wrote was humorous as well as beautiful. She referred to my family by telling me how much she cared about me along with that crew I hang out with. In her letter she expressed her desire that when we get to Heaven she, my mom, Dann, my brother Jamie, my grandma and I would take a day or a month or a year and visit other planets together. I will always treasure that precious letter.
Del and I had many, many phone conversations over the years. We shared a lot with each other about ourselves and our life experiences. When a child forms a friendship with an adult that friendship does not always transition into an adult relationship as the child grows and matures, but my friendship with Del did exactly that. Our friendship deepened as I grew older, and we confided in one another more and more. During one of these phone conversations she told me she had prayed that she would be there when I received my sight at the second coming. Our special bond withstood the test of time, and it will continue throughout all eternity.
Our friendship deepened even more during the last two years of her life. She was in poor health and unable to live on her own. We were in contact by phone almost daily, and we considered each other family. She once told me on the phone that she had adopted me. During one of our phone conversations she talked about how much she had wanted to have children. Then she said, “But I have you.” During another one of our conversations I said something about my mom. “And I’m your other mom,” was her reply. Her statements meant so much to me, and I will forever carry these memories in my heart. We decided that we wanted to live next door to each other in Heaven, and she once said concerning our journey to Heaven, “Let’s hold hands on the way up.”
Even with her health struggles Del remained the same person all the way to the end. I clearly saw this fact revealed in our daily conversations. Her sense of humor was very much alive and well, and she was very quick on the fly. During one of our phone conversations she talked about how young she looked for her age. Then she added, “And I look even younger to people who are blind like you.” During another one of our conversations she talked about the book she wrote of her life story. She told me that the name of the person who helped her write the book was Ken Wade. Then she said, “He waded his way into the situation.” I remember the phone conversation during which she said that when she was in college there were classes in which she got straight A’s. “Yes,” I replied, “I’m sure there were classes in which you got straight A’s.” She then said, “You need to learn to distinguish between a lie and the truth.” We often talked about a letter the Voice of Prophecy received many years ago. Instead of Del Delker the person who composed the letter wrote Bel Belcher. One day Del called when I was away from the phone. When I checked my voice mail later I discovered that she had left a message. She began her message by saying, “Is this the famous singer Stephanie Dawn? This is the elderly retired famous singer Del Delker, otherwise known as Bel Belcher.” Sometimes she spontaneously started singing when she thought of a song that applied to our current topic of conversation. We sang together on the phone, and once, when we were singing the chorus of “Let the Sunshine In” she tried to harmonize with me.
Her compassion and spiritual discernment were also clearly revealed during our phone conversations. She talked about how her suffering led her to appreciate more fully what Jesus went through on this earth. She was always thrilled whenever I shared stories with her about people who were led to Christ. We talked about the blessed hope, what Heaven will be like, the necessity of giving all the glory to God, and the importance of putting your arm around someone who is lonely. During one of our phone conversations she said something very profound. I believe we were talking about how you can’t always determine what people are like based on your first impression of them. Del said, “There are some people who are very difficult at first, but if you hang in there they become different people.” Once I was sharing with her what God had done in my life, how He had changed me and what He had taught me. She said, “I’m so proud of you, not that you did it, but that you made the decision.” Through this statement she was acknowledging that my spiritual growth came from the power of God and that I had chosen to let Him work in my life. During another one of our conversations she made a statement that instantly changed my thinking. When I shared with her a specific way in which God had directed me in ministry she said, “You’re getting to be an evangelist.” “I don’t know if I would go that far,” I replied. “Listen,” she said, “everyone who professes to be a Christian is one, or should be.”
Del and I prayed together at the end of most of our conversations. We took turns praying. I always prayed first, and Del followed. We prayed together so many times that it eventually became a routine. At the end of one of our conversations I said, “Why don’t we have prayer before we go.” “I knew you would say that,” Del replied. “I was hoping you would.” One of my phone conversations with Del took place when my family and I were visiting friends. As Del was praying at the end of our conversation our friends’ dog started barking. Upon hearing the dog barking Del added another request to her prayer. “Please bless the dog that’s barking,” she said.
Through my daily conversations with Del I discovered that in spite of her health struggles there was more to Del than what was seen on the surface, something I would not have discovered if I had only talked with her once a week. I told her about various forms of technology and explained the internet to her as best I could. When I told her that I could talk to my phone and tell it to call specific people she said, “You’re going to be so spoiled that you won’t know how to do anything!” I have a voice activated talking clock, and I had fun showing it to her. I asked the clock to tell me the time and date so that she could hear it speak the answer. She listened with great interest and surprise when I told her that many of her songs were on the internet. She asked me how the songs sounded, because she wanted to know if they sounded differently on the internet than in the recordings she was accustomed to. I explained to her the way in which I could find and listen to her music online, how I could type her name or a specific song title on my computer and the computer would bring up a list of songs for me to listen to. After she listened to my explanation she repeated what I said in the form of a question to insure that she understood me correctly. When I told her that banking could be done on the internet she said, “I would think it would be possible for somebody to abuse that.” She had no experience with computers or the internet, and yet the possibility of internet banking fraud automatically occurred to her. I enjoyed sharing these things with her and listening to her responses. I tried to keep her updated not only concerning technology but other things as well, and she wanted to be informed. All of these experiences showed me that Del was still the same person through and through.
Del and I both eagerly looked forward to our daily conversations. I knew that God would lay her to rest at some point, so I wanted to cherish every moment I had with her and provide her with the same support she had provided me. She had given so much to me over the years, and I wanted to give back to her.
My family and I visited Del six times at the care facility where she lived for over a year before she died. The first of these visits took place on her birthday in 2016, and the last one was in December of 2017, about a month before she died. WE gave two concerts for the residents, and we had the privilege of giving Del the tribute album we recorded and playing it for her. I will never forget one special moment that took place during one of these visits. I was 36 years old at the time. Del took my hand, and I placed my other hand on top of hers. Then she said, “I never dreamed that when I met you at four years old we’d be holding hands at 36.”
I had been observing Del’s health declining over time, but during the last few weeks before her death I could tell that her health had taken a turn for the worse. We were unable to have as many phone conversations. The last time I talked with her was a few days before she died. We didn’t talk for very long because she was tired. At the end of our conversation, as she was fighting to stay awake she said, “I love you a lot.” Those were the last words she ever said to me.
Even though you know that someone you love who is in poor health will fall asleep in Jesus at some point you are never prepared when it actually happens. I certainly was not prepared to learn of Del’s death, and I miss her very much. I have shed tears and may shed many more, but I am so thankful for the blessed hope that we have! As the Wayne Hooper song says, “We have this hope that burns within our hearts, hope in the coming of the Lord.” Del and I talked a lot about the blessed hope on the phone during the last two years of her life. At the end of one of our conversations, as Del was praying she started to sing the first line of “We Have This Hope.” Many years ago my mom read to me an article Del wrote in which she said that H.M.S. Richards Sr. compared death to taking a little nap. That is exactly what Del is doing, taking a little nap until Jesus comes. Someday very soon she and I will hold hands during our ascent to Heaven. We will live next door to each other in the earth made new. She and I will travel with my family to worlds afar. She will experience the pleasure of being with me when I can see, and I’m going to have so much fun watching her reaction as I take in the beautiful things around me with my eyes! I am so excited for resurrection morning when all of this will become a reality!
Del was a wonderful listener and an incredible source of support. She stood by me when life was difficult. Her loyalty was so steadfast that I never hesitated to call her. It was always a given that I could pick up the phone and dial her number whenever I wanted to talk. She was there to listen and acknowledge me, to make me laugh, and to comfort me when I cried. She took me under her wing and taught me lessons I will never forget. She made a point of reminding me not to let attention and praise go to my head. She taught me through word and example to minister to those who were hurting. Even as I write down these memories my words cannot adequately express how much she means to me and how grateful I am for the deep friendship we had. I have always loved her singing, but now her beautiful voice is even more special to me because of the very special friend she was. I am so thankful for the gift she was to me and that God brought her into my life. I am grateful that God gave me the opportunity to record a tribute album to her and to give it to her before He laid her to rest.
On the day of Del’s death I didn’t think I would be able to handle listening to her music, but I ended up listening to three of her songs that night. The first song I listened to was “Until Then,” and the first verse and chorus perfectly describe what I am going through:
My heart can sing when I pause to remember
A heartache here is but a stepping stone
Along a trail that’s winding always upward,
This troubled world is not my final home.
But until then my heart will go on singing,
Until then with joy I’ll carry on
Until the day my eyes behold the city,
Until the day God calls me home.
The heartache I am experiencing is but a stepping stone along an upward winding trail that leads to our Heavenly home. I will see Del again, but until then, even in the midst of my pain, my heart will go on singing, and that is exactly what Del would want.