U.S. Navy machinist repairman Bruce Gunn made a vow to God following a Japanese kamikaze plane attack that damaged the PT boat on which he served during World War II.
“I looked up and said, ‘Lord, if you get me through this, I’ll serve you,’ ” Gunn recalls.
The 50-year ministerial certificate in Gunn’s den attests to his faithfulness in keeping the promise.
The 95-year-old Gunn, and his 92-year-old wife, Elizabeth “Pat” Gunn, have lived in the retirement community of Maranatha Village in Springfield, Missouri, for more than a decade. They went to high school together in Detroit, and eloped as teenagers — Bruce at 19 and Pat at 16. The couple celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary in March.
Bruce quit his job as a Ford Motor Co. engine repairman and joined the Navy in 1942, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Gunn and his three brothers went overseas in the armed forces during World War II. All came back alive.
“I was the oldest — and best-looking, too,” Bruce quips.
Bruce says he always felt content working as “second fiddle” in ministry, with 37 of those 55 years at Brightmoor Christian Church in the Detroit suburb of Novi, Michigan. He started as youth leader and finished ministering to seniors, under Thomas E. Trask, who went on to become general superintendent of the U.S. Assemblies of God from 1993-2007.
“He loved people and people loved him,” remembers Trask, who continues to call on the Gunns regularly. “Whether he visited people in the hospital or met their material needs, Bruce was dedicated.”
Physically, the Gunns have challenges. Pat uses a walker, has an aching hip that’s been replaced, and struggles with neuropathy in her feet. Bruce is blind in one eye, has congestive heart failure and arthritis, and finds walking difficult.
But they are sharp mentally. Bruce has a knack for memorization, which comes in handy with Scripture. Trask, who has been married 60 years himself, says Bruce still knows the Bible as well as anyone he’s ever met.
The Gunns continue to live independently in their well-appointed residence. Part of what keeps the Gunns young is their senses of humor.
“We’ve never had an argument, although people could hear our discussions three or four blocks away,” Bruce jokes.
“I don’t talk back,” Pat chimes in. “I’d rather ask the Lord to forgive me for what I was thinking rather than to ask forgiveness for what I said to my husband.”
Bruce’s 89-year-old brother Jack, who also ministered in the Assemblies of God for more than half a century, lives a block away.
Bruce and Pat’s only child, 74-year-old Patricia Bates, is retired and lives in Florida. She has been married for 49 years to Rollie Bates, whose grandfather Alonzo Bates started Brightmore Tabernacle (now Brightmore Christian Church) in Southfield, Michigan, 1929.
Longevity doesn’t run in Bruce’s family; his dad died at 68 and his mother at 48. He attributes his endurance to eschewing tobacco and alcohol, and having a forbearing wife. Likewise, Pat isn’t necessarily from a durable gene pool. Four younger brothers have died. Pat also has endured five miscarriages and she lost another child shortly after giving birth.
Patricia Bates counters her parents’ good-natured pretense of irritability.
“I never heard my parents quarrel,” she says. “They gave me a safe, solid foundation that’s served me well.”