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Vai's View: Never a Dull moment — general conference weekend brings reunion of missionaries, convert

Besides receiving instruction from prophets and apostles, general conference weekend is universally recognized in the LDS Church as a time for mission reunions, typically held the Friday before conference.

I didn't attend a mission reunion — not even sure the South Dakota Rapid City Mission had one. Nevertheless, I was reunited with a former missionary companion last week whom I hadn't seen in nearly 30 years.

Daniel Pray and I were companions in March of 1983. Just one month. And it would be the most memorable and greatest month of our mission. I was the senior zone leader of the flagship zone, Rapid City, the mission headquarters, and Elder Pray was my junior companion.

Elder Pray came to Rapid City for a monthlong leadership training program that was taught each morning in the mission office by the assistants to the president, the mission president and, occasionally, by the zone leaders. Missionaries in our mission weren't called as trainers, district leaders, zone leaders or assistants until they qualified and attended the leadership training program. For the month they were in training, these hand-picked missionaries were paired with the Rapid City district and zone leaders. Leadership training was a prestigious assignment and Elder Daniel Pray was prayerfully selected in March of '83 and assigned to me as my junior companion.

Daniel Pray grew up in California and came into the mission field with his Missionary Training Center group a month after mine had arrived exactly a year earlier. We were both called to serve for 24 months, but our missions were shortened to 18 months a month into our service (the church experimented with shortening missions to 18 months for elders from 1982-85). Elder Pray was only a few months older than me, so we were basically the same age. Neither of us lacked confidence, and in fact we were probably a little self-assured and full of ourselves.

The similarities ended there. I was athletic and he was not. I insisted on running three miles every morning and he hated it. He was a computer and gadget geek and I'm not. He was California cool and laid-back and I can be very intense, especially in competition and with the gospel. He was off-the-charts brilliant and I'm not. His dazzling brilliance would lead him into an amazing career and niche market that literally placed him in the homes of movie stars, rock stars, Hall of Fame professional athletes and many of the world's most powerful and wealthy. More on that later.

Last Sunday following conference, I was invited to return and speak to the missionaries in the MTC in their weekly Sunday fireside. I spoke last year on the same Sunday and told the story of finding, teaching and baptizing Robert William Dull and what ensued in Bob's life. I invited Bob to join me on the stand that evening to help tell his story. Bob brought along his wife, Jackie, who had threatened to leave him if he joined the church but a decade later would be baptized by Bob. The Dulls' two daughters, Erin and Rachel, who were one and two-and-a-half when we taught and baptized Bob, also came, with their husbands whom they married in the temple and all of their children. Erin and Rachel are both BYU graduates and Rachel is currently the BYU athletic department nutritionist. The Dulls' family legacy in the church started on a preparation day when another companion and I went to a local sporting goods store, a mile from the mission office in Rapid City, to buy a can of tennis balls for a P-day activity.

When we approached the counter with the can of tennis balls, 26-year-old Bob Dull happened to be sitting behind the cash register on a stool. The store was their family business. I didn't know that, nor did we know how our lives would be transformed by our chance meeting. What Bob said to us as I handed him the can of Wilson tennis balls is now part of our families' history and lore: "Never met two guys named 'Elder' before."

Sensing that he was mocking us, I responded in the tone of a cocky college athlete: "Yeah? These happen to be titles that allow us to carry the greatest message on earth. And if you had any sense, you'd have us to your home so we can tell you about it." My comment was curt and I expected it to end with our purchase and we'd be on our way to play tennis. Instead, Bob responded, "I'm free Thursday evening." My companion and I taught two lessons at the Dull home before Bob suggested we start meeting at his office at the store because his wife, Jackie, who refused to sit in on the lessons, didn't approve. So with permission from our mission president to leave our apartment earlier than our 9:30 a.m. departure, we met at 6:30 a.m. two or three times a week at the sporting goods store. Elder Pray arrived just as we started those early morning discussions, teaching him with me until Bob was baptized on Sunday evening, March 27, 1983.

Three decades later, Bob Dull is now a mechanical engineer for a Utah-based company called Maetec and is the high priest group leader of the Hidden Creek Ward in the Sandy Utah West Stake. Jackie Dull teaches the Sunbeams in their ward.

Bob and I told his conversion story last year in the MTC, without Daniel Pray. Bob and I have stayed in touch and remained close friends over the years, and he has done the same with Daniel Pray. But Daniel and I haven't seen each other since our missions, until last Sunday. Fittingly, it was our convert Bob Dull who brought us together. Even more special that our reunion would happen in the MTC.

As 20-year-olds, we sometimes clashed because we were strong-willed and both a little cocky. At 49, with some maturity, gray, a few more pounds, our children grown and all of my sons returned from missions and Daniel's only son, Grant, currently serving in Brazil, we simply hugged and held each other close, then kissed each other's cheeks through our tears of joy. Our wives, Keala and Jacqulyn, met and became fast friends, as did our children. Our families sat together as we told our story, along with Bob, to the missionaries in the MTC.

The elders and sisters seemed moved listening to our experiences and what lay in store for them in the coming 18-24 months and for the rest of their lives.

I learned that Daniel Pray's life has been as adventurous as mine, perhaps even more so.

When he returned from South Dakota, he enrolled in college intending to study electrical engineering. He took a few computer courses and worked part time for an electrical engineer in his ward to help pay expenses but more importantly to gain some experience in his chosen field.

His boss submitted a bid for and won a contract to install all the lights — exterior and interior — for a widow in Fairbanks, Calif., named Joan Kroc and asked Daniel to assist in the project. The job was extensive. It turned out that Joan Kroc was the widow of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's. Her estate was a compound of four homes that were all interconnected. All of the exterior and interior lights in her compound — tens of thousands of them — were to be wired to a central computer keypad, which Mrs. Kroc could control from the main residence at the touch of her finger. Even now, this is cutting edge-George Jetson-type stuff, but in the early '80s, this was futuristic.

The company providing the lighting and computers was called Vantage Controls, which happened to be based in Orem. This was all so new, even Vantage didn't really have anyone on staff who had ever installed this lighting system connected to a computer pad. They shipped the lights and four computers that were somehow to be interconnected and controlled from a single key pad to the Krocs' home, and it was young Daniel Pray who figured out how it all worked.

Vantage Control was so impressed, they hired Daniel for other projects, and he soon became a full-time employee. He quickly realized his skill set was unique and that he was one of very few people in the world who could install these elaborate programs. Soon, he was jetting all over the country installing these systems and making a handsome living in the process. He went to Atlanta to install Elton John's Georgia penthouse apartment, actor Danny Glover's, San Francisco for Barry Bonds', Bruce Willis and Demi Moore's home, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts' home in San Diego, Junior Seau, rapper MC Hammer's $30 million mansion in Oakland that was later repossessed, Oklahoma oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens, Gulf Stream Jets owner Alan Poulson, the Air and Space Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Hollywood Park racetrack and former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle's home. As time passed, the programs were constantly upgraded and improved, so that any task that could be controlled by computer would be automated to a central keypad. That meant the opening and closing of drapes, TVs, temperature of the home, ceiling fans, even the oven, could all be controlled at the touch of a finger from a pad. For Rozelle, whom Daniel says was basically computer illiterate, he set up a central control panel for a bank of TV wall monitors that he could easily control from his Captain Kirk chair as he watched NFL games. Rozelle was so happy and appreciative, he invited Daniel and his family to be his guests at the Super Bowl one year. Of course, the irony is, I played in the NFL but never reached the Super Bowl; my non-athletic former missionary companion not only went to the Super Bowl, he sat in the commissioner's suite! Daniel isn't really a sports fan, so when I asked which Super Bowl he attended, all he remembers is that it was in Tampa and Michael Jackson was the halftime entertainment. We laughed long and hard over that.

What really matters is what Daniel Pray has done with his life. He's been happily married to Jacqulyn for 27 years and they've raised three of the most wonderful and outstanding children in the world. His local church leaders recognized what we knew as missionaries and Vantage Control learned of him as an employer: that Daniel Pray is brilliant, has integrity and is dependable. So, for 24 consecutive years — since his mid-20s, Daniel has been a clerk, at the ward or stake level. He's currently the auditor for the Logandale Nevada Stake in Overton, Nev., where he lives. It's been the only church calling he's ever had in his adult life and he loves it. In fact, he told me that the reason he couldn't come last year to our MTC fireside was because he was doing audits — tending quietly and without fanfare to his church calling.

But this year he came and we told our amazing story to the MTC missionaries of finding, teaching and baptizing Bob Dull, the incredible blessing the gospel has been to us, the Dulls, their children and grandchildren who have been born under the covenant.

It was truly a memorable conference weekend.