Marty Boller, Sandy Unrue – music teachers at School District 21 in Wheeling, IL
Actually, we both believe that it was the hand of God that brought Sandy & me together. In the spring of 1973, after graduating from The University of Iowa, I quickly signed a contract for a high school band director’s position in Chariton, IA (a small school district south of Des Moines) and Sandy (living in Skokie, IL at the time) was finishing her first year of teaching as a choral music director at East Leyden High School in Franklin Park, IL. By the summer of 1973, both Sandy & I had been offered much better teaching positions by School District 21 in Wheeling, IL (a northwestern Chicago suburb). We both left our contracts for our other schools and signed on to teach music in the Wheeling elementary & jr. high schools for the fall of 1973. Those decisions to move to the northwest suburbs of Chicago certainly changed not only our job assignments but also our entire lives.
Sandy and I first met at a jr. high music contest in Round Lake, IL in March, 1974. My fellow band director at Jack London Jr. High and mutual friend of both of us, Jack Major, introduced us to each other. Sandy was a general music teacher at Eugene Field Elementary School and was accompanying on piano some of our band students at contest that day. Later in the spring, Sandy accompanied a student at our year-end band concert and before the evening’s festivities began, I struck up a friendly conversation that included ‘where do you live?’ and ‘what kind of car do you drive?’ We found out that we both drove Chevy Novas (hers was green and mine was yellow)! I think my closing line was, ‘If you ever move from Skokie over to Wheeling, let me know!’ Wow, what a pickup line!
Marty & his hot new 1975 Buick Skyhawk.
It was not until that fall when I finally got up enough nerve to call Sandy, asking her for a date. She had indeed moved from Skokie to Wheeling over the summer. I think we went to dinner and then saw the movie, “EarthQuake”. It was the mid-1970’s and those disaster-thriller movies with sound-surround was the real rage. I’m not sure if it was the movie or just being around Sandy, but I felt the earth move under my feet, and the rest, as they say, is history.
By January, 1975 I started attending Sandy’s church in Skokie, IL. I had been attending a Presbyterian church in Wheeling, but there just was no match for my pursuit of this pretty gal! The only problem was that she was attending an Assembly of God church and I had no experience of such things. It seems that a neat campus minister from North Shore Assembly of God visited Northwestern while Sandy was attending there. Both his easy-going personality and his contemporary style of ministry attracted many students on campus to begin attending North Shore in nearby Skokie.
Now, in one fell swoop, Sandy’s Lutheran background and my Presbyterian roots began to find a real home in the midst of this Spirit-filled, yet gently charismatic church community. While the hands raised in worship was a new one on me, and the occasional tongue-speaking was a mystery, I was wooed by the relaxed atmosphere, the loving & caring people, and most of all, the music. I had never heard ‘contemporary Christian music’ before and it was so fun to sing these folk songs to the accompaniment of guitars and hand clapping rather than the traditional pipe organ & chancel choir.
I was hooked. God, enjoyable music, and a good-looking woman who seemed to like me! So on July 12, 1975 (2 days after my 24th birthday) Sandy & I were married at North Shore Assembly of God church on Gross Point Road in Skokie, IL. What an unbelievably wonderful day!
The picture. The day.
Just a little side note here. You know that wedding picture of Sandy & I, where we’re sitting in the back seat of my brother Eric’s Toyota as we were on our way from the church to our reception? You know the one I mean. That goofy shot of the smiley girl and the cool 70’s dude with the photo-gray glasses?
There are not many times in your life when you can remember precisely what you were thinking or feeling when you see yourself in a photo. In this case, however, I do. I recall a depth of feelings that I’d never felt before in my 24 years of life, and in all honesty, don’t recall since. In truth, I believe it was the most overwhelming joy of heart I’ve ever experienced up to this point of writing. At that moment of time, I was filled to the brim with a deep joy & an appreciative gladness that God had brought Sandy into my life and that the three of us (God, Sandy & me) were meant to be together as a team for the rest of our lives! Wow, how I ask God to give that depth of blessing to all of my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with the special spouse God brings their way as well!
Another interesting tidbit to throw in here before we leave this wedding theme is ‘Sandy’s little God-whisper’, heard back in 1974 when we first met. On that spring day in 1974 when she was riding home on a school bus from that jr. high music contest, she heard a little voice whispering in her ear, “You’re going to be Mrs. Boller someday!” I find it interesting that both my mom (Dixie) and Sandy experienced that little “voice” upon meeting their future husbands! Actually Sandy’s never told me if that was a ‘good’ whisper or a scary one, but suffice to say, we did get together like the voice said and I’ve always been thankful for that little nudge from the Lord that helped me out!
1975-1977 Buffalo Grove & Palatine, Illinois. Our new home together.
As Sandy & I settled down as a married couple in our nice Willow Creek apartment unit in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, we assumed we’d probably be music teachers the rest of our careers. But God had another idea that He started developing in us almost immediately. In 1975, our little Assembly of God church in Skokie, IL was starting to change. The wonderful pastor, Larry Hurtado, who married us had left and been replaced by a very traditional old-school Assembly of God pastor. He promptly came in and shut down all the small groups and lay ministries.
Marty & Sandy in 1975.
For so many of us twenty-somethings who had flocked to the church because of its desire to reach young people, it was now a huge step backward to a church setting none of us could really appreciate. As we tried diligently to work through some of the issues with the church leadership, we thought we were making progress. Then one Sunday in the fall of 1975, the head elder got up in the middle of a Sunday worship service and announced, “We know there are a number of you who are desiring to see some changes here at the church. We truly appreciate your concerns, but the church board has decided that there will be no changes and we’re asking all of you who want those changes to leave the church…right now!”
We were shocked, not only at their decision to ignore our input but at their strange request that we leave the church immediately. So, yes, it’s true, your Grandma Sandy and Grandpa Marty are indeed troublemakers and along with about 25 others, we were kicked out of North Shore Assembly of God in the fall of 1975!
Looking real spiritual with my beard!
A new church begins. That’s Sandy & me in the middle of the pic.
Well, by January 1976, most of us who’d been kicked out of church hadn’t really found a suitable new church home. So a few of the young leaders from Evanston called and said, “It’s official, we’ve decided to start a new church in Evanston called Christ Church of the North Shore.” Our first meeting was held at Kendall College in Evanston (nearly an hour from Buffalo Grove) but Sandy & I decided the life we found there was worth the drive, so we were there on that first Sunday and made it our church home until we moved to Iowa in 1987.
These early years of church life proved to be so instrumental for us in building our faith and growing up in Jesus as we built deeper relationships with God and with young people like ourselves. Most of us were in our mid-twenties and just settling down to married life. By 1978, Sandy & I were blessed to have our first baby arrive just as we were transitioning from our townhouse (in Palatine) to a newly built home in the far west suburbs of Streamwood, IL. Our affectionate name for this unborn baby was “Berferd”, but on April 11, 1978 we changed the name and David Andrew Boller arrived on the scene!
If having a new baby while moving into a new house wasn’t enough transition, God decided He also wanted to shake us up even more by getting me fired from my band director job in Wheeling! So just as we are trying to pay for a new home and new baby, I’m finding out I won’t have my job effective June, 1978! What a dilemma! We prayed and prayed. We considered all kinds of options like looking for other music jobs, moving to Iowa or Indiana, and other creative ideas, but then God told us very clearly the one thing He wanted us to do. He said, “Align yourself with your church family in Evanston. Become members and begin tithing to the church. Trust Me in this!”
That was really a stretch for us because we were now driving over an hour each way to church on Sundays and then another trip into Skokie on Wednesday nights for our small group meeting in our friend’s home. Yet, because of the unbelievable love and support we found from our small group while we were going through this trial and because we wanted to be obedient to what God was clearly asking of us, we went ahead and became official members of the church and began tithing on a paycheck that we knew would end very soon!
Logos Bookstores. A God-send in our time of need.
Yet through it, God was blessing us with our new baby and our church family surrounding us with love and prayers. One night at small group, our good friend Bill Hanawalt said, “Hey, wait a minute. The manager of Logos (a Christian bookstore) in Evanston was stepping down in June and one of the guys who helped start the church was on the bookstore board.” Knowing I was desperately needing a solid job, Bill said he would talk to him and see if they would consider me for the manager’s position.
The board met on a Tuesday night in early May, and I remember Sandy & I (with David sound asleep in his crib) in our new little home out in Streamwood praying all evening, crying out to God for a breakthrough with the bookstore board meeting in Evanston. The next day, I got a call from Bill saying, “Well, it’s all decided. The board wants to hire you to manage the store. When can you start?”
We were thrilled. So in a matter of just a few weeks, we sold our brand new beautiful house in Streamwood and found a small little house that was in our price range in Evanston. By summer, 1978 I was managing Logos Christian Bookstore and we were on our way toward learning how to trust God in new and exciting ways.
Our 700 square foot house located at 2205 Madison Place in Evanston became our cozy little home for four years.
On September 25, 1980, Deborah Lee Boller joined the family and by 1982, we were starting to feel a bit cramped. Life was certainly full! We were not only adjusting to two children in our home, but I was also adding more responsibilities to my job by serving on the Logos national board, overseeing 100+ Logos Bookstores around the USA.
As you can see from the pictures above, Sandy & I had a great tradition in the early days of our marriage of keeping track of our wedding anniversaries by taking a picture with our fingers pointing the way. Worked well until year eleven in 1986!
1110 Seward in Evanston.
In the fall of 1982, we moved our growing family from our little house to a large four-flat (four apartments under one roof built in the 1920’s) located at 1110 Seward in Evanston. Joining with three other families from the church, this was our attempt at “community-style” living.
It was during this season of our lives when Jennifer Marie Boller, our third little blessing, was born on December 28, 1983. It was a super cold, below-zero week in Chicagoland prior to New Years Day, 1984. Brrr!
John Martin Boller, September, 1986.
Our fourth blessing, John Martin Boller, was born on September 2, 1986. (Yes, the story is true. I wanted John’s middle name to be ‘Hawkeye’, but his mom prevailed!) It was also during this time, when God stepped up His strong intervention in our lives, clarifying His sovereign call to full-time ministry.
By 1986, Sandy & I were on-staff part-time at the church, working both with small groups and children’s ministry while also trying to manage Logos Bookstore. By June 1986 it had become apparent to both us and the bookstore owners that I had to give up one job or the other. We needed to either give our full attention to the bookstore or we needed to follow the Lord’s promptings to move on toward full-time ministry. The decision was very difficult because while the church wanted to hire us as full-time children’s pastors, it was unable to guarantee full-time employment at that time. In faith, we choose ministry over security and in the process, God began a very difficult season for us that brought us to an ever-increasing reliance on His faithfulness for all things.
It was in this very difficult season God began to open up creative ideas that we’d never seriously considered before. I remember one day, Sandy & I were praying for a breakthrough when we suddenly realized that it would be OK with God if we pursued jobs outside of Evanston. With the solid commitment we had made with God and with the church community, we’d never really imagined we would live anywhere but in Evanston for the rest of our lives. Then suddenly God seemed to be saying, “Expand your sights…look to new places…like returning to Iowa.”
Iowa City, here we come!
In our desperation for any good paying job, we did begin exploring jobs in Iowa and with my mom and dad still living in Iowa City, we decided it would be a safer risk to look for positions there. By December 1986, a sales job with a school-based fund-raising company developed and we decided to take it. In January 1987, we loaded up a moving van and pressed westward, returning to my beloved Iowa after living in the Chicago area for 14 years.