“Dennis Flake: Leaving Life ‘in the Lord’s Hands’” Ensign, Apr. 1987, 67–69
“You stay right in bed!” the doctor told Dennis Flake, who was in Texas with his wife, Carol, serving a full-time mission. Brother Flake had been hospitalized for two days with severe stomach pains. His doctor suspected cancer.
“I have a talk to give in San Antonio tomorrow, and I’m going to give it,” he told his doctor. Brother and Sister Flake contacted their ten children, and together the family fasted and prayed. The following day, true to his word, Brother Flake left the hospital and delivered his talk. The stomach pains never returned.
“Much power comes when a family fasts and prays,” says Brother Flake, a 75-year-old patriarch from Boise, Idaho. He attributes his unshakable trust in the Lord to his parents and his pioneer heritage. Born in a cabin near Snowflake, Arizona, on 29 November 1911, Dennis was the fifth child of Joel and Lucy Whipple Flake. Eighteen months later, his mother died during a miscarriage and his father married Elsie DeWitt, the mother of two children from a previous marriage. She bore seven more, bringing the family total to fourteen children.
It was a loving family, and Dennis, who was very close to his stepmother, says his Church activity is a result of her example. His father, who served two missions and averaged five sessions a day at the Mesa Temple during the last twenty-five years of his life—for a total of about 18,000 endowments—was also a powerful influence.
Dennis grew up herding cattle on his parents’ ranch and listening to the ranch hands tell stories around the campfire. “One day when I was nine years old, rounding up cows on a burro in the hills in Arizona, I just felt like kneeling down and praying,” he remembers. “For the first time in my life I felt that the Lord was so close he had his arm around me.”
In 1935, while serving in the Eastern States Mission, a fellow missionary, Bruce R. McConkie, introduced Dennis to Carol Read, a missionary from Nampa, Idaho. Elder McConkie turned the picture of Carol’s boyfriend to the wall, predicting that Carol and Dennis would marry someday.
Although for Dennis it was love at first sight, he didn’t think he had a chance. But after taking up the matter in his prayers, he was impressed to tell her how he felt. Carol, who had worked for five years for $10 a week to save enough money for her mission, was shocked, although she later confessed a fondness for the “cowboy elder from Arizona.”
Dennis completed his mission three months later and corresponded with Carol for a year until she finished hers. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple in October 1937. After spending a year in Arizona, the newlyweds moved to Atlanta, Idaho, where Dennis found work at a guest ranch.
The two returned missionaries wanted to raise a large family. “I hope we never lose any of them,” Carol told her husband.
“We won’t,” he replied.
Now, fifty years later, that prediction has come true. He and Carol’s ten children have all married in the temple and their families are active in the Church.
“The love we have for the Lord is because of the love our parents have,” says Dennis, Jr. “The love that we have for each other as husband and wife and for our children is a mirror of things we have observed and been taught by our folks.”
After working in an Army defense plant during World War II, Dennis started his own construction company. But his main concern wasn’t building houses, it was raising his children and serving the Lord. As soon as his children were old enough, Brother Flake had them helping in his business.
“From the time we were very young we’d go on the job with Dad, picking up blocks or sweeping until we were driving nails with him,” Dennis, Jr. says. His brother Lawrence adds: “Dad gave us jobs so we could spend time together. It’s one thing to get lessons in family home evenings, but it’s another to just watch your Dad operate with other people.”
“It seems like we were always having interviews with our parents,” remembers Dennis, Jr. “He’d say, ‘Well, how are you boys doing? How are your friends? Do they tell dirty stories? How do you feel about the Lord?’ When we go for visits now, he’ll still ask, ‘How are you treating your wife and your kids? How are you doing on your job?’ He never gives up.”
It’s Carol who is the “strength and brains of the family,” according to her husband. When her children were growing up, Carol started a family program of daily scripture study and tried to make the Book of Mormon and Bible characters come to life for the children. She also shared her love of books and writing with her family, stressing the importance of education. Even though Carol and Dennis never went beyond high school, seven of their children have graduated from BYU, with all six sons earning graduate degrees.
In 1956, five days after their ninth child was born, Brother Flake received a skull fracture when a horse he was riding reared and fell on him. He spent the next ten days in a coma and was given scant hope for survival. But his entire stake fasted and prayed for him and eventually he recovered fully.
Brother Flake served for many years in bishoprics, high councils, and stake presidencies and in 1972 was called to be the patriarch for the Boise North Stake.
The family was dealt a blow in December 1984 when Carol was diagnosed as having myeloma. The family has again pulled together in fasting and prayer to support her through the ordeal.
“The tragedies in our lives have strengthened our testimonies and kept us close to the Lord,” says Brother Flake. “You could ruin your life worrying about things that might happen. But when you leave it in the Lord’s hands, you feel that he has his arm around you.”