By Dan Cunningham
"To me, science has always been about how to explain God's world," says Tony Bolen, who joined the staff of the Pond Science Institute in the past year.
Tony works part time in the machine shop and lab, performing tasks as a machinist and mold caster.
"It is good to be able to contribute to Dale's work, even if it is in a small fashion," adds Bolen, whose humbleness comes natural as an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.
"I started as unskilled labor, but Dale is teaching me some (new) skills," he adds.
Of course, Tony already had a wide range of knowledge from two college degrees, including a master's, and a varied background that ranges from engineering to music.
It helps too that he has had a life long interest in physics and planned to minor in that field when he started his college studies at Ohio University.
The son of a steelworker, Tony was originally from Parkersburg, West Virginia, but grew up mostly in Sistersville, West Virginia and Dayton, Ohio. The oldest child in the family, he has a younger brother and two sisters.
"Early on in my life I wanted to be in the Air Force, but I got bitten by the music bug and decided to be a professional musician." His inspiration, he explains, was the Lawrence Welk Show and his parents. His father enjoyed big band music while his mother was a rock fan.
He studied music and physics at Ohio University among other subjects but ran out of money and got an opportunity to go on the road with a band â€” David Julian and the Playmates. It was a 'Vegas type show and the playmates were two girls who performed dance routines and changed costumes between sets.
"It was a lot of fun. We performed in 35 states in 15 months.
"After that experience I moved to L. A. and studied at the Musicians Institute. He earned a degree there as he sharpened his skills playing bass guitar, saxophone, clarinet, flute and singing vocals.
"I can improv and read music. When I was at Ohio University a survey came out and it said that musicians would rather play music than have sex. I agree with that. There are shows I have been in and they were like a religious experience."
In Los Angeles, he was in a band, Monkey Tears, which he describes as avant garde. They played often around the L. A. area and were getting some play time, but the music scene was starting to change. "The big contracts flowed freely in the late '70s and early '80s and anyone could get a contract."
Tony started his own band, Catholic School, a hair band, "the term they would use now. We all had a lot of hair. We were a party bandâ€¦uplifting and positive."
But the contracts became harder to come by as the music scene went through transformation from rock to metal.
Bolen observes that rock music originally was an uplifting genre for the adolescent mall and the message was you are all right and you will get through this.
Metal and hard metal were dark in comparison, "I liked some of the rifts and some of the melodies but the subject matter was very negative and the message was more maybe you will not get through this."
"When I got to L A. I played and wrote music. I went to an interview and spent half an hour talking about how my hair lookedâ€¦no discussion of music.
"While I was driving around I was shocked to learn that Madonna had three records out and was now planning to play in her first concert ever. I did not know how you'd do that. To her credit, she has a free hand in her creations."
Tony thought successful musicians laid the groundwork by playing a lot of life concerts first.
More changes continued to rock the music scene. Tony says when many states raised the drinking age to 21, lounges and bars lost half their audience who now could not get in. And the structure of music became more corporate.
Amidst this change, an opportunity came up for Tony and he packed up and moved to Austin, Texas, where live bands found a haven.
"There were 117 live music venues in Austin when I arrived. Six or seven nights a week you could hear any type of music. It was a marvelous musician's paradise.
He joined Ice 9, another avant grade rock band that played "catchy stuff".
"We played all over Texas in some of the biggest venues. We got airplay in Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas."
Branching out from music, In '87 he landed a job with a computer service company "I had had enough of the music scene," he explains.
But then he sought out another adventure. His original plan in life had been to join the Air Forceâ€¦ and he did. He worked eight years for the Air Force as an engineering technician, earning a degree from Park University at the same time.
However, his Air Force experience became frustrating. Tony and his co-workers were only allowed to do anything with absolute precisionâ€¦. the most critical work and tolerances were always outsourced. And the Air Force would not certify its own staffâ€¦ so Tony observed that they were in essence paying for two separate levels of staffing instead of efficiently consolidating it inside the service.
"I was proud to serve my country but there was a lot of silliness in that."
Leaving the Air Force in '96, Tony joined the University of Texas as a computer programmer.
About that time he also met his wife Sandy. That came about through a friend who had played in a band with Tony years earlier. The friend kept asking Tony to come and visit him in Lake Havasu, California. The friend's wife conspired for Sandy and Tony to visit at the same time and when they did it was planned that they would have to spend time together because the hosts would be busy elsewhere.
The conspiracy worked because Tony and Sandy were married in 1997 and they have one daughter as well as four adult children between them from earlier marriages.
Through all this change he was changing on a spiritual level as well and came to accept the Lutheran church as the one true faith. Desiring to follow through on this, he enrolled in Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 2001. Four years later he emerged with a master's degree in theology.
Unfortunately, the first church he was called to in western Iowa he now describes as "a horrific nightmare. Every negative Christian stereotype was reflected in that congregation. It was my first experience with church politics. Forced out after a year, he at first planned to go back into engineering.
But then a Lutheran congregation in La Junta, Colorado asked Tony to serve them as pastor and Tony decided to respond to God's higher calling.
"That is how I landed in La Junta."
He would eventually meet Dale Pond while attending political meetings in support of Ron Paul, who had been Tony's Congressman back in Texas. Tony enjoyed his work with the church and believes bringing younger people into the congregation was one of his successes. However, a trust fund that was funding the church ministry experienced a significant loss in value during the 2008 - 2009 stock market meltdown in the wake of the banking fraud scandals and eventually Tony was let go.
Tony was a natural fit for the institute, as Tony and Dale have developed a close friendship further strengthened by a mutual interest in cigars.
Tony and his family have decided to remain in La Junta, where he has patched together a living from several sources. In addition to working for the Pond Science Institute, he works on a contract basis for a local railroad. And he recently started a ministry at Evergreen Gardens, an assisted living facility in La Junta. Some local Lutherans have followed him to his new ministry, which meets once a month. And he is in the process of forming a new musical group in La Junta, responding to suggestions from friends.
"So I stay pretty busy."