By Loren Smith
Terry Kay, the venerated and highly regarded author, was a sports reporter and columnist before he segued to a more literary lifestyle. He experienced the strict fundamentals of journalism while on the sports beat.
That will explain why he was apologetic when he called to suggest an idea. “You have to know,” he began, “I don’t feel good doing this but I think you should check into the background of the minister at Young Harris Methodist Church in Athens. I am told that he once cooked for Don King. Now when a man goes from Don King to God, that has to be an exceptional story. Now that I’ve offered my suggestion, I beg forgiveness. If anybody understands that you don’t tell any columnist what to write, it should be me.”
Columnists are often the recipients of ideas, all well-meaning. I try to be patient and considerate with such overtures, but such suggestions don’t often connect. However, if anybody has credibility in the business of journalism and newspapering, it would be my friend, Terry. I promised to follow up.
To interact with the senior pastor at Young Harris Methodist Church on Prince Avenue, I knew the right approach to take. I reached out to Steve Middlebrooks, who is as much of a part of the foundation at Young Harris as the bricks that support the sanctuary.
The rave review of one of Rev. Ortiz’ more passionate parishioners followed. Middlebrooks was as excited to talk about his minister as he might be when he receives dealer-of-the-year honors from an automobile dealers association.
Next, I decided to take in a sermon. That was beneficial, but a face-to-face interview with Rev. Ortiz was intriguing, revealing and
fun. Inspiring, too. Ortiz has great affection for sports, but his life does not parallel that of the evangelist, Billy Sunday, who was a .240 major league hitter during nine years with the old Chicago White Stockings, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and the Philadelphia Phillies. He was a much bigger hit in the pulpit than on the diamond, conducting 300 revivals that were attended an estimated 100,000,000.
Surely Sunday learned a lot about the sinful world playing baseball on the seventh day of the week. Traditionally, there have been as many foul mouths as there were foul balls in baseball. Women and booze were a daily double for big leaguers for many years. Ortiz had a life more checkered than Sunday.
Sunday grew up dirt poor but no greater than Ortiz, who was poorer than the mice which holed up in his various churches. Interestingly, Ortiz had an unquenchable thirst for money. A good deal was an okay deal, no matter its lack or morals or principle. That included the sale of drugs in the streets. One of the early goals in his life was to become a hit man for the Mafia. (Terry Kay’s suggestion is suddenly gaining traction, by the way.)
Ortiz’ parents emigrated to the U.S. from Puerto Rico when they were teenagers. His parents, both alcoholics, fought constantly. The work ethic was imbued in Ortiz’ bones, but that is about all he got from home. His childhood was in as much disarray as a beachfront following a category 5 hurricane.
Enterprise would become a partner in Luis’ life as he sought various business opportunities. His ability to speak Spanish and being an expert cook is how he became affiliated with Don King, the boxing promoter who appeared to comb his hair with an eggbeater.
The vicissitudes of Ortiz’ life is why affiliating with the mafia made sense to him. Mob guys wore spectator shoes, pinstriped shirts, and shark-skinned suits and drove Cadillacs. He was always dreaming for the Midas touch.
Then one day, an invitation came for him to attend a meeting at a farmhouse near his home in Orwell, Ohio. When he arrived, he noticed the parking lot was filled with Cadillacs. He went inside and everybody was dressed to the hilt. He got good vibes. Looked like he might be making a mob connection at last. Turns out, it was an Amway meeting.
Amway has an unabashed accent on evangelism. There was business talk and then an evangelist spoke. A funny thing happened in Luis Ortiz’ life. He can’t explain it but, like Billy Sunday, he was moved to identify with Christianity.
His in-laws were atheist. They banished him and their daughter, his first wife, from the family. So, they packed up and hit the road without a plan. Luis again has no explanation for his impulsive decision making — choosing to move to Georgia.
All he wanted to do was repent and live a life of altruism and forgiveness. He joined a church and set about getting an education, which was by the hardest means, Internet courses and night school. He became an ordained Methodist minister along the way, which did not set well with his first wife, who retreated to Ohio. She didn’t take to life as a minister’s wife.
Bad news became good news. His current wife, Melonie, likes it that Luis wants to lead others in the right direction. She is on board with the sacrifices they choose to make. His story is one that needs telling, and I am happy my old friend, Terry Kay, made me aware of Luis Ortiz’ good works in Athenstown.
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This article is from the May-June 2021 issue of Lakelife magazine.