Dick Duenkel isn't a Seventh-day Adventist, but the former national account manager for Xerox keeps volunteering at the church's World Session because he has such a good time.
Duenkel, a resident of Oakton, Virginia, began attending Session in 1980 for work. But since retiring in 1999, he has made the trek every five years to help on the loading dock.
"Most Adventists I've met are such caring, friendly people," Duenkel said Monday at the loading dock of the Georgia World Congress Center. "I like being in such a positive environment."
Duenkel, 68, joins a crew of nine helping to unload supplies trucked in from the church headquarters' warehouse in Baltimore, Maryland. Most supplies will fill the vast exhibit hall, with some 250 church institutions showcasing their ministries. The hall is 200,000 square feet, or nearly five acres.
"It's a lot of walking," Duenkel said.
The hall is adjacent to the Georgia Dome, site of the Adventist World Session, a 10-day spiritual gathering and business meeting. Session is set to begin June 23. Until then, crates and boxes are lined up waiting for exhibitors to come pick them up.
"This place here will be a zoo over the next few days," Duenkel said. "But the exhibit hall always comes together. You don't always know how but it does."
Over the years Duenkel said he has appreciated working with John Szasz, the church's purchasing manager, and Dean Rogers, an Adventist Church assistant treasurer and manager of the Session exhibit halls.
"He's become a true friend. I think it's neat that he wants to come help us," Rogers said.
Duenkel is a Methodist, having converted after growing up Presbyterian. While he keeps supporting the Adventist Church's Sessions, he plans to remain a Methodist. "I'm happy where I am," he said.
Duenkel's wife Laura has joined him in coming to Atlanta, just as she has for previous Sessions in St. Louis in 2005 and Toronto in 2000. However, she's enjoying being a tourist while he hefts cargo on the dock.
Duenkel is well suited for the heavy lifting his volunteer position requires. He walks up to five miles a day and regularly lifts weights to keep his solid frame. In the late 1960s he put that strength to use while playing defensive end for the Virginia Sailors, a former farm team of the Washington Redskins.
Duenkel said if his body holds up, he plans to keep supporting the Adventist Church in the future. In 2015, Duenkel will be 73 when the Adventist Church's Session is set for San Antonio, Texas.
"I'm expecting to be there," he said.