It takes an improbable life to inspire an improbable book

By on January 24, 2018
“An Improbable Life” chronicles the big impact of a small man.

“An Improbable Life” chronicles the big impact of a small man.

It took Michael Peuler learning about the calling and purpose of Howard Dillaman to gain perspective on his own life.

Peuler, formerly of Ephrata, had a hamburger and shared french fries with Dillaman every Tuesday at McDonald’s in Butler.

It was during these Tuesday lunches that Peuler learned about the improbable life of Dillaman, his father-in-law. It was two former military veterans, Peuler in Vietnam and Dillman in World War II, sharing war stories. A veteran-to-veteran bond began. Dillaman was age 85 and Pueler 55.

The common ground, both being in the military, opened up other conversations — work, life, Christianity.

“I loved my Tuesday lunches sitting with him,” said Peuler, a former host during the Ephrata Parade for Blue Ridge Cable. “The more I was around him, I came to the conclusion that he was an incredible person.”

The more he was around Dillaman, Pueler concluded he had to chronicle Dillaman’s story. He had to write “An Improbable Life: The Inspiring Story of Howard C. Dillaman,” a book published by Urban Press.

Peuler, now 67, lived in Ephrata from 1978-2006. He worked at Ephrata National Bank and had a television show on Blue Ridge called “Your Money Matters,” which dealt with financial topics.

He also used to film high school proms for Cocalico, Warwick, Ephrata and Manheim Central for a two-hour special on Blue Ridge.

After he and his first wife divorced, Peuler remarried in 2006. He and his wife Victoria now live in Cranberry Township, a suburb of Pittsburgh. He has two children: a son, Christopher (Ephrata), and a daughter, Anne Rose (Gordonville), who still live Lancaster County.

Dillaman died at age 91 on Dec. 15, 2011. He lived an interesting life and left quite the legacy.

Born in 1920, his mother died during his birth and his father boot-legged whiskey and made counterfeit coins.

A small man standing at 5-foot-5, Dillaman operated a radar device in London and worked his way across Europe during WWII. He was at the Battle of the Bulge. He was at Normandy.

After the war, Dillaman worked in a loud factory and had a mental breakdown. Today it would likely be known as a nervous breakdown.

In 1984 he found himself in a VA hospital in Butler going out of his mind. He sat in a room alone. Out of boredom, he picked up a Gideon Bible and started to read.

He got on his knees and prayed, “If I can get out of here, I’ll serve you the rest of my life.” A short time later, a security guard came to his room and said Dillaman was free to leave.

On his way home, Dillaman stopped by an oak tree (the tree is still there) and got on his knees and prayed, “You did your job, now I’ll do mine.”

He became an Electrolux salesman, selling vacuums door-to-door. While the door (of a home) was open, Dillaman used the opportunity tell people about his testimony, to offer them a personal relationship with God.

His opening line: “Have you read my book?”

The answer was, “No.”

Then he gave them a 2-by-2 inch booklet. He distributed more than 50,000 books and led more than 2,000 people to Christ. Dillaman’s son, Rockwell, a pastor, has led more than 3,000 people to God.

Dillaman sold vacuums as a way to open doors to talk about God and became a top salesman.

He bartered a vacuum to have his booklet printed. He won a sales contest, earning $75,000, which he used to buy each of his three children a new car and gave the rest of the money to the church.

God blessed him, and he blessed God.

For Peuler, it was too good a story not to capture.

“I couldn’t just let his story end in 2011,” Peuler said. “He was an amazing guy who was never afraid to witness. It just shows you don’t have to be tall, handsome or rich to accomplish great things in life.”

The lesson of the book: Make your life count. You can’t have a testimony until you have a test.

Learning about Dillaman’s past gave Peuler a new purpose. He is now a Gideon representative, doing speaking engagements and making sure bibles are distributed. He speaks at churches, telling Dillaman’s story.

“He was a little man from a poor background,” Peuler said. “It is amazing how God can use people.”

People like Dillaman and Peuler.


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