There is a God.” Bob Bunsey is sure of it. One of the reasons for his faith is that he made it to his 80th birthday.
On Aug. 21, he and his wife, Erlinda, will be celebrating 30 years of marriage.
They were married two weeks after they met in Erlinda’s homeland of the Philippines.
Bob had to go through some very dark valleys before he became the perfect answer to Erlinda’s prayer.
In his past life — or rather, existence — he went on binges, popped pills and, periodically, crawled into sobriety, only to be pushed back into a vicious cycle that spiraled downward with each drink and every vow not to.
When Bob — clean, sober and joyfully Christian — told his future wife of his past, Erlinda wasn’t worried. She knew that God can turn a person around if “you accept him as Lord and Savior and live for him,” she said.
“By the grace of God, I’m alive,” said Bob.
If God could pluck Bob from hopeless, scary existence, there’s hope for anybody.
Bob started drinking heavily when he was a teenage drummer for an Ohio band.
Since he was a minor, people would sneak drinks to him.
“Whenever there was a drink, I had to get drunk,” he said.
Bob enlisted in the Air Force and since drinking was legal, he practically lived at the club.
He worked as a medic and had access to the pharmacy, where he took as many pills as he wanted, mainly amphetamines.
Once Bob was discharged, he played in a professional band in Cleveland. Most of his money went for liquor and speed, a drug that keep him awake so he could play and party all night.
“The devil bought his soul,” remarked Erlinda.
Through the suggestion of a cousin who was a teacher in Holy Cross on the Yukon River, Bob decided to live in Alaska.
He became a volunteer at a Catholic boarding school in Glennallen. Eventually he got on the payroll.
Unfortunately, working in a Catholic mission didn’t drive the demon alcohol from him.
The little money he made went for booze.
He lost his job one cold, minus-60 winter night when he passed out while shoveling coal in the boiler room.
When his superior found him, the fire was just about out and so was his job. The head priest gave him his walking papers.
Bob went to Anchorage where he worked at Providence Hospital. In the summer he fished salmon in Bristol Bay.
At first, he kept on alert, but began to drink on weekends to relax. Eventually those “weekends” grew longer.
He blacked out in his apartment and was taken to the hospital after a fellow tenant found him.
A psychiatrist urged Bob to quit drinking.
Apparently he sobered up enough to admit that he needed help. He started attending Alcoholics Anonymous.
Bob worked at a Catholic mission in Dillingham and, upon hearing stories that he could make a lot of money fishing, he moved to Egegik.
He remained sober long enough to get established as a fisherman. But the temptations in the village were too powerful.
There was a liquor store in Egegik, and during the winter, there wasn’t much to do. After a year of sobriety, he dove into the vicious drinking cycle again.
“I wouldn’t drink while I was fishing, but after fishing I tied the bag on.”
Bob got a job as a village medic, but lost his job because of his drinking. Later he was re-hired.
He moved to Sand Point to take a job as a winter watchman at a cannery. There he met his future wife (not his present one).
They moved to Egegik, where their heavy binges exploded into nasty fights. He swore off drinking after hitting her; but he went back to it.
Besides dealing with alcoholism, Bob was hit with depression.
Sometimes it was the drinking that got him, other times it was depression. Sometimes he mixed his anti-depressant medication with alcohol.
Unsurprisingly, his condition drove him into suicidal thinking.
Several times within the next several years, Bob tried to take his life.
While delivering fish to a tender in Egegik, he aimed for the bow of the boat. His wife and brother-in-law were with. His wife screamed; Bunsey turned just in time to avoid a crash. Another time he came close to shooting himself with a .44 Magnum. One day he stood up on his three-wheeler on the airstrip, intending to put his head into the prop of a landing plane. The pilot saw Bunsey just in time and ascended to avoid him.
His wife moved back to Sand Point and his drinking got much worse.
In 1980 Bob went to St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis for shock treatments that would hopefully jolt him out of his depression.
On his way back to Alaska, he started drinking on the plane.
After working for the Bristol Bay Area Health Association, his manager insisted that he get treatment.
He entered Humana Hospital in Anchorage, but didn’t complete the recovery program.
Bob lost his job with the association, but he stayed in the village.
Getting low on anti-depression pills, Bob decided to put an end to his life. He was terrified to think of facing depression without drugs. He meticulously planned his suicide for Jan. 20, 1983.
That morning, while he ate breakfast, he suddenly felt dizzy.
“I fell to the floor and I was happy. It was a miracle. To this day, I don’t need antidepressants or alcohol. I had fear and joy at the same time. I realized there must be an almighty God that stepped in. Before that day I was an atheist.”
He started going to church, studied the Bible and became a Christian.
In 1985, upon invitation from Filipino cannery workers at Egegik, Bob decided to visit the Philippines. Erlinda’s brother, Benjamin Cacho, who had been stationed in Kodiak while serving in the Navy, was his tour guide. He introduced Bob to Erlinda at a church service in the city of Baguio
“We didn’t know that God had a plan,” said Erlinda.
They settled down in Egegik.
Coming from a city with half a million people where she managed a Tupperware business with 71 people under her, Erlinda adjusted to a new way of life
In Egegik there were less than 100 people.
“I cried a lot in Egegik,” said Erlinda. She saw a drunk woman for the first time in her life.
Erinda laughed a lot, too. She said she had a “fun time” in Egegik. She started reading the Bible, was introduced to the banya, went berry picking and learned how to ride a four-wheeler and to ice-fish.
Since Bob wanted to take classes on alcohol counseling at St. Herman’s Seminary, the Bunseys moved here in 1989.
Erlinda worked as swing manager for McDonald’s and later was hired at Safeway, a job for which she “praises the Lord.”
Bob worked for the Safe Harbor rehabilitation program (which is no longer in operation), drove bus for Laidlaw and became an activities aide and driver for Island Cover Adult Daycare. He is now retired.
The Bunseys are happy in Kodiak.
“It is very diverse,” Erlinda said. “I have made many friends, and not with just Filipinos.”
The Bunseys worship and serve at the Kodiak Church of the Nazarene. Linda is greeter and Sunday School facilitator and Bob plays in the praise and worship band.
“I play for the Lord now,” he said.
Bob said he leaves everything in the hands of God.
“That’s the way it works. It used to be that things had to go my way.”