Dave Brobston and his dog, Guinness, have become a fixture in the Montpelier, OH, area. The dog has helped the former First Lutheran Church intern deal with PTSD.
Long Journey For Man With Britton Connection
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
(Editor’s Note: Dave Brobston served as an intern at the First Lutheran Church in Britton from 1991-1992 and now resides in Montpelier, OH.)
As Montpelier and Antwerp warmed up for a Week 1 high school football contest this fall, Dave Brobston settled into his spot in the press box of Montpelier’s Hobe Krouse Field to call the game for 104.5 WLZZ, a radio station based out of Montpelier.
The game marked the beginning of Brobston’s third year with the station, where he calls the games with ease and always with a smile on his face. He’ll highlight the stars, sure, but he says his favorite thing to do is pepper in stories about as many kids as he can.
To a lot of people in Williams County, Ohio, it might be all they see him as, but sports broadcasting is far from his first trade, or even his second or third, for that matter. Rather, it’s something he happened into.
“I could do that,” he thought one night while watching March Madness games.
And so he did. A friend set him up to call Defiance games on WONW for a year before the opportunity with WLZZ came along. When he’s not moonlighting as a sports broadcaster, Brobston’s fulfilling his daytime role as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Defiance, where he’s been for the past 11 years. Outside of that, Brobston has been the Defiance County Police Chaplain for a year-and-a-half and was a volunteer firefighter for several years before that.
Brobston, 52, slips from task to task in a seemingly effortless way, and to see him out in public is almost like seeing someone who can do anything.
“My daughter’s friends say I’m like a Ken doll,” Brobston says. “They say, ‘You do a little bit of everything don’t you?’ I’d prefer G.I. Joe. But I’ll take it.”
But behind the scenes, it’s taken a lot for Brobston to get to where he’s at. And some days in particular, it still takes a lot. That’s because of another role Brobston plays - one of a survivor and advocate of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Brobston grew up in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and as a 1984 graduate of Parkersburg High School, Brobston spent time on the football, cross country and track teams for the Big Reds, earning All-State honors in the 400-meter dash during his senior year.
After high school, Brobston was off to Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, to study finance and economics. He says he enjoyed his major, but halfway through college, he felt a calling to ministry.
“Midway through junior year, God got ahold of me and said, ‘I think I’ve got different plans for you,’” Brobston said.
Brobston graduated from Marshall in December of 1988, married his wife, Kayly, in June of 1989, and from there he was off to South Carolina to begin his studies at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.
The next seven years sent Brobston and his wife on a journey to South Dakota, back to South Carolina, to his first pastoring jobs in Illinois and Pennsylvania, before the Brobstons settled in at a church in Jackson, Michigan, in 1997, with their two young children, Conor and Nicole.
Inspired by the events of 9/11, Brobston soon added another role to his repertoire in 2002 when he joined the Summit Township Fire Department.
He had some close calls with the job, but one day in particular sticks out for Brobston.
“January, 20, 2005,” Brobston says. “The call comes in for light smoke in a residence.”
Brobston and a team of firefighters arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, but they soon found out they had a much bigger problem than light smoke.
The interior crew was in the upstairs portion of the house searching for the source of the smoke when the basement flashed over and burst into flames. The team, which was already running low on air, lost all visibility upstairs and became separated.
While this was going on, Brobston was responsible for coordinating rescue efforts on the outside of the house. A majority of the team was rescued from the house - four of which were eventually treated and recovered from smoke inhalation.
But a fifth - Captain Scott Thornton - who was a close personal friend of Brobston’s, became disoriented and lost. By the time the rescue team got to him, it was too late. Thornton was rushed to a nearby hospital, but died shortly after.
Brobston was by Thornton’s side in his last moments at the hospital. And while Thornton closed his eyes for the last time, Brobston promised his friend he wouldn’t let him die in vain.
Brobston took the loss hard, but the grieving would worsen. Only a few months later, a close friend in Brobston’s church died of lymphoma. As a result, Brobston sunk into a severe depressive state.
“I’ve got a massively grieving community and fire department and I’ve got a massively grieving congregation and I’m trying to keep all the plates spinning and still be a dad and a husband and a pastor and a firefighter … and all those other things that people were expecting me to be,” Brobston said. “I just hit the wall and everything came crashing down around me.”
For so much of his life, Brobston had always been the guy to lend the helping hand in whatever circumstance he could. So when he started suffering from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, he didn’t know how to cope with it.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself,” Brobston said. “It felt like I was unraveling and I wasn’t used to that. I was used to being in control.”
Brobston says he has a complex version of PTSD, so a lot of times thoughts of the fire in 2005 can pull on other bad memories and moments in his life. Depression and anxiety became a huge problem, Brobston said, while at the same time, he started to have trust issues and built up walls to isolate himself from other people.
In addition, his family says traveling became nearly impossible for him. Traffic and long car rides would make him irritable and anxious.
Brobston knew he needed to get help, so he started to see a therapist, in addition to a doctor, who prescribed him some medication to counteract the symptoms of PTSD - both of which helped for a while.
By 2013, Brobston, who had since taken the job as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran in Defiance, became tired of the growing list of medications he was taking.
“If you ever see any of those commercials on TV, they spend 20 seconds talking to you about the medication and 40 seconds talking to you about what all the side-effects are,” Brobston said. “So I would go into the doc and say, ‘I have this going on.’ And their response would be, ‘That’s a side-effect from this medication. Let me give this medication to counter that.’ I thought, ‘This is crazy. There’s got to be a different way.”
Around that same time, Brobston’s daughter, Nicole, brought up the idea of getting a service dog. The family looked into it and Brobston decided to give it a shot. On Valentine’s Day in 2015, the Brobstons brought home a twomonth-old male labradoodle. The family called him, Guinness.
In the three-and-a-half years the two have been a team, Brobston says Guinness has changed his life. Even better, Brobston’s intake of meds are now little to none.
“Guinness has got an ability to know,” Brobston said. “He knows my mood before I do. So if I’m having a rough day, he knows. He’s literally on top of me and one of the biggest things he does, it’s called deep pressure therapy. … You get 80 pounds of dog on your lap … you don’t have a choice but to be present in that moment.”
It took some getting used to, but Guinness soon began going nearly everywhere Brobston went. Whether Brobston is preaching at the altar or making a run to Biggby Coffee, Guinness is right by his side. One of the only places Guinness doesn’t accompany Brobston is high school sporting events, due to the limited space of press boxes.
“He’s been a huge bonus to my ministry,” Brobston said. “The congregation loves him. People around town love him. I used to show up at the hospital and people would be like, ‘Oh look, Pastor Dave is here.’ Now they look at me and go, ‘Oh look, Guinness is here.’ I truly in many ways have become the guy on the other end of the leash.”
When Brobston became Defiance County Police Chaplain last year, Guinness even became an asset in that. A lot of Brobston’s role as chaplain has him working with officers, deputies and dispatchers. Brobston is called onto the scene of a lot of traumatic incidents or death notifications to be a calming presence, where he oftens prays with families or helps them debrief from critical incidents.
“It’s amazing what Guinness does, whether I’m in a hospital room, visiting with a congregation member or in a nursing home,” Brobston said. “Or at times when there’s been a death ... his ability to relate to people in their grief and their struggles is incredibly helpful.”
The word about Brobston’s work is starting to spread, too, and it’s allowing him to help people in all walks of life.
Ryan Mack, for example, had just returned home to northwest Ohio from a tour in Afghanistan and was struggling to find his place back in the community.
“You have to go see the PTSD pastor,” Mack was told by some friends. Not long after, Mack met Brobston for coffee to talk through some of his struggles.
“He talked in a way that no other pastor has talked to me,” Mack said. “It kind of drew me in and after having a couple of lunches and coffee with him from time-to-time, I started attending his church. My kids and I have been going there ever since.”
Mack, who also serves as Defiance County Commissioner, sees first-hand the impact Brobston is able to have on the community.
“Dave Brobston is an amazing guy and I think it’s his ability to connect with people that allows him to fill so many of those roles,” Mack said. “Being a pastor, you need somebody you can look up to, a guy that can do it all and that is, without a doubt, Dave Brobston. And I think it’s his personality, it’s the things he’s been through in life that allow him to relate to people so easily. … It’s great to have people like that.”
In many ways, Brobston is becoming a source of inspiration for people, including his children. His son, Conor, followed in his footsteps to Marshall and today serves as a firefighter in the Noble Township Department. Nicole, on the other hand, who says she at times struggles with mental health, calls her dad a “saving grace.”
“I think for my generation, mental illness has become such a larger part of the conversation,” she said. “But for people my dad’s age ... it is really difficult to admit that you are struggling or that you need help. It’s seen as a weakness in middle-aged men. .... My dad is not weak … and I think it’s been really good for northwest Ohio to have someone they can see is not weak in mind, spirit, or body and see that he still struggles. Because it allows them to come forward and say ‘I’m not weak either, but here I am and I need help.’”
A lot of people might wonder why Brobston keeps himself around police and fire, where he’s often exposed to events similar to what triggers his symptoms of PTSD. But for Brobston, the answer is simple.
“There are times where I ask him why,” said Kayly, who’s been married to Brobston for nearly 30 years. “But the reason that he does it, is because he doesn’t want to leave someone else in the same place. He knows you’re capable of moving beyond and to not help someone move beyond is a crime to him.”
Breaking Down Walls
It’s a Sunday morning in late August and Brobston is in the midst of giving that week’s sermon on the forgiveness of sins. He weaves his way to talking about the story of the prodigal son, which tells of a man who blows all of his father’s inheritance, but when he decides to come home, his father welcomes him back with open arms.
That’s how God works for a lot of people, Brobston says.
“Last Sunday, we gathered in this very place … powerful worship,” Brobston goes on to say, trying to prove a point. “Anybody go sinless on Monday?”
At that point, Guinness, laying by Brobston’s side on the altar, stretches out and lets out a groan.
“Yeah I agree,” says Brobston, looking down at his dog.
The congregation laughs.
After Brobston wraps up the sermon, it came time for the congregation to exchange the passing of the peace with one another.
Former First Lutheran Church intern Dave Brobston, now of Montpelier, OH, pastors a church in his community but also is the voice of the school for sports broadcasts.
“This is one of the coolest things since I became pastor here,” says Brobston, beaming with pride. “When I first got here, they’d be done with this in 20 seconds. Now it’s like, ‘You guys can stop talking any time now.’”
Julie Sasseen, the director of youth and family at St. Paul, was part of the team that interviewed Brobston for the job in 2007. She says Brobston has been a tremendous blessing for the church, but the church - and perhaps even northwest Ohio - has been a blessing on him in return.
“I can’t overemphasize the struggles he overcomes. They amaze me,” Sasseen said. “I watch him and he never says no to something in the community or to some project in our church. And yet I see that take a personal toll on him. But yet, he always rises to those occasions. To me, it’s an incredible God story, because that’s the only explanation I have sometimes of where his strength comes from.”
Brobston knows his faith has been a guiding light to his recovery process, too.
“Without faith, I’d be another statistic,” he says.
Brobston is still quick to point out he’s in no way cured of PTSD. “I still have my good days and bad days,” he says.
He knows he’s come a long way, however, and when he looks at the impact he’s able to have today, he says it’s crazy to think how it wasn’t too long ago that he would’ve never seen himself as an advocate for mental health.
Sometimes he thinks back to his last words to Thornton, though, and how he told his friend he wouldn’t let him die in vain. Brobston admits he wasn’t sure what those words would turn into when he said them.
But now he might have an idea.
“Being able to reach out and help and work with other people is a big deal to me, because that’s the way (Thornton) was,” Brobston said. “One of the things that I know that my work out in the community with Guiness does, is there’s still this incredible stigma that we have about mental and emotional health. We’re embarrassed about it.
“So hopefully part of what Guinness and I are doing, is helping break down some walls. … That’s my big thing. If we can help touch one person and have them get the help they need, that’s just icing on the cake.”
“I think it’s his personality, it’s the things he’s been through in life that allow him to relate to people so easily. … It’s great to have people like that.”