It's a classic rags to riches story.
A young boy's father dies suddenly, leaving his mother to raise five children by herself. With the breadwinner gone, the family of six simply cannot afford to continue life as they know it in their Pennsylvania town.
At age 11, the boy and his brother are sent to an orphanage, the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pa. The school lends itself to children in financial or social need. Similar to a boarding school, the brothers are raised at the school by educational professionals.
After graduating and attending Pennsylvania's West Chester University, where he excelled in basketball and football, the boy, now a man, is drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 1979.
Joe Senser, a former Pro Bowl tight end, played with the Vikings his entire career, from 1979 to 1984. He currently owns and operates three restaurants in the Twin Cities, Joe Senser's Sports Grill and Bar, and is a radio commentator, covering Vikings' games.
Despite all his money and fame, Senser hasn't forgotten where it all began.
"When my dad died my mom wanted to give us better opportunities," Senser said. "(Milton Hershey School) is the best gift she could have given me."
Senser will share his life's struggles and successes in a testimonial Sunday at Timberwood Church in Nisswa.
Timberwood is a church plant of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie where Senser, his wife and four daughters regularly go to church.
"Wooddale has a culture of presenting a faith story each week," said the Rev. John Just, Timberwood's pastor. "Joe has a very compelling story to tell."
As a professional football player, Senser said it was difficult to be active in faith, but in 1984, he came to terms with his beliefs.
"I had a lot of good people who loved the Lord around me," he said. "I finally realized I had to find out for myself."
As for why Senser agreed to share his personal story with a group of strangers, he said, "God wants us to do that. You have to have people see the Christ in you."
This Sunday is Timberwood's grand opening. The congregation meets 9 and 10:30 a.m. at the Nisswa Community Center.
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