Pastor Donald Benjamin Sheley, San Bruno resident, passed away peacefully at age 84 surrounded by family and close friends in his home early Sunday morning, February 7th, 2016, after an 18 month battle with cancer. He said he would never retire and succeeded with his plan, as he was able to continue to bless people leading up to his final week. Pastor Don was born September 2, 1931, in Chico, California, to Hamilton Ozaner and Hazel Mary Sheley. Don was the second oldest of five children: Robert, Clifford, David, and Richard (deceased). After hardships at home, Don started working at age 6 selling newspapers like many children after the Great Depression. In 1947, at Camp Meeting, Don saw his future wife playing an organ, and knew then, she was special. Eight years later, Donald and Vernita Loree Persing were married February 5, 1955 in Richmond, California.
Growing up, Donald came close to death on several occasions, and each time, he grew closer to God, and fortified his character. In the third grade, Don and two other children contracted Polio. At that time, Donald and his family were new Christians, so he asked his mother to pray for him to get better and she said a short prayer. He said, “No! I mean REALLY pray!!” Of the three sick children, one died and one carried physical limitations for the rest of his life. Don was completely healed. In 1940, (age 29) a heart attack sent him to the hospital for ten days. The doctors had warned the family he might not make it. Donald later reported that while the family was standing around him, deeply concerned and praying, he felt that he had left his body and was watching down from an upper corner in the hospital room. He survived many car accidents, three of which, should have killed him.
Don graduated from Bethany University in 1953, with a Bachelor's in Psychology and a Minor in Bible. Later in life, he went on to earn many awards and certificates. Don started working in a drugstore at age 8, and continued until age 18. During this time, he learned important lessons about management and innovation that would help him succeed later in life. He put himself through college by managing two drugstores in Santa Cruz, CA, and helped pioneer the program that brought music and advertisements through the PA systems in stores. After graduation, he spent a total of 6 years as Assistant Pastor at three churches in Hayward, Richmond, and San Francisco. In October 1959, he founded Calvary Cross Church in Daly City, which after outgrowing its facility purchased a shopping center in San Bruno in 1972 and changed the name to Church of the Highlands. His eldest son, Leighton, was installed as Senior Pastor in 2006. Don was a tremendous blessing to the greater community here in California, as well as in 65 countries around the world. Pastor Don helped to found, build, and maintain churches and schools domestically and internationally. Additionally, he also helped establish Minister’s Training Colleges in Russia and Ukraine, and helped support two orphanages in Borneo.
When he was Senior Pastor at Church of the Highlands, Pastor Don would take time to travel the world as a missionary. During his time in India, he helped feed a school with 12,000 students and also helped with the hospital which would later be used by Mother Theresa. In the Philippines, he helped distribute pre-tuned radios for villagers to listen to Christian broadcasts. For ten years in the 70s, Don helped many countries in Africa equip and train young ministers, some of whom went on to establish churches, several of which grew to over 3,000 members.
In 1979, he authored his first book, “Beggar at the Banquet” to help financially support a school in Korea. This led to their choir being able to tour the US, and grow their school from 4,000 to over 13,000 students. Many long-lasting friendships were established and the book gained notoriety in Korea. Don and Vernita traveled there many times, over the years, and Don received numerous awards, including the Key to the City of Uijeongbu, and was given the title of Biographer to Dr. Hong, a Senator.
He co-authored his second book in 2014, “Miracle Zone - Borneo”, with Ronny Heyboer, a missionary in Borneo. The book was written to help the Living Waters Orphanage which houses 500 children, and educates over 1,000 children from the orphanage and surrounding villages. This book has already been translated into five other languages.
Over the years, Don used his innovation to creatively assist with the many projects at Church of the Highlands. He would often start companies that served many purposes. His architectural firm created a new and unique way to build domes, and the profits from his travel agency were able to fund his mission trips, relieving that financial burden from the church. Often times, the businesses would have extra funds to give back to Church of the Highlands to help foster its growth. Don started the Calvary Cross Bookstore to assist with Biblical and educational supplies for Church of the Highlands, Highlands Christian Schools, and other churches and schools in the community. Through his Geodesic Building Company and his architectural firm, he was able to build economical and energy efficient homes and churches.
Pastor Don always had a heart to help schools and churches, and saw that it was difficult for them to get loans. In 1979, he launched Church Loan Corporation, a division of Central Bank of California. CLC proved to the banking industry that they could successfully loan to churches and schools using the policies, procedures and calculations that were implemented by Pastor Sheley. Since that time, many banks across the country have adopted the program that he set up and billions of dollars have been loaned to further the work of the Kingdom. Tens of thousands of churches and schools have benefitted by the creativity that God blessed him with.
One of his greatest achievements was supporting his wife Vernita, who founded Highlands Christian Schools in San Bruno, which has been educating for excellence for 50 years, and has touched the lives of thousands of families in the San Francisco Bay Area. Over the years, HCS has had many campuses, and currently serves children 18 months through 8th grade.
Many people have said that he was kind, and that he made you feel important. Don had an unusual way of making everyone feel that they were his favorite. People have written that “he saved our marriage”, “I grew so much in my knowledge of the Bible and Christian history with his preaching”, “I felt the Holy Spirit working when I was in his presence”, and much much more. When describing what struck them the most about Don, people have remembered his work ethic, commitment, vision, passion, graciousness, that he was an outstanding preacher, and most of all that he was a wonderful Pastor. His most requested sermon, “You May Get What You Want, But You May Not Want What You Get” can be heard at HighlandsConnection.com, as well as numerous other sermons he preached.
Pastor Donald had a local television ministry broadcasting church services in the 80s, a television program studying through the book of John for Russia and the Ukraine in the 90’s, and several radio ministries starting as far back as 1955. His longest and still currently running radio program is on KFAX 1100AM, Daybreak Radio.
Pastor Donald Sheley is survived by his wife of 61 years, Vernita, his three sons Pastor Leighton (Jenny), Pastor Cabot (Elaine), and Pastor Karlton; as well as 9 grandchildren: Christal (Joey), Sterling, Stanton, Cyrene, Andrew, Kira, Ian, Aidan, and Emma; and his great grand daughter Chloe DeRuntz.
One of his greatest joys in life was reading the Bible and spending time in prayer with those around him. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a charitable donation to Daybreak Radio to continue his ministry online and here in the Bay Area. Pastor Donald Sheley is buried in Stirling City where he and his family found Jesus because of the kindness of the local pastor, Ray Parks, who helped to feed the family frequently during destitute times.