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Loving A Wonderful Life

December 25, 2005, 9:45 PM by Lou Raguse

If you've seen any holiday movies this weekend, chances are you've flipped past "It's a Wonderful Life." In it, Jimmy Stewart's character George Bailey considers suicide before divine intervention shows him the meaning of life. In tonight's Eye on KELOLAND, Lou Raguse brings us the story of a Sioux Falls man who had a George Bailey-esque experience five years ago on Christmas night.


During the holidays, Jerry Dahmen's radio show "I Love Life" becomes even more meaningful.

“It's Christmas night, and I think a lot of us are looking for hope, and a lot of us are looking for encouragement,” he says.

Throughout his career, he's shared stories of survivors, hope and inspiration. But the show is especially inspiring to Dahmen himself. Because five years ago, "loving life" was the last thing on his mind.

And you need to start at the beginning to understand why.

Dahmen overcame a stuttering problem as a kid to become one of fastest-rising broadcasters in the Midwest. And that's when the South came calling. WSM, the Grand Ole Opry's radio station offered him one of their top jobs.

“Usually, you spend years trying to get in a place like that,” Dahmen says. “And here they were calling me from Nashville wanting me to supervise the news operation for them.”

The job was the pinnacle of success, and Dahmen was good at it.

“If I won 10 awards one year, I needed to win 15 the next year. And I did,” Dahmen says. “Every goal I set, happened.”

He interviewed every major country star in the world. Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton...

“...Faith Hill, Tim McGraw. I was the first person to interview Tim McGraw talking about his father Tug McGraw, who was with the Yankees,” Dahmen says.

While those country stars became like a second family to him, his first family paid the price. After 23 years of what Dahmen thought was the perfect marriage, his wife - feeling neglected and with a new love - threw Dahmen out of the house.

“I just couldn't understand,” he says. “I didn't want to believe that we were actually getting a divorce. I though maybe she was just saying that to scare me.”

In the depression that followed, Dahmen dropped 50 pounds in two weeks. And the weight of his problems increased. After 17 years of broadcasting - in his dream job - WSM cut its news department and left Dahmen unemployed.

Then, on that Christmas night five years ago, Dahmen walked into a gun shop and asked for the biggest pistol they sold.

“He told me it was a magnum,” he says. “And I told him I want that with ammunition. And he wrapped it up just like a Christmas present.”

That was the only Christmas present Dahmen got that year. Back at his apartment, he unwrapped it and with his old station, WSM, playing in the background, he put a bullet in the chamber.

“Yep, I had it loaded,” he says. “I had it in my hands and I was putting it to my temple, and..."

…That's when Dahmen's own guardian angel stepped in. From his radio, Dahmen heard a pastor from a local mission come on the air. The message was that no one is alone, and everyone can overcome. Dahmen put down the gun, went to the mission, and had a talk.

“He said you need to forgive your wife of 23 years, because bitterness will defeat your life, and forgiveness will carry it on,” he says.

It's the same message he's preached on his show throughout his life. It's not what happens to us, but how we react to it. If you dwell on your problems, they will consume you.

And it's the message now, back in Sioux Falls, four years into his new life, Dahmen has put into a book. A book filled with stories of survivors, who like Dahmen, have turned adversity into victory.

A book with a title that has never been more true for Jerry Dahmen.

“I love life now more than I ever have,” he says.

Profits from Damon's new book will benefit survivors. He's giving it to the Salvation Army for hurricane relief and other programs. The book is for sale at Crossroads Book and Lewis Stores, and it's also available on his website: www.ilovelifeonline.com

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