Five years ago, Dale Ahlquist was a well-paid lobbyist with a wife, three kids and an upscale house on a Bloomington cul-de-sac. Then he quit his job and waved goodbye to his corporate paycheck. Now he's that rare thing: a guy who can't wait to get up in the morning and go to work.
Ahlquist doesn't have to go far -- just upstairs to his home office. There, amid overflowing bookcases, is the headquarters of the American Chesterton Society, of which Ahlquist is founder and president.
Ahlquist launched the society to spread the word about a man many Americans have never heard of: British writer Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton, who died in 1936. In the early decades of the 20th century, Chesterton -- 6 feet 4, 300 pounds, cigar clenched firmly in teeth -- was one of the best-known celebrities in London. Today, he's almost forgotten.
Who was Chesterton, and why would anyone give up a fat paycheck to tell the world about him? Ahlquist is more than happy to explain: "Chesterton was a complete thinker," he says, "who was equally at home in history, theology, philosophy, art criticism and literature."
For example, says Ahlquist, "Chesterton wrote the essay that inspired Mahatma Gandhi to launch the movement to end British colonial rule in India. He wrote the book that converted C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian apologist, to Christianity."
All in all, he notes, Chesterton wrote 100 books, five novels, hundreds of poems, 200 short stories (including a series of mysteries about a detective priest, Father Brown) and over 4,000 essays and newspaper columns.
Writers as diverse as T.S. Eliot, Agatha Christie and Marshall McLuhan praised Chesterton's work. Never far from controversy, he debated the greatest names of his time, including H.G. Wells and Clarence Darrow. To debate Chesterton, Ahlquist adds, was to lose.
Ahlquist discovered Chesterton by chance. "When I graduated from Carleton College in 1980," he says, "I'd never heard of Chesterton." On the plane to Italy for his honeymoon with his Italian-born wife, Laura, he picked up Chesterton's "The Everlasting Man" (the book that changed C.S. Lewis' worldview) about the place of Christianity in history. "I fell in love immediately," he confides, "I've been married to Chesterton as long as I've been married to my wife."
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