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Nellie Arndt rocks out

An 81-year-old great-grandmother finds her place in Christian rock music
by: Jonathan House, Nellie Arndt gets into the limousine that would take her to the concert featuring the Southern California bands Article One and the Newsboys.

TUALATIN - In a crowd of 1,800 faces, Nellie Arndt's wrinkled but beaming face stood out.

Hers wasn't the norm for a Christian rock concert. As rows of young teens and 20-somethings took to the aisles to dance during a Newsboys concert at Rolling Hills Community Church, Arndt begrudgingly stayed seated.

Her feet tapped, and her arms swayed. But Arndt didn't dance. She wanted to. She wanted to rise up and feel the inspiration of the spiritual words as they flowed through her. But she didn't.

The 81-year-old great-grandmother has a bad hip. But she still has a good ear for the word of the Lord.

So while Nathan Han, a volunteer coordinator at Rolling Hills, sat back Friday wearing ear plugs and watching a soda can dance across the top of a subwoofer from the band's booming music, he wasn't sure if Arndt had taken an offering of earplugs or not.

Arndt didn't.

For the first time in her life, Arndt enjoyed the sounds of Christian rock from a medium other than the radio. And for this experience, Arndt said she wanted it all.

Arndt was the recipient of a Forget-Me-Not/Senior Wishes Program gift. Through a donation from The Fish radio station, Arndt and some family and friends received tickets to attend the Newsboys concert at Rolling Hills Community Church. Arndt got a champagne send-off, a limo ride, center row tickets to the concert and a backstage pass for a meet-and-greet with the band.

Arndt likened the fan-filled auditorium and loud music to a regular meeting in a church.

'It was good for everybody,' she said.

Christian music has always had a special place in Arndt's heart. In the 1980s, her husband Lyle Arndt, started up a Christian radio station in Winston. Ore. The station was nonprofit and run by volunteers for almost two years before it was transferred to a company in Redding, Calif.

The Arndts spent five years making the station a reality. Arndt said her husband had no idea how to run a station when they first started. They needed engineers, disc jockeys, advertising and volunteers to help run it.

'But people just came,' Arndt said. 'We didn't have any problem getting help.'

People seemed to always find the Arndts. When the family owned an auto body shop in Roseburg in the '70s, people constantly stopped by asking for prayers. The family had set aside a small prayer room at the shop.

'People kept coming to us wanting prayers. We had people who said they got healed. But I don't know about that. We're not healing people. We prayed, and we loved every bit of it.'

And while the concert on Friday led Nellie Arndt down a completely new path in which to enjoy her Christian roots, she wished her husband could have been there. Lyle passed away last year.

Arndt moved to Tualatin in December and since then had been struggling to find her place again. She found it when she turned on her radio.

Arndt admits that the loud beats and guitar riffs of Christian rock aren't a favorite of some of her neighbors at River Valley Landing Senior Living Community in Tualatin.

They hear the music and the loud instrumentals. But Arndt hears the words. It hasn't been that long since she first tuned her radio into the only Christian station in the local market - 104.1 KFIS.

The sounds from The Fish play gently through her small room at the senior community throughout the day. She smiles when neighbors stop by and comment on the music. Some don't like it, and most can't get over the strong rock sound.

Arndt tells them, 'Just listen to the words. Just listen to the words.'

'I'm trying to be a witness to people who are sad or who don't have anybody. I don't try to push it. But I say little things when the door is open.'

And while the concert music was loud and the crowd young, Arndt said she wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

'I didn't feel out of place at all,' she said.

And according to Han, the only thing that gave Arndt's age away was her walker.

'It's people like her that keep the rest of us feeling young,' Han said.