Mark Wonser's book shares his vision of faith, path into the future
His story is the stuff of movies. But first, you'll find the story in his autobiography.
With a story that has more ups and downs than a rollercoaster, Estacada's Mark Wonser, 59, has recorded his life journey in his book, 'My Eye: A Vision of Christ.'
For Wonser, life began in the Gateway district of Portland, where he was raised in a Catholic family.
It was his parents' divorce that threw Wonser's world into a downward spiral.
Questioning everything he grew up believing, he turned to illegal drugs and alcohol as a means of coping, but somehow managed to graduate in 1976 with a finance degree from the University of Oregon.
Looking for change, Wonser moved in 1978 to Chicago where he became a commodities trader.
Eleven years later, he retired a multi-millionaire.
In those 11 years, Wonser married Jean and they had two children. With a family in mind, the couple set out to find the next chapter of their life.
The plan began as they flew to San Francisco and drove to Seattle looking for the type of business that would sustain them for the remainder of their lives. They looked at dairy farms, nut farms and even golf courses before settling on a Christmas-tree farm in Estacada.
But when Wonser and his family arrived at what is now 'Wonser Woods,' the 622-acre farm was in disarray. For Wonser, it was a blessing in disguise.
Because Christmas trees take between four and five years to grow to a sellable height, he had time on his hands. Turns out he needed a little bit of time to sort out all of his thoughts on religion and questions that had been festering for years.
'I had a lot of questions about faith,' he recalled. 'Those questions brought me to seminary, and I had the perfect window of time to do my studies.'
He enrolled at Mount Angel Seminary and graduated with a master's of theology in 1997.
'I graduated with as many questions as I had began with, so I ended up leaving the Catholic church and I began practicing eastern religions while also slipping back into drugs and alcohol,' he said.
Despite backsliding into substance abuse, Wonser successfully managed the growing and thriving farm while also helping his wife raise their two additional children.
Then things went terribly wrong nearly a decade later.
In 2008, the Wonser family lost their youngest child, Kevin, who was 15 when he died in an ATV accident.
'We were best friends,' Wonser recalls. 'Shortly after his death I went through a spiritual conversion and I began realigning myself with Christianity and the church.'
As he began to realign, however, he continued to hash out what he saw as discrepancies in his faith. Ultimately, these questions pulled him away from the orthodox Christianity.
'With a greater understanding and realization, I was brought to the gnostic tradition,' he said. 'I began to read theological books furiously, and reading had such an effect on me that it became part of my tradition.'
With his newfound faith, Wonser set out to get his life together once and for all. As part of that transformation, he began volunteering full-time with homeless projects in the Portland area in addition to some hospice work.
That transformation was not limited to only his time. After a difficult conversation with his wife, who is Catholic, and his children, the Wonsers decided to sell nearly everything they had to use as a donation to charity.
The idea comes from a Bible verse in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 10, in which Jesus instructs a rich young ruler to sell all he has and give to the poor. When the ruler walks away sad, Jesus explains, 'It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.'
With this scripture in mind, half of the 622 acres at Wonser Woods went up for sale two years ago with an asking price of $4.3 million. The other half will be left as an inheritance for their children.
'Jean and I came to a compromise,' he said. 'We're not going to live in a shack somewhere; we'll find a compromise.'
The plan is to move into a more modest house closer to Portland, where Wonser can continue to give his time to Transition Projects, Portland's largest homeless shelter. The money will go into a charitable remainder trust, in which the funds will sit in an account for 20 years and all of the interest will be paid to the Wonsers for their living expenses. At the end of 20 years, the money is donated to the charity of their initial choosing.
While this plan sits in place, however, the first step requires selling the farm, which has been on the market for two years. In the meantime, life remains normal for Wonser and his family.
The oldest son, David, 25, lives in Truckee, Calif.; their daughter, Stephanie, 23, lives at home in Estacada; and their other son, Steven, 20, is attending Western Oregon University.
As the rest of his story remains unwritten and uncertain, this newfound sense of hope and purpose has revitalized Wonser's passion for helping others. His hope is that his book will be another means of helping others through hearing his story and how he dealt with situations of triumph and despair.
'The second part of my book is written with tikkune olam (Hebrew for world healing), as its goal,' he says in his book. 'I pray that by following my transformation you are helped in the process of discovering your place in an evolving creation.'
The book, which was published by AuthorHouse on Jan. 12, is now for sale at any major online retailer.