Stories & Commentaries

Trials Make Pure Gold: The making and molding of the Chuck Fulmore Trio

The Chuck Fulmore Trio in the early days

The Chuck Fulmore Trio in the early days; Photo provided by the Fulmore family

Chuck and Dona Fulmore never set out to be—or even imagined it possible to become—musical evangelists. In fact, the more likely scenario for both of them was to follow in their parents’ footsteps and become dairy farmers—Dona north of Seattle, Washington; Chuck near Modesto, California.

“Mother worked very hard in the house,” Dona recalls. “There were five of us girls and then the dozen or so hired men who came to help at harvest time who she also cooked for. She was a gentle, lovely lady.

In addition to farming, Chuck’s father “drove truck” during fruit harvest season. “He got a dollar a day doing that,” Chuck says. “It gave him a little cash to put in his pocket.”

Despite the demands of farm life, music played an important role in both Chuck’s and Dona’s growing-up years. When she was little, Dona’s parents often sang together for evangelistic series at the local church, and when they got older, she and her sisters sang harmony together while their mother played piano. Chuck’s mother, too, played piano and sang, and his father played trumpet. 

“They often did special music together,” Chuck says, adding that one of the highlights of his childhood was when his whole family pitched in to help prepare the church for an evangelistic series for which his parents provided music.

Church and a firm belief in God were central to both families’ lives, and that meant a Christian education too. As there was no church school nearby, Dona’s father remodeled a section of the family’s home to serve as a classroom where she, her sisters, the neighbor kids, and children of the hired hands had school.

“The conference sent teachers to give us our lessons there,” Dona remembers. Then she adds with a laugh, “After a while, though, they wouldn’t send us any more, as the teachers kept marrying the hired hands and leaving!”

A Special Friendship

The two met at Monterey Bay Academy in California. How Chuck came to be there is quite a fascinating and heartwarming story, outlined in the Fulmores’ recent stories-behind-the-songs book, Never Give Up. In this book Chuck also tells the very important story of when he noticed a particular girl in front of him in choir. 

“I was impressed with her lovely, long hair,” he says (p. 10). The story continues with Chuck later looking for someone to type an essay for him. The second name on the list the typing teacher gives him is Dona Bentz. When he goes to find her with his request, he discovers Dona is the choir girl with the beautiful hair. “Oh, boy, I should be so lucky!” Chuck writes in the book (p. 11).

Dona agreed to type his essay for him, but it came at a cost: He was to pay the $1 entry fee for her to attend an upcoming dinner with him. He happily agreed, and, as he concludes in the book, “That was the beginning of a special friendship” (p. 11).

They were married soon after high school, and of course music remained an integral part of their home and church life. Dona taught Chuck how to harmonize, and they have continued making music together for many, many years.

“We’ve been together for 68 years—through thick and thin,” says Dona with a smile. “Recently Chuck gave me a card on which he had written, ‘They said all we had was puppy love, but this old dog still loves you.’ I thought that was cute!”

The Chuck Fulmore Trio sings at a church event

The Chuck Fulmore Trio sings at a church event circa 1990. Photo provided by the Fulmore family

“God Could Have Given Up On Me”

Chuck is a third generation Adventist on both sides of his family. As he grew up saying his nightly prayers, attending family worships, blessing each meal, and going to church every Sabbath, the salvation he learned was earned only through works.

“My grandmother once told me I wasn’t going to make it into God’s ‘good’ book, and she meant it,” Chuck recalls. “I figured I was just born bad. Life was a real battle for me, and I couldn’t live up to the standards that were expected of me. I reached a point where I just got really discouraged.”

He got so discouraged he stopped attending church. As he recalls this period of their life in the book, Chuck points out this didn’t mean they no longer believed in God; they still prayed, still enjoyed family worship, and still regularly sang their favorite gospel songs together (p. 23). 

“A friend I worked with, who also attended church, gave me the idea to start every day by reading my Bible and having prayer,” Chuck explains. Though it did become a habit, he says at first he was just reading words and not applying much meaning to them. “Every once in a while, though,” he admits, “something would click.” 

One of those “somethings” was John 12:32, which says, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (KJV). Though Chuck knew Christ was referring to hanging on the cross, what hit him was the second part.

He’ll do the drawing and converting,” Chuck expounds. And in the book, he adds, “What I have discovered in my personal journey after all these years [is that] God is the One who changes us … He leads us to find God. He gives us the understanding. He gives us the desire to know more. He does the miraculous things that happen along the way. And they are miracles” (p. 29). 

Quietly over the phone, Chuck says, “I often look back over my life and see all the times God could have given up on me … but didn’t.”

The Chuck Fulmore Trio

“It’s the Darkest Just Before Dawn”

Thanks to the patient nudges and grace-filled love of the people around them, Chuck eventually returned to church. Once he was back, he and his family, who never stopped attending, unsurprisingly became deeply involved in music. 

“We sang wherever we lived,” Dona says. “We did duets, and sometimes Chuck sang solos. We did church services, camp meetings, and evangelistic meetings, and as soon as the kids were old enough to join us, they did.”

Chuck found himself regularly inspired with tunes and lyrics—usually around 3 a.m.

“I’d wake up and hear the piano in the early hours of the morning, and I’d smile to myself,” Dona recalls. “I knew that by the time I got up to make breakfast the next morning, we’d have a new song to learn.”

One of the most poignant facts about the music Chuck has written is that it was most often inspired by difficult situations. Many of these challenges—certainly the bigger ones—are detailed in their book, and perhaps the most heartbreaking of them all was the loss of their oldest daughter, Dianne, to leukemia at age 13. 

“Dona and I … both [had] a difficult time adjusting to our unbelievable loss,” Chuck writes. “The weeks and months following the funeral were so extremely difficult! And then the Lord brought us courage through the following chorus:

            “Never give up; Jesus is coming. It’s the darkest just before dawn.

            “Never give up; Jesus is coming. Never give up; keep holding on” (p. 18)

Dona adds that someone recently mentioned the hardest thing about being a Christian is never giving up, which may explain why their song, “Never give up,” struck a chord with so many. 

“I’d never thought of that before,” Dona says, “and they’re right; it is hard. But if we hang in there and keep trusting Him, leaning on Him, and holding on, He will see us through.”

“Don’t Talk Religion!”

Though their quartet was now a trio, The Fulmores’ faith did not lessen. They still got off work in the evening, drove dozens of miles to sing, and then drove home to do it all again the next day, filling their weekends with church music and events. 

The time and effort didn’t faze them, however. Their passion for honoring God through song only grew, and soon they were taking their ministry on the road, singing for camp meetings and evangelistic series across the country. Dona did all the public relations and marketing for their scheduled performances, and when they arrived, they stayed in church members’ homes.

“We met so many wonderful people throughout the years by staying in homes,” Chuck shares. “That was really special to us.”

But touring from Boston to Los Angeles, Seattle to Miami, and many cities in-between didn’t exactly pay the bills. 

“We never really made a living with our music,” Dona admits. “Freewill offerings and record sales helped, but what kept us afloat were our day jobs.”

It always seemed, however, that regardless of what they needed, God found a way to provide—sometimes in the strangest ways.

“Allow me to paint you a picture,” Chuck says, amusement in his voice. “A Volkswagen beetle, one giant speaker strapped to the top, the other tied to the back bumper with rope, Dona and me trundling down the highway inside it. That was our first sound system!”

A friend who did a lot of gospel music in another church helped them track down pieces to create a makeshift sound system, and they used it for years. When they needed a pianist who could accompany them by ear, God must have been chuckling when he solved that problem.

“The accompanist we found was an atheist,” Chuck explains. “The three of us, plus Dianne and Carla, would get in that VW on Sabbath morning, and he would always say, ‘I’ll go as long as you don’t talk religion!’ But sometimes, he asked us religion questions as we drove. It was an interesting experience.”

“Look Up, Hold On, and Never Give Up”

Over the years, The Fulmore Trio, consisting of Dona, Chuck, and their daughter, Carla Dawn, recorded 10 albums and released six songbooks. Their songs have been recorded by well-known singers such as Del Delker, The King’s Heralds (now The Heralds), and the Heritage Singers. It was truly an amazing feat for musicians who lived off their day jobs and had never learned to read music or put music down on paper.

The Fulmores built a close relationship with the Heritage Singers, as Dona had attended school with Max Mace and his cousin, Gary Andregg, and Chuck wrote many of their songs too. When Max started his own record company, Chuck and Dona worked for him. Their reach grew because of these connections, and their music has traveled around the world and across generations.

“We never sang for recognition at all,” Chuck comments. “We always sang to encourage souls.”

Dona agrees. 

“Obviously the Lord has brought us a long way, and has helped us immensely over the broken spots and rough patches,” she says. “The bottom line is that we love the Lord and we want to influence other people to look to Him for strength, hope, and answers in life.”

Their book, Never Give Up, was written for the same purpose: To encourage and uplift “some discouraged, struggling soul…needing help along the way. To help that person to look up, hold on, and never give up” (p. 14). 

Never Give Up book cover, story of The Chuck Fulmore Trio

Never Give Up is the story of The Chuck Fulmore Trio.

“He’s Changed Us”

At times the Fulmore story sounds like a modern-day Job story—the death of a child, recurring illness, loss of livelihood, unexpected financial hardship, obstacles at every turn. Listening to Chuck and Dona talk and reading their book simply solidifies that idea, as their faith, despite everything they’ve encountered in their lives, remains stronger than ever.

“Trusting God to do what he wants to do with our lives has been a big thing for us,” she says. “He’s changed us—many times over. We’re just glad he’s let us live this long, so we can get to know him better and better.”

Though Chuck and Dona admit their singing days are over, they still very much enjoy music in church, the fellowship of their church community in Boise, Idaho, and spending time with God. They look forward to the day Christ comes again and they are able to once again make music as a family quartet. In fact, Chuck already has plans.

“The music in heaven will be fabulous—truly out of this world,” he says with a grin. “If there’s a recording studio in heaven, that’s where I’m going to be.

Music by The Fulmore Trio can be found on YouTube. Never Give Up: The Stories Behind the Songs of the Chuck Fulmore Trio is available at your local ABC or via their online store at Also available on Amazon. 

— Becky St. Clair writes from Angwin, California.