Terry Pluto remembers Browns great Bill Glass, a 'modern Barnabas' who led him to jail ministry
After the Browns franchise relocated to Baltimore in 1996, Terry Pluto wanted to write a book about the team's last championship season in 1964.
He reached out to players from that team, including defensive end Bill Glass.
Glass was a four-time Pro Bowler who spent seven seasons (1962-1968) with the Browns and is regarded as one of the franchise's all-time greatest defenders.
He died last weekend at age 86 in his home state of Texas.
Pluto said the two ended up forming a connection, not through football but through ministry work.
After Glass retired, he spent the rest of his life providing services for prison fellowship. He founded his own Christian ministry, "Bill Glass Behind the Walls."
A meeting at Cooke County Jail
After Pluto published "Browns Town 1964" that included a chapter about Glass' ministry work, he was on the baseball beat in Chicago when he heard from prominent sports photographer Ron Kuntz, who was close friends with Glass. Kuntz mentioned to Pluto that Glass was speaking at the nearby Cooke County Jail that day and asked him to come along.
Pluto's experience led to a front page Akron Beacon Journal story.
"Then I got a call from the Summit County Jail," Pluto said.
The jail asked if he would be interested in recruiting some sports figures to help distribute care packages to inmates for Christmas. He got then-University of Akron football coach Lee Owens to join him.
"I suddenly realized the connection there, that this is a powerful ministry. At that point I was getting very interested in it," Pluto said.
That began Pluto's journey into ministry. He's spent more than 20 years giving spiritual talks and lessons at the Summit County Jail. Now, he primarily speaks at the Haven of Rest, Akron’s Christian city mission.
"I suddenly realized the connection there, that this is a powerful ministry. At that point I was getting very interested in it."
A modern-day "Barnabas"
Pluto said he took away many lessons from the time he spent with Glass.
Pluto says the most significant is the importance of fathers in mens' lives.
"Bill had asked when he was speaking to a group [of inmates], 'How many of you had a father?' Not a father figure, but your actual father. Maybe out of 100, you see three or four hands. That was that every single time," Pluto said.
Another common theme during Glass' ministry sessions was that so many men never heard any positive words growing up.
Pluto recalls how Glass would challenge the inmates to be better to each other, often saying, "You guys have to start lifting each other up instead of beating each other up."
"There's a guy in the Bible named Barnabas, one of the apostles. He was considered the encourager. Well, Bill Glass was a modern Barnabas," Pluto said.
Pluto said Glass always felt he had a calling. He was staying the ministry when he attended Baylor University.
"Bill thought he was going to be the next Billy Graham. In fact, Graham had him at his different citywide rallies and was teaching him. Then [Glass] found that there's this wide open ministry field here where there's hardly anybody doing it," Pluto said.
And Pluto believes there are times in many people's lives when they feel a similar calling, whatever it may be.
"The calling isn't just everybody does this big ministry thing. But we see there's different times it becomes very clear that there's a calling in your life."