What's this man got against phone books?

Ed Charon gives a demonstration of how he tears a phone book with his bare hands. Charon, a pastor, gives inspirational talks to schools, prisons and churches.

By Luke Hegdal

Staff writer

UMATILLA — It would be a mistake to call Ed Charon diminutive, though he isn't particularly large, either. And with 72 years under his belt, he doesn't look like the typical strongman.

Yet Charon holds five records for tearing phone books in half, the first set in 2002 at the age of 67. He set his last record in 2006 — ripping 56 phone books lengthwise, each with more than 1,000 pages, in three minutes.

Charon attributes his success to a lifetime of clean living and lots of practice. He continues to tear roughly 50 phone books a day, even though he said he won't pursue any more records.

For Charon, the records are secondary to his other calling. As a pastor of 40 years, Charon said that tearing phone books has opened doors for his ministry.

Charon travels around the West as a member of the Living Stones Prison Ministry doing demonstrations. He also speaks at schools, churches and juvenile detention centers.

"I'll tear different size books to illustrate what I'm talking about," said Charon. "And it's illustration that they're familiar with."

One prisoner, after he'd been released, spoke with Charon two years after he had seen one of Charon's demonstrations in prison.

"I asked him, ?Do you remember what I said?' And he said ?I remember everything you said.' "

As a part of his exhibitions at prisons, Charon offers the prisoners an opportunity to attempt to tear one of the phone books. Most won't try.

Charon recalled one prisoner who made the attempt in Pelican Bay State Prison in California. A prisoner named Tank tried to tear one of the books. When he failed, Charon took the book, and tore it in half for him.

After the service, Tank headed down the aisle straight for Charon.

"I'm in this prison," Charon recalled. "You're not supposed to pray with eyes closed, and I just embarrassed this guy. I mean, my mind was going faster than my feet. Is he mad at me or what? He got to me and threw his big ol' arms around me and gave me a big hug."

Charon spoke at Two Rivers Correctional Institution on Saturday, sharing his story as a part of his current tour. He has no plans to cut back his busy schedule, either, and says that he'll still be tearing phone books at 80. In fact, Charon said he's considered taking up arm wrestling.

"I run across a guy in Roseburg who's taken several championships in arm wrestling who said he'd like to be my coach." Charon said. "They say the oldest guy they know of who's that's been the record holder in arm wrestling is 45. If I could take a record in that ?"

Luke Hegdal can be reached at lhegdal@hermistonherald.com.

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