Forrest Gump facsimile offers words of wisdom to Skippack shoppers

Paul Dengler offers chocolates to visitors of the Southwest Trading Post in Skippack Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. Photo by Adrianna Hoff/21st Century Media

SKIPPACK — You wouldn’t believe it if I told you, but Forrest Gump was in Skippack Friday night. Gump, played by impersonator and Souderton native Paul Dengler, fit together with the visitors to the Southwest Trading Post like peas and carrots.

Armed with his mama’s advice and life experiences, Gump sat on a bench out front of the Native American shop during the village’s First Friday celebration. He offered some of that advice, and the chance of a photograph, to anyone who cared to stop and talk.

“I went onto w, w, w, dot, Nike, dot, com and customized my own pair of shoes. One of them says Forrest and the other says Jenny. You know me and Jenny we was like peas and carrots, but I can’t remember if I was the carrots or she was,” Gump said, explaining why he put the names on his shoes. “True love is about two people walking down the road of life side by side.”

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Dengler, like the character he was playing, lived up to Mama’s saying, “You can tell a lot about someone by their shoes.” Besides stressing the importance of love to the First Friday visitors, Dengler, sometimes in character and sometimes revealing his own personal story, told his audience to never stop believing in miracles.

“It was just a God thing,” Dengler said about the call from Butch Kaelin, owner of Southwest Trading Post, which brought him to Skippack Friday. “One thing led to another and now I’m here. It’s interesting I’m here in this Native American shop, because of all the feather and bird symbolism throughout the movie. Jenny’s prayer in the beginning is that she would turn into a bird. His whole life is spent making that prayer come true. He never stops loving her.”

Dengler’s transformation into Forrest Gump was also a “God thing.”

His wife and he moved to Beaufort, S.C., in the ’90s, and in 1996 he dressed up for the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce Bubba Gump Shrimp Festival’s look-a-like contest and won.

With his name in the paper, he was contacted by the organizers for a similar festival in Savannah, Ga. After moving to Nashville to pursue his passion for making music, Dengler was contacted by Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. to be its East Coast Forrest Gump. Now Dengler can be spotted wherever the wind touches down. A few days before arriving in Skippack, he visited WXPN’s XPoNential Music Festival.

“Some people don’t think miracles happen. Well, they do,” Gump said. “I do believe in the idea of serendipity. Good things happen by accident and the more you believe it, the more it comes true.”

As the rain held off and the First Friday festivities continued and the local cover band Sheet Rock took to the stage across from Gump’s park bench.

Catherine Offner, owner of Catherine’s Music Studio down the street from the trading post and Sheet Rock’s keyboardist called First Fridays in Skippack a fun family-oriented festival.

“It’s to get people out and about,” Offner said.

To the delight of Gump’s fans, who were offered an abundance of chocolates and small feathers, Gump recounted his adventures out and about running across the country witnessing the beauty in each small detail.

Coming to the end of a story, Gump shrugged and said, “And that’s all I have to say about that.”