Mom, Migration, and Graduation

Nellie young

Mom was raised in Wapato, Washington, in a farming family in a farming community. Her father, a widower with two sons, married a much younger woman who had immigrated to America from the Netherlands. They had two daughters and three sons. Mom was the oldest.

Hers was a life of rising early, milking cows, doing chores, watching siblings, weeding gardens, canning produce, cleaning up. Evidently it was also a life of reading and studying. After she graduated from high school, she studied one year at Biola (Bible Institute of Los Angeles).

She wanted to transfer to a recently established college in Dayton, Tennessee, named after William Jennings Bryan. She was offered a car ride across the country—before the interstate highway system—, so she decided to check it out. Her mom was doubtful. She wondered how Nellie would pay for tuition and books? The admissions director had the same question, asking her what skills she had. “I know how to milk cows,” Mom offered. It just so happened that the college had cows but lacked knowledgeable milkers. So she was hired. She earned money ironing and eked out a degree with academic distinction.

She also met my dad, whom she called “Johnny.”  She wrote in his yearbook: “Labs, water fights, Gutenburg trips, Sun. Piano playing, Street meetings, Dr. Gregg, or reading together, I’ve enjoyed it all and been blessed by it. He has been extra good to us, hasn’t He? Ps 103 — Nellie. I Cor 15:58

It’s a wonder to me that Mom started in the Yakima Valley of Washington and ended in Lombard, IL, two states over from Ohio, where her father began his life. And I, raised in Lombard, settled a few hours south from where she lived.

I’m gobsmacked that this quiet girl took it upon herself to ride halfway across the nation to go to an unknown college. I hitched a ride with friends to go to one year of Bible school in Los Angeles. My plan was to establish residency and go to UCLA. I never stepped on the campus, frozen with fear. If I had but asked, a dozen people would have been willing to help me navigate both the mass transit and the admissions process.

So Mom migrated, milked her way through school, and graduated. She never knew that her oldest son became both a scholar and a dairy farmer. I imagine a conversation today between her and David, her intelligent questions and thoughtful replies. She would chuckle and sigh, “Farming sure has changed.”

Mom left her mark at Bryan. Reading her senior yearbook, I find these benedictions:

Your life has been a blessing and joy to us. — Eugene Rosenau

I’m unable to tell you what your daily work has meant in my life! — Cleo Graham

I’ll never forget what a friend in need you were. Knowing you has really enriched my life. —Dorothy Borror

I’ll never forget your beautiful smiles. — Delbert Baker

Thanks for letting me sleep in your bed overnights-even if there were stones in it! I could never tell you what a blessing you’ve been to me this year. I really enjoyed my frequent visits to your rooms. — Miriam Levengood

Years later, I’ve been told, Mom was in the throes of a nursing baby, dirty diapers, hungry toddlers, and active preschoolers. My dad arrived home, scooped up a child, and asked the most pressing question on his mind: “Did you study your Greek today?”

Yesterday, on the (46th!) anniversary of her death, I talked to my husband about my mom. A sob caught in my throat, and I admitted, “I still miss her.” He nodded and said, “One day you’ll never have to miss her again.”


I am midway through a journey begun in 2008 to understand the 20th century.  The Great War took a year (of my time!); WWII about 15 months. Life circumstances slowed me down, but I’m cheerfully working through the post-war period and the Korean War.  One approach to history that I appreciate is studying the lives of key people. Voila, la bibliographie! [That is a private joke that only I understand: the first sentence I ever learned in French was “Chttt! Voila, la biblioteque!” translated: Be QUIET! There is the librarian! It was on a filmstrip (with accompanying vinyl album that had a bell signal to go to the next slide) we watched in French I.]

I wanted to know Eisenhower better. Stephen Ambrose admires his subject.  He begins, “Dwight Eisenhower was a great and a good man. He was one of the outstanding leaders of the Western World in this century.”  This is the first volume of a two-volume biography of Eisenhower. Anyone interested in leadership would benefit from reading Ike’s story.

Everyone brings a personal “grid” to their reading.  I was very interested in Eisenhower’s religious background. Much has been made of the fact that one of the world’s greatest generals was raised in a pacifist home. David and Ida Eisenhower were devout members of Brethren in Christ.  David’s nighttime reading was the Bible in Greek; Ida memorized 1325 Bible verses. And yet…

Nightly Bible reads, Milton said, were “a good way to get us to read the Bible mechanically.” They never discussed what they had read, never asked “Why?,” never explored the deep subtlety or rich symbolism of the Bible. It was the word of God, sufficient unto itself. The duty of mortals was not to explore it, investigate it, question it, think about it, but rather to accept it. 24

Two traits, ever helpful in his life, were manifest in young Ike’s life: intense curiosity and a remarkable ability to concentrate.  As an adult he had another remarkable ability: to shake a depression. Ambrose writes about his vitality:

That quality showed in his speech, in his mannerisms, his physical movements, most of all in his eyes. They were astonishingly expressive. As he listened to his deputies discuss future operations, his eyes moved quickly and inquisitively from face to face. His concentration was intense, almost a physical embrace. His eyes always showed his mood—they were icy blue when he was angry, warmly blue what he was pleased, sharp and demanding when he was concerned, glazed when he was bored. 272

As a general, Ike comprehended the sacrifice that both the soldiers and their families made.

Eisenhower wanted to let as many men as possible see him. He made certain that every soldier who was to go ashore on D-Day had the opportunity to at least look at the man who was sending him into battle. 294

He was the man who had to total up all the casualties. 293

…only Eisenhower had such a keen sense of family, of the way in which each casualty meant a grieving family back home. Eisenhower’s concern was of such depth and so genuine that it never left him. 293

It wasn’t until he was in his fifties, that Eisenhower received acclaim and notoriety, primarily as the Supreme Commander of Operation Overlord.  Eisenhower was also the NATO commander, president of Columbia University and president of the United States.  This volume ends with Eisenhower as President-Elect of the United States.

I found Ambrose’s book engaging and helpful. At no time did my interest lag. I was inspired by Eisenhower’s discipline, organizational skills and perception.

A fun coda: I have a habit of immersing myself in books on (relatively) obscure topics. I find myself wanting to discuss the ideas and events I have read about, but coming up short on conversation partners. Honestly, what would dampen a dinner party faster than, “I know, let’s talk about Truman and Eisenhower!”?  I discovered recently that among my acquaintances are a couple who were friends with Ike and Mamie Eisenhower during their retirement years in Gettysburg.  They were full of stories about the Eisenhowers. I lent them this book; Ray read it through in three days.  I’m looking forward to some great discussions.  An unexpected gift!