Faced recently with the need for a new jar of mayonnaise, the two opened containers in our refrigerator rejected by my spouse because of expiration dates (another questionable issue), I went to our local supermarket to pick up a few things which included that new jar of mayonnaise and also a box of Cheerios, for many years my favorite cold cereal. We try not to buy foods that have “added sugar” so I read the ingredients on each brand of mayonnaise, looking for one without sugar. Amazing, I could not find a single brand that did not have that unneeded and unacceptable ingredient.
So on to the breakfast cereals section where I grabbed a box of Cheerios and out of curiosity checked those ingredients also. I could not believe that sugar was one of the ingredients. I mean, when I was a kid, I was allowed that little spoonful of sugar sprinkled on the corn flakes or Cheerios before the milk and I presume that many people continue to sweeten their cold cereal in this way. So why is sugar already in the Cheerios rendering that teaspoonful redundant? And how long has General Mills been adding sugar to my Cheerios?
The same goes for so many breads in this supermarket. I usually buy the best bread I can here – La Brea Bakery whole grain loaf – brown, crisp crust, not packaged but in a simple bag and not sliced. I checked the ingredients – yes, whole wheat flour, millet, flaxseed, sunflower seed and all the other good things in a quality bread, and all non-GMO to boot, but then I blinked – there it was – sugar – in my otherwise very healthy bread. Why on earth is sugar needed in bread?
And have you ever tried to find peanut butter without sugar? It’s really difficult – all the major brands contain sugar. And, how interesting, when you do happen to locate a lesser known brand that contains no sugar, the ingredients are very simple – there’s only one – “peanuts”. Why on earth can’t all the major brands make peanut butter in this way? There is absolutely no need for sugar or any other added ingredients in something as simple and delicious all by itself as peanut butter.
Oh, and how about that bottle of salad dressing in your refrigerator? Check the ingredients and you will almost always find sugar. And really I can’t understand why. Normally on my salad I will simply use olive oil and lemon juice. The last thing I would want to add to a delicious and healthy salad is sugar, in whatever form or quantity. Same with the aforementioned mayonnaise. I usually have to go to Trader Joe’s to buy mayonnaise without sugar which I have tasted and compared with a little Hellman’s or Best Foods’ (both have sugar)– I can’t really tell them apart – they all taste like mayonnaise. So why do food processors and packagers feel they have to add sugar to everything? Oh and let’s not even mention all the pasta sauces arranged on your supermarket shelves that contain sugar.
And just today I was shocked to discover that the delicious multigrain snack chips I just brought home from Costco to enjoy with hummus or Vermont cheese, contained sugar. What a shame to discover that these otherwise nutritious chips – with flaxseed, sunflower seed, sesame seed and quinoa supplementing the stone ground corn – were contaminated with sugar. But wait, it says “cane sugar” to distinguish it from other sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup so it must be okay. Yeah, really?
Obviously it’s extremely difficult today to find any processed or packaged food (that’s the key, I guess) without added sugar in it. Genuine foods, unadulterated by added sugar, are mainly in the fresh fruits and vegetables section or in the dried or dehydrated state – dried fruits, beans and so on. But of course, even here we have to beware of GMO foods or foods contaminated with pesticide residue unless we buy bona fide organic foods.
I recently read a piece by the columnist and editor of the New York Times editorial page, David Leonhardt, that provided the impetus for this little article. Mr. Leonhardt had gone for a month without eating any “added sugar”. Why? Well, first he wanted to test the difficulty of finding foods without added sugar – very hard indeed – his guess was that about 75 percent of all packaged foods contain that dreaded ingredient. Also he wanted to test how he felt without that sugar in his diet and to see how he might change his eating habits. Mr. Leonhardt found that avoiding all the added sugar in our packaged and processed food was difficult but rewarding in terms of feeling better and reducing the craving for sweets. He also formed new habits – reading ingredient labels and accordingly striking some foods off his allowed list, adding others and generally eating more healthily, totally changing his breakfast and snack menus. As an example he draws a contrast between the snack crackers Triscuits and Wheat Thins, both made by Nabisco – the former containing simply wheat, oil and sea salt and the latter containing, as he put it, “an ingredient list that evokes high school chemistry class, including added sugars“.
The sugar industry over the years has done a masterful job of promoting its product – “only 18 caloriesa teaspoon”, “‘pure’ cane sugar”, “sugar for quick energy” and so on. In the late 1960’s it even paid three Harvard researchers to review several cherry-picked studies which purported to absolve sugar of any responsibility for cardiovascular problems and shift the blame instead onto saturated fats. It also has come up with a dizzying array of euphemistic names for its sweeteners such as “evaporated cane juice “ or “brown rice syrup”. And as noted above it has managed to get sugars into a remarkable three-quarters of all packaged foods in American supermarkets.
I recall vividly as a child in the 1950’s hearing a brilliant gentleman from our church community, Reverend Wesley Gross, later to become my sister Barbara’s father-in-law, deliver a short lecture on the evils of refined sugar, which he labeled “white poison”. Mr. Gross was certainly prescient in warning of the harm that comes from eating sugar, decades before many contemporary nutritionists, doctors, scientists and journalists made a similar case. Appropriately, my sister and her husband Daniel carried on Mr. Gross’s battle against refined sugar as owners and managers of Gross’ Natural Foods in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a tradition now continued proudly by their daughter Sheila and husband Greg Henkel.
And exactly what is that harm? Why is sugar bad for us? I finally got around to reading the seminal book on sugar, “Pure, White and Deadly: How Sugar is Killing Us and What We Can Do to Stop It” by British nutritionist John Yudkin, first published in 1972. After sketching its grim agricultural history starting with the cruel slave based production of sugar cane, he describes the detailed experiments he conducted which demonstrated that sugar is indeed related to various diseases, including caries (tooth decay), diabetes, cardiovascular disease and yes, even cancer. Yudkin’s methodology was soundly criticized by US nutritionist Ancel Keys, whose own research claimed that heart disease was caused by consumption of saturated fats. Virtually the entire medical and scientific community then sided with Keys, causing dietary fats to be largely accepted as the major contributor to cardiovascular disease. That pendulum of opinion has only recently swung back to sugar, not saturated fat, being a cause of heart trouble as well as many other health problems.
Many somewhat health conscious people, including myself, were caught up in dietary recommendations illustrated by the US Department of Agriculture’s food guides, which have evolved over the years along with scientific and medical opinion. And those recommendations in the 1980’s were responsible for thousands of people, including myself, eating processed foods that while “fat free” or “low fat” were loaded with sugar. I can clearly recall buying “low fat” brownies and cinnamon rolls from an Entenmann’s bakery outlet in Phoenix, close to my work, and taking them home for the family to eat. I couldn’t believe how good tasting they were, prepared with little or no shortening or butter. But of course they were delicious – they were packed with sugar. But the fact that fat was limited or absent allowed us to think that we were actually doing our bodies a favor.
And interestingly, John Yudkin also tied sugar to a condition with which I have been struggling since my teens – acne, or more specifically, sebaceous acne. Although he admitted that more research is needed, many studies he examined did in fact link sugar to this condition. In my twenties and thirties I endured the shame of occasional sebaceous cysts on my face and neck which often required dermatological surgery from which I still have the scars. I recall one such notable doctor in Boston, Kenneth Arndt MD, who treated me numerous times for this problem. I certainly wish that Dr. Arndt, as well as the many other dermatologists I have consulted over the years, had advised me that sugar could have been the cause of my chronic skin problems.
While the medical and scientific communities have vacillated about the causes, the fact that our country has a serious obesity and related diabetes and cardiovascular diseaseproblem is unassailable. Presently about two thirds of American adults are overweight, and about half of those, yes, actually one whole third, are classified as obese. Approximately one in ten Americans has Type II diabetes, a huge number, accounting for billions of dollars in medical expenses. And over one third of adults and over half of adults over 60 have metabolic syndrome, a constellation of conditions occurring together which include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels, that is a precursor to diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
But is sugar really a “poison” as Mr. Gross called it way back in the 1950’s? And is it “deadly” as John Yudkin so boldly asserted in 1973? Well, based upon research described by one of the major journalistic critics of sugar, Gary Taubes, author of “The Case Against Sugar”, the answer is in short, yes. Here’s why – the way we metabolizefructose in our digestive system is apparently responsible for the build-up of fatty deposits in the liver, followed by insulin resistance, then metabolic syndrome and from there, potential development of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and yes, even cancer.
And no, becoming overweight and dealing with related conditions is not simply the result of “caloric imbalance”, as many nutritionists would have us believe. One hundred calories of glucose from potatoes or bread is metabolized quite differently than 100 calories of sugar, which is half glucose and half fructose. The fructose from sugar or from high fructose corn syrup is metabolized mostly by the liver while the glucose from sugar and starches is metabolized by everycell in the body. Therefore consuming sugar (fructose and glucose), means more work for the liver, particularly if it is consumed rapidly, as in a sugared soft drinks or sweet fruit juice. An equivalent amount of fructose consumed by eating several apples also hits the liver but much more slowly. And if lots of fructose hits the liver quickly the liver will convert much of it to fat, eventually inducing insulin resistance. And this is the condition, one part of metabolic syndrome, that leads to obesity, heart disease and type II diabetes.
John Yudkin’s claim that sugar could be responsible for the development of several kinds of cancer was dismissed as a stretch of the data at the time. Yet, recent surveys and research do in fact support sugar being a cause of cancer. This occurs because insulin resistance causes the secretion of more insulin. And this additional insulin, plus a related hormone called “insulin-like growth factor”, according to Taubes, actually promotes tumor growth. How? Without the additional insulin and its accompanying “growth-factor” hormone pushing them to absorb more and more blood sugar, most pre-cancerous cells would never develop the mutations that turn them into malignant tumors. So if it’s sugar that causes insulin resistance, then the conclusion is hard to avoid that sugar causes cancer — some cancers at least, mainly those of breast and colon. In Taubes’ words – “The connection between obesity, diabetes and cancer was first reported in 2004 in large population studies by researchers from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. It is not controversial. What it means is that you are more likely to get cancer if you’re obese or diabetic than if you’re not, and you’re more likely to get cancer if you have metabolic syndrome than if you don’t. “
Another of the notable warriors against sugar today is Dr. Robert Lustig. He continues his battle with a variety of videos about sugar, including a Ted Talk, and has written polemics about its harm. His YouTube video, “Sugar: the Bitter Truth”, has been viewed millions of times. And Dr. Lustig has also provided the introduction for the recentedition of John Yudkin’s book that I just finished. His own best selling book “Fat Chance: The Hidden Truth About Sugar, Obesity and Disease” joins the Taubes book as the two most popular and authoritative accounts of the dangers of sugar and its relationship to obesity and disease.
It is very important to note that these sobering truths about sugar do not apply to sugar found naturally in fruits and vegetables. Even though the naturally occurring sugar in an apple or orange contains the same ratio of fructose and glucose as simple refined table sugar, it is wrapped in water, fiber and a variety of other nutrients so the fructose component is metabolized in the liver and the glucose in the rest of the body, much more slowly. I don’t think that anybody ever got fat from eating too many bananas, although they contain significant sugar. Nor has anyone developed diabetes from eating too many oranges and tangerines. And to my knowledge apples have never rotted anyone’s teeth.
As if all the above problems with sugar are not enough, sugar may also be addictive. We’ve all had or at least heard of that proverbial “sweet tooth” when that one can of Coke wasn’t quite enough, one cookie has to be followed by another and another until they’re gone or one Reese’s peanut butter cup creates a desire for many more. Or that leftover Halloween candy gets quickly eaten up. There definitely is something real in that “sugar high” that feels so good when you finish off that ice cold Sprite. Yes, all that sugar or the more concentrated high fructose corn syrup from that sugary drink not only gives the liver a jolt but the brain as well, by activating the pleasure center and dumping some of that feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine. And it seems that after a meal we often crave something sweet – thus the tradition and habit of dessert after a meal.
But the issue of whether sugar is truly additive is still being debated. Certainly it is not in the class of truly addictive drugs like cocaine or heroin. And thankfully whatever addictive powers it does exert on us can be thrown off far more readily than that of real drugs. The desire for something sweet, more a craving than an addiction, can be controlled and ultimately erased by employing a little will power. And this craving for sugar is not dissimilar to the general craving for carbohydrates generally that many of us possess or have experienced that is also diminished and controlled by adherence to a low carbohydrate diet.
So where are we as a country, as a population, on the sugar issue? Per capita consumption of sugar in the United States, at approximately 100 pounds per year, continues to be startlingly well above the level of the other major sugar consuming countries. And interestingly the United States also leads the world’s developed countries in obesity. Shouldn’t this tell us something about the relationship of sugar to obesity? Actually if you compared a table of the most obese developed countries to the table below, there will be a surprisingly accurate correspondence to the rate of sugar consumption to the rate of obesity.
And also, if we take a look at the graph of the growth of sugar consumption in the United States during the last couple of centuries, I am sure we could superimpose a graph of the growth of obesity or the growth of the incidence of Type II diabetes over the same time period and again obtain a reasonably accurate correspondence.
Why are we a leader in these dubious categories? One reason has to be, as described early in this article, the inclusion of “added sugar” in so very many of the foods we regularly purchase at the super market and consume in the home. The other has to be the huge consumption of sugary beverages in the US. Stop at any convenience shop and take a look at literally walls of shelves of sugary carbonated beverages and sugary so-called sports drinks. And incidentally, Gatorade or Powerade or any of the other sports beverages, which are consumed by many teenagers as healthy alternatives, are as full of sugar as most other sugared beverages. And the sugar contest of these popular beverages is truly astonishing, ranging a little above or below 10 teaspoons per 12 ounce container.
So how can we reduce the sugar in our diets and limit the diseases that are obviously caused by sugar. One way is to tax sugary beverages to reduce their consumption but these efforts have been beaten down by the beverage corporations and the sugar industry and their well paid lobbyists. And, need I mention it – our Congress has been totally unresponsive to the public health threat posed by sugar. So it is up to each of us to dramatically reduce the amount of sugar in our diets and most who have done so, like Times columnist Leonhardt, mentioned earlier in this article, have been rewarded by significantly improved weight control and vastly improved overall health.
So was Mr Gross right decades ago when he called sugar “white poison” or was the term too cynical, too hyperbolic or too pejorative? Absolutely not. As shown above, he was incredibly prescient and, along with Yudkin, Taubes and Lustig, he was right on the money. If a “poison”, defined in my Apple computer dictionary is “a substance that is capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism when introduced or absorbed”, refined sugar definitely meets that definition.
And one final note – if the dangerous qualities of sugar and what it does to our waistlines and our metabolic systems isn’t enough, one might also consider the cruel history of its agriculture and harvesting to be enough alone to reject it. Slavery and the slave trade were strongly linked to the sugar industry in its infancy as illustrated in a current New York Times article and conditions today relating to its production aren’t a whole lot better.
A recent video provided by my brother Charlie of flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida in the communities of Manville and Somerset, New Jersey, including the area in which I grew up, called Zarephath, has impressed upon me the urgency of completing this rather long article about my childhood in a church, the Pillar of Fire. I turn 80 years old this spring so likely many potential interested readers who may have shared some knowledge or experiences in the church may no longer be around. So I have opened the article once more, intending to finish it and publish it on my blog very soon.
I am writing this because it means a great deal to me to recall scenes of my childhood, all of which was spent in the embrace, or maybe better terms, the “grip” or “grasp”, of the Pillar of Fire Church and its educational, evangelical and broadcast ministries. At 79 years of age now, some of the memories are growing dim and many are fleeting, recalled but briefly in the context of others more vivid. The faces of the people near and dear to me back then and the scenes of Zarephath and the places my family lived are just as blurred and temporary as are the memories. Yet, when sitting alone, unencumbered and uninterrupted by current voices and sounds, memories come back more readily and clearly. I have tried to paint as accurate and as meaningful a picture as I can and I hope that contemporaries of mine who knew the Pillar of Fire and Zarephath might enjoy and relate to some of what I have written. Looking back on the experience, I might call it a labor of love or more precisely a task of recollection and reflection. I apologize for occasional redundancies in the article: Incidents and personalities may be mentioned from time to time in more than one context. I also apologize for a more detailed description or emphasis on one personality or family over another, more a matter of convenience and recall than preference or value judgement. I have also linked some names to published obituaries, when I could find them.
Pillar of Fire Church
The church was founded by a dynamic female preacher and evangelist, and “first female bishop” in the country, Alma White, in 1901. From modest beginnings in the Denver, Colorado area, the church, under her energetic leadership grew to encompass large tracts of land and multiple buildings at Belleview, Westminster, Colorado and in central New Jersey in the Zarephath area, later to include schools, colleges, radio stations, publishing facilities and dozens of properties in major cities and metropolitan areas across the country. A conservative offshoot of the Methodist church, the Pillar of Fire embraced austere dress – black or navy blue with white collars – and rejected bright colors and immodest styles. It also forbade the common vices of smoking tobacco and drinking any form of alcohol. This conservative and austere message extended to young people as well. Girls in its high schools were required to wear a modest tan and brown “uniform”; dancing of any kind and especially between the sexes was absolutely forbidden. Smoking, drinking, dancing, going to the movies and any romantic contact between the sexes were all deemed “sinful”.
The message to its many congregations was to rely on literal interpretation of Biblical text and prayer for guidance in daily life and strive toward first one work of grace and conversion – getting “saved”, and then a second, getting “sanctified”. The church encouraged current and potential members to give up all of their “worldly goods”, come and live in the church facilities and devote their talent and labor to growing and strengthening the church and “spreading the gospel”.
The Pillar of Fire, relied on monetary contributions from businesses and individuals, tuition and publishing receipts to sustain its work, variously described as “religious, educational and benevolent activities”. It provided the basic needs of food and housing to its rank and file workers but did not pay regular salaries and instead encouraged them to rely on “faith” and the munificence and grace of God to sustain them.
It could be called a town because it was a dot on the map like all the other New Jersey towns but it was really a collection of school buildings, dormitories, homes and work buildings constructed by the Pillar of Fire Church to support its multiple missions. It was home to Alma Preparatory School, Alma White College and Zarephath Bible Seminary as well as radio station WAWZ and a large publishing enterprise. Apparently it earned the title of “town” because it did contain a US Post Office. Zarephath was located off the “Canal Road” about three miles west of Bound Brook, New Jersey, with the majority of its buildings located on former farmland between the Millstone River and the Delaware and Raritan Canal. I can see each of the Zarephath buildings clearly in my mind and can recall a host of memories and experiences related to each of them.
“Liberty Hall” was a four story collection of high school classrooms and a large assembly room on the lower floors with dormitory rooms above on the third and fourth floors. A few single male church workers lived on the third floor and also performed the role of supervisor or preceptor for the boarding high school students living on the fourth floor. On the front was a large flat concrete porch adorned with a couple of benches, which served as a before school lounge area, where students hung out, flirted, joked, and guffawed before and between classes. I can remember students from those days, contemporary friends like Joe Wenger, Malcolm Grout and Arnold Walker, older students like Danny Oaks, Vincent Dellorto, the Weaver boys Glenn, Meredith and Richard, the Gross boys John, David, Joe and Daniel. And then there were the girls – my sister Barbara, of course, Genevieve Dobash, Phyllis Oakes, Phyllis Finlayson, Elaine Schissler, Lorinda Bartlett, Miriam Snelling, Margaret Hellyer, Eunice Wilson…. as well as many others. Also on the first floor of Liberty Hall in the back of the building were laundry facilities to take care of student and worker needs consisting of washers, dryers and a big steam press for ironing.
Three story “Columbia Hall” was the junior high location with classrooms on the first floor and girls dormitory rooms above. I remember the Junior High classroom especially well when Ruben Truitt and wife Irel were the teachers. One fond memory relating to this time in my life, 1953-1955, were the spontaneous winter ice skating breaks. On many of the cold, snowless days of deep winter, Mr. Truitt would simply take a break from school and we’d go to “the pond” near the Assembly Hall or to the canal, if it was thoroughly frozen, for a couple of hours of ice skating. Mr. Truitt was a great skater himself, while many of us were in various stages of skill development or did not skate at all. Nevertheless, off we’d go to indulge Mr. Truitt’s skating passion. In the basement of Columbia Hall were the church canning facilities, which I will discuss later in my section on food.
Between Columbia Hall and Liberty Hall was the Power House, a brick building containing the coal furnaces and big boilers that provided steam heat for virtually all of the buildings. There was also a prominent cylindrical brick smokestack that marked this facility’s location on the Zarephath campus as well as a nearby water tower.
The “Main Building” featured church offices and reception rooms along with the kitchen and dining facilities on its lower floors and girls dormitory rooms above. These three afore-mentioned buildings were constructed with distinctive cast concrete blocks that the church had evidently manufactured for its own use.
The “College Building” contained an auditorium for church services and daily gatherings for students, college classrooms, and broadcast studios for our radio station WAWZ. The top floor contained dorm rooms for students of Alma White College. This stately building was quite prominent, being the first encountered when entering the campus from Canal Road. The College Building also contained the library, used by both high school and college students. Most of the books I fell in love with as a child were borrowed from this facility.
On the north side of the campus next to the water tower was the fire station which contained a dated fire truck or two, manned by volunteers among church workers, who maintained and polished their firefighting skills with occasional drills. Above the truck bays was an apartment occupied by various church personnel. I recall that Mert Weaver and Jeannie Bradford lived there for a time after they were married and before leaving the church. Adjacent to the station and between the dike and Liberty Hall was a group of swings and a popular horseshoe area (pit?, pitch?, not sure what they’re called) used by students and adults. This area was was the brainchild of Kathleen White, Bishop Arthur White’s wife and so was named “Merrill Park”, after her middle name, which I would have to assume must have been her mother’s maiden name.
The “Publishing Building” contained the “store”(more about this facility later), the post office, printing presses, areas for Linotype machines and book binding and a shipping platform. The printing press room also contained my Dad’s barber chair, on which he gave 25 cent (or less, depending on one’s ability to pay) haircuts with his Oster hair clippers to many students and church people, while discussing the latest news and gossip. I provide a picture of the chair taken during a visit to Zarephath in 1999 later in this article.
On the west side of the complex was the “Frame Building”, containing apartments where various individuals lived, the house where the Stewarts lived and the “greenhouse” where flowers were raised for decorating church services as well as seedlings for the farm enterprise. The “garage” with its lift and gas pump was located on this side of the complex as well. Also a couple of buildings constructed of oblong tile blocks were on this side of the “town”. One contained the “bakery” where our wonderful whole wheat bread was baked by Mr. Nolke twice a week. I don’t recall what the other was used for – perhaps storage of some kind.
Also on the west side of Zarephath, between the canal and the aforementioned west side buildings was a large and well-kept athletic field containing a baseball diamond and backstop, where high school physical education classes were conducted and our annual “May Day” baseball contest between the high school and college was played. In the fall in deep left field we played touch football on a less than clearly marked football gridiron. Between this athletic field and the greenhouse area were a couple of tennis courts constructed in the middle 1950’s, which students and residents alike enjoyed.
Also in the mid-fifties a gymnasium building was constructed. Named after Nathaniel Wilson, the designer of the building and one of the church’s main engineers and architects, the Wilson Gym contained a basketball court and a swimming pool which were welcome additions to the church and school facilities.
In the early fifties the complex was encircled by “The Dike”, an earthen structure to hold back the periodic floods of the neighboring Millstone River. “Behind the dike” or “over the dike” were euphemisms for the favored secret trysting places for our teenage students, who unfortunately enjoyed absolutely no formally accepted or sanctioned boy-girl relationship opportunities. The “back road”, a dirt road going smoothly over the dike and winding through the fields and woods leading to the “Millwood” residence where the Wilson family lived and the “Weston Causeway”, about a mile away, also led to farm fields, the Murphy family house and my own old home at “Morningside”.
Between the major Zarephath school and maintenance buildings mentioned above and the canal were well tended lawns and flowerbeds and a network of cinder paths culminating at what we called “The Fountain”, an attractive circular stone-clad pond with water fountains in the middle. This area contained a few benches arrayed around the fountain and was a favorite gathering place for students, individuals and families enjoying the Zarephath grounds. I should mention that an elderly gentleman, Mr. George Bartlett, father of the George Bartlett who built the reputation of the church dairy farm, tended the lawns and flowerbeds on the Zarephath campus with expertise and obvious loving care.
Across the canal and beyond the “bridge house” where Mr. John Nolke and his wife lived were the Assembly Hall, the large auditorium building where Sunday church services were held, the WAWZ radio towers and transmitter building, and “the pond”, a lovely body of water that provided relaxation in the summer and excellent ice skating in the winter. Adjacent to the pond was a row of small cabins or cottages; several were home to members of the Walker family and one later the home of Sid Johnston, more about both later. Also, near the Assembly Hall, was the Zarephath cemetery, the final resting place of many Pillar of Fire workers and their families. I should mention that outside the Assembly Hall was a small ivy-covered stone open structure containing a couple of water fountains.
If instead of crossing Canal Road to the buildings and areas mentioned above, you had turned left toward Bound Brook, you passed a half-mile grove of maple and Colorado Blue Spruce trees planted between Zarephath and my first New Jersey home at “Lock Haven”. Further down Canal Road, you passed the McNear house and arrived at the complex of farm buildings called “Tabor”. Here was the center of the church farming operations with barns, corn cribs, a modern cooler for fruit storage, garage areas for the maintenance of tractors and so on. The Tabor house was occupied by the Wesley Gross family which I will describe in detail later.
Further down Canal Road was Mountain View, the church bishop’s New Jersey residence, a single story house, separate garage, a beautiful grape arbor area, stone retaining walls and well kept lawns. My father’s sister Ada Friedly spent many years at Mountain View tending to the needs of Bishop Arthur White, his wife Kathleen and their children and grandchildren.
Beyond Mountain View on the unpaved road that adjoined Canal Road as well as one of the residence’s driveways, was “Rosedale” the church’s modern dairy farm. Consisting of three modern barns, state of the art mechanical milking, manure removal, and milk processing systems, along with a prize Holstein herd, this enterprise was the pride of the church. Mr. George Bartlett, who lived with his family at the attractive Rosedale residence, was responsible for the success of the church’s dairy operation. However, his star shown too brightly for the ruling White family to countenance, so he was later demoted and put in charge of the greenhouses at Zarephath and Mr. Ezra Hellyer was assigned to the dairy, which under his supervision began a long slow descent. As I will detail later, Mr. Hellyer’s heart did not seem to be in dairy farming but in other areas – patrolling the Pillar of Fire areas as a quasi-law enforcement officer and later, after leaving the church, joining Somerset County politics.
I remember the Bartlett family at Rosedale very well. Children Jenora, Doris, Lorinda and Dwight, played prominent roles in my own childhood and memories of the church with Jenora marrying my Dad’s good friend Rea (Red) Crawford, beautiful Doris breaking hearts in our high school, freckled, pigtailed Lorinda (Lindy) being one of sister Barbara’s best friends over the years and Dwight, whose success with girls was legendary and the constant envy of kids like myself and my good friend Joe Wenger.
Further up this unpaved road was “Bethany boys home”, a large frame house which boarded boys too young for the Zarephath dormitories. Run by the Weaver family, Bethany provided rules and routines, good meals and sack lunches to take to school. I will never forget the envy I felt about the lunches of the kids from Bethany, which were always delicious, also occasionally contained cream puffs – yes, genuine, made from scratch cream puffs with sweet homemade whipped cream inside. Mrs. Weaver was a positive, motherly type whom the boys loved. Mr. Weaver provided some necessary discipline and stability and their sons, the afore-mentioned “Weaver Boys” – Glenn, Meredith (Mert) and Richard, provided some supervision, camaraderie and good examples for behavior and work habits. While envying the Bethany boys’ sack lunches brought to school, I also wished I could have participated in the renowned Friday (or was it Wednesday?) night “tomato pie” (pizza) feasts prepared for the boys by Mrs. Weaver. Friends Joe Wenger and Malcolm Grout were among many who began their Zarephath school experiences boarding with the Weavers at Bethany.
From the Rosedale dairy farm there were dirt roads that provided shortcuts to the Tabor farm area, which of course provided the hay and silage diet of the dairy cattle. There was one other residence along these dirt roads where the Charles Mowery family lived. Mr. Mowery worked for the farm enterprise while Mrs. Mowery became one of the Zarephath kitchen mainstays. Children Dennis, Robert and Darlene, were our classmates at the Bound Brook School. The Mowery family left the church at some point but I never knew why or where they went.
Continuing on Canal Road more or less east from Zarephath, you entered South Bound Brook, turned left, crossed over the Delaware and Raritan Canal, then over the Raritan River on a high steel truss bridge, went under the Jersey Central, Reading and Lehigh Valley railroad tracks and entered a small traffic circle where left took you on Main Street past the railroad station on the left, Effingers sporting goods, Klompus 5 & 10, then up Hamilton Street past the Brook Theater on your right and the drug store on your left. A right turn from the circle and then a quick left took you directly to what was known as the Bound Brook “Temple”, a multi-story building containing an auditorium where the Zarephath Sunday evening church service was conducted, and classrooms and various other facilities in the north side of the building. This building was built with the same type of cast concrete blocks used for the construction of the major buildings at Zarephath. I am sure that the machinery for casting them had been transported to Bound Brook to produce the bricks used there.
By the way, if you had turned right instead of left to cross the canal and the Raritan, you would have gone past some huge factories on your left, (one of which employed me in my youth), passed by some South Bound Brook residential areas and proceeded on to the town of New Brunswick, distinguished by the presence of the Men’s Colleges and Douglass College for women of Rutgers University, the state university of New Jersey.
Bound Brook School
There is much to recall about going to school at the Bound Brook Temple, which all of we older children attended until my family was transferred in 1965 to the Westminster, Colorado Pillar of Fire facilities, called “Belleview”. There was a big set of swings on the playground as well as a “maypole”, a vertical steel pole with a revolving mechanism on top to which was attached ropes, which children grasped and swung around on as the wheel on top rotated. This contraption, also called a “giant stride”, provided great fun for us schoolchildren but it did not take long for the more daring and adventurous among us to make it somewhat dangerous: While five or six kids held on, another child would stand near the base and pull on his rope to make the maypole revolve faster, lifting the riders off the ground as the ropes they held onto would rise to approach the horizontal. Then the rider could let go and be thrown some distance outward, very exciting but causing more than a few bumps and bruises. So as I remember, after enjoying a heyday of high but risky use, the maypole was eventually removed from the school playground.
At the Bound Brook school I also met the pretty little girl who was to become my first wife, Elaine Ganska. She was an “outsider”, who usually attended the Sunday 11:00 Assembly Hall church services with her mother and whose family paid tuition for her to attend the school. I remember the heady, intoxicating feeling when I dared to kiss her on the cheek when her swing came close to mine once as we were on the swings together. So when we were a couple, we always remembered this incident fondly. Later, after a church service, maybe when I was eight or nine, again rather daringly, I thrust into her hand a wrapped birthday or Christmas gift, a bottle of Jergens lotion. Why lotion? Why Jergens? I really don’t know – maybe it was chosen on the advice of my older sister Barbara.
Another indelible memory from the Bound Brook School was the conduct of fire drills, very frightening to me because they involved the use of the rusty, rickety and frightening steel latticework fire escapes. Going down these from the third floor was frightening because not only did they seem unsafe with the weight of several dozen children and adults, but also seemed about to pull out from their flimsy attachment to the exterior walls. Also, you could see the frightening distance straight down to the ground through the bands of flaked paint and rusted steel. I will always remember the scene from the Oscar-winning movie “All the King’s Men”, based upon Robert Penn Warren’s novel of the same name, about the life of Huey Long, when a school fire escape collapsed and several children were killed, which reminded me of the anxiety I had always felt on these Bound Brook Temple structures.
A related memory that I never forgot had to do with the long bridge over the Raritan River from South Bound Brook. This narrow two-lane bridge had recently had its flat, wooden plank and sheet steel roadway replaced with a more modern steel lattice surface, much more sturdy, and which made a pleasant hum as you drove over it. However, one day when there were huge spring rains in New Jersey, flooded Bound Brook streets inundated the underpass under the railroad tracks so the school bus let us off to walk with a teacher or two across the bridge, then through the underpass on its elevated walkway to reach the Bound Brook school. Looking straight down through the steel grating of the new roadway and glimpsing the muddy rushing and roiling waters of the flooded Raritan River was truly frightening. If sister Barbara were alive today, we could remember and share together this incident. I am sure she was as frightened as I, although, in typical big sister fashion, she likely calmly and bravely led the way for me, Elaine and Robert.
Other memories of the Bound Brook Pillar of Fire grade school involved the classrooms and the teachers. I vividly recall sitting in my classroom and looking out the window from my desk at the trains going by. There were the black passenger cars of the Jersey Central trains traveling back and forth with people commuting to New York City. I think they were pulled by steam engines at the time, then diesels, as the late 1940’s and early ’50’s saw the transition from steam to diesel. Then there were the sleek reddish colored trains of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. These big engines and trains fired my imagination with questions of who was on the trains, where were they going, where had they been, what else did they carry, and who were the skilled engineers that controlled the huge locomotives that pulled the trains. If my teachers knew about the time I spent daydreaming looking out the window, I am sure my seat would have been moved. Also I remember two boys that were at the Bethany Boys Home, Joe and Donald Kruger, the former for a time my sister Barbara’s special friend. On the school bus, Barbara would have me sit between her and Joe, so they could secretly hold hands with each other behind my back.
I can clearly recall some of the teachers who taught us at the Bound Brook school. Lydia Sanders, later to become Lydia Loyle and later still, principal of the school, started her teaching career there and handled several troublesome students with creative physical punishment. Ruth Dallenbach, a wonderful teacher later to become the wife of Frank Crawford, (more about these families later) also taught at the school. Miss Dallenbach’s prominent female attributes provoked me to draw some risqué pictures of her, which she discovered, embarrassingly took from me and likely shared with my parents.
And then there was the most notable teacher, also serving as principal, Mrs. Helen Wilson, wife of the church’s main engineer and architect, Nathaniel Wilson and mother of two schoolmates, Eunice and Warren. I don’t remember precisely what kind of teacher Mrs. Wilson was, but I do remember that she ran a small lunchtime retail candy enterprise out of her classroom. It was here that I used to occasionally buy Hershey bars, Clark bars, Oh-Henry’s, and a variety of penny candy, the most memorable one being “Kits”, which was a pack of four wrapped pieces of chocolate flavored taffy for only one cent. I don’t know precisely what Mrs. Wilson did with the profit from these candy sales, I am sure something good for her classroom or the whole school. But I do know I can attribute most of my serious dental problems over the years as having their origin right there at school from Mrs. Wilson’s candy business.
The Pillar of Fire “Bound Brook Temple” was also the site of the 7:00 Sunday evening church service, the first two being held at the “Assembly Hall” – one at 11:00 AM and the other at 3:00 PM. The Temple was also the site of our weekly “Children’s Hour” broadcasts over WAWZ, during which our group of church children would sing hymns and recite poems. The afore-mentioned Mrs. Helen Wilson, a very busy lady, was organizer and master of ceremonies for this weekly radio “show”. I remember looking forward to it very much each week, broadcast on Mondays at 6:30 PM. I remember also, that when older, I did not read but occasionally “told” Bible stories on the program, extracted from my reading Bible stories from my treasured “Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible” and I remember getting a “fan mail” letter from a listener who was quite impressed. I thought I kept that letter but a recent search of my memorabilia files has failed to locate it.
The Sunday church services at Zarephath followed a pattern. Since they were broadcast on WAWZ, they began promptly on the hour – the morning service at 11:00 AM and the afternoon service at 3:00 PM. After stepping up to the microphone and welcoming everyone, whoever was leading the service would announce the hymn title and the page number in our “Cross and Crown” hymnal, and would lead the congregation in the singing of the hymn. After another hymn or two, a men’s “quartet” would be featured, this composed of four of our full-voiced church members. Regulars seemed to always be Mr. Nathaniel Wilson, singing a baritone part, and Mr. Norman Fournier, with his incredible tenor voice. More about these people later when I describe people and personalities in greater depth.
After the quartet piece one of the White family’s “stars” – daughter Arlene Lawrence or Pauline Dallenbach (or Connie, when she was still with the church) might be featured playing a hymn on the solo violin and perhaps singing a verse or two. More about the White family later as well. Incidentally I should mention that almost every church service in the Assembly Hall was graced by the inspired pipe organ playing of George Chambers. Mr. Chambers was a remarkably intelligent and supremely talented church worker who not only was a musical mainstay of the organization but contributed significantly to its printing enterprise by also operating a Linotype machine in the publishing building. As I noted in my article “Home Sweet Home”, Mr. Chambers, his wife Ann and children Allan and Celeste, were our neighbors in the “Morningside” home on the fertile floodplain of the Millstone River. Mr. Chambers, however, never received the recognition or praise for his remarkable talent that was provided so generously by the church membership to members of the “ruling family”, the Whites, and was never awarded his place in the spotlight, like Arlene and Pauline.
After Arlene or Pauline on the violin, the congregation might sing another hymn and then the band would play. Yes, we had a real brass band in church, composed of a somewhat meager collection of instruments, but enough to make considerable noise and generate some enthusiastic participatory rhythmic activity among a few congregation members – Mr. Oakes and Mr. Nolke come to mind. There was always someone playing the tuba or Sousaphone for the bass, several clarinets (my sister Barbara often played), trumpets or cornets (one played often by my friend, Joe Wenger), and percussion – bass drum and cymbals and snare drum. I occasionally played the snare drum in the Pillar of Fire Band and did the best I could, although I was obviously always at the novice level. Yes, I had taken a few drum lessons from someone in the church and my dad had made me a practice pad from a square chunk of oak board fastened to a foam rubber base and crowned with a black rubber pad nailed to the top of the wood, but despite a few lessons and faithful practice, I never got very good.
I will digress here and relate a snare drum incident that I remember very well. At “Camp Meeting” time in August, various Pillar of Fire people would be invited to form a brass band and assemble personnel and instruments on one of our school buses, festooned with an advertising banner, and tour nearby towns advertising the event. One of the most prominent and intelligent personalities in the church, Mr. Clifford Crawford, was leading this “touring ensemble” with his trumpet playing, through Bound Brook, Manville and Somerville one August day and Mr. Crawford, likely feeling some pain from my feeble efforts on the snare drum, took me aside afterward to explain some basics. Marches are always in certain tempos or times, he told me – either 2/4, 4/4 or 6/8. If it’s 2/4 or 4/4 the snare complements the bass drum by playing on the after beat; if the piece is 6/8, the snare plays on the beat. I never forgot this, coming from a musician of Mr. Crawford’s caliber, and am always conscious, when listening to a march, what the time is and where the snare drum beat should be.
Back to the band playing in our church services – there were always two selections, played in succession by the band – first a hymn, which had been composed in an appropriate cadence and thus could be played by our band, and second, a real marching band piece, maybe a Sousa march. When the march tune was chosen, I always hoped and prayed that it was not “Semper Fidelis” when I was playing because it featured a snare drum solo part, then joined by a dramatic trumpet accompaniment. I had neither the self confidence nor the skill to manage the solo snare part so thank God, that march was never chosen when I played the drum. And by the way, Sousa’s “Semper Fidelis” is a perfect example of a 6/8 time march tune.
Another band instrument upon which I had some experience was the alto horn. I don’t remember exactly why I started lessons on this instrument – perhaps because the band needed it for balance, nor do I remember from whom I took lessons, but I found playing this instrument rather pleasant and easy because it did not play the melody and thus was much more simple, requiring playing significantly fewer notes. I don’t recall how many times I played this instrument during the church band pieces but I did feel great camaraderie with trumpet player friend Joe Wenger, as we not only played together but also joined to occasionally expel accumulated saliva from our brass instruments with open “spit valves” and healthy blasts of breath through the mouthpieces.
After the band selections, there was usually one more hymn sung by the congregation before the sermon was preached. These sermons usually lasted 20-30 minutes and were typically a long dissertation on lessons to be derived from a chosen bit of scripture. Sermons were delivered usually by Bishop Arthur White when he was in New Jersey, but more often by Reverend I. L. Wilson, one of the kindliest and most Godly men in the church, maybe Nathaniel Wilson (no relative) or any of the other Pillar of Fire intelligentsia. Then the service was wrapped up around noontime with a final hymn, and if the spirit prevailed, maybe an altar call. The other church services repeated the pattern but the 3:00 service at the Assembly Hall did not feature the band, nor did the Sunday evening event held at the Bound Brook Temple.
As a child I enjoyed most of these church service experiences. The hymns were beautiful and I enjoyed singing them along with everyone else. I enjoyed hearing the other musical features also, especially the band, well before I was old enough to participate. Many of the hymns we sang in church are forever part of my memory and bring tears to my eyes even today when I hear them sung. Most of these were old traditional Protestant hymns by Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Robert Lowry and others. We also sang hymns written by the founder of the church, Alma White, many of which were quite good, fashioned around the protestant hymn musical and poetic tradition.
There was one Pillar of Fire minister who was likely the best preacher I have ever heard – Willian O. Portune. And I mean best not necessarily from a scholarly point of view, although his knowledge of Biblical scripture was impressive, but best because of his passion and eloquence. I used to dread a church service where he delivered the sermon because he was extremely effective in making me feel guilty and sinful and badly in need of redemption. During his sermons he occasionally thundered, ”When you die and you stand before that great white throne and God points his finger at you….what will you say, what will you do?” And every time Reverend Portune pointed that finger it seemed as though he was pointing it directly at me. So accordingly I would break out in a nervous sweat, pull my shirt collar away from my neck and mop my brow. And if Reverend Portune’s passion happened to induce an “altar call” at the end of the service, when various people would stream up front to loudly and fervently pray, I would sometimes be induced, motivated or shamed (perhaps by family or friends) into joining them and pray as passionately as I could for salvation. But to my knowledge and awareness I was never thus blessed, no matter how energetically or fervently I prayed. After yet another such a futile effort, I would simply resume my worldly ways until the next time the spirit (or guilt or discomfort) convinced me to try again.
There were other religious services in the church as well. At Zarephath proper, every weekday for boarding students and selected others began with what was called “Morning Class”, a short half-hour service held at 7:15 in the “College Chapel”, when a couple of hymns were sung and a short talk was given, perhaps reminding students of certain duties or events. Some of the children from outlying families also attended. I recall that my sister Barbara attended from time to time, as well as myself and perhaps Elaine and Robert, primarily on Monday, when “reports” were given on Sunday sermons, where previously assigned students commented or elaborated upon some of the salient points or lessons drawn from the sermons.
Also, on Wednesday night in the same location, there was what we called “Testimony Meeting”, attended by many students as well as adults. After a few hymns, individuals arose and lined up at the microphone up front, to deliver a “testimony” – the relating of an incident or conflict which could illustrate the power of God in their lives. The experience was not easy because what one related had to be more or less factual, as well as significant in a religious faith way. In addition, it was somewhat difficult for some, myself certainly, to stand up in front of the audience and deliver an unscripted, impromptu speech, however short. I can recall especially while others lined up to deliver their testimony, sitting nervously in my seat feeling intense pressure to participate and desperately trying to think of an experience significant enough to describe and relate as my “testimony”.
I’ve mentioned that our little “town” of Zarephath had a post office. To serve this facility, the church had a small truck that went to and from Bound Brook twice a day to deliver and pick up mail at the train station, which evidently had a key postal facility. This truck, called the “mail rig”, was a 1940’s vintage Reo Speedwagon with a canvas cover stretched over the bed. The floor of the bed bore the cargo – usually several soiled canvas mailbags marked “US MAIL” but around the bed were fold-down seats for passengers. People from Zarephath would often hitch a ride on the mail rig into Bound Brook on the morning run, then do some shopping or conduct some business there and ride back on the afternoon trip. The primary driver of the “mail rig” was Mr. Schaeffer, although there were undoubtedly a few others.
I went with big sister Barbara several times to Bound Brook in this way and enjoyed my very first commercially prepared hot dog and hamburger there in a restaurant on Hamilton Street. Also on this street was the now famous landmark, the Brook Theater , where I also enjoyed my first real movies – a couple of westerns with one, I think, starring Audie Murphy. I was amazed at how the movies kept going and going. If you entered during the middle of one movie, you could sit through its completion, watch the second one in its entirety and then complete the first.
I have often referred to the Pillar of Fire church community as a little microcosm of communism where there was considerable application of Karl Marx’s maxim: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. Basic needs like housing and utilities were provided gratis by the church. My parents never owned any of the houses in which we lived and never paid rent or an electricity or heating bill. Also, basic nutrition was provided by the church. The Zarephath “store”, located in the Publishing Building mentioned earlier, purchased basic staples for weekly distribution to church families. I remember that we had a sturdy wooden box called our “order box” in the house, which once a week was delivered to the store with a list and was filled with requested basics and later picked up. We ordered such items as oatmeal (always Quaker Oats), corn flakes (Kelloggs), shortening, which was bulk Crisco or something like it, cheese, usually a big wedge of cheddar cut out of a large cheese “wheel”, peanut butter, again bulk – dipped from a very large container into an empty smaller container we provided in our order box. Other items were sugar, white or brown, flour – usually just the basic white variety, basic unsweetened cocoa, and many different kinds of bulk dried legumes – mainly navy, lima, and kidney beans. Milk was delivered early every couple of days from our dairy facility in stainless steel milk cans that we washed and put out for pickup at the next delivery. This was raw milk, never homogenized or pasteurized. Mom or someone else would pour it into glass jars to put in the refrigerator. Cream came to the top and was poured off for coffee or other uses. Mom was a faithful coffee drinker and always enjoyed that fresh cream in it every day. Other staples like potatoes, were obtained from storage facilities in the Main Building where the main kitchen was located or from coolers at Tabor.
The Zarephath store also provided these same basics to the central dining facility in the Main Building where cooks provided three meals a day to people who lived and worked there and to students who boarded there, with lunch likely being the largest meal, since it also included the day students attending school at Zarephath. Also, fresh fruit and vegetables were provided from the church farms for daily preparation and inclusion in meals when in season. In the basement of Columbia Hall was a large room where canning took place – seasonal fruits and vegetables were preserved, sometimes in jars, sometimes in large cans, for later use in institutional meals. Also, some of these canned items were available for our weekly orders from the store. I recall a hefty, cheerful and very hard working woman, Minnie Driver, who was apparently responsible for running this food canning enterprise.
Our neighbor on the long driveway to the “Morningside” house, Claude Murphy, was the official church farmer for summer vegetables, raised in the fertile fields of the Millstone River floodplain surrounding our respective homes. Dairy and orchard farming were centered at the Tabor farm and the Gross family appeared to have major responsibility for maintaining the substantial peach orchards and apple orchards as well as chicken flocks and egg gathering for family distribution through “the store” and supply to the main cooking facility. The Weaver family raised most of the field corn and alfalfa for the dairy. More about both of these families later when I discuss people and personalities in the church.
Also I should add that individual families in the church often maintained gardens and fields of vegetables in the summer to augment that which the church supplied. Certainly my family did so as well as the Weavers and Grosses. I should mention also that consumption of meat was frowned upon, even forbidden, in the church. Evidently our founder, Bishop Alma White, must have at some point become an Upton Sinclair acolyte and read his book, “The Jungle”. She herself wrote a book “Why I Do Nor Eat Meat” (still available on Amazon, look it up, can you believe it?), which was largely read by church personnel and a limited public. I can remember how delicious meat tasted to me when as a child I was treated to some beef or chicken at relatives’ homes, even more delectable because it was “forbidden”.
However, many families felt free to eat meat privately. I remember at our first New Jersey home, Lock Haven, that one Saturday morning, the house was filled with the wonderful smell of cooked chicken. Dad had evidently killed, cleaned and cooked a few chickens early that morning, and invited us to get up and enjoy his “Mulligan stew”, perhaps so named so that we would not tell anyone we actually had chicken. That was the first time I remember eating meat in our home.
The main dining facility at Zarephath of course never served meat. However, for protein, different varieties of beans were often served as were a variety of soy-based meat substitutes. Canned imitation meats from a company called Worthington, like “Yum” were sold in our store but were never part of the free weekly “order” of basics. But our school was part of the government school lunch program and since meat was available from a vendor under this program a church friend of my father’s ordered several dozen large bricks of frozen ground beef, a half dozen of so of which ended up in our deep freeze. We kids enjoyed cutting off slices, frying it for ourselves and reveling in the smell and taste of this delicious but officially forbidden food.
So even though most basic needs were supplied by the church, we still had to obtain other items necessary for day to day living which cost money and as intimated in a paragraph above, money was often hard to come by. My family often raised and sold chickens to obtain extra money. In the early 1960’s, Dad bought a Farmall Super A and necessary implements and got heavily into truck farming to raise extra money. He and we older children cultivated strawberries, sweetcorn, tomatoes, peppers, okra, cucumbers, cantaloups and watermelons, which were sold at a little stand at the end of our driveway on Weston Causeway (now officially the “Manville Causeway” on Google maps) by little brothers Charlie, Richard, Glenn and even Stan. Before selling directly to the public, Dad had often sold sweet corn and other produce wholesale directly to vendors at the Packard’s farmers market and other outlets, including a large roadside stand on Route 22 near Whitehouse, New Jersey, who then sold to the public. I never knew how Dad made these deals with retailers but obviously he did, likely seeing how, if others profited from his wholesale produce, why not skip that step and sell retail himself – hence the roadside stand on the Weston Causeway.
Money was always an issue in the church when I was growing up despite gratis provisions by the church. I never knew exactly how church members were remunerated for their work for the church. I don’t know if salaries were paid – if they were, they were likely meager. Most people were pretty much on their own and earned money the best way they could. One of the standard ways money was earned by church personnel was in what was called the “missionary field”. This consisted of nighttime forays into local taverns and bars, usually on a Friday or Saturday night, attired in church regalia, for women the black dress with white collar and a somewhat odd black hat with wide ribbons around the neck ending in a tied broad bow; for men, the standard black or navy blue suit with black shirt and rigid white collar. Equipped with an armful of Pillar of Fire publications and a small circular money receptacle, these Pillar of Fire “missionaries” would enter the bar and solicit contributions in exchange presumably for a copy of the “Pillar of Fire” paper or “The Dry Legion”, the church’s anti-alcohol temperance publication.
A number of us family members or students as older teenagers occasionally drove these missionaries through New Jersey cities close to New York from bar to bar, starting around 8:00 and ending at midnight or so. We drove in the selected person’s own car or a church car that they had borrowed in return for a modest compensation of three to five dollars or so, usually paid in quarters collected in the smoky bars that night. My such experiences were limited to driving my Aunt Ada Friedly around the city of Hoboken in a black De Soto, maybe hers, maybe borrowed. Other young men, including friends Joe Wenger and Kenny Cope, often made a few dollars in this missionary “driver” role as well.
Money collected in this way was split according to a certain formula between the “missionary” and the church, after of course, the driver was paid. Such funds were an important part of church income, as well as often the only income, however meager, for the specific person. I couldn’t help but think what a terrible way this was to try to obtain some sort of income. It must have taken a great deal of courage for people like my aunt, dressed like they were, to enter bars full of happy drunks on a weekend night to beg money for the church and themselves. And I am sure that the proprietors and patrons of these bars did not appreciate the interruption of their nighttime revelry by these grim specters in black clothing hawking religious or temperance tomes. I can recall my aunt in the car after such an evening reeking of beer and tobacco smoke and relieved that she had survived the ordeal. In retrospect though, this activity did afford the church worker some sort of personal income, required for those necessities of daily life not supplied by the church.
The church income obtained through these “missionary” trips was likely trivial compared to that solicited from and donated by industries and businesses. There were church officials who instead of begging in bars for the church, went on scheduled visits to local businesses and industries to ask for contributions to support the education, radio and publishing ministries featured by the church, these significantly larger than the pittance contributed by people like my aunt. In fact some church members purportedly enriched themselves significantly by taking a larger cut of what was solicited and contributed than that to which they were entitled. However, these larger contributions were largely what enabled the church early in its history to purchase huge tracts of land in New Jersey and Colorado and to erect the buildings necessary to carry on church work.
Also the church subsisted significantly on “in kind” donations from various sources. The adjective “donated” was used pejoratively often in the church to describe any number of items, usually of substandard quality. Such merchandise was distributed free of charge to church members. I remember much of our clothing came from “donated” sources. Particularly memorable was literally a “bale” of donated double-kneed bluejeans that ended up with our family, factory seconds actually, rejected by their quality control for minor defects but still quite wearable. We boys in the Friedly family wore these jeans for years. Also at some time, the church was given a pile of naugahyde motorcycle jackets, several of which ended up with us. Here’s a picture at our Morningside house of my brother Charlie, with little brothers Richard, Glenn, and Stan, wearing one of them.
Some of our food items were also donated to the church and distributed to families through the store or the dining facilities. I can remember going with my father in our 1951 Chevy pickup truck a number of times on Friday nights (I think) to pick up several dozen pies from Jones Pies, a big bakery located in one of the many New Jersey cities across the Hudson from New York City. (Google reveals no such company, but I am convinced it was “Jones”). These pies were donated to the church because they were not sold in a timely fashion and could only be thrown out or given away. So after being delivered to the Zarephath kitchen facility, we took several home for the family. I remember still how tasty they were, even though “old”. Also, some pie surfaces showed traces of dust or soot, since they were not in boxes and were laid flat in the back of our truck. But never mind, scraped off and cleaned up, they still were delicious, and I was grateful.
My father also occasionally did the sort of “missionary” work described above to earn needed money for his ever growing family. But the best time for the family financially was when my father was working in the Zarephath post office, where he was paid quite well for that time and place. I believe that he may have been required to contribute a portion of his post office salary to the church but was allowed to keep enough of it so that for several years, the Friedly family was relatively well cared for. It was during this time that he was able to buy a brand new 1949 Chevrolet for the family and we experienced several of the best Christmases we ever had. I don’t know for sure but my impression is that he was required to leave this job because he was doing too well. The job then reverted to Emma Walls, our official “postmaster”.
This little fact was very important in the Pillar of Fire Church. If you did too well, if you stood out, if there was a chance your accomplishments or your erudition would eclipse that of a member of the White family that ruled the church, you would be moved to another job, assignment or location, usually lower or less desirable than that in which you excelled. I have already mentioned that the person responsible for the dramatic success and lofty reputation of our dairy operation was removed and put in charge of the Zarephath greenhouse. In the same way, I am sure that my father was asked to leave that post office job, and later, with the success of his personal truck farming enterprise in New Jersey, was asked to relocate to the Denver church headquarters in 1965. At that time I should note that the Friedly family became split in two, since Barbara, myself and Elaine had married and were living in nearby New Jersey and Pennsylvania towns and Robert was serving in the army in Germany. Basically, Mom, Dad, Charlie, Richard, Glenn and Stanley formed a reconstituted Friedly family in the Westminster, Colorado church community.
Perhaps I should make clear that my Dad’s efforts to make money through his post office job, which I think was part time, and his personal truck farming project, constituted additions to “regular” jobs he did for the church. Dad was primarily a teacher in the church’s schools, a job which he performed regularly for years, teaching history at Alma Preparatory School, the church’s high school at Zarephath, and philosophy at Alma White College, also at Zarephath. In addition he was prevailed upon to assist at the dairy on occasional weekends, where I used to go with him, help feed alfalfa and silage to the cattle as they stood secure in their stanchions being milked and then return home with some of the dairy’s delicious chocolate milk. Also, of course, Dad held forth as the resident barber at Zarephath in the press room of the publishing building, usually on Saturday mornings (I offer a picture of the barber chair he used later in this article).
Others in the church also held “regular” assignments – working in the printery turning out the “Pillar of Fire”, which was given out at our churches, mailed to subscribers and, as mentioned before, distributed in bars by our missionaries, left for information at more significant potential donor’s establishments; the “Pillar of Fire Junior”, the children’s publication, also distributed through subscription and used weekly at our Sunday School services, “Woman’s Chains”, the church’s “women’s lib” publication and “The Dry Legion”, the Pillar of Fire’s anti-alcohol temperance publication.
The printery, located in the Publishing Building, consisted of several Linotype machines, other areas where print was set, and another big room which contained, if I remember correctly, two huge printing presses, which printed the aforementioned periodic publications and books, written primarily by the church royalty, members of the White family, completed in another publishing building facility, our book bindery. Although I am sure there were more competent and creative writers in the church, (one was likely my own aunt, Ada Friedly), the Whites monopolized book authorship and publishing in the church. Alma White, the church founder and matriarch, published upwards of 30 books. Her son, Arthur K. White was author of a half dozen or so, including his pompous and self indulgent “Some White Family History”. Kathleen White, wife of Arthur, authored a temperance book strangely named “Drunk Stuff”. Pauline White Dallenbach and Arlene White Lawrence (I believe that both daughters had legitimate middle names but the name “White” supplanted them in order to brandish their lineage) contributed a couple of lightweight tomes to the White literary legacy: respectively “Dear Friends” and “Come Along”, both travel books with religious overtones. I might add that the apparently unlimited travel budgets of White family members which spawned these two books, were often bitterly questioned and critiqued by rank and file church members. Several hymnals, including the “Cross and Crown” hymnal were also published in the Zarephath printery and distributed to Pillar of Fire locations around the country.
Various church personnel performed a variety of other tasks for the organization. Several manned our radio station and its related facilities; some, already mentioned, were involved in food production, preparation and distribution. Others were groundskeepers, greenhouse workers, teachers, maintenance or utility workers. Some were engineers, architects or construction workers. Many of these individuals also mixed church service participation with their skill or profession, leading meetings, singing in a vocal group or preaching a sermon. My father also mixed this with his other professions – occasionally leading a service or preaching a sermon on Sundays for a sparse congregation at our Brooklyn church. I always felt that Dad was a little uncomfortable in this role. His sermons were scholarly, well researched and logical but always seemed to lack the passion and conviction that other preachers demonstrated in their delivery. Or maybe as his son, I was just being too critical.
However, the early Sunday morning trips to Brooklyn were wonderful. I will always remember the the drive over dense industrial New Jersey cities on the famed Pulaski Skyway, which brought us almost directly to the entrance of the Holland Tunnel. Then after emerging from the tunnel and making a quick trip across southern Manhattan, we crossed the East River on the Manhattan Bridge and entered Brooklyn on Flatbush Avenue and then going directly to the church on Sterling Place. The ladies staffing the Brooklyn missionary home were quite hospitable and always prepared a delicious lunch for us. The caretaker of the Brooklyn Pillar of Fire Church, Mr. Wallace Lewis, was a bright, talkative elderly man. Unfortunately he lost his life when the church was destroyed in the notorious December 1960 crash of a United Airlines DC8 after an in air collision with another airliner. The church was never rebuilt.
The White Family
This might be as good a time as any to introduce my reader(s?) to the White family, the “royalty” of the Pillar of Fire Church. The church was founded in 1901 by Alma White, who was its first bishop and general superintendent. After her death in 1946, she was succeeded by her son, Arthur White, who ran the church as bishop and general superintendent during my childhood and youth until his death in 1981. Arthur’s wife, Kathleen (Staats), attained special status for her family through the marriage. Her sisters Helen, Ruth and Carolyn and brother William, always occupied positions of influence and authority in the church through this link. Ruth Staats was the principal of Zarephath schools when I was a child. Later attending the Pillar of Fire high school in Westminster, Colorado, I got to know Carolyn Staats, its principal. These individuals occupied these positions through being related to the White family, not because of any special administrative talent or intellectual ability. In essence, these were the “nobility” – handmaidens to the “royalty”. More details about the Staats family will be offered below.
Arthur and Kathleen White, as I am sure did the founder of the church, Alma White, always lived quite well and did not have to scrape together a living, depending on the capricious “God will provide” adage as so many other church members did, but lived serenely and confidently on the largesse of the church. I was never sure exactly how or how much money came into their hands but was very sure that the church’s considerable wealth and resources were totally controlled by the White family. In fact, for years Kathleen White acted as “Financial Agent” for the church. There were church members who served as accountants and record keepers, I am sure, but to my knowledge the church’s finances were never open for examination, audit, discussion or judgement by rank and file church members, though official audits required by the state were done routinely.
The White family lived in a choice residence at Belleview, the Westminster, Colorado church campus, called “Rose Hill” and in an attractive one-story home on the Zarephath, New Jersey land called “Mountain View”, mentioned earlier. Apartments were maintained by the church for the Whites at other church locations for use when they visited. In addition, church personnel took care of the dining and laundry needs of the family, as well as child rearing. My own aunt, Ada Friedly, who had unfortunately followed my father into the church, performed these kinds of tasks for the White family for virtually her entire life, also helping to care for the infants and young children of the next generation of White church royalty. At different times Ada cared for the households and children of Arlene Lawrence, Constance Brown and Pauline Dallenbach, the respective daughters of Bishop Arthur White and wife Kathleen. After the death of Arthur White, the oldest daughter, Arlene, served as general superintendent of the church for several years.
Arthur and Kathleen White were used to first class transportation also and always drove or were driven in new black Chryslers. Motivated by some veiled criticism of this fact, Bishop Arthur White always hastened to insist that the automobiles in question were always owned by the church, not him. And the luxurious residences were owned by the church as well. So what – they got to live in the swanky houses and drive the classy cars, no matter who owned them. This was their privilege as church royalty. It was not because of their intellect, educational accomplishments or management and leadership skills.
I should relate something about the men the White daughters Arlene, Constance and Pauline married. Jerry Lawrence, the husband of Arlene and father of my sister-in-law, Verona, was a big, jovial, personable man with a heavy southern drawl, attesting to his southern heritage, the state of Georgia. Jerry used to be a good friend and confidant of my father when they both were young workers in the church, but Jerry’s marriage into the White family fatally altered the relationship. Reverend Lawrence earned a doctorate in education from Columbia and became an influential faculty member and administrator at Alma White College and the sister institution in Colorado, Belleview College. They had two children, raised partially by my aunt, Ada Friedly – Arthur and Verona.
The second oldest of the White children, Horace, did not remain in the church. He enjoyed a distinguished career as a pilot flying for United Airlines and is still doing well in his California residence today….at the age of 102. Horace and his wife Evelyn chose not to have any children.
Constance, the middle White sister, did not remain in the church either and married David Brown, a former student in our schools who later worked for various educational testing companies. I only knew one of their three children – the oldest, Melanie – and that only because I had occasion to babysit her as a child. Others, among them Peter, I never knew but perhaps as infants.
Bob Dallenbach, from the Dallenbach family of East Brunswick, New Jersey, described below, unlike his siblings, remained in the church after attending its schools and married Pauline, the youngest of the White sisters. After earning a doctorate in sociology from the University of Colorado, he served in positions of authority in the church, including bishop and superintendent from 2000 to 2008. Bob and Pauline were parents to two children – Joel and Beth (Heidi) – the latter always a good friend of my Colorado brothers Charlie, Richard, Glenn and Stan.
There were other prominent families in the church, notable perhaps because of the family size or their position in the church or the relative importance of the responsibilities assigned them. One such family in the church was the Weavers, who lived at the Bethany house. Mrs. Weaver, as mentioned earlier, ran this large house which also served as a home away from home for boys boarding at the church who were too young for the Zarephath dormitories. As suggested earlier, Mrs. Weaver was beloved by many of her charges for her loving care and for her delicious meals and school lunches. Her husband, Harry Weaver, ran the Pillar Fire field farming enterprise – planting and harvesting the corn and baling the hay that fed our dairy cattle, the potatoes for the school cooking preparation, and maintaining the fleet of tractors and farm implements that were used. Their sons, the “Weaver boys”, Glenn, Meredith (Mert) and Richard were popular among the girls and known also for their macho exploits on our tractors and other farm machinery. All of the Weavers married women in the church – Glenn married Blanche Cather, Meredith married Jeannie Bradford and Richard married Marlene Walker. Something about the Bradfords and the Walkers will be provided below. Interestingly, my sister Barbara had the rare distinction of dating on one occasion or another, all three of the Weaver boys.
The Gross family occupies a very important position in my memory because through my sister Barbara’s marriage to the youngest boy in the family, Daniel, the family became ever entwined in my own life. John Gross was the oldest, then David, then Joseph. The Gross family was finally blessed by the arrival of a little girl, Martha. The Gross’s loomed large in Pillar of Fire affairs. Mr. Gross was a prominent church member who not only oversaw the orchard and poultry operations at “Tabor” but also served as an accomplished church service leader and as an Alma White College professor. Bespectacled John played a prominent role in farm and school activities, as did David, Joe and Daniel. All of the Grosses were prominent musicians as well, playing instruments in the band on Sundays and participating in solo or choral singing. Daniel, my dear sister Barbara’s future husband, was also a virtuoso on the organ, often playing for church services. I remember many instances of Daniel practicing on the organ in the Ray B. White Memorial Chapel, beautiful melodies pouring out at various times during the day. The Gross boys, including Daniel, also played an important role in the church’s publishing efforts, operating the Linotype machine, typesetting, editing and so on. John Gross married Mary Ann Hager, of the Hager church family; Joe married Florence Tomlin, of the Tomlin church family.
Mrs. Gross was afflicted by some kind of arthritis, perhaps rheumatoid arthritis, and with severely limited mobility, was a semi-invalid for the latter years of her life, which accounted for the Gross family leading a movement toward a more healthy diet for church members. Mr. Gross led a successful effort to use stone ground whole wheat flour for Mr. Nolke’s baking activities and led a church movement to reduce sugar in the meals prepared in our kitchen. As I recount in my article about sugar, Mr. Gross coined the term “white poison” for this unfortunately ubiquitous substance needlessly included in so many of our processed foods. And Daniel showed me how he and the family made homemade mayonnaise in their Oster blender with eggs, vinegar, oil, and no sugar. I also remember mowing the front lawn at the Gross’s Tabor residence in exchange for piano lessons from Daniel.
Earlier in this article I touched several times upon another important family, the Bartletts. George Bartlett was the power and the energy behind the Pillar of Fire dairy, which, under his leadership, became the stellar dairy of central New Jersey. The dairy building complex, called “Rosedale”, consisted of a pleasant home housing the Bartlett family and three modern barns, two the same size and forming the legs of an “H” with one smaller barn, the “bull barn”, placed between the two larger ones forming the crosspiece of the H: – the milk barn and the calf barn, all in service of the prize Holstein herd which fed on seasonal grass in adjacent pastures and in other seasons the alfalfa and silage provided by the field farm operation of the church. There was also a reservoir on the property used I presume for watering the herd, but also for swimming because I remember a diving board on it as well. The milk barn was equipped with all the modern machinery for feeding and removal of waste, the milking process and immediate cooling and refrigerated storage of the milk, was a source of pride for the church.
The rest of the Bartlett family were memorable as well – oldest child, Jenora, later to become the wife of “Red” Crawford (more about the Crawford family below) and serve as one of the church’s finest math teachers; comely Doris, who left the church in her twenties, after breaking a few young men’s hearts; gregarious and charming Lorinda (“Lindy”), one of my sister Barbara’s best friends, later to marry Mandrup (Buddy) Skeie, and of course, Dwight, whom my friend Joe Wenger and I always envied and admired for his prowess and success with girls. Parenthetically, I should mention that Joe’s and my envy of Dwight, reached its apogee when Dwight and Mert Weaver both bought motorcycles. Yes, these two guys cruising up and down Canal Road and around Zarephath and its environs on their noisy big Harleys was the final nail in the coffin of our success with the local girls. I mean, how could we compete?
And since I mentioned Red Crawford, here’s something about the rest of them. Mr. Clifford Crawford, mentioned earlier in my discourse about the band, was the father of some uniquely talented people. Clifford junior left the church as a young man and became a successful writer and photographer in the advertising business. Joan (I seem to remember her as “Joanne”), the lone girl in the family also left the church as a young woman. I remember her especially since she performed the piano accompaniment on the recording my mother and father made of Barbara and me singing and reciting poetry at nine and five years old respectively. Frank Crawford, who married Ruth Dallenbach (more about the Dallenbachs below) and became a millionaire through his company “Princeton Microfilm Corporation” and later lost it all as he evidently failed to keep pace with the digital revolution, and, of course, one of my father’s best friends, Rea (“Red”) Crawford, who managed Zarephath’s garage, which maintained and repaired vehicles and also provided gasoline from a lone pump nearby. Red Crawford was known for his jokes and sometimes unseemly and distasteful ridicule of certain people through clever imitation of speech or physical characteristics. I remember specifically, his imitation of the walk of George Chambers, the brilliant and talented organist mentioned earlier, who was apparently afflicted by a chronic back condition. Red Crawford also played key roles in the management of our church radio station and exhibited extensive knowledge and skill in the electronic side of the broadcasting business. Red’s obituary is here.
However, to me the most memorable of the Crawfords was the senior Clifford Crawford, who was incredibly gregarious and friendly and always had a clever joke for the occasion. I still remember his mentioning of a “big wheel” in his hometown where he grew up by the name of Mr. Ferris. Mr. and Mrs. Crawford manned the Washington DC “missionary home” for the church, the place where we all stayed as a family during the several times we visited and toured the nation’s capital. Mr. Crawford was a superb musician on the trumpet and I used to look forward to seeing him and hearing him play when he and quiet and sedate Mrs. Crawford visited Zarephath for the annual “Camp Meeting” time in August. And I did mention him above as having advised me and straightened out my terrible drum playing.
I mentioned the Dallenbach family also somewhere above. This well to do family owned a sand company in East Brunswick, New Jersey. They were not church members but may have contributed financially to the church and did send their four children to our schools and served the church in various other ways. As I noted above, Robert Dallenbach stayed in the church, eventually marrying Pauline White, daughter of Bishop Arthur K. White, thus joining the royalty of the church, and later serving as bishop and superintendent. Martha and Ruth Dallenbach, the latter of whom I mentioned in my account of the Bound Brook school, attended and graduated from Pillar of Fire schools and served as teachers, Ruth later marrying Frank Crawford of the above mentioned Crawford family. Wally, the youngest of the Dallenbachs also graduated from our high school and went on to achieve national fame as an Indy race car driver with his son Wally Jr following in his footsteps. Martha Dallenbach Schlenk, the oldest of the siblings, just passed away in December 2021.
The Stewart family was important in the Pillar of Fire Church. Mr. Ash Stewart, known to everyone as “A. R.”, was I believe a “deacon” in the church and I remember him quite well as a distinguished, dignified church official, one at the “nobility” level, a notch below the White family. Daughters Phyllis and Lois I remember well. Phyllis, red-haired, personable and pretty, attended our schools and eventually left the church. I remember Phyllis especially because she gave me violin lessons for awhile. Lois became a stalwart in our schools, serving as a teacher and later principal of our “Alma Preparatory School” high school. I remember also Lois going with us and driving our 1949 Chevy on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for the first leg of one of our summer trips to visit relatives in MIssouri and North Dakota. Sister Barbara and I were amazed at how fast she drove compared to Dad or Mom. Raindrops instead of going down the windshield went up, because of her speed. I believe that Lois went as far as the Pillar of Fire headquarters in Cincinnati, where we all must have stayed for the night before continuing west. Lois passed away in 2013. Her obituary is here.
The Hellyer family certainly deserves mention. Ezra Hellyer took over the Pillar of Fire dairy farm operation after George Bartlett was transferred to the nursery. Mr. Hellyer also occupied an informal position in the church as what perhaps could be termed our “constable”, a quasi law enforcement role. As I mention elsewhere in this article he patrolled our back roads often catching our teenaged lovers parking someplace in a car. He actually wore some sort of uniform festooned with a badge of some kind as well. Perhaps he did occupy a position of authority for Franklin Township or Somerset County.
The Hellyer children – Donald, Doris, Lillian, and Margaret – lived with the family at the Rosedale house, formerly occupied by the Bartlett family. The older children I remember by sight of course, but I did not deal with them in any significant way. Margaret, however, was my sister Barbara’s age so I saw much more of her. The “Children’s Hour” picture in another section of this article features a seated Margaret Hellyer and Anna May Snelling.
The Tomlin family occupies a special place in my recollections of church life. Wesley Tomlin and his wife Viola were stalwarts in the church, running missionary homes in various locations across the country. One of their daughters, Florence, married Joseph Gross, mentioned in my account of the Gross family. Second daughter Beatrice married another person prominent in the church schools in my youth, Richard Derbyshire. Both remained as workers in the church for most of their lives. There were three Tomlin sons – George, Luther and Mark. I know little about George; Luther I remember as a high school student much older than I, who was the best baseball player I had ever seen in the church. Apparently Luther was good enough to play professional minor league baseball for a number of years.
The son I knew best was Mark Tomlin. It was Mark who accompanied my father, his brother Gene and me to preside over my grandmother Friedly’s funeral in Missouri in 1957, as I noted in my article “Summer 1957” ). Mark was an incredibly talented man, a virtuoso on the trumpet, a wonderful singing voice, an eloquent speaker and gifted writer and publisher. It was Mark who greeted me, my wife Bobbie and son Conrad in the Publishing Building when brother in law Daniel Gross took us around a much-changed Zarephath during our visit in 1999 (see upcoming article “Summer of ’99”) and cordially chatted with us. Mark was a much loved and respected member of the Pillar of Fire church. He passed away in Landisberg, Pennsylvania a few years ago at the age of 86. Here is his obituary which includes a picture of Mark.
And the Walker family was very prominent in the Pillar of Fire. Mr. Walker, the head of the family, worked, I think, in the utility maintenance area on the campus involving perhaps, the powerhouse. Anyhow, the children remain more vividly in my memory and several played important role in my childhood: Dorothy, Rantz, Phyllis, Arnold and Marlene.
Phyllis was a contemporary of my sister Barbara although perhaps not in the same school grade. Arnold was a great athlete and I remember playing baseball and touch football with him many times. Marlene, several years younger than I, was personable, sociable and cute, eventually marrying the youngest of the “Weaver boys”, Richard. I’ve been told that they still live at Zarephath, in a house built next to our old house, “Lock Haven”. I remember Marlene particularly for her fashion statement – daring to wear a “sack dress” around Zarephath when they first became popular sometime in the 1950’s.
The Wolfram family occupied a lofty position in the church. I remember the two elder members of the family, Albert and Gertrude (related to church founder Alma White) and the two prominent sons, Donald and Orland. I recall Orland, the older of the two, as a stellar teacher and musician in the church. He never married to my knowledge, and eventually passed away in a central American country to which he had traveled as a missionary. Donald Wolfram was, I suppose, one of the church “nobility”, occupying positions of authority in our schools throughout his life. Dr. Wolfram married a lovely, charming woman with a radiant smile whom I remember well: Phyllis Hoffman, the only child of the Hoffman family, who ran one of our eastern missionary homes, perhaps in Philadelphia. Mr. Wolfram spent most of his church career in the Denver headquarters, where he preached regularly at Alma Temple in downtown Denver, ran Belleview College and anchored the band’s Sunday performances with his virtuoso trumpet playing (or was it trombone?). Later he also took over from Arlene Lawrence and served as general superintendent of the church from 1985 to 2000. As a youngster, I used to dread Dr. Wolfram’s sermons – although quite articulate and scholarly, his delivery was dry and professorial, lacking the feeling and passion necessary to hold my interest. I remember the two eldest Wolfram children, Suzanne and Phillip, fairly well and know that Suzanne continued working for the church for some years in varying capacities. I recall with pleasure the later encounters with Dr. Wolfram when I would attend Denver church services while visiting my parents. He was warm and cordial and always demonstrated great interest in my professional life.
And I should mention the Staats family that played such important roles in Pillar of Fire church affairs. Kathleen Staats was the wife of Bishop Arthur White, son the the founder, Alma White, so her stature in the church naturally guaranteed her siblings, Helen, Carolyn, Ruth and William, lofty perches as well. Ruth Staats I remember very well, since she was principal of Alma Preparatory School at Zarephath, the high school that I attended for three years. Sister Carolyn Staats occupied the corresponding position at Belleview Preparatory School in the Westminster, Colorado headquarters of the church. I don’t think Helen occupied any position in our schools but may have performed an important clerical and financial role in the church. While I remember Ruth as an energetic and competent leader of Alma Prep, Carolyn in contrast was a bit disorganized and flighty. While I’m not sure of her role in the church, Helen did present a somewhat somber and ponderous presence at our church services. Bill Staats ran the automotive shop, the “garage” at Belleview and was always affable, skilled and helpful in his head mechanic’s role in the church. Mr. Staats also demonstrated a wonderful singing voice in the “male quartet” performance and trombone playing skill in the band in Sunday church services. I knew Bill’s sons Edwin and Willard, both tall, good looking and older than I, from a distance, since they grew up on the Westminster, Colorado campus.
The Schissler family was important in the church during the time I was there with my family. When we moved from California in 1947 our family of six – Mom, Dad, Barbara, Elaine, Robert and I – were assigned to live at a house about a half mile from Zarephath called Lock Haven, described in my afore- referenced article “Home Sweet Home”. Also living in a different section of the house was an elderly couple the Schisslers, parents of the heads of several other Schissler families. Fred and wife Hazel were the parents of Lynn, Elaine and Fred Jr. Talented, intelligent and reserved Lynn played important roles in the church until leaving and working for various tech companies in the Denver area. Comely Elaine, more a contemporary of my sister Barbara, remained in the church eventually marrying Giles Cather and after Giles passed away, marrying another long standing church member, widower Sunday Sharpe. The youngest, Fred, several years younger than I, became one of my brother Robert’s best friends. Another Schissler son, Paul, was the father of Lowell, about my age, whom I got to know as a friend at Camp Meeting time and as a classmate in the fall of 1958 when I attended high school at the Belleview Pillar of Fire facility. Everett, another son, was about sister Barbara’s age and Marilyn, the daughter, eventually married Edwin Staats, son of above-mentioned Bill Staats. And Margaret, the sole Schissler daughter of Grandpa and Grandma Schissler, was the wife of Professor Norman Fournier and mother of Shirley (Renee) and Ronald. Other Schissler sons Otto and Henry, according to my memory, I did not know. More details about all are below.
And there are so many other familiar names that readily resurrect images of faces, sounds of voices and performance in various roles, that I enjoyed when growing up in the Pillar of Fire church. After a quick scan of the Zarephath Cemetery I can’t help but list some of the many names, each of which conjures up an image, a voice, a role in the Pillar of Fire Church of my youth: Barkman, Bartlett, Blue, Bradford, Chambers, Crawford, Cruver, Fournier, Frenkiel, Gilfillan, Hardman, Hibler, Ingler, Kubitz, Leyland, Mancini, Mossburg, Murphy, Nolke, Oakes, Ross, Sillett, Slack, Snelling, Stewart, Summers, Truitt, Urso, Vorhees, Walker, Weaver, Wilson, Wittekind, Yoder. All of these names are very meaningful to me but I can only take the time and space to briefly elaborate on but a few. “Blue” was Clark Blue, or Paul, who became June Moore’s husband.I will always remember June’s humorous and clever personality, which served her well as a teacher in our schools and as later a missionary in Liberia. “Fournier” means a distinguished, brilliant, talented man who died in a tragic accident and upon whose headstone is carved the touching legend – “His life an unfinished symphony”. The Fournier children, Shirley and Ronald, I remember well. Shirley, a onetime close friend of my brother Robert, married an old friend from my brief Belleview school days, Ivan Parr, who recently passed away.
Claude Murphy was the farmer whose home was near ours at Moningside and whose children – Elmer, Lester, Bessie and Naomi, I remember very well as teenagers or young adults. Mr. Earl Hibler, who ran our greenhouses mostly and also worked in the Zarephath store; I remember him being a little stingy with the ice cream on cones he prepared so I always hoped that Mr. Schaeffer was there – always a generous double dip for the same five cents. Clifford Ingler – a thin man with a shock of white hair, almost always dressed in black, energetically pursuing his work editing and publishing Pillar of Fire periodicals and books. Mr. David Gilfillan, our local fire chief, who also performed in the role of our local Republican Party ombudsman. Mr. Gilfillan would preside over certain “Morning Class” meetings to inform our people about upcoming local and national elections and recommend our ballot choices. Elsworth and Juanita Bradford, parents of two notable daughters – pretty Sylvia who married James Snelling, and charming Jeannie, who married Mert Weaver, the latter serving their entire lives with Christian missionary organizations. Mert passed away several years ago; Jeannie, I believe, still lives at Zarephath.
And similar close look at the names in the Belleview Cemetery does the same thing. There’s an image, a voice and what they did in the church: Cartee, Cather, Croucher, Entz, Hardman, Heger, Hopkins, Horner, Knight, Konkel, Loyle, Mason, McCaslin, Natress, Ogden, Plank, Portune, Rogers, Ruby, Schissler, Sharpe, Staats, Stumpp, Tomlin, Wolfe, Wolfram and so many others. And some brief elaboration on a few of these names – Glenn Cartee was a passionate preacher whom I remember playing his banjo at Camp Meeting Sunday School sessions and, how frightful and guilt inducing, talking about a great black vacant hole in the sky where sinners ended up. Yes, and this great black hole was growing larger and larger. Their daughter Bonnie was a friend of my sister Barbara. And the Mason family, patriarch Arvey Mason and wife Faye, and all of his children – Rosalee, Arvey Jr, Faye Ann, also a friend of my sister Barbara, Dick (childhood friend, my age but passed away early) and my own sister-in-law Glenda, brother Charlie’s wife, made a deep impression on me over the years.
Marguerite Stumpp was famed for her teaching at Belleview. Anyone who had her for a teacher remembered her as a strict, dedicated educator who expected and received the very best in behavior and academic performance from her students. I could record my memories of so many others whose names appear here but space and time do not allow.
There were a number of notable families who were not really members of the church but supportive of its mission through contributions, church service attendance and/or sending their children to our schools that I should mention, since they played an important part in my early life in the Pillar of Fire church. The common term for such families, for better of worse, was “outsiders”. One such family was the Carfagno family, whose boys Wayne and Norman (known also for some reason as “Shorty”, perhaps because his brother was very tall for his age) attended our elementary schools. I don’t remember either boy in our high school. But the Carfagnos occupy a special place in my memory because they would occasionally invite my Dad to their home on Schoolhouse Road, beyond Van Chesky Nursery and the Scheufle home and business to watch boxing on television. As noted elsewhere in this article, the church generally frowned on TV and it was a prohibitively expensive luxury for my family so my Dad appreciated those opportunities. I was privileged to accompany him from time to time and have very precious and vivid memories of seeing Jersey Joe Wallcott, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, and others ply their craft on the Pabst Blue Ribbon bouts on Wednesday nights or on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports on Friday evenings.
Another such family was the Skeie family. I do not remember Mr. or Mrs. Skeie ever attending our church services but all of their children, attractive and intelligent, attended our schools. Astrid, Margrethe, Mandrup (“Buddy”), Karen, are the names I remember. My brother Robert, I think, went out with Margrethe a few times, or perhaps it was Karen. I did go out with Astrid a time or two after I came back from Colorado in 1962 to resume my interrupted college attendance at Rutgers. As always, she was beautiful, dignified and sophisticated. As mentioned above, Buddy Skeie married Lorinda Bartlett and lives today in Amarillo, Texas and/or Garden City, Kansas. I know little to nothing about their lives – children and so on. But if google serves me right, both Buddy and Lindy are alive and well. Actually, today 11/23/21, I was joyfully reconnected with Buddy and Lindy, courtesy of an email I had sent to their church and Buddy’s persistence in responding. I look forward to sharing more with both of them as opportunities present themselves.
Also the Kaesler children from South Bound Brook, attended our schools. Al Kaesler was the oldest, then Billy, whom I remember well and Dickie, about my age, and a daughter, Ada May. There may have been one or two others that I am not remembering. I do remember that Billy Kaesler and Astrid Skeie were an item in our high school and that Billy played shortstop for our May Day high school baseball team, comparing his exploits to those of his hero, New York Yankee shortstop Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto.
Another day student I remember well was a good friend, Johnny Scheufle, who attended elementary school at the Bound Brook Temple with me. Johnny’s family owned a goose farm on Schoolhouse Road which produced down for powder puffs, pillows, comforters and the like. The older brother of Johnny, Karl Scheufle, would appear at Zarephath from time to time but did not attend our schools. Karl was mentally or emotionally handicapped in some way and we had no facilities or programs to help him. In fifth or sixth grade or so, Johnny was sent to Germany by his family to attend school there. He came back for a visit and his father called our family so that the two of us could get together again. Johnny was dressed in a very European fashion – shorts and sandals, which weren’t generally worn at that time, certainly not by me. He had changed a great deal and had seemingly become much more sophisticated so we discovered we had little to talk about. That visit was sadly the last time I saw or heard of Johnny Scheufle, one my very best childhood friends. One more thing about Johnny – he had a fabulous comic book collection, which I got to share and enjoy during infrequent visits to his home. One of them, ”The Man from Planet X” made an indelible, fearful impression upon my young mind.
Another “outsider” day student that I remember very well was Lily Kate Hoagland, who attended elementary school with me from elementary school at Bound Brook, all the way through Junior High at Zarephath. I had a terrible crush on Lily Kate at different times back then and have often wondered what became of her. And also there was Wanda Nicholson, who came from the same Watchung hills area as the Skeie family, – a very pretty blond-haired young lady, who my good high school friend Joe Wenger, was crazy about for a long time. And then another good friend would bear mention – Malcolm Grout, who like many others, first boarded at Bethany with the Weaver family and then later in the Liberty Hall dormitory. Very personable and clever, Malcolm was a always a pleasure to pal around with. And a very pretty young lady, Sandra Renner, originally from New Brunswick, I think, attended Zarephath schools as an “outside” day student. Sandra later married Gerald Finlayson, from the Finlayson church family. And of course, quite notably, my own future wife, Elaine Ganska, mentioned earlier, was a day student at Bound Brook and Zarephath schools as well. One more “outside” student attending Bound Brook school was a youngster with an engaging smile and quiet, modest personality, Michael Kravcak (not sure of the spelling) from South Bound Brook. I believe that Michael had a younger sister who attended for awhile as well. I do not recall Michael going on to attend junior high or high school at Zarephath.
Many other names and faces come readily to mind as I reflect on my young life in the Pillar of Fire – students from New York City who boarded at Zarephath or Bethany, including David (Mambo) Rivera, Randolfo (Monkey) Mendez, Vincent Dellorto (who briefly had something going with charming Doris Bartlett (and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why), Albert Hamm and James Edgar, both from somewhere in Pennsylvania. Also two dark eyed and dark haired pretty young ladies, Jean and Roberta Rukkila, from Trenton, New Jersey, as I recall. Jean later married my good friend Kenneth Cope, mentioned elsewhere in this article. Also I remember Robert Dougood, nicknamed by my father as “Benny”, had come to Zarephath to attend high school from the Pillar of Fire grade school in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Before I close this account of childhood memories of the Pillar of Fire, Zarephath, Belleview and related places, I should mention a couple of highlights – Camp Meeting and ice skating. Every August, the church would hold its “camp meeting” event at the world headquarters of the church right there in Zarephath. It was always an exciting time because people would come from all over the country and the world to participate in worship and in conferences and planning. Church services would be held daily at the Assembly Hall and conferences would be held among the royalty and nobility and representatives from far flung missionary homes to plan future strategy for the church. Meals would be served to the regulars and the visitors in the Main Building dining hall. Many of us younger students put in extra time helping in the kitchen or running dishes through the dishwasher. People whom you had not seen since last year or the year before were there to partake of meals or help in preparation or serving. It was at Camp Meeting time that I met and had fun with a few other church children my age, among them Bobby Bradford and Lowell Schissler.
On several occasions during Camp Meeting, the morning Sunday service congregation was treated to a performance by the “Kentucky Orchestra”. This was a loose configuration of a few talented Pillar of Fire members who played guitar and perhaps banjo and gave spirited renditions of several country gospel songs. The group’s vocals were anchored by the prominent superb baritone voice of Rae Sharpe, primarily a Belleview resident but a Camp Meeting visitor. Others participating were Zarephath’s Theodor Volz who played guitar quite well, and multi-talented Nathaniel Wilson. Some recordings of the Kentucky Orchestra were made available to church members. Participants varied I guess but Rae Sharpe was a necessary constant to the melodic, rhythmic and enthusiastic performances of this group, which incidentally got its name doubtlessly from the Kentucky roots of the church’s founder, Alma White.
One of the most exciting Camp Meeting occasions was when Reverend Wilbur Konkel and his wife came to Camp Meeting from England, bringing with them some lovely young women, who remained in the US and in the church, enchanting all they met with their charming British accents. I quickly became enamored of their adopted daughter, Pamela, exactly my age, who became a student in our schools. My dreams were shattered a few years later when she married Mr. Ronald Aldstadt, a longtime student and worker in the church. Later when they lived at the Pillar of Fire headquarters in Colorado, Ron sadly met with a sudden and violent death at the young age of 40. Many years after that incident, Pam married Red Crawford, who had long been alone after his wife Jenora’s passing. Red passed away in 2013. As far as I know Pam still lives at Belleview near to Ron’s and her son, Curtis.
The other two young ladies, the charming sisters Olive and Marjorie Kirkham, whom were perhaps wards of Reverend and Mrs. Konkel – I never knew the exact relationship or how they came to be with the Konkels – remained at Zarephath as well. Olive eventually married Reverend Robert Cruver and lived with him and their children for many years in our old church residence, Morningside. Marjorie married a great friend, Jack Vorhees, who had spent most of his life in the church and who was a special friend and mentor of myself and other young students, including my close friend, Joe Wenger. Jack sadly passed away in 1983 at the young age of 49. I believe that Marjorie still lives at Zarephath.
I should mention as well, another yearly event which was the highlight of our springtimes at Alma Preparatory School – May Day. It is ironic surely that our conservative church allowed this celebration on a day also celebrated as a rite of spring in old pagan religions in many European countries and by the International Communist Party to celebrate workers. But nevertheless this day of competitions, games, team sports and a special outdoor lunch was celebrated every May 1 at Zarephath, culminating in the annual high school vs. college baseball game.
A mere observer of the game for many years, I enjoyed watching the athletic prowess of many people whom I knew in other roles, and looked forward to the day when my own baseball skills developed sufficiently to allow me to be chosen to participate in this highlight May Day competition. This is the event that allowed me to enjoy watching the baseball prowess of afore-mentioned Luther Tomlin, who eventually played baseball professionally. The high school team was composed of the best players we could field each year, selected by one of our perennial athletes, Kenny Cope, who was a grade or two ahead of me in school. Kenny, at least at the time I could participate, took the responsibility of organizing the game and choosing someone to play each position. The position of pitcher was of course, all important. I can recall Dwight Bartlett’s pitching success during one such game, as well as that of Joe Wenger and of Kenny himself. Tom Hucker, a student of ours who later married Violet Horner and spent his life working for the church, had lost a leg below the knee as a teenager in an unfortunate accident but nevertheless performed admirably as one of the “college” pitchers. I remember a line drive bouncing off his wooden leg with a resounding thud. Even my father occasionally played on the college side and was evidently a fearsome hitter, with high school outfielders stationing themselves deeper in the outfield when he approached the plate. I do not, however remember Dad ever occupying defensive positions, which he doubtless must have, nor do I remember ever seeing him catch or throw, certainly not with me as a youngster as I perhaps noted in my article about him.
I do remember finally achieving my own dreams of playing in the renowned High School vs. College Mayday game. My bouncing a ball against the side of the Morningside house and catching the grounders that came back to me in my new JC Higgins mitt, until I got better and better eventually paid off since I was chosen by our head High School athlete, Kenny Cope, to play second base in the infield, a dream come true. I don’t remember any muffed ground balls or errant throws on that memorable day but I do remember getting on base and eventually scoring. I think I got to first on someone’s error, not a hit. I don’t recall whether I played in any other May Day games.
And also important was ice skating time every winter when first the pond by the Assembly Hall froze, followed by the Delaware and Raritan Canal and finally, and much less often, the Millstone River. When we students went ice skating, we broke somewhat free of the straitened social circumstances limiting interactions between the sexes, mainly because few to none of the old biddies or uptight old men who made sure we stayed sufficiently apart, were on the ice. We felt free to skate holding hands or with an arm around a girl we had our eyes on or show off our latest skating moves to a girl we wanted to impress. And if you were daring enough you might steal a quick kiss. And always whispered among us was which boy was lacing up which girl’s skates. I remember pangs of jealousy when afore mentioned long-time acquaintance and sometime heartthrob of mine, Lily Kate Hoagland, flirted with someone on the ice. Especially galling was the attention she paid to the previously mentioned David “Mambo” Rivera, a guy a several years ahead of us in high school.
All students from when I attended Pillar of Fire schools back in the 1950’s have fond memories of those times. During the very cold days and even colder nights that froze the ice, you were kept warm by your exertions. When the canal froze you could skate straight down it for several miles if you wished. You had to carry your blade protectors to walk around the bridges on the pavement and bank because the water was usually was not frozen under the bridges. However, the narrower canal limited the acrobatics that the much wider pond allowed. I can remember how thrilled I was to finally master what we called “cutting the bar”, more properly called the “crossover” I guess – while skating backwards, crossing one foot over the other to gain more and more speed – always better on the wider pond than the canal. I first learned to skate on an old pair of hockey skates which, because of the lack of an insole and a few protruding metal staples, made my feet bleed until padded by makeshift insoles made of corn flakes boxtops. The highlight of my teenage ice skating years was finally buying a brand new pair of Brooks figure skates, fabulous for learning different moves and reliable backward skating stops with the marvelous serrated toe of the blade. Also these skates had normal, well padded and reliable insoles.
The church at Zarephath held annual springtime and fall recreational events which involved most of the church families and many of its students, including the day or “outside” students. I can remember church outings at “Echo Lake” when I was a child, a large New Jersey county park close to the community of Mountainside, east on Route 22 from Plainfield. The highlight at this location was the availability of rental rowboats, on which Dad would take us. Apparently one time Dad either did not wish to indulge us children or, more likely didn’t have or didn’t wish to spend the money for a boat rental because there is a picture of us on the dock at Echo Lake in which neither myself nor sister Barbara look very happy. The others, Elaine and Robert, devoid of frowns, were perhaps too young to feel as deprived or as disgruntled as Barbara and I obviously did.
Other locations for church outings that I remember well were Johnson Park in Highland Park, New Jersey, across the Raritan River from Rutgers University and New Brunswick. At these occasions, the food preparation people would bring the ingredients for a pleasant picnic lunch featuring perhaps potato salad, baked beans, sandwiches and for dessert, Dixie cup ice creams, brought to the location still frozen in dry ice. I remember especially that the bottom of the Dixie cup container lids featured pictures of movie stars and how exciting it was to find out which star was featured on your lid and comparing to what other children found on theirs. It seems that a wrapped flat wooden spoon to employ eating the ice cream was also attached to the Dixie Cup container somehow, maybe to the bottom.
Another favorite location for these spring or fall affairs was Washington Crossing State Park in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Perhaps these were more school trips than family outings, since I remember them mainly as perhaps an older elementary school, junior high or high school student. They were truly exciting and memorable occasions. One reason they were exciting is that the boys traveled to the location in the open back of a large truck on which you could climb and cling to the side of the truck and feel the wind as the truck moved, a mode of transportation certainly not legal today. As I recall, the girls used to travel in a more dignified manner in one of our school buses. Again, there would be the delicious picnic lunch served on paper plates with disposable wooden spoons or forks.
The highlight of these trips was hiking through the woods up to the top of a big hill to find “Bowman’s Tower”. Apparently the hill was Bowmans Hill so the proper name was “Bowman’s Hill Tower”, but no matter, after climbing what seemed like a couple hundred concrete stairs to the top of this 125 foot stone structure, you emerged onto a concrete platform from which you could enjoy an expansive view of the area, including the winding Delaware River and a few of its bridges. Quite vivid in my memory is the frightening feeling of looking straight down from the parapet of this structure. Perhaps that’s when I developed my intense fear of heights which I still wrestle with today. Especially frightening in a vicarious way was watching Daniel Gross actually hoisting himself onto the parapet and actually walking around the viewing platform, horrifying other observers with fear that he would fall. I know that Daniel was trying to impress the girls there, especially my sister Barbara. Evidently he was successful because Daniel eventually became my brother-in-law. From googling a few photos of the tower, it’s still there and still looks the same now, 60-70 years later, except that the interior stairway is now enclosed and the parapet is topped by a steel grate to prevent ascension, both good safety measures.
This would be as good a place as any to describe social interaction between the sexes at Pillar of Fire Zarephath schools. It is important to remember that we did not have what would normally be considered to be opportunities for healthy contact. There were no dances, dancing was viewed as sinful, and certainly there was not anything which could be termed “dating”. When you were still too young to drive and did not have a car, you perhaps met a girl “over the dike”, in a nice trysting place behind some trees or bushes, to embrace and indulge in a few daring kisses or some even more daring touches. Or you arranged a lunchtime meeting in some vacant basement in some of the buildings. One of these favorite locations I and some old friends can recall is the basement of the Publishing Building, entered from a loading dock on the side of the building. Yes, there you waited for her to come or maybe she was already there waiting in the darkness for you. But you met, talked, embraced, maybe kissed if you were lucky, or maybe felt some forbidden area of the body if you were even luckier.
At the afore-mentioned school outings, especially remembered at Washington Crossing State Park, students might get away from the group to pair up, take a walk or hike together, or obtain a forbidden hug or a kiss when sufficiently distant from the main group. I was too young to remember any such activity at Echo Lake or Johnson Park, but I do remember many occasions at the Washington Crossing outings when student gossip buzzed with sightings of who was with whom, who was seen holding hands with whom or who was seen embracing and kissing with whom.
When older and armed with a drivers license and a car of your own or a borrowed family car, a young man could properly “date” a young Pillar of Fire lady: perhaps going out for a hamburger or going to the movies. But usually the car presented a more private and secure means for necking or something even more intimate while parked on one of the Zarephath area’s dirt back roads. These “dates” however, were not without risk. During a few of my years as a Zarephath teenager, a few of these memorable back road events were rudely interrupted and forever marred by our self proclaimed “law enforcement” officer, Mr. Ezra Hellyer, whose unnerving flashing lights and blinding flashlight would startle you back to reality. I really do think that Mr. Hellyer got some private satisfaction himself sneaking around late at night to interrupt these rare and wonderful events.
One other memory connected to relationships at Zarephath I should mention is “Central”. The church organization had a phone number that I will always remember – Eliot 6 – 0102, in today’s parlance, 356-0102, that connected to a switchboard, called “Central”, located in a room on the second floor of the “Main Building”. From this switchboard, the caller could request connection to “the Friedlys”, or other family name, or to the corresponding location, e.g. “Rosedale”, “the store”, “post office” or “garage”. And of course if trying to call a girl, the attempt could be thwarted by whomever was manning the switchboard. Or if fortune was smiling on you that day, the very girl you wanted to talk to was herself managing the switchboard. This system was of course open to all kinds of abuse. Calls could be interrupted or listened to, calls could be denied if the desired location was “busy”, and so on. But dealing with Central was a memorable experience.
Addendum: From my still unpublished article “Summer of 1999”
As noted in my article of the same name, part of that incredible “Summer of 1999” trip, I took wife Bobbie and son Conrad for a brief visit to the Rutgers University area in New Brunswick, New Jersey, changed so much from when I attended Rutgers but still there, its basics intact – the Raritan River, Johnson Park, Easton Avenue, College Avenue, Hamilton Street, Albany Street, Livingston Avenue and so on.
We then took some time for their first visit to Zarephath and my first in many decades. I couldn’t believe how much the whole area had changed – much was barely recognizable. However, we did get off of I-287 onto the old Canal Road and saw Lock Haven where we used to live when we first arrived from California in 1947. And there was the “bridge house” where the Nolke’s used to live, marking the location of the bridge over the Delaware and Raritan Canal into the little Zarephath community. We parked the car and began walking around and ran into, of all people, my brother in law, Barbara’s husband, Daniel Gross. I didn’t know that Daniel had returned to Zarephath but there he was, as talkative and as engaging as ever and quite eager to show us around. There were all the old familiar buildings, certainly in need of attention and repair. We visited the Publishing Building first and encountered another old friend and stalwart of the church, Mr. Mark Tomlin. And in the printing press room, there was Dad’s old barber chair, still there after all those years. I didn’t know if anyone was still using it, but there it was, so I took Conrad’s picture alongside it.
At Daniel’s suggestion we also visited Mrs. Weaver, the wonderful lady who used to take care of the Bethany house and the young boys who boarded there, now living in an apartment in what we used to know as the “Frame Building”. Very stooped with age now, she was nevertheless very happy to see me and to meet Bobbie and Conrad. We reminisced a bit about some of the boys she cared for, including my old teenage friend, Joe Wenger, whose memory for her was very positive. I think that Mrs. Weaver passed away the year after my visit, so I was very happy to have had the opportunity to visit with her.
After saying goodbye to Daniel, we toured a bit more of the Zarephath area, seeing our old home, Morningside and seeing the Millwood house where the Wilsons used to live and the apartment attached to the big garage near the house where the Crouchers had lived and where my sister Barbara occasionally babysat. After the Crouchers left this dwelling, it was occupied by the Marvin Sharpe family, with Rosalee Sharpe, the mother, being my brother Charlie’s wife Glenda’s oldest sister. We also visited the Assembly Hall, now in a bad state of repair and not presently used and made a quick trip to the church cemetery, where so many names familiar to me adorn the gravestones.
That late afternoon we visited also with old friend Kenny Cope and his wife Jean (Rukkila). There was obviously much to reminisce about with Kenny too, particularly playing baseball on the expansive mowed grass field that we knew so well. During our trip out to dinner with Ken and Jean, Ken told Conrad about a fabulous catch of a fly ball I had made running in full stride in left field with my back to home plate. I didn’t remember the catch but was happy to replant this memory in my brain to compliment my modest physical ability and coordination as a baseball player.
Addendum: Zarephath, Alma Preparatory School Reunion 2003
One of the biggest regrets in my life was not being able to attend a remarkable gathering of Pillar of Fire schools attendees, graduates, veterans or whatever you wish to call them, at Zarephath in August of 2003. I had accepted the position as Headmaster of Isikkent School in Izmir, Turkey, and had to report to my new job on August 1, the same day as the reunion. So this incredible opportunity to reconnect with so many people I had missed and wondered about for so many years, was lost. The founders and organizers of this event did a remarkable job of contacting hundreds of people, now living in many different locations across the US, who had attended school at Bound Brook, Zarephath or Belleview.
One of the founders of the event, Mary Ann Gross, wife of John Gross, did send me the loose leaf notebook containing reminiscences and updated personal information of many of those who were able to attend and it has been a pleasure to look through the book and remember so many of the people who had attended the reunion and who had contributed to the book.
Others with whom I am still in touch, like Joe Wenger, and who was able to attend have graciously shared much information with me about the many others attending. I regret so much not being able to shake hands and reminisce with old classmates like Malcolm Grout, who, as a “Bethany Boy” does appear in my photo above of Helen Wilson’s class at Bound Brook. Others, like Dickie and Ada Mae Kaesler from the old South Bound Brook Kaesler family were there, as were Dwight, Doris and Lorinda Bartlett, along with Lindy’s spouse, Buddy Skeie, from the Skeie family which I mentioned somewhere above as well. And my old brother in law, Daniel Gross, as well as his brothers Joseph and John (and David?) were in attendance. How I would have loved to see all these dear people and tour the old buildings and grounds that we once shared and knew so well.
Mr. Lynn Schissler, of the Schissler family, also apparently attended for, courtesy of Joe Wenger, who sent me a copy, I am in possession of a remarkable photo DVD that he put together featuring many pictures of students, teachers, missionaries and other notables from the old days at Zarephath, including the buildings, student groups, and even ice skating scenes. And he includes a section called “Creaks and Groans” featuring photos taken, apparently, at the 2003 reunion described above. It was initially difficult for me to identify many of the people, although eventually, many of the faces I once knew did emerge and become recognizable.
Addendum: October 2019 visit
I just concluded another, and perhaps my final, visit to Zarephath, this past fall, October 2019. And I found it, as the last, bittersweet – wonderful to see the old remnants of that childhood life so long ago but distressing to see how much everything had changed. Our old homes, Lock Haven and Morningside are still standing and look better than they did when the Friedly family occupied them. The Lock Haven barn is no longer there but in its place now stands an attractive house, presumably occupied by former Pillar of Fire workers. The “Morningside” house still stands all by itself among the farm fields of the Millstone River floodplain that my dad and Mr. Murphy used to till. And north of the house is still the same garage and next to it, believe it or not, was the chicken house I remember so well and wrote about in a recently published short story. Across the fields there was Millwood, where the Wilsons lived, still looking good and that garage and apartment across the drive from it, where the Crouchers and later the Sharpes used to live. We had driven to Millwood and then to Morningside on the old “back road”, past what may be the old “Frame Building” and the “Stewart House”, then over the dike and through the woods from Zarephath.
Zarephath itself looked alright – someone’s been keeping the grounds up but of course Liberty Hall is still boarded up and the Publishing building, totally repainted looks completely different. Something about a “Spanish Mission” was posted above the main door. But this former nerve center of the church, housing the entire publishing operation, the post office and the “store” was a shell of its former self. The ball field looked just like it used to, except the tennis courts and greenhouses beyond center and right field are no longer there. Red Crawford’s “garage” and gas pump are now missing, as are the twin tile block buildings, one of which housed Mr. Nolke’s “bakery”.
The “College Building” still stands majestically, greeting any visitors coming over the canal bridge, but reputedly having been severely inundated during the last Millstone River flooding, is no longer usable, as some broken and un-replaced windowpanes of the chapel indicate. The college library and classrooms, WAWZ recording studios are surely gone. It appears that some of the upper rooms that we knew as college dormitory rooms, may still be employed as dwellings for a few people but I could not tell.
Columbia Hall and the Main Building appeared to be still used for some purposes, but it was not clear for what. At least they were not boarded up. The “Wilson Gym” appeared to be unused as well but at least is, like the others, still standing. At my suggestion, Bobbie and I parked the car by the Main Building and strolled to the “Fountain”. Although much changed and apparently no longer functioning, it was not difficult to close my eyes and again see all of the familiar faces and forms lounging on the benches that used to be there and hear the conversation and laughter. There is another building now constructed adjacent to the Fountain that evidently serves a current purpose. That building, maybe a library, came after my time and perhaps is still usable, despite being subjected to the same disastrous flooding as all of the others.
The cemetery was as usual, very touching. Bobbie was patient with me recalling all the faces, voices and roles played by so many of the wonderful people interred there. That little tour consumed significant time. The Assembly Hall is still there but has some broken windows and appears to be full of stored junk. The pond where we used to ice skate still looks large and lovely.
I couldn’t believe the size of that new mega church that’s been built and I guess still carries a bit of the old P of F message to some quite large congregations. It and the grounds it occupies are quite impressive.
The Church Today
When growing up in the Pillar of Fire Church during the 1950’s and 60’s, it often seemed as though the church and its schools had become static and were not growing or thriving. I don’t have figures for school enrollment, church membership or service attendance over those years or the decades since, but I would certainly guess that the church had met its apex and had begun a downturn. There were many older people still manning the church and its activities but very few new young people to help out and no new energy or new ideas. Many of the children of church families, seeing no prospect for personal growth through recognition or utilization of their talents, left, creating a serious “brain drain” for the church. The only new members seemed to be a few random misfits and freeloaders. And there never seemed to be a long range plan or a vision for the future of the organization. Moreover, to my knowledge there was never an honest solicitation of opinion and ideas from the grassroots membership of the church. The family based management and leadership of the church was suffocating and stultifying and certainly not conducive to either change or growth.
The ruling family occasionally tried to inject energy and dynamism into the church organization, once by renaming it the Pillar of Fire “movement”, which did little more than inspire not a few derogatory comparisons with bodily functions. Obviously merely embellishing the name of this moribund organization was not enough to energize it. Personality cult at the top, a narrow, “one way” view of religion and lack of a financial structure to care for its workers and distribute resources fairly and equitably further retarded the development of the church.
The church always being run by the Whites or members of their extended family, was never conducive to growth and good health. New ideas were not welcomed, church service attendance shrank and school enrollment diminished. It ceased publishing its periodicals and books. The church began living off the proceeds of real estate sales and land leases, essentially cashing in its investments instead of accelerating its base of support or creating new sources of revenue.
And these investments had been considerable. At its apex the Pillar of Fire Church, in addition to the major properties at Zarephath, New Jersey and Westminster, Colorado, owned upwards of 50 substantial properties in major cities across the country, from Trenton, New Jersey to Detroit, Michigan, to Oakland, California. Most of these properties scattered across the country were described as “missionary homes” and were occupied by various families or individuals stationed there to “spread the gospel” and carry on the work of the church. But virtually all of these properties were sold off one by one, when no one could be found to staff them and the proceeds were required to sustain what remained of the church.
In addition the church had to deal with much of its history and background that violated precepts that most modern churches embraced – ecumenicalism, racial equality and economic justice. In its early days there was an unsavory association with the Ku Klux Klan which at that time, in the early 1920’s, was anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish. In fact the founder of the church had written several complimentary books about the Klan, illustrated by Branford Clark. So the church, to survive, had to reinvent itself, constrict its activities and divorce itself from much of its history.
Thus today the old Pillar of Fire organization is gone and now calls itself the “Pillar Ministries”. Upon googling this name and finding the new organization’s website, I was comforted to see some familiar names and faces among the board members. There was Joseph Gross of the old Gross family described above, still serving as president, having taken over from Robert Dallenbach in 2008. And there, of all people was my old flame, Pamela Crawford (nee Alstadt, Konkel), serving as secretary of the newly reconstituted organization. The White family and its progeny no longer control any aspect of the church, another necessary parting of the ways. I could find little about Pillar Ministry governance but hopefully the reconstituted church has embraced democratic management and has rejected any semblance of family rule. But interestingly, though renouncing much of its Pillar of Fire past, Pillar Ministries does note that its founding was in fact in 1901, the year Alma White founded the church, so the separation from its past is not quite complete. And apparently, the name “Aldstadt” has replaced that of the Whites in most of the decisions regarding the management and disposition of property and other church assets at the Belleview, Westminster, Colorado location causing a great deal of disillusionment among the few remaining church workers there.
“Pillar Ministries” presides over just a few of the former facilities, evidently an effort to shrink the church to a more manageable size and retain some of its more successful elements. It has retained its three radio stations – WAWZ FM in New Jersey, now renamed “Star 99.1”, WAKW FM in Cincinnati, Ohio, now called “STAR 93.3 and KPOF AM in Westminster, Colorado. All of these stations are quite successful, broadcasting a steady diet of typical Christian evangelical Protestant fare, not the Pillar of Fire church offerings typically provided during my childhood. However, the New Jersey station does evidently broadcast live services from Zarephath Christian Church.
Pillar Ministries has broken with its Pillar of Fire past also in its maintenance of schools. From the many schools maintained throughout its former holdings, there are now but two, both K-8 schools. One is located at the old Belleview location in Westminster, Colorado – Belleview Christian School, and one in its Pacifica, California location – Pacific Bay Christian School. All the schools mentioned so often earlier in this article – in Bound Brook and in Zarephath, simply are no more. The old church’s efforts at higher education – Alma While College and Zarephath Bible Seminary at Zarephath and Belleview College in Westminster, have been abandoned also. The new “Pillar College” in Newark, N. J. is not associated with Pillar Ministries, but does acknowledge its roots in the old Pillar of Fire Church and its Zarephath Bible Seminary located at Zarephath.
And where there were many Pillar of Fire church congregations throughout the country, there are now but five – the new Zarephath Christian Church, Invictus Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, Coastside Community Church in Pacifica, California, Highland Park Christian Church in Los Angeles, and Radiant Hill Church at the old Belleview, Westminster, Colorado location. So the church has reinvented itself, focusing on the three radio stations and the schools and churches mentioned above.
The history of the church seems to have been in three phases – first, the energy and growth momentum under dynamic founder Alma White which formed a nucleus of energetic and dedicated workers who built and manned churches, farms, schools and radio stations; second, stagnation, paralysis and constriction under Arthur White and various members of his family who led the church after he died; and, finally, renaming, restructuring, rejecting family control and maintaining and strengthening the few successful enterprises that remained. All of the superintendents who succeeded founder Bishop Alma White: her son Bishop Arthur K. White (from 1946 to 1981), his daughter, Arlene White Lawrence (1981-1984), Donald Justin Wolfram (1985-2000), Robert B. Dallenbach (2000-2008), presided over decline and disintegration of the church, without ever finding the means, formulating the vision and the plan and providing the leadership to turn it around again. The most recent superintendent, Joseph Gross (2008-present), at least has reformed and restructured what was left to give it the means necessary for future survival.
This paralysis and ennui that haunted the late church were certainly unfortunate. The Pillar of Fire church had a solid foundation – thousands of acres of land in New Jersey and Colorado, numerous other properties in cities across the country, three radio stations, numerous schools, campuses and buildings and hundreds of dedicated and energetic workers. Though perhaps even starting out ahead long ago in 1901, it was overtaken by and could not keep up with other evangelical organizations which quickly learned how to use television and the internet to their advantage. With progressive leadership and forward thinking the Pillar of Fire could have competed successfully, perhaps even exceeded the rapid growth of other evangelical organizations like those of Joel Osteen, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and many others. This to me is the ultimate irony – the failure of the Pillar of Fire church during a boom of Christian evangelical growth and influence: Falwell’s Liberty University and Robertson’s Regent University thriving while Alma White College, Zarephath Bible Seminary and Belleview College slowly died.
I need to add some final thoughts about this article and its subject. Any reader can no doubt perceive a note of bitterness that flavors much of the narrative. Indeed, bitterness, envy, dissatisfaction, frustration, sadness, resignation and more, describe the church and its people, especially in its later years – those with which I was acquainted. And all because of one family ruling the enterprise. Dozens of ambitious young people left the church after realizing that their talents and energy would never be utilized adequately. Others who remained chafed under the ruling family, finally realizing that their personal ambitions would never be realized. Thus the church spawned a host of very emotionally stunted and incomplete people, whether they stayed or left. Many who joined the church young never felt that they could succeed on their own outside the church. One example was likely my father, who left home to join the church at age 14 and never knew any other kind of life.
And finally, I wonder how much anger, resentment, dysfunction, relationship and marital trauma was caused by the Pillar of Fire Church’s denial of the need for healthy relationships between the boys and girls in its charge. There was never an admission of the need for such relationships but instead much denial – total blindness to the needs of young people to learn how to relate to one another in a healthy and wholesome way. And of course, having declared so many aspects of normal living “sinful”, I wonder about how much guilt Pillar of Fire youngsters were induced to feel as they encountered these through their adolescence and young lives maturing both in and outside of the church.
Yet growing up in the Pillar of Fire was a rare and wonderful experience. How can I explain the continued influence in my life of a childhood there now at almost 80 years old. How can I explain the value of the precious shared experiences of students, so many named above, attending its schools or growing up in its families. All of us shared something unique and valuable – the warm embrace of the limited world and the closeted existence defined by the church and its people. Whoever walks through the Zarephath or Belleview cemeteries cannot but be deeply affected by the names and the recollected images and sounds they provoke. The joy at so many “veterans” of life in the Pillar of Fire meeting again and sharing those experiences at the Zarephath Reunion back in 2003 must have been something to behold and experience.
And who can explain why so many Pillar of Fire alumni have gravitated toward each other in relationships and marriage. Time and space do not allow me to list all the former Pillar of Fire members who have married others, even when forging lives and careers outside of the church and having social contacts with many other people. The reason has to simply be that those shared experiences have formed a unique and durable bond among all who spent their youth in the Pillar of Fire church, almost like a shared DNA. My parents, Ralph and Ida, met as high school students in the church and, sharing so many common experiences, married in the church. And although my parents spent their entire lives in the church, it was not easy. Dad struggled with money and security in the church yet never summoned sufficient courage to leave, while Mom suffered silently wishing often that she was not there and was free of the church and its stresses like her sister Alma and several of her brothers who, despite attending the church’s schools in Colorado as did my mother, chose to leave and forge a life in the real world.
Thus this massive, confused, detailed and I am sure occasionally redundant and sometimes contradictory collection of memories from my childhood draws to a close. It will engender little interest from those not acquainted with my family members or the church in which they grew up except as a curiosity. But I am hoping that reading it will be enjoyable and meaningful to any remaining potential readers who did work for the Pillar of Fire or attend its schools and church services.
I have compiled a list of additional resources about the church which may be of interest to the reader:
Zarephath Cemetery with all the memorable names along with photographs of headstones:
I recently read a piece by Paul Krugman, long one of my favorite New York Times columnists, that really struck a special note for me. It was about the choices we have to make, many or most unnecessary and many very difficult.
Frankly I am really tired of being asked to compare and choose. Maybe it’s old age but I long for the simpler world that I once enjoyed when I lived in Kuwait and Turkey. First, I did not have to choose an internet provider. There was only one in these countries – very efficiently run, reasonably priced, extremely dependable and a very strong signal – and it was provided by the government. There was only one mobile phone provider as well – the government. And in both countries it was very good service – affordable and very dependable. I enjoyed great service and was very happy that I did not have to choose. And everybody around me – colleagues, friends and casual acquaintances were happy with the service as well and never mentioned that they wished for another provider so that they could compare and choose for themselves.fBut here in the good old USA we have to choose an internet and a telephone provider. And how to choose? What’s more important – the monthly charge or the minutes of usage? What about the number of lines? And how dependable is the service at this company or that? And how do I locate reliable criteria that allow me to compare? And what about purchasing a mobile phone? Do I do it through the mobile provider, purchase directly from the manufacturer or another source? That’s different from company to company as well and it’s damned difficult to weigh all of these variables against others and make the best choice.
While I knew little to nothing about auto insurance in Turkey – I drove a school provided car that was maintained and insured by the school, I did experience purchasing a car and required auto insurance while I lived in Kuwait. OK, what’s auto insurance? Nothing very complicated. You buy a service that pays for repairs in case of an accident and pays your medical bills if you get injured. But here in the US it does get complicated. What you get depends on who’s at fault – you or the other driver. Thus lawyers as well as the police need to get involved to determine who’s at fault and which insurance company pays what to whom. In Kuwait your own insurance paid for for car repairs or replacement and medical expenses for you, the other guy’s insurance paid for his car repairs or replacement and for his injuries. Fault was determined by the police and appropriate civil penalties were assessed. But no lawyers or other insurance companies were involved. Deductibles? All standard and determined by the state. Simple. No need to “compare”. There was only one insurance company.
I was always astonished at how little auto insurance cost in Kuwait. Hmm, could this be because I didn’t have to watch hours of TV commercials inviting me to “save 15 percent or more”, or save money through “bundling” your car and home insurance, or “customize insurance so that I pay only for what I need”? Have you, as I, ever wondered how much of the high cost of auto or home insurance results from the advertising costs inviting us to “compare”? Well, here are the top three offenders’ annual advertising budgets:
Geico $1.6 billion
Progressive $1.1 billion
State Farm $802 million
Just think if all this advertising money was put instead into reducing premiums. Also, why in the United States, are only corporations allowed to provide auto insurance and why should they make a profit for providing a service so essential and so simple? Honestly, I wish every day that the Federal government provided the insurance on my houses and cars and that profit, shareholders and multi-million dollar CEO salaries were not involved.
Also consider if you will the ridiculousness and impossibility of “healthcare choices”. President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” as it’s euphemisticly known, I consider to be one of his greatest failures because it formalized and institutionalized corporate profit as an integral part of healthcare in the US. Also, Obamacare signified the beginning of what has now become a complex jungle of healthcare choices.
And now, during “open enrollment”, we are invited to “compare” healthcare plans and select the “best for you”. How in hell do we do this? One plan offers a larger deductible, while charging smaller copays, while another offers smaller copays and smaller deductibles, but has a smaller maximum level of payments. Another features lower copays and lower deductibles but the monthly cost is more. Another seems to have lower copays, lower deductibles but doesn’t cover you out of state. You almost have to develop a spreadsheet and become an overnight math genius, to figure it all out.
And now for older people like myself and my wife, with so many healthcare corporations making huge profits off of “medicare advantage” scams, it gets even more complicated. A day never passes that we do not receive another advertisement in the mail inviting us to “get our medicare from Humana”, or from United Healthcare or Aetna. Why are these damned corporations allowed to provide medical insurance from a government program?
I get very nervous anyhow when I realize that my healthcare is being provided by a corporation, whose major reason for existence is to make a profit, no, to maximize profit so that shareholders will be happy and so that their CEO can be given millions. All the efforts to “keep you healthy and well” ring hollow, when the objective of any healthcare corporation is to make and increase profit. The CEO of United Healthcare, which provides my “Medicare Advantage” insurance through Arizona State Retirement received a yearly salary of almost $18 million in 2020. Pretty good for a company whose only job is to take money from companies and the government and shell it out to providers while keeping a pile for themselves for profit. What a business plan!
We need to stop this scattershot approach to healthcare and provide a single payer system like Canada’s or the United Kingdom’s that takes care of everyone from birth to death, pays doctors and hospitals well and takes corporations and their miserable profit motive out of the equation. We don’t need choice in healthcare. We just need to be taken care of. But this welcome scenario seems ever more distant here in the United States, when our government encourages a steadily greater corporate role in healthcare rather than limiting it.
And of course the issue of choice has taken hold in my former chosen profession – education. When I started in public education back in 1965, I was impressed by public schools. Everyone, rich and poor, black and white, native or immigrant, was there, getting a good education at public expense, in well funded schools and taught by well trained and well paid teachers. And this education took you through elementary, junior high and high school and from there you could go into the workforce with a good basic education or enter university with a good college prep education. Generally speaking, there was already choice in education: if you close you could pay tuition to a parochial school or if you were very wealthy you could send your child to a select private or boarding school.
But when the public school finance doors were opened to entrepreneurs and corporations who wanted to privatize public education and make profit from it, gradually, under the guise of “choice”, you could choose a for profit charter school for your child or a non profit charter school, both collecting public money, both likely not required to adhere to the same rules that regulate public schools. And the Supreme Court is prying open the coffers of public support for parochial schools. And how to choose? Again, weighing convenient transportation against teacher training requirements against curriculum requirements against class size, cost and a host of other variables is not easy. And I might add, should be unnecessary. Please give us back well funded public schools that can competently serve everyone.
The article by Paul Krugman that I referenced earlier in this piece also discussed the issue of utility choice, which has reared its ugly head in an increasing number of states with the flood of profit seeking, privatization and deregulation of public utilities. Time was when our electrical power and natural gas was provided by highly regulated, non profit public utility companies. The dreadful situation in Texas was mentioned where electricity is provided by a host of for-profit, highly deregulated and privatized electric companies, (likely including one called “Johnny’s Juice” – why not?), from which the consumer needs to choose. Yes, there are even Texas websites that advertise that they will help choose the “energy plan that’s right for you”. All of this deregulation helped cause the dreadful debacle in Texas during the winter of 2020, when unexpected cold caused power outages, disaster and death throughout the state, and electric bills of as high as $17,000 per month when your power stayed on. Krugman quotes the Texas Lieutenant Governor as saying this was the customer’s own fault for not “reading the fine print”. For God’s sake, I just want the lights to go on when I flip the switch and the heat to turn on when I raise the thermostat level. Spare me the “energy plan that’s right for me”! Profit should have no place in the provision of essential services for citizens.
We’re being killed by supermarket choices. Remember when you could buy “Bounce” dryer sheets in the laundry section to soften your laundry a little and make it smell good when taken out of the dryer? Well, in case you haven’t noticed there are now a few more choices. You can buy regular Bounce dryer sheet or Outdoor Fresh, or Unscented or Pet Hair and Lint Guard, scented or unscented, or Wrinkle Guard scented or unscented. Or you can “toss away wrinkles and static” with Wrinkle Guard Bounce dryer sheets. My God, what the heck to do. Well maybe I’ll just buy a box of each to stack and teeter on my laundry room shelf and I’ll just use what seems best at the time.Forget it….please, please, just the old original Bounce Dryer Sheets. They were fine
And how about something as simple as ketchup? Remember when you could simply buy Heinz ketchup – great tasting, lasted a long time in the fridge and perfect for that home cooked hamburger or hotdog. And you could buy it in the original bottle and pound or shake it madly upside down so that some would finally come out or buy the squeeze bottle, stored upside down to make it easier. Yes, I know it had the ubiquitous nasty additive, sugar, but it was still the old favorite Heinz Ketchup. But now in the supermarket you have to stand in front of the ketchup area, stroke your chin thoughtfully, shake your head impatiently, maybe check ingredients, compare prices and then try to decide among “no sugar added”, “simply-no artificial sweeteners”, “no salt added”, “blend of veggies”, “sweetened only with honey”, “hot and spicy”, “jalapeño”, or “sriracha”. What the hell, are these different kinds of ketchup necessary? Honestly, I don’t need these choices, never did and never will. To me, ketchup is ketchup. Any other flavors, enhancements or whatever, I can add myself. Why does shopping for something as simple as ketchup have to be so complicated? I have enough decisions to make during the course of a day. I don’t need ketchup choices.
These two examples merely scratch the surface of the choices in supermarkets today. Have you noticed how many varieties of my old favorite cold breakfast cereal, “Cheerios”, are now available? Check it out – what used to be good old fashioned whole grain oat cereal without added sugar, now not only has totally unnecessary sugar (see my article on sugar – “White Poison”), but also comes in a dozen different varieties, from “Maple” to “Apple Cinnamon” to “Chocolate” or “Fruity”, and all likely heavily sugared. This proliferation of choices has gotten completely out of hand. And just imagine the additional burden placed on the poor “essential worker” supermarket employees – how to handle and display all of these absolutely unneeded varieties.
And just this evening among the things on my supermarket list was the nutritious (as snacks go) snack cracker,” Triscuit”, which I have always liked because of their simplicity – actually shredded wheat with a little salt – ingredients: wheat, salt. However, I was bowled over by all of the new flavors of these snack crackers. There was “balsamic vinegar and basil”, “fire roasted tomato and olive oil”, “cracked pepper and olive oil”, “roasted garlic”, “four cheese and herb” and a few more, truly a staggering array of flavors from which it was very difficult to choose. I am sure all are great, but honestly, are all these flavors really necessary? Yet another example of having to choose. I wonder what other flavors the Triscuit people are working on now.
And before I finish I have to share consideration of how many TV choices there are for us today. From the simple offerings of just a few major networks in my youth, we have now gone to the hundreds of channels available from cable or satellite companies. And only in the last several years, these hundreds of channels have been significantly augmented by the availably of streaming devices which, if you are willing to pay, open the door to hundreds more choices. This dizzying array of choices not only make it difficult to choose but also introduce the new feeling of “what am I missing?” While I’m watching the interminable mix of news and comment of MSNBC, really a rehashing of the same old news by different anchors and commentators, I might be missing that great French movie that I’ve longed to see again. Or I’ve got to forfeit the news to hurriedly watch a movie on Netflix that’s leaving next week. Really, I’d be happy with the old major network offerings again. When I’ve finished watching Walter Cronkite (real news, real facts, without the embellishment of opinion people), I could watch Bob Newhart or Mary Tyler Moore and then read a book and go to bed. Really, what’s on cable and streaming today is just too much.
Perhaps part of the “choice” dilemma is that I’m old now, feel the finiteness of time like never before, and would rather not waste time making so many unnecessary choices. But for younger people, busier than ever, working for a living and raising their families, it must be even more difficult to make these choices. I think they are a waste of time and completely unnecessary.
Many of my articles have been based on what I perceive as something wrong with our society, politics, priorities and the like. But sometimes the complaint, problem or suggested solution is too limited for a whole article most of which seem to be in the 1500-2500 word range, so I include it in an article about several topics which I have called my “rants”: the first one and the second. And, having made a little list of my latest complaints and issues, each too limited for a full article, I am offering to my reader(s) “yet another rant”.
First, I have to complain about the the sorry state of health information in the US. We saw this early in the pandemic from the Trump administration’s disgraceful handling of essential information. First, we experienced the cover-up of the severity and deadliness of the pandemic from the chief executive himself, then during dozens of presidential press conferences we were treated to exhortations to treat infections with disinfectants and the like while qualified medical personnel stood by, mentally rolling their eyes in disbelief and wringing their hands in frustration, never themselves offering us anything more concrete than masks, “social distancing” and hand washing. And they couldn’t even agree on the best kind of mask or tell us where they were available. I clearly remember the panic my wife and I felt when absolutely no masks were available anywhere and we were reduced to madly fashioning some from whatever we could find, including sewing a few primitive cloth masks on her sewing machine. In retrospect I don’t know why medical authorities could not have sent several good masks to every citizen, certainly preventing a significant number of infections and saving many lives.
And smooth-talking HHS secretary and former Eli Lily big pharma executive Alex Azar (a perfect example of the “revolving door” between government and private employment) frequently disagreed or talked over and around Trump CDC director Robert Redfield. Then we cringed to see how Redfield sacrificed himself and the lofty reputation of his agency on the altar of Trump by acquiescing to politics, watering down recommendations to mere suggestions, overruling scientists and generally destroying the integrity of his agency and public trust in it.
And we aren’t a whole lot better off right now, with obscenely wealthy corporations like Pfizer apparently running the show and hapless and helpless CDC Director Rochelle Walensky stumbling through her public pronouncements. Early on, with reckless and needless hyperbole, she warned that COVID may be “just a few mutations” away from being able “to evade our vaccine in terms of how it protects us from severe disease and death.” Then she decided to overrule her own agency’s advisory panel and recommend boosters for workers whose jobs require often interacting with the public.
On related matters with booster shots, she first called for boosters for vaccinated people who were over 65 or who had compromised immune systems or other chronic conditions. Now it’s boosters for everyone except children. Oh, I forgot, first it was Pfizer boosters only – then eventually, after panicking those who had received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, approving those boosters, or, without supporting detail, it was okay go ahead and “mix or match”. Of course with Pfizer calling the shots (pardon the pun) one might wonder what CDC’s relationship with Pfizer really is. In fact, it’s interesting to note that the entity first calling for boosters at all was Pfizer itself, not the CDC. And it was Pfizer and not our government that first announced suitability of their vaccine for children. Hmmm, lots more shots…lots more money for profits, stockholders and CEO. And I’ve already noted in an earlier article that Pfizer fancies itself a quasi government entity, bustling all over the world making deals with foreign governments for vaccine sales, totally independent of the US State Department or federal health agencies.
But it’s not only during the “covid age” when we’ve been misled by our well funded and supposedly brilliant and far-reaching health authorities. Remember the “low fat” recommendations that were supposed to save us from cholesterol, clogged arteries and heart attacks? What happened to that? All of us scrambled madly to avoid fat in our diets. But not a word was said about sugar, the much more likely cause of heart problems than fat as I recounted in my article about sugar. And we suddenly found out that many fats were actually good for us. Really? Why did that take so long?
And then there were the warnings that one of the most nutritious natural foods available to us – simple, everyday eggs – were responsible for cholesterol and clogged arteries, so many of us, including myself, compromised our nutrition by dramatically reducing egg consumption. In fact I recall foolishly boasting to my cardiologist (back when I had one) that I was down to eating just one or two eggs a week.
Yet another example of bad information was the almost universal advice that all of we older people who feared heart attacks should consider taking low dose aspirin every day. Yes, I’m sure the king of aspirin manufacturing, Bayer, influenced this decision – look at all the money they made. Well just recently the CDC reversed itself on this too, because apparently the potential harm of daily intake of low dose aspirin is likely to outweigh any benefits. And why did they just discover this – now, after all these years?
And remember the old “food pyramid” published by the Department of Agriculture to help us with wise food choices? Debuting in 1992, its broad base suggested lots of refined carbohydrates, the middle recommended meat and milk items and fats were confined to the narrow pyramid tip – all of it lousy (and dangerous) advice since we know now how beneficial many fats are and how dangerous refined carbs are. After many revisions over the years, most very misleading and ultimately useless, it’s been replaced by the “plate” – introduced by Michelle Obama and corporate farm advocate Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak (incidentally now still plying his corporate craft in the same position for the Biden administration) – perhaps a slight improvement but ultimately of only marginal utility. Yet both the succession of “pyramids” and “plates” were presented to millions of school children as the nutritional gospel. Poor, innocent kids.
Another issue I have to complain about (again? I think I complained in another recent article) is our corporatization of the fight against the covid pandemic. The worst aspect of the behavior of these corporate behemoths raking in billions in profits is that they have refused to share their patents or formulae for covid vaccines with the world, choosing instead to market them to countries willing to cough up the millions necessary to buy enough doses to vaccinate their populations. Especially egregious is Moderna’s refusal, since their vaccine was developed with the support of millions of federal dollars from the NHA, along with the knowledge and expertise of many NHA scientists. This might be a good place to note that in a 1955 interview, American virologist Jonas Salk, who developed the first polio vaccine, was asked who owned the patent. He replied, “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” No one became fabulously rich developing, distributing and administering the polio vaccine. And now?
Moderna, the company that never manufactured anything of consequence before the pandemic, has now placed five newly minted billionaires on the Forbes 500 richest list. And guess what, a full forty new billionaires from other companies have been created from the fight against the pandemic. What should have been a cooperative nonprofit effort by governments all over the world has turned out to be a wild corporate competition for riches and a bonanza for these greedy forty.
Why on earth didn’t we nationalize these greedy corporations and have the government manufacture the masks, the personal protective equipment, the billions of vaccine doses needed all over the world and send it all to poor nations completely free? We all knew that if the whole world did not get vaccinated we would see deadly variants emerge. And sure enough, South Africa, with its less than 30 percent vaccination rate, has presented the world with the Omicron variant threat. Will we now shift into high gear and vaccinate the world? As long a corporations are calling the shots (again – pardon the pun), I think not. Rich countries are at fault for the formation and spread of this latest covid variant – failure to curb corporate greed, read Pfizer and Moderns, and vaccinate the whole world. We could have stopped it and did not.
It might be worth noting that poor, humble little Cuba, wracked by cruel unnecessary US economic sanctions, has all by itself, manufactured effective covid vaccines that it plans to share with the world. Yes, Cuba’s public medical sector, note “public”, no corporations or profit involved, with its strong commitment to public health, has successfully manufactured its own vaccines. One hundred percent of its population has now had at least once dose and the country has reopened its schools and businesses and is now open for tourism as well. What a contrast to our own country where public health and vaccines are a commodity, to be bought and sold, and to be profited from.
Also related to the sorry state of health matters in our beloved country is the fact that the cost of Medicare, deducted from our Social Security checks, is going up. Yes, because the FDA has recklessly and irresponsibly approved a frightfully expensive and likely useless drug, Aduhelm, to treat Alzheimers, which will cost $56,000 a year, Medicare Part B is increasing its monthly premium from $148.50 to $170.10 in 2022, in case prescribing this drug, which experts say should cost no more than $8000 per year, causes a huge bump in Medicare drug spending.
And another item – Republican obstructionism. I can visualize Republican Representatives and Senators getting up in the morning, getting ready for work, and going in and having a simple and stress-free day – not much effort, no thought – just obstruction. If you are a Republican legislator, you don’t really have to come up with ideas, programs or policies to help the country or to assist your constituents. You just have to come into your office and decide what and how to obstruct that day. Pretty simple job description, isn’t it? Honestly, when is the last time you heard or read of a big Republican legislative program? You’d pretty much have to go back to Trump’s infamous “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” in 2017, which did not help anyone except the wealthy and corporations. Otherwise it’s been obstruction all the way. Yet amazingly this intellectually bankrupt political party, a minority party mind you, is poised to take over both houses of Congress in 2022 and because of voter suppression and gerrymandering I am sure will assume the presidency in 2024.
As part of this obstructionism and non-governing, I have to add the question of why we seem to be the only industrialized nation on earth that regularly brings itself to the point of financial collapse by threatening to refuse to raise the “debt ceiling” or “pass the spending bill” or whatever, potentially leading the US government to default on its debts and cause an implosion of world credit markets. This unrelenting political and financial brinkmanship is practiced periodically by Republicans as blackmail to achieve certain objectives, this time to prevent Biden’s vaccine mandates from being imposed.
And I have a few things to say about Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Why is she so revered, worshipped and venerated? If I read another article about how wonderful it was that she shared a love of opera with and even attended performances with fellow justice Antonin Scalia, I’ll be sick. In spite of her notable work as a jurist on issues like gender equity and women’s rights, to me her greatest legacy is her arrogance resulting in opening the door and keeping it open for a generation long conservative majority on the court by staying on the Court for far too long despite her body telling her again and again that she needed to retire. Her first encounter with cancer came in 1999 and even after several more bouts and declaring herself “cancer free” in 2020 she finally succumbed to pancreatic cancer later that year, enabling President Donald Trump to appoint Amy Conan Barrett, his third Supreme Court Justice.
If Ginsberg had been a little less arrogant and had listened to her body and her doctors, President Barack Obama could have appointed her replacement. Thus to me, Ginsberg’s most lasting legacy was her sense of superiority, of her indispensability. “I’ve said many times that I will do this job as long as I can do it full steam,” Ginsburg said in RBG, after she was asked about the calls for her to retire. “And when I can’t, that will be the time I will step down.” Well there were many times during her struggles with cancer that she could not do her job “full steam” and should have stepped down but her insufferable pride and hubris kept her there long enough for her replacement to be named by a Republican president. So when I think of Ginsberg, I don’t think of her legal ability or her importance on the Court. I can only see her foolish self-centered pride.
On another very important current issue, I cannot believe that my own Democratic Party is messing around with the SALT deduction. This limit on the amount of state and local taxes that can be deducted from federal taxable income was the sole progressive element of Donald Trump’s infamous “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”, likely included in the legislation to “get back” at high tax blue states where state and local taxes were high enough to make a difference on some wealthy taxpayers federal income tax obligations. But now, to appease effected high income taxpayers, donors I am sure, in their states, many Democratic senators have proposed canceling or adjusting this limit. Corporate Democrat Senator Bob Menendez has even referred to it as “the SALT cap nightmare for 99% of NJ families”, a blatant lie, since the cap effects just the most wealthy. But I am furious that any Democrats at all are behind the push to raise or abandon this limit since doing so is quite simply a tax cut for the wealthy.
Another long standing gripe I have is with our Congress pouring money into the Pentagon. The last insult was a short time ago when Congress gave our reckless and feckless military not only all of its latest budget request of $715 billion but also added an unsolicited allotment of another $25.5 billion. And these are the same people that cry about the deficit and wring their hands because there’s no money with which to expand Medicare or provide paid family leave or free community college. The United States spends more on its military that the next 11 highest nations combined, an absolutely incredible fact. And our Pentagon spending is never audited. Our mindless largesse is pretty much a blank check for these uniformed fools to spend any way they wish. And has our vaunted military won any wars recently?
And also making me quite angry is that this monstrous bill for “defense” is deemed a “must pass” by our Congress, while Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill is being whittled down to nothing in an effort to please “King Coal” Manchin and self-styled “maverick”, Kyrsten Sinema.
And related to the military, I have had to sit through the few NFL games I chose to watch recently and look at a host of coaches, Gatorade boys and various other hangers-on sporting expensive military garb for their “Salute to Service”. What nonsense. Precious few players, coaches and other personnel have ever served in the military. That “privilege”, since the military abandoned the draft, mostly falls to the poor, the marginalized, immigrants, Native Americans and people of color. So is all this hoopla to ease their guilty consciences? What about the cost of the military jet flyovers, the cost of all the clothing? I wrote about this deplorable practice a long time ago, December 2017 to be exact, and can’t believe the NFL is still doing it. Again, as my article suggested – why not give this monstrous pile of superfluous clothing or the money it took to buy it to the needy or to the Salvation Army or other worthy charity? Or why not honor some segments of society that are involved in helping and building, not killing and destroying – like perhaps teachers, Doctors without Borders or Peace Corps volunteers. What a terrible waste of resources….and it is still going on.
I would also like to say a few words to Republicans who are so concerned about government spending and inflation. Interesting how no one was concerned when a gaping hole was blown in the budget with Trump’s “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”, a piece of legislation which really cut taxes for the wealthy and for corporations, not you and I and which did not create any jobs. Instead of investing and hiring more people, corporations indulged in stock buybacks with their newfound bonanza. It’s demand that induces corporations to invest and hire anyhow, not enormous profits.
I’m no economist but here’s my take on the causes of recent inflation and how to rein it in. First, there was a huge amount of pent-up demand stored in the economy because of the covid pandemic. People didn’t go to restaurants, to the movies or to live performances. Shopping malls were dead zones. While they still ordered some hard goods over the internet and kept the “essential workers” at the post office, Fedex and UPS busy, the net result was that they had tons of money left over, augmented by the checks from the federal government covid relief programs, sitting in their accounts. And as a result, production of all sorts of goods, even agricultural products, slowed. Now that things have loosened up, people are trying to spend this money, putting a serious strain on production and distribution of goods and thus temporarily raising prices.
Another reason we are wrestling with inflation now and Republicans and Larry Summers are gleefully pointing their fingers at Democratic spending bills, is that indeed we have spent a great deal of money on fighting the pandemic and on keeping the economy strong. But we have not raised taxes at all to pay for these programs. Thus, yes indeed, there is a great deal of money sloshing around the economy chasing too few goods right now. Increased taxation, particularly of corporations and the wealthy, would reduce it. But curiously, the Democrats seem reluctant to raise taxes on those most able to pay, on those who have profited mightily from the pandemic. I find it quite interesting that after the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 and the Trump “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” of 2017, the Democratic Party, even when in power, has never chosen or never been able to restore them to their former levels. Even Biden’s much ballyhooed Infrastructure and Build Back Better bill, have not been funded anywhere near completely but instead by a few half hearted inadequate increases on corporations and the wealthy and some wishful thinking about what a boost in IRS funding would yield from wealthy cheaters.
In addition, vastly more industries have monopolized in recent years, making it much easier for them to raise prices arbitrarily to increase their bottom line for their investors and their overpaid CEO’s. It’s absolutely astonishing that our government has given up on fighting monopoly and concentration of production and distribution. As a sample, check out the stats in this important publication.
Another thing that really annoys me and should upset everyone else are the continual attacks on the US Postal Service mostly by our Republican friends. The complaints about subsidies for this essential service and calls for it to be “profitable” do not make any sense to me. The Post Office performs an essential service for us. What it charges via stamps and fees for mail processing and delivery defrays a significant portion of that expense and if that’s not enough to pay its bills, the federal government plugs the holes. And why shouldn’t it – the post office serves the whole country. In small towns it serves as place where people meet, chat and gossip while they deliver or pick up their mail. I oppose the continual shrill Republican calls to privatize the Post Office, as if that were any kind of solution. Oh sure, let’s privatize the post office and stuff the pockets of a “Post Office Corporation”, its new stockholders and CEO.
If we are serious about increasing Post Office revenue and making it more self sufficient, we need to consider restoring a role it enjoyed from 1911 to 1967 – providing banking services to customers through the Postal Services Savings System. Many other countries still provide banking services through their post offices. We also need to take a look at how domestic shipping prohibitions and restrictions limit revenue and provide opportunities for competitors like Fedex and UPS. We do not need to reduce costs and increase revenue by cutting personnel and slowing down delivery, as Trump holdover Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is trying to do.
Another item – I am so overjoyed that we now have a “Space Force” general – yes, replete with uniform, lots of medals and a high salary. Don’t believe me? Check out a recent Washington Post column by Josh Rogin. Yes, we not only have divided the entire world into “Combatant Commands”, like European Command, Central Command and a bunch of others covering the entire globe, but, lucky for us, our Defense Department has added a “Space Force” command and now we have a real Space Force general. I am sure before too long we’ll be conducting yet another cold war with China and Russia in outer space as they “attack our space assets” and we have to stock space with bigger and better “assets”. Really I had a hard time telling whether Rogin was writing his article with tongue in cheek. But I guess he was serious, demonstrating once again how sacrosanct the military is to both our Congress and our media. Oh, my God, Space General David Thompson cries that “US satellites are being attacked every day!” We need to retaliate!
And yet another example of Republican hypocrisy – individual rights and sanctity of the body when refusing covid vaccines, yet not where abortion rights are concerned. A woman’s right to control her body is okay if she’s refusing a vaccine and endangering herself and those around her, but is not acceptable when she’s pregnant by rape or incest or her health is threatened by pregnancy or childbirth. Incredible how the far right so selectively yells, “My body, my choice”. And furthermore, how is it that the far right is so reverential about life from conception to birth, yet so non-caring about supporting life afterward – promoting a culture of violence, flooding the country with guns and the world with military weaponry, supporting an obscene Pentagon budget and cheering the death penalty, while making war on medicine and universal healthcare, popular gun safety laws, housing for the indigent and a most spare and basic safety net for our citizens.
Thus concludes my latest “rant”. Yes, of course, I’m angry and upset about many other things that I experience daily or read or watch in the media but I’ll have to save those for another time. Oh wait, sorry, I have to mention this one. Recently my wife and I have summoned the courage to purchase tickets and venture out for a couple of concerts, our first since the pandemic began. And while announcements were quite consistent in requiring proof of vaccination to enter and mask wearing during the concerts, we were both terribly upset to see about half of the audience remove their masks upon finding their seats and sitting down. Why? And why didn’t the concert authorities insist that masks be kept on. These unserious and careless acts permeate other activities as well. Simple shopping trips in our area have also revealed a reckless mix of mask wearing or not, both by employees and customers, confounding and contradicting what should be a collective unified struggle against this dreadful pandemic. Very disturbing indeed. But what to do? Where to start?
On the day I plan to publish this article, I was subjected to a news report that again made me very angry, so I have to end with a comment on the issue it raised – that of human rights. The US has decided not to award diplomatic recognition to the Winter Olympics in China, although our athletes may attend and compete. Why? Because of China’s “human rights record”. Please… spare me. How dare we condemn the human rights record of any nation while we turn a blind eye to the everyday human rights abuses of our “staunchest ally”, Israel. This rogue nation goes on murdering and maiming Palestinians and stealing their land, homes and livelihoods every single day, with complete impunity. American politicians at every level remain two faced and hypocritical about human rights, fearing that by raising a voice or finger against Israel might turn off the money spigot that funds their campaigns. So no more talk about the human rights abuses in China unless we also talk about them in Israel.
We always knew when Dad and Mom had a fight. No one ever said anything, there were no raised voices, but the atmosphere in the house changed so that we all knew. It could be the heavy silence between them, or the silence of an otherwise gregarious father, or the concern and sadness in the face of a normally smiling mother. Or it could be big sister Barbara’s lowered voice and guarded conversation. Simply, we knew it was there.
Things were not going well financially. What little my father earned, he kept mostly for himself, and Mom did what she could to earn money for the family. Mostly, as I remember, she did this by raising chickens. Sometimes there were laying hens and we sold eggs door to door in the nearby towns. I must have cut a rather pathetic figure, meekly knocking on a stranger’s door and asking if they wanted to buy fresh eggs. Or sometimes there were chickens raised to sell for food, in which case strangers came to our door, responding to a sign at the end of the lane. Then we had to catch a couple of good looking pullets or roosters by the legs, tie them up and throw them in the customer’s car trunk. We never knew exactly what happened after that – only that a couple more chickens were sold and Mom had some money.
But to raise chickens required some limited capital investment, and Mom and Dad’s differences sometimes interfered with this. Before you could fatten the young ones to sell for meat or keep long enough to become laying hens, we needed to buy the chicken feed and ground oyster shells for calcium. If Mom had kept enough from egg or chicken sales, things were fine; if not, Dad was required to invest in the enterprise, often reluctantly. And if things were tough between them, he didn’t.
Once, we had gone through the entire process for raising chickens for sale – first ordering the chicks, which miraculously came in the mail straight to the local post office. Little fuzzy chirping, cheeping little creatures that had to be fed, watered and kept warm. Chicken mash was fed to them from flat containers, and they were watered from contrivances involving an inverted Mason jar full of water. They were kept warm by an electric light bulb and reflector dangling above them. Thus were they nurtured and fed and coaxed toward avian adolescence and adulthood to be sold as food or if kept long enough, as a source of food. There were the occasional casualties – the chick smaller than the rest, who gradually starved to death because of his inability to get close to the food, and, weakening, became further unable and finally expired. Or there was the chick which was different colored than the rest, who was picked on because of the difference and had to be clever to get the food he wanted, and who maybe became stronger doing so much running away from the rest.
One such chicken, a black chick in a litter of yellow, actually became a pet of sorts. Hard to believe that that little bird brain could so be trained but he actually came when called. Hollering “Blackie” would cause him to emerge from the bushes and come toward you to get picked up and petted, or to receive a dish of more special food served in a protected area like under an overturned crate.
But once when a flock of chickens was on its way to adulthood, in that stage of growing feathers and shedding the fuzz, that dreadful time in our family came again and we could all feel it. The air was heavy with apprehension, fear and questioning. We whispered to each other as if afraid that the sound of our voices would make things worse. Gradually it became clear that Mom had no more money for feed and Dad wasn’t going to help. And there were fifty plus ravenous chickens out in the chicken house with no food.
Chickens are excitable creatures. Even in the best and most relaxed of circumstances, a suddenly opened door or sudden noise will cause them cackle excitedly and to flap excitedly into the air raising clouds of noxious chicken house bedding and manure dust. So an egg gatherer or chicken feeder or waterer had to move slowly and stealthily. Hungry chickens who had ran out of food were even more excitable and ran toward their feeding dishes as they were newly supplied. Thirsty chickens knew when the water came and crowded madly around the waterers to get it as well.
But the behavior of our starving chickens was horrifying. A shadow on the window caused them to flock toward it and fly madly at the window and flap their wings against it. They ran wildly toward an opening door, in anticipation of feed. The slightest noise caused wild excitement of the expectation of food. The horror and the pity of this behavior in the face of hopelessness I never forgot. All of us felt helpless, afraid to get involved in why there was no feed, fearful of the fury of Dad, if challenged or questioned, or if sympathizing or taking sides with Mom. But there they were – chickens slowly starving to death and nothing offered for their relief. Whether there really was no money, or whether it just was refused for the purpose of feeding the chickens, we never knew. All we knew was that these creatures were starving to death.
Dad’s frequent absence at that time, and our collective pity and concern for the horrible plight of our chickens forced a decision. With Mom’s permission, I connected the garden hose to the exhaust pipe of our 51 Chevy pickup and ran it to the door of the chicken house. The mad activity of starving chickens at these signs of nearby movement, was quieted little by little as they succumbed to the poisonous exhaust and one by one flopped down to stillness. After an hour or so, a quick look inside revealed piles of prostrate, white feathered forms everywhere and no movement at all.
The dead chickens then had to be buried and that was my job also. After digging several large holes in the nearby cornfield, I loaded these dead chicken carcasses into a wheelbarrow and trip by trip dumped them into the holes to be buried. Having lifted many healthy chickens, it was terrible to see how little these dead creatures weighed. To avoid touching them, I used a pitchfork to load them and was surprised to see how easily the tines passed through the pitiful thin bodies – feathers, skin and bones, little more.
The job finished, the next thing to do was to try to start over and put this dreadful incident in the past. The situation between Mom and Dad seemed to get better, now that the chickens were gone. Although the traumatic incident remained with us for many years, this remained the major means for Mom to make money. And we waited for another shipment of little chicks to arrive.
I was disturbed by the worshipful reverence implied in the smaller news item inserted into the story of President Biden’s inauguration on January 20 of this year.
Sure, most Americans were happy to see the end of the chaotic, disastrous and disgraceful presidency of Donald Trump and happy to usher in what we all hoped would be a much more deliberate, thoughtful, honest and transparent presidency. Although Joe Biden’s tenure has yet to be judged, the end of Trump’s certainly has caused a national sigh of relief.
And I assume to help make that point we were treated to a dramatically posed and videoed meeting among three of our ex-presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, where we could hear them reminisce and ruminate about the “peaceful transfer of power” in which they all participated and position themselves as contrasts to the last four years. For many viewers and observers perhaps it worked. I mean, who wouldn’t look good next to Donald Trump. Whose administration would not shine when compared to the destructive wrecking crew of ne’er-do-wells who populated Trump’s cabinet – from Betsy DeVos to Scott Pruitt – all bent on destroying that which they were appointed to protect.
But I had a problem with this video – not with the sentiment expressed by these ex presidents about the peaceful transition of power, which was quite appropriate, but with being reminded as I looked at each one and remembered their respective eight-year presidencies, of how flawed our recent presidents and their legacies have been. The reflective gathering of these three should have been not a celebration but a commiseration. All three have huge black marks on their respective administrations that will define them forever and that history will not erase.
In order – Bill Clinton and his “triangulation” strategy caused no end of misfortune for America. His “middle ground” abandonment of principles of the Democratic Party that got him elected and embrace of right wing policies to ingratiate him with the Republican Party resulted in some disastrous legislation. His crime bill, in the words of NYTimes columnist Charles Blow, “…flooded the streets with police officers and contributed to the rise of mass incarceration, which disproportionately impacts Black men and their families. It helped to drain Black communities of fathers, uncles, husbands, partners and sons….”.
And then there was Clinton’s welfare reform bill which would “end welfare as we know it”, when he took another page from the Republican playbook by changing welfare to a block grant program for each state, inadequate to begin with, and which assured significant disparity among more and less generous states. His program also dictated onerous work requirements which presented impossible transportation burdens for poor families and, worst of all, ran out at an established point, depositing many one parent and struggling families right back into the gutter of despair and hopelessness from which they were trying to escape and where they remained.
Then there were Clinton’s clumsy foreign policy forays, which included “Operation Infinite Reach” – the bombing of purported terrorist havens in Afghanistan and a western built pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, claimed to be manufacturing nerve gas. These attacks were violations of international law and failed to achieve anything except enhancing Osama bin Laden’s reputation and strengthening the terrorist resolve that resulted in the disaster of 9/11. Along with his ill-conceived assault in Somalia culminating in the infamous Mogadishu firefight of October 1993, our friend Bill should be forever contrite and repentant.
Another signature bill of Clinton’s presidency was the oft-touted North American Free Trade Agreement, known better as NAFTA, which accelerated the departure of manufacturing from America to low wage countries like Mexico. Why the hollowed-out cities of Michigan and Ohio with boarded up factory buildings? NAFTA is the reason. The loss of well paid, unionized manufacturing jobs was a huge contributor to destroying the middle class and making the United States the most unequal country among OECD nations. With NAFTA the corporations, their CEO’s and their stockholders got richer and their former employees got poorer.
The corporate takeover of Medicare also began with Bill Clinton. It was during his administration that private healthcare corporations were first allowed to administer Medicare programs to seniors. First called Medicare “Choice” programs, they eventually morphed into the myriad “Medicare Advantage” programs of today, which offer “enhanced” medicare providing additional benefits like dental care, hearing and drug coverage and so on at great taxpayer cost through requiring Medicare to pay a hefty annual coverage cost to private companies, who then profit by limiting coverage (See my upcoming article on this subject).
And then, of course, Clinton’s dalliance with a White House intern forever blemished the US presidency. Yes, one might argue that other presidents had their weak moments too, certainly FDR, Eisenhower and Kennedy come to mind. But Clinton’s were not tastefully hidden but blazoned in the headlines for all of us to see and feel.
So perhaps President Clinton, standing so dramatically with those two other ex presidents, should have been apologizing to his colleagues and to the American people instead of discussing the “peaceful transition of power”.
Then there was George W. Bush, the biggest failure of all, standing in the twilight with Bill and Barack. He manipulated intelligence and initiated a catastrophic war of choice with Iraq which should be described with terms like “illegal. war crime, deception, lies, immoral, mass murder” that cost trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives while making the world a more dangerous place. In addition to the money, now calculated by Brown University’s Cost of War project at $1.922 trillion (averaging about $8000 for every US taxpayer) and the lives lost, estimated to be more than 300,000, we left a dreadfully unstable and still struggling Iraq. Plus our friend Mr. Bush gave the ok for “black sites” and legalization of torture, leaving a most shameful and permanent blemish on the character of our nation. Actually, the costs of Bush’s entire “War on Terror”, which would include not only Iraq, but also Afghanistan and military actions in more than 80 other countries all over the globe, and which accomplished little but further deterioration of our reputation, have tallied an astonishing cost of $6.4 trillion and 601,000 precious lives lost. Thank you, George W. Bush.
And of course, we remember “W”’s disastrous reaction to Hurricane Katrina. It’s really hard to imagine a more detached, uncaring posture in the face of such a huge disaster, but there he was, after interrupting an already disgracefully long 27 day vacation on his Texas ranch, disdainfully viewing the deadly catastrophe from the distance and safety of Air Force One. Then, eventually on the ground and finally trying to lead, he comes out with his immortal statement to inept FEMA director Michael Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job”. This dismal performance as president in the face of terrible disaster will long be remembered.
And guess who privatized and deregulated the Texas power grid, severed it from those in adjacent states to prevent any federal oversight, and placed it under the control of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)? Yes, George W. Bush did all this while serving as governor of Texas, calling it “The nation’s most extensive experiment in electrical deregulation” – an extraordinarily expensive and deadly experiment, with Texas residential consumers paying ten of billions more for their power than state’s traditional utilities, most of it going into the pockets of investors, power company CEOs, and the campaign coffers of Texas Republican politicians. And we all know what happened when the changing climate sent a huge cold wave to Texas this past winter – approximately 800 people died and the the state sustained billions in property damage. Thank you for that too, George W. Bush.
So Bush, as detailed in a superb New York Magazine article the “painter”, the “artist”, is trying to launder his reputation and sanitize his legacy with his vapid portraiture. Oh yes, “inspired by Churchill”, he is painting portraits of immigrants, including fellow war criminal Henry Kissinger and marketing a book celebrating his “artistry” with all the power he can. Why? Does he need the money? Hardly – he’s been a multimillionaire for decades for whom politics and now art have been a hobby. He’s just doing everything he can to make us forget his disastrous presidency and unfortunately we’re mostly going along with him. And George W. Bush, war criminal, had the gall to appear on BookTV being interviewed by none other than his own daughter and expounding on his new career and book.
Oh, and let’s not forget that like every good Republican president, “W” also cut taxes for the wealthy in 2001 and 2003 under the guise of “tax relief”, a Frank Luntz term that I illustrated in another article. So George W., paint and pontificate all you want. You will never live down the legacy of being one of the worst, most disastrous of all US presidents.
And good old President Barack Obama, now basking in the riches obtained by he and Michelle’s movie production deal with Netflix and the considerable royalties from the first volume of his presidential memoirs, should be sadly looking back at a failed presidency. Oh sure, he was a distinguished leader on the world stage, might be the most eloquent of all of our presidents, and indisputably was our first black president, but he could have done so much more, were he not locked in the embrace of neoliberal orthodoxy. His vaunted “hope and change” never materialized – we all hoped but nothing much changed.
Surrounded by advisors recruited from the ranks of Goldman Sachs he chose Wall Street over Main Street, bailing out the very same big banks that caused the financial crisis of 2008 instead of prosecuting them and failed to help the millions who lost their sole store of wealth – their homes. Yes, President Obama refused to prosecute those who caused the crash of 2008, in contrast to the thousands of prosecutions following the savings and loan debacle of the ’80’s and ’90’s and chose instead to bail out the big banks, the real culprits, instead of common people who were losing their homes. And the stimulus finally passed to stop the hemorrhaging of jobs and livelihoods was far too small, causing the recovery to drag on for much too long. Furthermore and very important, this choice fueled an era of populist rage and resentment that infected the country and paved the way for the election of Donald Trump.
And while all of us hoped for something better, President Obama forever doomed American medical care to be a for-profit corporate “product” by allowing the Affordable Care Act to be virtually written by the health care and pharmaceutical industries. True, it extended “affordable” healthcare to additional millions of people but at the huge cost of government subsidies to healthcare corporations. “Obamacare” – ostensibly a compromise between liberals and moderates, was in reality a giveaway to the already corporatized healthcare industry. And Biden’s much touted “enhancement” of Obamacare and the aforementioned Medicare Advantage programs have tightened corporate America’s grip on American healthcare and have made transition to a much less expensive and far more efficient single payer government run program which would cover every single person in the country from birth to death increasingly difficult and now maybe impossible.
Also, it was President Obama who, perhaps unwittingly, signed the deceptively named Ensuring Patient Access and Drug Enforcement Act, which stripped the DEA of power to staunch the flow of opioid pills outside of normal avenues of prescription and distribution, protecting drug manufacturers and their distributors and making it easier for them to get away with exacerbating the epidemic of overdoses and death. And it’s interesting to note that the bill’s most passionate advocate, Representative Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, was later nominated by Donald Trump to be his “drug czar”.
Plus while president our friend Barack Obama embarked on a series of ill advised and illegal executions, an example of which certainly was the much ballyhooed “capture” of Osama bin Laden, who actually was murdered extrajudicially instead of being brought back to the US to face justice. Yes, our “constitutional scholar and professor” president who campaigned against the death penalty, actually kept a “kill list” and was only too happy to execute any number of Muslims without charges or trials, some of whom were US citizens, along with dozens of innocent bystanders, who likely were deemed mere “collateral damage”.
Another shameful feature of the Obama presidency was his treatment of whistleblowers. Of course, Mr. Obama, boasted of his administration’s “transparency”, promising “a new era of open government”, but betrayed that pledge time and time again, spearheading eight Espionage Act prosecutions, more than all US administrations combined. The Obama administration’s treatment of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, James Risen, John Kiriakou, Jeffrey Sterling, Thomas Drake, Shamai Leibowitz, Donald Sachtleben, Stephen Kim and the very latest, Daniel Hale, whose prosecution began under Obama, continued through Trump and will conclude under Biden, was shameful and contrasts shockingly with the preferential treatment of David Petraeus, guilty of the same sharing of government secrets.
When considering the aforementioned, why President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize remains a mystery. Conjecture suggests that this award was perhaps a veiled repudiation of the previous administration, or perhaps some “hope” based on Obama’s overtures to Muslim countries. But it is amazing that so many of his administration’s actions violated the honor of this recognition. Quite contradictory also, especially in view of his promises to work toward a “nuclear-free world”, which probably helped him win the Prize, was his authorization of a trillion dollar program to “modernize” the US atomic arsenal with its 5800 warheads already capable of destroying the world and everyone in it several times over. And, like presidents before him, he continued the coverup of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. In 2009, when a journalist asked him if he knew of “any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons,” Mr. Obama responded, “I don’t want to speculate”, making his efforts to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons to maintain a “nuclear free middle east” disingenuous at best.
I should add that President Obama and his pompous blowhard Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, repeatedly betrayed and damaged my precious chosen profession, public education. Obama and Duncan, both private school products, demonstrated little knowledge of public education and its important role in American democracy and displayed little awareness of the causes of its problems. They continued the detached and useless tenets of George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” involving standards, test scores, competition, and school reward and punishment, simply using different names – “School Improvement Grants” and “Race to the Top”. And both presented charter schools and “choice” as solutions to public school struggles, sucking away precious public school resources and depositing them in private pockets.
And one more thing – as a dedicated Democrat, I was terribly upset to see President Obama, the leader of my Party, and his dedicated supporters, throw virtually all of their effort and resources into his 2012 reelection, to the detriment of national Democratic concerns. During President Obama’s eight years in office, when Democrats like me could feel some pride in a Democratic presidency, the Party lost more House, Senate, state legislative and governor seats, a net total of 13 governorships and 816 state legislative seats than under any other president. Among the states lost by Democrats were Wisconsin, North Carolina, Iowa and West Virginia, all key to the victory of Donald Trump in 2016.
And finally, the great humanitarian, President Obama, who so sensitively and eloquently reflected the grief and concern of the nation at at mass shootings in schools and churches, even singing “Amazing Grace” when he “ran out of words”, did absolutely nothing to impede Israeli land theft, settlement expansion and human rights abuses, all violations of international law, during his presidency and worse, sat by while the US funded Israeli war machine killed thousands of Palestinians during the Gaza “war” in 2014 including 551 children and 299 women, while injuring over ten thousand and orphaning more than fifteen hundred children, all the while mouthing the same tired platitude, “Israel has the right to defend itself”. Instead Mr. Obama rewarded this criminal nation by signing a 10 year, $38 billion aid MOU with Israel. This $11 million per day “tribute” to Israel has recently ballooned to $20 million per day as our politicians stumble over each other in their eagerness to “help Israel”. “
So President Obama, enough with your well honed speeches and sanctimonious and thoughtful demeanor and enough with your “presidential memoirs” which gloss over your mistakes and failures. If you really want us to forget, why not impress us by trying your hand at building homes for the poor with Habitat for Humanity like President Carter did, or maybe join Stacey Abrams knocking on doors to expand voting opportunities for poor people of color. Oh, and one more thing – it was Obama’s EPA that approved toxic chemicals for the fracking industry, that break down into deadly “forever” poisonous compounds called PFAS which threaten people and wildlife through soil and water contamination.
Before publishing this bleak assessment of our last three presidents’ legacies, it might be only fair to consider a few of the best things to emerge from their respective administrations. Hey, it wasn’t all bad. However, what most consider to be Bill Clinton’s major achievements – NAFTA, his crime bill and welfare reform, I have asserted to be major failures. Yet he can be proud of the first balanced Federal budget in many years. George W. Bush has been lauded for PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDs relief), a successful humanitarian effort to combat AIDS in twelve African countries. And ironically, what’s commonly viewed as Barack Obama’s greatest achievement, the Affordable Care Act, I include above as a major failure. But he should be recognized for the DACA program, his Consumer Protection Bureau, joining the Paris Climate Accords, the Iran Nuclear deal, reaching out to Cuba and for his active support for LGBTQ rights. But, all considered, in my view the achievements of these three remarkably flawed presidents were far outweighed by their errors, mistakes and failures.
All of us, well most of us at least, have a strong sense of justice. Those who do wrong, who violate the law or commonly accepted norms must be held accountable and punished. When we see criminals unpunished and thieves enjoying their ill gotten gains and never brought to justice, we feel very frustrated. We manifest anxious anger and indignation at these outrages and our powerlessness to correct them and feel that society has let us down. Where is the law? Where are the police? Where are the courts? Why is there no justice? Where is this “rule of law” that is supposed to be fundamental to our society?
Conversely, we get a great deal of satisfaction when we see those who have violated the law brought to justice. We feel that the rule of law is still being applied and that we still live in a just society where there are laws, rules and norms that are still being taken seriously, applied and heeded. Once while driving on Arizona 377 approaching the town of Heber in a no passing zone, a huge black BMW sedan passed me at a very high rate of speed, seriously endangering my life. After collecting and calming myself, and muttering something about where are the cops when you need them, you can imagine my feeling of intense satisfaction when a couple of miles ahead, I came upon the flashing blue and red lights of an Arizona State Police cruiser pulled up behind that same black sedan. That reckless and dangerous driver will likely pay a hefty fine. Wow, there is justice, after all.
But in spite of these occasional incidents that satisfy us and remind us that there are some laws that are being fairly applied and that there is some justice, we are daily reminded of significant injustices and violations of the law that go unpunished. The feeling of injustice leaves us wanting, creates of feelings of frustration and helplessness and feelings of distrust of those institutions in our society that are supposed to provide justice by arresting the bad guys who have bilked us, trying them and tossing them into prison so that they pay their debt to society.
Right now, taxpayers in states where the opioid epidemic has hit the hardest – states like New Hampshire, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, have been asked to pass legislation to fund programs to counter this epidemic. In fact there is now a Federal bill that will soon ask all of us to pay. The pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession that have manufactured, distributed and prescribed these dangerous and additive pain medications have raked in millions of dollars. So why are they not being asked to foot the bill for this terrible calamity. Why are taxpayers asked to pay for the ruinous greed and recklessness that have enriched a few? The facts are there – for example, over 22 million doses were shipped to one West Virginia town. Perdue Pharmaceuticals, the major manufacturer of opioids knew about he dangers yet continued to manufacture and market millions of these deadly pills. But today I know of no efforts to prosecute this company or others or the medical profession for their glaring malfeasance.
And just consider the money that diabetes and heart disease has cost all of us as individuals and taxpayers. So much of this has been caused by our consumption of sugar. But big sugar has done a marvelous job of advertising over the years – “only 18 calories per teaspoon” (recently reduced to “16 calories” – why – have teaspoons shrunk?), “sugar for quick energy” and on and on. And the industry has packed “added sugar” into three fourths of all packaged food and has foughtagainst taxation of sugary drinks, a major cause of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. So the sugar industry has profited mightily over the years from this irresponsibility. Yet it has never been asked to pay one penny towardthe serious health problems which its ubiquitous product has caused.
And what about Monsanto and Bayer poisoning on our soil and farms with their deadly chemicals. Cloaked as “increasing productivity”, “feeding the world” or other euphemisms, these corporations continue to persuade our farmers to inject dangerous chemicals into our soil and our food. The recent revelation of traces of glyphosate, Monsanto’s Roundup, the most heavily used herbicide in the world and a cash cow for the corporation, in Quaker Oats and Cheerios, has recently received attention in the press. This revelation has revived the old argument of whether glyphosate is a carcinogen. Whether it is or not, this terrible chemical should not be in our food. If not causing cancer, which perhaps indeed has not yet been proven, then what about other potential effects – like damage to the endocrine or nervous systems? When serious harm to human health from this chemical will surely be proven one day, who will pay – the people or Monsanto? You know the answer.
The meat industry, the very epitome of inefficient use of foods, continues to thrive as the domestic and foreign markets for beef, pork and chicken continue to grow. Yet thethe poisoning of our groundwater and waterways by manure lakes from feedlots and other concentrations of industrial strength cultivation of animals continues to grow unabated. Perhaps the massive profits of these industries should pay for the proper disposal of this waste instead of taxpayers. After all, years ago the tobacco industry was held accountable for the health problems resulting from its use and was required to not only place warnings on its packages but to pay billions of dollars for anti-tobacco advertising and to combat lung cancer. Where are the similar rulings against industries that are a threat to health today?
Also consider the dreadful attack on human health that has occurred in Flint, Michigan when someone decided to save the state money by changing the main source for the city water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. This dreadful chain of events has caused irreparable harm to the health of thousands of adults and children and has cost taxpayers close to a half billion dollars so far. But yet no one has been punished – not the Republican governor, not the city officials or anyone else. Where is the justice here, pray tell? Again, there is none, and taxpayers are left holding the bag for the unpunished crimes of a few.
What is going on in our country today? The savings and loan debacle of the 1980’s ended with over one thousand officials and owners going to jail for their part in the collapse. And in the early 2000’s the Department of Justice even set up a special unit to prosecute and punish the crooked executives responsible for energy trader corporation Enron’s abuse of privilege and power. Yet how many bankers and Wall Street executives have gone to prison for their part in the crash and near-depression of 2008, when $10.2 trillion in wealth disappeared, including $3.3 trillion in home equity causing thousands of people to lose their homes? That number is one – Kareem Serageldin, a senior trader at Credit Suisse, has served a 30-month sentence for inflating the value of mortgage bonds in his trading portfolio. No, instead of prosecution and prison, the executives and their banks and corporations got bailed out by us taxpayers. If the Justice Department prosecuted at all, mere fines were assessed. An example – in early 2014, just weeks after Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, settled out of court with the Justice Department, the bank’s board of directors gave him a 74 percent raise, bringing his salary to $20 million.
Another issue – why have reckless banks and corporations who have broken the law in myriad other instances never been punished with anything more than just a “slap on the wrist” fine. Banks and corporations being fined for serious violations of the law has become so commonplace that they are actually budgeting for these serial transgressions – yes, actually establishing a budget line for fines imposed for illegal activity and violations of regulations. What about prosecuting the people who made these decisions and sending them to prison? Perhaps with personal risk instead of fines, these serial transgressions could be reduced.
And related to this, a series of recent pieces in the media relating to the machinations of Paul Manafort to hide income in overseas havens to avoid taxes on millions of dollars of ill-gotten gains, gives rise to consideration of how he got away with this kind of thievery for so long and how many others there might be who have done exactly the same thing but have not been caught. The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell examined this issue passionately and eloquently in several of her recent columns and reminds us as well that prosecutions for white collar crime and tax evasion are at a three decade low. Yes,we have virtually stopped investigating and prosecuting these kinds of crimes so wealthy people are still getting away with tax avoidance, storing their wealth in overseas bank accounts and money laundering. We prosecute people right and left for shoplifting or for driving without a license or for any number of other petty crimes. But the wealthy who park their millions in the Cayman Islands to avoid taxes or who don’t report millions in income, are rarely brought to justice and the crimes go on and on. According to one study, every year the United States loses $400 billion in unpaid taxes, much of it hidden in offshore tax havens.
Another well known example of no justice – no one has yet paid any kind of penalty for the lies and fabrications that were used to justify the Iraq war that resulted in countless deaths and trillions of dollars in destruction. Again, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and the rest of the liars and fools who perpetrated this war and sold it to the world and the American people, are now enjoying cushy retirements or life jobs on corporate boards. Many Germans did pay the penalty at Nuremberg for their crimes in prosecuting World War II, yet we have not lifted a finger to provide justice for the thousands of lives and the trillion dollars that the war in Iraq and the never ending war in Afghanistan have cost us.
And what about the terrible injustice of police brutality today? Black people get murdered right and left, and the perpetrators go free. Yes, no matter how blatant the act or how preponderant the evidence in police shootings, it seems that no one is ever punished with anything more than suspension with pay or banishment to a desk job. To mention but two of hundreds of incidents, although a wrongful death lawsuit was successful, no charges have ever been brought against Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer murderer of Eric Garner, whom we witnessed on video being throttled to death. Our warped justice system has focused instead on the guy who took the video, Ramsey Orta, who has since suffered prosecution and conviction for petty drug crimes. And Panteleo himself recently got a $20,000 pay raise while consigned to desk duty and interestingly, some $13,000 of this killer cop’s income last year was from “unspecified sources”, maybe bonuses? Andsimilarly, even though a lawsuit by the family was successful, the officer who shot Philando Castile, whose life ended as the world watched him bleed to death on cell phone video, was acquitted of second degree murder charges brought against him. And the list goes on. Reckless shootings, blatant killings by those charged to “serve and protect” us. Yet these renegade cops are the ones being served and protected. Where is the justice?
And how about our international best friend and “only democracy in the Middle East”, renegade nation Israel, which continues to flout international laws and basic morals? The world stands by and watches the Israeli Occupation Forces conduct target practice on unarmed Palestinian demonstrators and does not lift a finger to bring the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice. Instead the world looked the other way and focused instead on the rescue of 13 soccer players from entrapment in a cave. Where were these people, all the media, all the reporters, all the stories, all the TV coverage, as 120 Palestinians were murdered and 3000 wounded, many in a horrid, life altering manner because of special expanding bullets. Where is the anger and indignation about these killings of unarmed innocent people, including medics, children and the elderly? Why hasn’t this renegade nation been brought to justice or punished by the UN or the ICC? At this writing the number of unarmed Palestinians demonstrating the Gaza border killed by Israel is 174 and more than 18,000 have been wounded. Yet the corporate media doesn’t cover these atrocities, no talking heads take notice and the world does nothing – where’s the justice?
And while I am shaking with anger and a horrible feeling of powerlessness about these injustices, how about the damage wrought in Israel’s “wars” with Gaza, the world’s largest open air prison? Israel destroys infrastructure, homes, offices, hospitals and schools in Gaza in 2009 and 2014 with arms provided by the United States taxpayers, yet contributes not one shred of this largesse for reconstruction. What little of this that has occurred has come about through contributions from the UN, EU and a little from Arab countries, but not from the US or Israel. Why? Where are the laws and enforcement that are supposed to regulate nations’ behavior and their dealings with one another? Israel throttles Gaza, rations electricity, chokes economic activity, severely limits fishing, import of building materials and who pays for the privation caused by Israel? The UN, the US and the EU. And while these insults to morality and international law go on, the US supports it all with $11 million per day of taxpayer money for Israel. Where the hell is the justice here?
And finally, the feeling of powerlessness, of helplessness in the face of the injustice wrapped incorporate media’s purposeful neglect of facts and the truth, continues to haunt me when I read ad nauseam of “attacks on our democracy” by Russia toying with our elections when far more egregious harm is done to our increasingly frail “democracy” by ourselves. It is we, not Russia, who are constantly suppressing the vote through gerrymandering, voter ID laws, the reduction of precincts, removing names from voter lists and so on. It is ourselves, not Russia, who have allowed money to distort the election process and who have allowed oligarchs like Charles Koch and Sheldon Adelson to call the shots in our elections. Our own United States Supreme Court has been complicit in doing grievous harm to American democracy by equating campaign donations with free speech, allowing floods of secret money to distort our elections, dialing back the Voting Rights Act which permits states once again to discriminate against black voters, allowing states to purge voter lists and refusing to rule against gerrymandering.
Certainly I could go on and on about injustice in the world – US support of Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war in Yemen in which five million children face starvation and a cholera epidemic; our rigged economy which has stifled the middle class and enriched the one percent; the Republican party’s exacerbation of inequality through their “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”; our baseless demonization of Iran on behalf of AIPAC and Israel; our heartless and inhumane treatment of refugees at our borders who are fleeing for their very lives; rejection of the Paris Climate Accords consigning future generations to struggle with the far reaching results of an inexorably warming climate; a young Palestinian man beaten to death by Israeli soldiers in his own home while family members listened. There is no justice.
The tension and anger persist and tear at my insides, exacerbated by my own powerlessness to change anything. But what I have recorded above will have to do for now. I have at least given voice in print about how I feel in a world heavy with injustice but light on accountability. And so I guess that I have done what little I could.
Why is it that every other constitutional democracy on the planet simply changes its constitution when it needs to, with little effort and no hoopla, in order to accommodate the changing needs of the country? Why are our state constitutions changed readily, easily and often (230 times) to better suit changing conditions and requirements? So why is it so God-awful difficult to change the US Constitution? We argue constantly about “what the Founding Fathers meant” by this or that. To hell with what the the Founding Fathers were thinking – let’s amend the wording to make the meaning perfectly clear about what we are thinking.
The job of the Supreme Court seems today to be less resolving thorny moral and legal issues that have been placed in front of it by appeals from lower courts, but more “interpreting the Constitution”. Why? Because some moldy old phrase needs to be “interpreted” to properly address “gun ownership” or “corporate free speech” or some other modern cause that has been thrust upon us.
For heaven’s sake, let’s just change this dusty wrinkled old document to better suit modern times and current needs. The constitution is simply a document upon which our supposedly representative government is based. It describes the role of the president, legislative bodies and how they are elected; it describes the states and the relationship among them and to the Federal government. It outlines how laws are to be established and how power is to be divided among the executive, legislative and judicial branches. The Constitution was written by men who owned property that included human beings, slaves to be exact. It was written by men still struggling to understand and address issues related to voting and taxation, the relationship of the Federal government to state governments and the role and powers of a quasi monarch (the President) in this government. Yes, the Constitution is not perfect and furthermore it was not “handed down to us by Jesus” as the Utah “artist” Jon McNaughton would have us believe. The Constitution does not have to be venerated, worshipped or handled with care. It is a piece of paper upon which the basic laws of our government are written. If some need to be changed or re-written, let’s do so. And let’s begin by changing the Constitution itself to make it easier to change in the future. No constitution of any modern democracy is as difficult to change as ours.
To further address what needs to be changed, think about the following. What would the “Founding Fathers” think of the issue of gun ownership today? Are the three hundred million guns floating around in our families and communities, packing enormous firepower and wrecking horrible havoc, death and sorrow on those families and communities, what they had envisioned as the “right to keep and bear arms” for a “well regulated militia”?
And what would the Founding Fathers think of today’s problems with the “Electoral College” system of electing a president every four years, where a George W. Bush can be elected president while not earning a majority of the popular vote, or presidential campaigns being waged exclusively in “swing states” while the rest of the country is ignored?
What would the Founding Fathers think of the current “representiveness” of our Congress, where 50 of our Senators represent only 16 percent of the country’s population (example: a California senator represents 18.7 million people and a Wyoming senator represents 282,000) and where House voting districts are gerrymandered to render a great majority of congressional seats completely uncompetitive. For example look at Ohio, which, despite voting Democratic in the last election, returned 12 Republicans and only four Democrats to their seats in the House of Representatives.
What would these venerable constitution writers think of the role of money in politics today, where massive injections of money have created a virtual shadow government run by the Koch brothers and where Republican presidential candidates have had to compete in a “Billionaires Primary”, bowing down and groveling before the likes of Sheldon Adelson to win his blessing and the millions of dollars of campaign money that come with it? Don’t you think that these “Founding Fathers” would want elections to be competitive and won on issues rather that who had the most Koch or Edelson money? I think that the “Fathers” would immediately obliterate any notion of “corporations being people” and “money being free speech” that drives today’s elections.
And what about voting rights? The white propertied males who wrote the constitution were divided about who should vote. But the Bill of Rights addresses voting in the Fifteenth Amendment and the language is generally interpreted to mean that everyone should vote. Furthermore, Congress has visited the issue again and again, generally establishing that there should be no obstacles to voting. Yet, what would the Founding Fathers say about the present efforts to restrict voting, unfortunately supported by the latest Supreme Court decision, “Shelby County vs Holder”? I think that they would rewrite the constitution to make universal suffrage crystal clear, abolish any and all forms of voter restriction and make voting as easy and as effortless as possible.
What would the Founding Fathers think of our use of the hideous and barbaric death penalty? If anything is “cruel and unusual”, the death penalty is. What would they think of firing squads, hanging, the search for “ideal” cocktails of various poisons which can kill easily, quickly and “humanely”, or the electric chair or the gas chamber? Or the uneven application of this sentence across the country? I don’t think that there is any doubt that were this distinguished group to observe all this today, that they would immediately classify the death penalty as “cruel and unusual”, thus amending the constitution to outlaw it immediately.
What would the Founding Fathers think of the way Congress functions now? Obstruction, opposition, impasse, no compromise, few laws passed. Congress has virtually gone on strike and nothing in the Constitution can compel Congress to act. What would they want to do about members of Congress representing special interests instead of the people? And what about shutting down the government, which actually has occurred a few times, most recently in 2013, over congressional funding and Presidential authority issues, both of which were promoted by their respective supporters as “defending the constitution”. Look at the host of presidentially appointed judges and government officials that remain unconfirmed by the Senate while their offices remain unoccupied and dysfunctional. In many respects, our government has simply failed to function. Even preparing and approving a budget seems impossible. The 112th and 113th Congresses were the least and second-least productive on record, passing just 283 and 286 laws, respectively. And the present 114th Congress is not doing much better. Certainly the Founding Fathers would want to draft language to address these serious problems which have the potential to make the most powerful nation on earth a “failed state”.
Finally, one recent attempt to amend the constitution, Equal Rights for Women, passed the House and Senate in 1972 but fell three states short of the 38 state legislatures needed for ratification. This Amendment should be revived and again put before Congress and the states. But, alas, looking at how Washington functions now and how most state legislatures have been taken over by ALEC, its chances of passage look far more bleak now than in 1972. But Equal Rights remains one more area in which the Constitution has fallen short and needs to be amended.
Distinguished retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ new book, “Six Amendments” provides additional and much more erudite justification for much of what I have offered above. His “Six” concern campaign finance, the death penalty, gerrymandering and the second amendment which I have covered above, along with the addition of two more areas with which I am less familiar – the “anti-commandeering rule” and “sovereign immunity”, both of which are eloquently justified by Stevens and appear to be certainly needed to address serious problems.
Before closing, I should mention that what I have proposed above and what Justice Stevens has outlined in his book are essentially liberal positions embraced by the Democratic Party. To be fair, let’s not forget that the Republican Party and their candidates for President, both standing and fallen, have embraced amending the constitution as well. High on their lists are a “balanced budget” amendment which would spell disaster for the fiscal health of the nation and a “stop Obamacare” amendment. Former candidate Marco Rubio also had proposed amendments to “outlaw flag burning” and “establish the fundamental right of parents to be free from government infringement in child raising” (whatever that means). Candidate Ted Cruz has proposed an amendment “to define marriage as between a man and a woman”. Also on the Republican list is an amendment to limit congressional terms (maybe not too bad an idea).
Let me close this piece by asking the reader to notice the difference between how Democrats or “progressives” would amend the Constitution and how Republicans or conservatives want to amend it. The former have largely embraced what I have outlined above, all efforts to protect or expand rights, while the latter have embraced potential amendments that limit or take away legal rights. We need to seriously consider which amended Constitution we would like to live under, but most of all, we need to improve our Constitution to better suit current conditions and address modern problems, and we badly need to make this amendment process a whole lot easier.