Many years ago I was given a business card by an acquaintance that featured the “Golden Rules for Living” on the back. Since then, these rules have meant a great deal to me, explaining some of the missing habits in my family as a child, additional opportunities relating to childrearing or teaching in a classroom and some of the perennial problems encountered in daily life.
The rules are simple, sensible and few in number, yet their power to make life easier and more harmonious in the home, the classroom and the workplace is undeniable. How many times have I become angry and frustrated to see a tube of toothpaste drying out and becoming impossible to cap because someone simply did not see the need to replace the top after removing it? How often have I wondered about the child, family member or colleague that leaves a spill or a pile of crumbs and doesn’t clean up? How many times have I shaken my head in wonder or rolled my eyes in disbelief when someone has taken something out of a desk or cupboard and did not put it back or left an appliance or light turned on that should have been turned off? How many hours have I wasted looking for something that someone took, used and did not put back? These are but a few of the frustrations that could be readily eased by simply following these simple “rules for living”.
This little set of rules to live by comes with some small variations in how they are written. Sometimes the list is 10 items long, sometimes 12 or more, but the lists are basically the same. They are simple, they are sensible and they are powerful. Parents should teach them to their children and teachers should teach them to their students.
Golden Rules for Living
If you open it, close it.
If you turn it on, turn it off.
If you unlock it, lock it.
If you break it, repair it.
If you cannot fix it, find someone who can.
If you borrow it, return it.
If you use it, take care of it.
If you make a mess, clean it up.
If you move it, put it back.
If it belongs to someone else and you want to use it, get permission.
If you don’t know how to operate it, leave it alone.
If it does not concern you, mind your own business.
And a little addendum:
If you want to be liked, leave things as you found them.
If you want to be admired, leave things better than you found them.
If you want to be respected, do things without having to be told.
However, upon considering issues in my life and the various versions of this list, I would like to suggest four more “rules for living” which would make the list more comprehensive. These are:
If you start it, finish it.
If you commit to doing a task, do it well.
If you don’t need it or don’t plan to use it, don’t buy it.
I have lots of “pet peeves” which I deal with by rolling my eyes, sighing emphatically, shaking my head, making a disparaging remark or maybe uttering a profanity or two. These include inconsiderate drivers, telephone salespeople, rap “music” and the person in front of me in the “about 15 items” supermarket line with clearly many more than 15 (and yes, I counted them). Thankfully, I avoid conflict by doing much of this reacting mentally, not physically, although my overall body language may give me away. But lately, I have extended the list of things that irritate me with the stupidity and thoughtlessness exhibited by many of the people I encounter in the gym at which I work out most days of the week.
I love this gym – it’s huge, it’s modern, with dozens of cardio machines of all kinds – bicycles, treadmills, ellipticals, stairclimbers, rowing machines, yes they’re all there. It also has more weights, benches, dumbbells and barbells than I have seen anywhere. Also, the selection of resistance machines is incredible. At 75 I’m not trying to put on muscle, I’m just trying to keep what little I have left, so I have a modest routine that I follow each time I go, rotating a series of resistance machines with dumbbells and other machines over a two-three day cycle and correspondingly alternating my choice of cardio machines. My daily session takes approximately an hour – around 30 minutes on the resistance machines or weights, and 30 minutes on whatever cardio machine I’m on that day. It’s a great workout and I experience a healthy exhaustion when I come home to shower and eat my breakfast.
But every day I go, I am frustrated, bothered and irritated at what I see. It seems that there’s always some goofball lifting his weights or pulling or pushing the handles on his resistance machine who thinks he has to wince, grimace or grunt loudly with each of his movements. Sometimes I think – wow, this guy must be lifting (or pushing or pulling) quite a bit, to make such a loud and obvious show of effort. But when I glance at the weights or move to the machine and use it myself without adjusting, I discover that his exercise required but little effort – certainly not the loud and effusive demonstration of superhuman exertion that I just observed and heard. I mean, what are these people trying to do? Show off their strength? No, they’re not requiring or using that much strength. Trying to get noticed? Why? It’s a just a big gym – everybody is exerting themselves. To impress the cute girl using a machine across from him? No, too bad, she’s rolling her eyes. No, it’s just the “I’m important, I’m different, I’m exerting myself more than anyone else here” syndrome. Well thank God for the majority of exercisers who perform their activity quietly and unobtrusively, without the contorted countenance or the loud grunts.
And related to this are the ubiquitous musclemen who not only gaze admiringly (and longingly?) at themselves in the huge mirrored wall behind the weight racks, but attract attention to themselves by noisily banging weights down on the gym floor when concluding their lift. This is especially the practice of those genuine weight-lifting types who perform a “clean and jerk” (with emphasis on the “jerk”) exercise with barbells and slam the loaded bar down with a startling, deafening clank. Hey, really not necessary, but if it garners attention, why not?
Another pet peeve in my lovely gym is related to today’s world of cell phones and social media. I’m busy doing my machines, starting to breathe a little faster, by going from one to the other in rapid succession. But then I find a doofus sitting on a machine – just sitting, mind you, not using the machine – not pushing, pulling or lifting but just sitting there, taking up my next machine staring at his cellphone screen, perhaps thumbing a message to someone, perhaps just checking Facebook to see what a “friend” had for breakfast that morning, or if he got up feeling good, or had a great night last night. But there he sits – for five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes (yes, I’m counting), occupying the machine that I want to use. My God, you inconsiderate fool, there is a refreshment area in the gym, with tables and chairs, there are stretching pads all over the place – go there if you want to play with your cellphone, don’t sit at a machine when someone else may want to use it!
This selfishness and lack of consideration is demonstrated in other ways as well, usually with a couple of old guys chitchatting – one sitting idly on a machine (yes, the next one I was going to use) and the other leaning up against it talking. They both laugh, gesture with their hands, guffaw and chuckle, shake their heads in agreement or disagreement, and talk and talk and talk. For five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes (yes, I’m timing them). One day, and I’m not kidding, two old fools, one on a machine and one leaning against it, were talking when I arrived at the gym, and were still talking when I left an hour later. Again, if these selfish and inconsiderate jerks want to talk – go sit down some other place and talk. Don’t occupy a machine when others may wish to use it.
Occasionally when this has happened, I have asked the idle occupier of a machine, “Hey, pardon me, but are you going to use this machine?” Usually I’ll get a dark look in return but the person may really lay down the cell phone, grab the handles and resume his “reps”. Or if it’s two old doofuses I may get a highly animated emphatic apology as one old guy hastily scrambles from the machine. Or I might get an excuse and apology like “Gee, sorry, I didn’t know you wanted to use this machine”. Yeah right, you were sitting there goofing off for a half hour and thought you were the only one wanting to use that machine? Come on now, wake up, what planet are you on?
Another pet peeve is not putting things back where you found them. One of the important maxims in the “Golden Rules for Living” that applies at home or anywhere else in the world is “If you move it, put it back”. Well, most people working out at my gym follow this rule. It’s really not that difficult – all the barbell weights are arranged in order on eight or so perfectly constructed racks arranged along the weight benches. It’s really easy to put them back after using them. And all the dumbbells are arranged on racks in sections numbered for the weight – there are the 10’s, the 15’s, the 20’s, the 25’s and so on. You just have to be smart enough to match the number on those you are using to the number on the rack – that’s where they belong. But always, always, someone who can’t read the numbers or who just doesn’t care enough to put things back where they found them, screws things up – there’s a couple of 30’s where the 25’s belong or 10’s where it says 15. I just can’t believe that people do this. Is this an ego thing? Hey, I’ll do what I want, to hell with rules or is it not caring, or is it just plain stupidity – gee, that 25 looked just like a 30. Whatever motivates people to do this, or disinclines them to do things properly – irks the heck out of me. So, taking the two 25’s I want to use off the spaces where 35’s go, I shake my head in disbelief and roll my eyes, hoping some offenders might see how frustrated I am. But of course they don’t and they don’t care anyway. The world has people like this and there’s nothing I can do about it.
And probably the most frustrating pet peeve of all in my gym is watching the inevitable idiot who hops on board a treadmill, cranks up the speed to an adequate level, then increases the incline so he’s walking uphill, but then spends his whole time on the machine holding on to the bar or the control panel. This is stupid – you’re not really walking uphill, you’re being pulled uphill. You’re not getting a good workout at all. You’re hanging on to the machine for dear life, being pulled along. Oh yes, maybe you’ve seen other people do it and so you do it yourself, without a question or a thought about what it’s doing or not doing for you. You do your cardio this way for six months and still have the beer belly you had when you started. Moreover your cardiovascular condition has not improved one bit. Yet you think that because your treadmill is elevated 10 degrees and pointed toward the ceiling, you are getting a great workout. But you’re wrong, you idiot, you are holding onto the bar. Hey you fool, try leaving your machine at that same incline and letting go. Big difference, isn’t there? Now you’re really walking uphill, you’re swinging your arms, your heart is pounding, you‘re breathing hard, you’re actually breaking out into a sweat. This is a real workout. But there they are, always the same people – machine set at 10 or more percent incline, speed at 3.5 miles per hour, and they’re holding on to the bars, thinking they are getting a workout when they’re not. I can’t believe it. But it happens….every…..day.
But wait, there’s one more. Just this morning, when I was doing my cardio on a recumbent bicycle right under the CNN screen, some guy, already drenched and dripping (from his chin) with perspiration resulting from his encounter with another cardio machine, plopped himself down next to me to check the news and sip his water. Then after polluting the air around me with a rare redolence of BO, got up and left, leaving the seat and back glistening with his sweat. This is disgusting. First, while it’s ok to sweat, actually good in the eyes of some – to help leach “poisons” from the body and whatnot – it’s not ok to offend others with the sight and odor. Nor is it ok to leave a residue on the machine. A rule to wipe down equipment after use should be established and enforced. And users of my gym ought to have the basic decency to bless their underarms with a stroke or spritz of deodorant before coming to the gym. Or at the very least, how about bringing a towel?
Really, I’m tempted to run off and distribute little printed notes that say “Hey, want to use your cellphone? Then find another place to sit”. Or “Hey, what to chat with friends? Find another place to chat” or “For God’s sake, man, stop cheating yourself…let go of the handles and really walk uphill” or “Hey, could you please wipe your sweat off the machine when you’re done?”. Or better yet, I wish my gym management would post some signs in convenient places saying “Use your machine and move on” or “Work out, don’t chat or text” and “Please wipe down equipment when finished”. Perhaps this huge gym should establish “texting zones” or “chatting areas”. There’s lots of room. And there have to be many other people just as frustrated as I am.
But I am sure they won’t and I’ll just go on this way – elevating my own heart rate and breathing rate not only through my workouts but through the constant frustration with the inconsiderate and egotistical people with whom I share this marvelous facility. C’est la vie.
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.
“Wake Up, Liberals: There Will be No 2018 ‘Blue Wave’, No Democratic Majority and No Impeachment”, “There’s no quick fix for Trump or our damaged democracy—and the Democrats still look hopeless” “Beyond Opposing Trump, Democrats keep searching for a message” “Democrats in the Dead Zone” “Can Democrats Fix the Party?”
Not a day goes by that I don’t read yet another article about the problems in the Democratic Party – no presidency, neither house of Congress and only a third of governors’ offices and state legislatures – and also not a day goes by that I don’t encounter another exhortation or reason or strategy to “resist” Trump and his agenda. It appears that all the Party can do is lick its wounds, point fingers at who or what they think was responsible for its devastating losses and oppose Trump, all totally insufficient to generate the enthusiasm and the votes needed to take back the House or the Senate in 2018, much less the presidency in 2020. “Not Trump” or “Resist” might be rallying cries for the Democratic Party but they are not strategies for winning.
And despite Trump’s record unpopularity and obvious incompetence and millions of dollars poured into them, the Democratic Party is 0 for 4 in recent special congressional elections. How can this be? While it’s obvious that Democratic victory in these four traditionally solid Republican districts would be difficult, another reason for the losses is simply that the Democrats no longer have a clear message other than opposition to the president and the Republican Congress. The latest disappointment, the contest in Georgia’s Sixth District, the lame Jon Ossoff and his DCCC supporters erred seriously with a campaign right out of the vanilla Hillary Clinton playbook – fight government waste, trim regulations, support Israel, promote “civility in politics”, “personal responsibility”, etc – nothing for the guy who’s working two jobs, can’t pay the electric bill, has a chronically sick kid and a pregnant wife and just had his used car repossessed.
Clearly the party needs to stand for something and truly, when I ask myself what the Democratic Party stands for today I am at a loss. This point was perfectly illustrated in the 2016 presidential campaign when what the standard-bearers of the respective parties stood for were in sharp contrast to each other. The authors of “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign” painfully describe the difficulty the campaign had in even coming up with the reason Mrs. Clinton was running for president. The best the campaign could manage was – “I would have had a reason for running or I wouldn’t have run.” In addition the authors describe a board in the campaign’s Brooklyn office totally covered with sticky notes listing “what Hillary is for” – actually so many that the net result was nothing. So it should be no surprise that the Democratic candidate lost the election. It would seem that at the very least it should be clear what a candidate stands for and why s/he is running for office. And during the the campaign there was never any doubt as to where Hillary’s Republican opponent stood and why he was running. He was going to bring manufacturing and mining jobs back, keep Muslims out of the country, build that wall and “Make America Great Again”.
These thoughts have prompted me to reflect on my own political convictions. Since my early twenties, when I finally shook off the last vestiges of the parental cocoon of Republicanism in which I had been wrapped since childhood, I realized that the Democratic Party best represented what “I am for”:
concern for the health and welfare of my fellow man;
concern for the working man and the union that represents him;
a living wage for a full day’s work;
limiting the power of corporations and big business and ensuring that they paid their fair share of taxes;
progressive taxation for individuals with the wealthy paying their fair share of taxes;
a dignified and comfortable retirement for everyone;
affordable and adequate healthcare for everyone;
good public schools and and an education for everyone who wanted it;
a reasonable “floor” under our society beneath which no one could fall, meaning unemployment insurance, welfare for the poor and Social Security for the elderly;
a safe and healthy environment through regulation and conservation;
accepting that we are a nation of immigrants that requires laws that foster a steady flow of new blood and energy from foreign lands;
a belief that the government can be a force for good in people’s lives;
promoting the importance of voting, that this right should be guaranteed to all citizens.
It seems that these personal convictions have always been staples of the Democratic Party but if so, why is it so difficult today to shout them loud and clear? Obviously the Democratic Party is ill. Its symptoms are obvious: no clear message, ossified leadership, forsaking its working class roots, selling out to Wall Street, economic issues eclipsed by social issues, writing off the working man and relying instead on the minority vote, representation by corporate Democrats like the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Shumer and Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the “Republicans in Democrat clothing”, cross dressers like Senators Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitcamp. What prescription can we offer to address these symptoms? What can we administer to the Democratic Party to get it well? It doesn’t need some expensive drug to treat or mask symptoms or that produces negative side effects, like identity politics, cultural issues, opposing Trump or defending Obamacare. What the Democratic Party needs is a robust return to the basics of good health – fresh air, good food and lots of exercise. And what are those for the Democratic Party? A return to the principles articulated and espoused by the greatest Democrat of all – Franklin D. Roosevelt.
On January 6, 1941, President Roosevelt gave his “Four Freedoms” speech to Congress, “a vision of the world that would be worthy of our civilization”. He announced simply and eloquently that the United States should dedicate itself to advancing these four freedoms everywhere in the world:
Freedom of speech and expression, the best defense against the corruption of democracy;
Freedom of worship, our shield against the forces of bigotry, intolerance, and fanaticism;
Freedom from want, a commitment to erasing hunger, poverty, and pestilence from the earth;
Freedom from fear, a freedom dependent on collective security, a concept carried forward with our leadership in the United Nations.
Certainly, the Democratic Party, in reviving and resuscitating itself could start here – embrace of these “four freedoms” certainly compels a robust Democratic response to Trump’s attacks on the press and the environment, his recklessness and ignorance in foreign policy and his racism and bigotry.
Another place for the Democratic party to start should be reviewing and dedicating itself to Roosevelt’s “Second Bill of Rights”, those principles having been included in of all places, the Charter of the European Union. It might be useful to go back to the speech in which they were outlined. In Roosevelt’s words spoken to the nation on January 11, 1944:
“This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty. As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness. We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are:
—The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation; —The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation; —The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living; —The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad; —The right of every family to a decent home; —The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; —The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment; —The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being. America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”
Incredibly meaningful meaningful principles, aren’t they? Surely here in the wealthiest nation on earth, we ought to be able to guarantee everyone a home, an education, a decent paying job, medical care and a dignified and worry-free retirement. These are principles that the Democratic Party has forgotten and that if they were embraced anew, the Democratic Party would regain its rightful place as the party that really cares about people, the party that for decades stood up for the common man.
Everything in FDR’s “Four Freedoms” and “Second Bill of Rights” can be readily extended and translated to what should be the major tenets of the Democratic Party today – including strengthening Social Security, strengthening unions, increasing the minimum wage, and endorsing single payer healthcare. And all of what the Democrats should stand for is supported by the American people. Poll after poll have indicated that most Americans support the principles enumerated above and oppose the cruel Republican agenda of Trump, Ryan and McConnell. The following statistics tell the story:
64% are significantly worried about global warning;
71% want the US to honor the Paris Agreement on climate change;
By a ten point margin (49% to 39%) voters polled oppose removing regulations on businesses and corporations;
Oppose removing regulations specifically intended to combat climate change by a margin of 61% to 29%;
58% want federally funded health insurance for all; 85% of black voters and 84% of Latino voters favor placing the government in charge of managing the health care system in the United States;
a sizable majority — about three in five Americans — say the government has a responsibility to ensure everyone has health care;
64% would pay higher taxes to guarantee healthcare for everyone;
60% of Americans would favor replacing Obamacare with a federally funded national health plan;
74% are opposed to cuts in Medicaid;
61% of Republicans and 95% of Democrats would maintain or increase funding for health care in general;
a majority of Americans support “expanding Medicare to provide health insurance to every American”;
a plurality of voters support “a single payer health care system, where all Americans would get their health insurance from one government plan”;
61% percent of Republicans and 93% of Democrats would maintain or increase spending for ‘economic assistance to needy people in the U.S;
two thirds of the American people say that the government should care for those who cannot care for themselves;
70% want nuclear disarmament;
72% want the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan;
73% want the government to maintain or increase government support for green energy;
almost 70% favored Obama’s Clean Power Plan;
80% approve of Planned Parenthood receiving federal funds for non-abortion health assistance for women;
70% of Americans support a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy;
60% of Americans support doubling the national minimum wage to $15 per hour;
60% are favorable toward unions;
63% of Americans say money and wealth distribution is unfair;
Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to tax policies that benefit corporations and the rich;
90% agree that there are already too many tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans and corporations;
80% agree that it would help grow the economy if the country made sure the wealthiest Americans paid their fair share of taxes;
voters broadly agree that Republicans in Congress put the interests of corporations and the wealthiest Americans ahead of average Americans;
61% say that the wealthy pay too little in taxes;
80% feel strongly that Trump should release his tax returns;
about 80% of voters from both parties want to reverse Citizens United and get money out of politics;
70% say that the government should regulate financial services and products “to make sure they are fair for consumers”;
79% say Wall Street financial companies should be held accountable with tougher rules and enforcement for the practices that caused the financial crisis;
a broad majority (77%) says that there is too much power in the hands of a few rich people and large corporations;
by a 10-point margin (49% to 39%), voters oppose removing regulations on businesses and corporations;
66% of Americans believe there are “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor, an increase of 19 percentage points since 2009;
three-quarters of all American adults favored Mr. Obama’s decision to re-establish ties with Cuba;
a plurality – 39% of Sanders supporters backed Palestinians while just a third backed Israel; support for Palestinians has tripled among US youth;
92% favor universal background checks for gun purchases;
80% favor letting undocumented immigrants stay here legally;
60% favor legalization of recreational marijuana;
So, with the American people solidly behind a progressive agenda, my fellow Democrats, let’s get well. Let’s flush the dangerous and corrupting drugs of Wall Street big money and Clintonian centrism down the toilet and get out into the clean fresh air. Let’s stop supporting already doomed Obamacare, get profit out of healthcare and support Medicare for All; let’s support unions and collective bargaining; regulate big corporations and eagerly “welcome their hatred” as Roosevelt did; let’s support public schools and get corporations out of education; let’s fight to get money out of elections; let’s fight for fair taxation for corporations and individuals; let’s reject the cruelty of the Republican budget and support the Progressive Caucus’ “People’s Budget” ; let’s promote peace, negotiate with our enemies and put the military-industrial complex out of business; let’s support women and their right to control their bodies; let’s reject the influence of the pollsters, idea people, analysts and fundraisers like Neera Tanden, Robbie Mook and John Podesta who helped blow the last election; let’s stop beating around the bush with “identity” messages, “stronger together” banners and advocacy of social issues and get down to the reality of supporting our base with an economic message that will bring our voters together – the original Democratic base of American workers, plus our more contemporary base of minority voters. Let’s support all the traditional Democratic issues mentioned above but let’s wrap them all tightly in an economic message that everyone can support and everyone can understand – President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms and Second Bill of Rights. If the Democratic Party is brave enough to do this, to eschew the money and resultant influence of corporations and billionaires and rely on common people as Bernie Sanders so successfully did, we can look forward to a Democratic House in 2018, the House and Senate and the presidency in 2020.
I am certainly not an economist but the persistent embrace of fallacious principles by the Republican party compels me to share what I believe to be some basic economic tenets that history has validated.
Basic Principle One. To borrow from NY Times columnist Paul Krugman – “your spending is my income, my spending is your income”.
This is very simple and basic. If you lose your job and have no money to spend, my income is reduced. Likewise if I lose my job, your income is negatively affected. For an economy to work properly, people must have jobs and money to spend. If people have jobs and are spending money, those entities providing goods and services will keep producing, keep hiring and paying employees, who will in turn spend their money and all the gears of the economic machine mesh and keep turning.
In the Great Depression, many people lost jobs, had no money to spend, demand plummeted and production of goods and services went down, causing more people to lose jobs, less money was spent, causing even more reduction of production, a “vicious cycle” causing economic recession and depression. The only solution during this horrible time was to “prime the pump”, to have the government be the employer of last resort, provide jobs to put money into the hands of consumers, who would in turn spend that money, causing the need for goods and services to increase, additional people to be hired and paid again, in turn spending more money, arrest the progress of the vicious cycle and cause the economic wheels to start turning again in the right direction.
Basic Principle Two. Inequality is bad for an economy.
It’s always interesting to note that back in the 1950’s through the 1970’s, the US economy boomed. There was a thriving middle class, unions were strong and everyone felt that their children would be better off than they were. Factory workers owned homes and cars, took vacations and sent their kids to college. Income taxes were progressive, with the very wealthy taxed at 90 percent. CEO top pay was approximately 30 times that of the average employee, not the 300 times typical today. When President Kennedy first cut top tax rates claiming that, “A rising tide lifts all boats” and when Reagan completed the job by reducing the top rate to 28 percent the trend toward our present serious inequality began and the economic foundation began to weaken. Why? The US has a consumer based economy so it does well when people have money to spend. When vast sums of money are transferred from the middle class to the wealthy, there is far less consumer spending. The wealthy do not buy the appliances and cars that keep the economy humming. They already have plenty of those. Their additional billions are banked and do not circulate in the economy. Thus, inequality harms a consumer based economy like ours.
Perennial Republican candidate Mitt Romney, like virtually all Republicans, claimed that tax cuts for the rich help the economy because “the job creators would have more money to invest in and expand their businesses and would hire more workers, etc, etc.” No, sorry, tax cuts for the rich do not work this way. Businesses expand when there is increased demand for their products and services. And demand for products and services increases when the people who buy these things have more money to spend. An economy works best when inequality is minimized, producing a huge middle class earning and spending good money and there is minimal money sitting idle at the top.
Basic Principle Three. The “free market” needs controls. Unfettered capitalism will eventually feed on itself and die if not regulated.
The “free market” is not self-regulating, as we would like to believe. If corporations had their way in their never ending quest to maximize profit, they would pay their employees less and less to make more and more profit. And if this reaches its logical conclusion, then soon no one could afford to buy the products and services provided by corporations and the corporation would cut production, close factories, further limit services in order to save money, and would further cut pay or fire employees. Soon since no one would could afford to buy its products the corporation would die, killed by its own relentless quest for profits in exactly the same way that a parasite eventually kills the host that feeds it.
From this little scenario it should be clear that corporations need to pay their employees well. This is best done by not relying on the largesse of the employer but by strengthening unions so that good pay and job security for workers would be guaranteed and that providing this pay and security would be an integral part of every company’s balance sheet. Heeding strong government regulations to ensure that companies provide safe working conditions for their employees and produce safe and high quality products should also be part of every corporation’s business plan.
Strong government and strong unions are required to counter the overwhelming strengths of corporations as John Kenneth Galbraith’s “Theory of Countervailing Power” made clear. Unfortunately our government has allowed unions to become decimated, correspondingly strengthening the power of corporations. Government too has become weaker, allowing mergers that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago and allowing rules and regulations to be attacked and weakened.
And finally, the government should always be the “employer of last resort”. Everyone able and willing to put in a day’s work should receive a fair living wage in return for that work.
Basic Principle Four. “Reaganomics” didn’t work, won’t work and will never work.
This set of principles is unfortunately alive and well today. It’s hard to believe that “trickle-down” and “supply side” economics are still solid pillars of Republican orthodoxy. Yes and Republicans are still believing in “the Laffer Curve”. And prominent Republicans like Paul Ryan are still reading and worshiping Ayn Rand.
Tax cuts do not “pay for themselves” as Arthur Laffer and other supply side economic gurus would have us believe. The present ongoing failure of tax cut experiments in Wisconsin and Kansas are living proof of this. And the experience of other states, like my own home state of Arizona, cutting progressive income taxation in favor of regressive sales taxes has slowed growth and seriously reduced state revenues.
“Cutting entitlements” or raising the Social Security retirement age or “means testing” for Medicare, are not the answers. The payroll tax that funds Social Security is not a progressive tax. Income above $118,500 escapes the payroll tax altogether. Simply abolishing this ceiling and assessing the payroll tax on all income would solve Social Security’s problems for the next sixty years. Raising the retirement age is a “solution” concocted by people making a living sitting on their fannies because anyone who does physical labor for a living will tell you that “raising the full retirement age” for Social Security is not at all realistic.
And finally, distinguishing between “makers” and “takers” is fallacious. Among the biggest takers are American corporations, many of which totally escape corporate income tax because of dozens of loopholes.
Basic Principle Five – It is ok for the Federal Budget to run a deficit.
I am really tired of Republican fiscal hawks wringing their hands and waiting for the sky to fall over the federal debt and infamous national debt “clock” and the ubiquitous bad news graphs and diagrams about budget deficits. Also I am tired of those same people saying we need a “balanced budget amendment” in our constitution. And another common refrain from these “deficit scolds”, as NY Times columnist Paul Krugman has labeled them, is comparing our Federal budget to one’s household budget – “No household can continually spend more than it takes in, and neither can the federal government”. The two are not in any way the same and in fact are radically different.
Household and personal debt both face a day of reckoning – when the notes become due or when you die and the debts have to be paid or discharged. Our federal government has existed for 221 years and has been in debt for about 218 of them. And the federal government has run budget deficits for about 190 of those years. And the government is still in debt and it’s still running just fine. No “day of reckoning”. Furthermore, I don’t know of any household that can mint and print its own money, establish its value, impose taxes….and collect them in those same dollars.
Yes, the debt can perhaps grow too big and perhaps become less manageable. But we’re not anywhere near that point. As a percentage of GDP our federal deficits and total debt right now are really quite modest. And a “balanced budget amendment” for our federal government would be its death knell. The federal budget needs the flexibility to inject money into the economy if necessary to fight recession. And it needs the flexibility to borrow heavily for other needs of common benefit. Such a limitation would be deadly for the country and our economy.
Basic Principle Six – Paying taxes is ok, being taxed is ok, we need taxes to run federal, state and local governments .
This simple statement runs counter to Republican dogma, which says that taxes are too many and too high – abolish the corporate income tax, abolish capital gains taxes, lower income tax rates or abolish the income tax altogether, replace it with a value added tax, or a national sales tax or at the very least establish a simple flat tax, or a combination of some or all of the above. Republican anti-tax guru Grover Norquist wants to starve the government of taxes “… to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” and has incredibly anointed himself with enormous power by extracting his “pledge” of “no new taxes“ from a majority of members of congress.
Listen, we need taxes. Taxes have been paid to governments from time immemorial – from farmers providing the Pharaohs with a portion of the grain they have grown, to peasants paying the local duke or prince a portion of crops or animals grown on land rented from said potentate. Presently we are the least taxed of any developed country so we need to stop complaining about high taxes. Do we need to improve our system of taxation? Of course. Loopholes in personal and corporate income need to be closed. The wealthy and corporations need to pay their fair share. Does the government need to spend money more wisely? Of course. A blank check for the Pentagon (with no auditing) every year, trillions wasted on destructive, tragic and futile wars and $8 million a day for a wealthy country like Israel are stupid. But do we need taxes? – of course we do.
Right now, with low oil prices, we desperately need to raise the fuel tax and use that money to repair our crumbling infrastructure. This “user fee” has always been the most rational and sensible way to build and maintain our transportation infrastructure. But instead, our “no new taxes” Congress has chosen instead to fund much of the new Highway Bill with a mishmash of crazy and unreliable sources totally unrelated to the “user fee” concept.
Finally, I am tired of hearing politician after politician referring to “your tax money”. No, it’s not our tax money, it is the government’s tax money. Part of whatever I have earned from the time I started working at 16 years old has been the government’s money. And that’s ok.
Today I read that the new Republican majority Congress is going to make its first priority approving the Keystone XL Pipeline – a gift to TransCanada and the Koch brothers, both corporate despoilers of the environment and a project that will provide, after the temporary jobs required during its construction terminate, maybe 35 permanent jobs. And its second priority appears to be the repeal of the President’s partial fix for US immigration policy. I think that those who hoped for anything more substantial from this congress than the last, the least productive in history, are going to be disappointed. Along with these are stated intentions to weaken clean water and air regulations to favor their corporate campaign funders.
When I think of the problems facing our country and how little has been done to solve them I get very angry. Our Congress is totally broken and unable to do anything. Why we elect these incompetents, send them to Washington, pay them well, provide them with luxurious office space in modern buildings, pay for huge staffs and provide a extensive menu of perks for them, is beyond me, when we receive so little in return. And now with Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate, we can be sure that the problem will not improve and will likely get even worse, since both leaders have indicated that their overall main objective is to “fight Obama” for the next two years.
The media is full of stories about why our lawmakers are so unable to do their job. Certainly the armies of well paid lobbyists running all over Washington pushing their agendas are a major cause. Another is the flood of corporate money pouring into the system to fund campaigns and to essentially buy congressmen and their votes. Our lawmakers represent corporations and special interests – not the American people they are supposed to represent.
But what concerns me the most is what is not getting done. The problems our country faces are serious, myriad, increasing, and are not being addressed. Months, years, and even decades go by and still nothing is done to address them. What follows is a list of a few of the gravest problems facing our country which have not been addressed by the last Congress and will likely not be addressed by the present. I am wondering too how many of these needs will be listed by President Obama in his upcoming State of the Union address. This list of issues that follows is neither comprehensive nor in any particular order.
Immigration. This issue has been on the table for several years. The US is a nation of immigrants and we must act to solve the border crisis, to provide an orderly way to naturalize people already here and to provide an effective way for newcomers to earn citizenship. What the President has done unilaterally helps but does not solve the problem. Congress needs to act, not “fight Obama” on the immigration issue.
Highway Trust Fund. The Highway Trust Fund is going broke because the Federal gasoline tax has not been increased since 1993. Congress came up with a jury-rigged temporary solution last year which is in reality no solution at all. And a recent honest effort in the Senate to raise the tax by 12 cents per gallon over the next two years went nowhere. We need to raise the gasoline and diesel fuel tax in order to repair and maintain our roads, highways and bridges. Right now, winter 2015, fuel prices have plummeted and we have a rare opportunity to increase these taxes and replenish the Trust Fund while inflicting little pain. But I seriously doubt that Congress will have the courage and common sense to act since the fossil fuels lobby remains a formidable obstacle .
Minimum Wage. The minimum wage of $7.25 per hour in 1968, when adjusted for inflation, should be at least $10.90 today. Everyone who works full time should be able to make a decent living. Nobody should have to work full time for less than a living wage, especially in this fabled “richest country in the world”. And virtually every study shows definitively that raising the minimum wage will not affect job growth. Ideally the minimum wage should be around $15 per hour. All corporations and businesses should be required to pay a living wage of at least this amount to all employees….period.
Climate Change. Obviously, with the overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change, we needed to act quickly a long time ago to limit the discharge of carbon into the atmosphere and the burning of fossil fuels which is responsible for the bulk of that carbon. An increase in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes mentioned above, to a level similar to those in European countries would help by significantly reducing consumption. And in the meantime, efforts to create energy from renewable sources should be doubled. With so much of Congress in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry and key Congressional committees run by simpletons, not nearly enough has been done. Instead it appears that our new Congressional leaders are simply going to “roll back” much of what little has already been done to preserve this planet for our children and grandchildren.
Inequality. Wealth and income inequality in the US have become obscene over the last several decades. The rich have become many times richer and the middle class has been decimated by a tax system that has clearly been tailored to favor the wealthy. The federal income tax needs to again become radically more progressive, as it was in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s, when the highest incomes were taxed as high as 91 percent. Capital gains must be taxed as normal income. Unions must be strengthened and a cap placed on CEO remuneration. I pay a sales tax when I buy a shirt, yet millions of dollars of financial instruments are bought and sold every day – with no sales tax applied. A financial transactions tax would not only help federal and state budgets but would slow the rapid growth of our feckless finance industry. And finally, our safety net should be strengthened, not weakened. Every single working person in this “richest nation on earth” should be guaranteed a decent job and income sufficient to properly support a family as well as provide a secure and respectful retirement. A radically adjusted minimum wage law as noted above should be an integral part of this effort.
Federally Financed Elections. If there is one thing we need to do it is to get money out of politics. Presently we are losing our democracy to millionaires and billionaires. Big money has bought both our congress and our presidency. Our Congress clearly represents corporations and special interests, not the people. If it wanted to, Congress could vote today to federally finance national elections. And the states could be required to also finance elections at the state and local levels. But if money were out of politics the “revolving door” between government and corporate service would close so despite its power to change how elections are financed, Congress will do nothing and leave it to grass roots power to try to change. Actually, when I think about it, almost all of the issues mentioned in this article would not be an issue at all if money were removed from politics.
Healthcare. “Obamacare”, although a step in the right direction, is fraught with problems and contradictions, the major one of which was aptly illustrated in Michael Moore’s documentary “Sicko” – that of allowing corporations and profit to be part of the solution. Health insurance companies want to make money, grow and increase profit and the only way to do this is to pay less to the insured. These corporations’ only role is to collect money from employers, individuals and the government and pass it on to the doctors and hospitals providing the care, but….a big chunk of this money goes to overhead, profit, shareholders and CEO’s. Why, when this function could be performed much more efficiently by the government, as it is in western European countries? A single payer program like those existing in almost all other advanced countries, needs to be established. A final note – government has usually provided services for the “public good” – like highways, police, the military, fire protection, water, sewage, education and so on. Healthcare is also a public good and should be provided by the government in the same way, not by profit-making private corporations.
Voting rights. Congress must act to protect voting rights in every state. The plethora of actions by state legislatures and the recent action by the Supreme Court to weaken voting rights must be reversed. Congress, our national legislature, must take action to make voting easier across the country rather than allow all these efforts to make the exercise of this fundamental right more difficult. Our constitution guarantees the vote, through, however, some very confusing language. Now our Federal government must act to take regulating this process out of the hands of the states and establish standard rules and procedures for voting across the entire country, including cancelling the outmoded Tuesday for election days and establishing a national election holiday. In short, Congress needs to pass legislation to make voting easier across the entire nation. Voter participation in US elections is disgraceful and we need to do everything we can to increase voter turnout. Perhaps voting should be made mandatory as it is in other nations – maybe then people would make it their business to find out all they could about candidates. In short, Congress needs to do everything it can to make voting easier and fairer and dramatically increase participation.
Taxes. Tax reform has been trumpeted as an objective of our new Republican majority Congress which, reading between the lines, means reducing taxes on the wealthy and reducing corporate taxes. In 1952, 32 percent of Federal revenue came from taxes on large corporations; today it is less than 10 percent and one out of four corporations pays no corporate income tax, in fact many end up collecting millions in refunds from the IRS. What really needs to be done is to close all corporate tax loopholes, require corporations to pay what they should and ignore all the Republican malarkey about “crushing corporate taxes”. And Congress needs to make the Federal income tax truly progressive like it was in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. Right now, despite Republican claims of “crippling” personal income and corporate taxes, US federal tax revenues are proportionately lower than those of any other developed country. Furthermore, Republican controlled states are steadily phasing out progressive state income taxes in favor of regressive sales taxes. Although a state issue, Congress needs to address and reverse this trend. A recent article in the New York Times discussing how this issue affects the poor stated, “… in 2015 the poorest fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in state and local taxes, the middle fifth will pay 9.4 percent and the top 1 percent will average 5.4 percent.” Congress needs to address our system of taxation, period.
Foreign Policy. Our foreign policy needs attention on a number of different fronts. First, our unequivocal support of Israel needs to be reexamined. Sending arms to Israel is in fact a violation of US law, according to the “Leahy law”. Similar support of Egypt needs to be reconsidered since Egypt is also a serial violator of human rights. With the security and control of thousands of nuclear weapons at stake, we need to maintain an acceptable relationship with Russia so we do not slide back into a dangerous cold war posture. And an unstable Pakistan, a nuclear power as well, needs our nurturance and support. Overall, we need to rethink our hundreds of military bases around the world and rely on diplomacy more than the military to solve problems. Also, we need to reach an accommodation with Iran – this nation has not invaded another country nor has it started a war with anyone else. Our position regarding Iran is a direct reflection of Israel’s nefarious influence on US foreign policy. Finally, we have to craft a foreign policy that is based on reason and not on fear – the 9/11 fallout that has resulted in blinding ourselves to the real threats to our nation’s security.
Equal Rights. Congress needs to move immediately to establish equal rights for everyone in this nation, including equal pay for equal work and abortion rights for women. Everyone in this country, no matter their sex or sexual orientation needs to be treated equally. And this includes being able to marry whom you love and women being able to control their own bodies.
Infrastructure. We need to immediately begin a massive infrastructure repair and modernization program, which would include not only our deteriorating roads, highways and bridges supported by fuel taxes as noted above but also our electrical grid and internet infrastructure as well. This would not only put many thousands of people to work again but would improve the economy as well.
Regulation of Corporations and Wall Street. With most of both houses of Congress in thrall to corporations and banks, it is highly doubtful, short of a revolution, that anything will be done. But not to limit and regulate big corporations and big banks will ultimately doom our economy and our democracy. The passage of Dodd-Frank was to be a partial solution to this problem, but the banks and corporations have wasted no time in chipping away at this law’s already too flimsy provisions. If we lived in an ideal world, Congress would immediately pass another Glass-Steagall Act to keep banks out of the casino business and get them back to lubricating the economy with loans to businesses and consumers. It would also break up the too-big-to-fail banks and ask the Justice Department to take action against their too-big-to jail executives. I find it incredible that after the savings and loan scandal of the 1980’s when regulators made over 3000 criminal referrals, producing over 1000 felony convictions that the far worse crisis of 2008 has produced the conviction of but one low level banker, virtually guaranteeing that the same criminals will cause another crisis in the future. Furthermore, corporations and banks should not be allowed to park money or move company headquarters offshore to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. The constant conservative refrain about “too much regulation” or “regulation is choking business” is absolute nonsense. If anything, American business needs more regulation, not less, and by this I do not mean the piles of needless paperwork that plague small business, which could and should be lightened, but the damage to the environment, the tax loopholes, the collusion, the lobbying, the abuse of workers and the focus on profits at any cost that make banks and corporations an insult to this country and its people.
Education. As a professional educator that has logged 45 wonderful years in the field of public and private education, I am extremely upset with the test and profit driven enterprise my sweet chosen profession has become. Our Congress has joyfully joined the assault on public schools in favor of “choice”, meaning vouchers, charter schools and for profit schools. Education is a public enterprise for the public good in which private profit-driven corporations have no place. Congressional action could reverse this trend and restore public schools to the lofty democratic stature they once had. Those “experts” in the media and in government who think that the latest education “reforms” like vouchers, choice, home schooling, charter schools and more testing will result in real improvement and genuine advances in achievement are in for a rude surprise. Unfortunately this revelation will occur too late to save a couple of generations of students subjected to these “reforms” from the disastrous results of a narrowed curriculum, strangled creativity and spontaneity in teaching and learning and limited fine arts offerings resulting from testing and profit-driven education. Unfortunately our president and his secretary of education have continued down the same disastrous trail blazed by George Bush and his No Child Left Behind debacle. Congress needs to act to restore public education to the proud position it once held in our democracy.
Workers Rights. First of all the right to organize must be provided and maintained for all workers. Unions must be strengthened and a fair day’s pay for a day’s work needs to be guaranteed. Corporate profits in the US have increased dramatically and need to be shared with workers, as well as stockholders. Also, the US, surprisingly is the only advanced nation that does not mandate paid maternity and family leave. In addition, and equally shameful, it is the only advanced nation that does not mandate sick leave or vacations. This wanton disregard for the welfare of workers is shocking and should concern our lawmakers. Also as mentioned above, women should earn equal pay for equal work, and equality in salary and rights should apply as well to LBGT employees. Finally, a decent and honorable retirement for all workers should be guaranteed through strengthening and expanding social security. The progressive weakening of collective bargaining, aided and abetted by our corporate-funded congress, particularly in the Reagan years, was a horrible mistake, not only contributing to the weakening and shrinking of our middle class but also destroying the balance in our economy described by the great economist John Kenneth Galbraith as “countervailing power” – the balance among government, corporations, trade groups and unions that is as essential in a modern capitalist economy as basic competition, still ideally exemplified in European countries where strong union power is supported as a public and economic good.
Affordable College Education. Germany just set a marvelous example for the world by erasing the last few vestiges of tuition in its system of higher education because Germany “does not want the attainment of a university education to be a function of family wealth”. How remarkable, how wonderful for German families and young people, underscoring the very different prospects for college students in the United States, where getting a college degree is still very much a function of family wealth. Despite extolling the virtues of getting an education, our government has done very little to provide universal opportunity for higher education. Making loans more available is not the answer, when students finally graduating are trying to start a productive adult life with the albatross of huge debt hanging around their necks. Isn’t the fact that education debt outstrips credit card debt now a red flag demanding that we act? Steadily increasing higher education costs and the corresponding increase in education debt coupled with decreases in family savings rates are national problems that require a national (read Congressional) solution.
Cuba. We are about three decades overdue in recognizing Cuba as a fellow nation and exchanging ambassadors. I am happy to recognize that President Obama has finally acted to end this childish multi-decade tantrum that has isolated this nation and needlessly slowed its development. Maybe now, as the doors open wide, we can discover how to run a fair and efficient national healthcare system unsullied by corporate profit.
Restore investment in research. The last several budget battles in Washington have resulted in government support of basic research being drastically cut. This has not only hurt basic research in engineering and the sciences but has thrust much of it into the private sector, where private spending to plug the hole will mean that many scientific advances will become the property of private corporations and serve corporate profits more than the public good. Congress has to restore money for research that has been cut in the “sequester” and in general across the board cuts if we desire to maintain any kind of scientific leadership in the world.
Reduce the “Defense” Budget. The US spends more on defense than the next eight countries combined. This bloated black hole of incredible waste, fraud and abuse, needs to be cut and drastically reduced. This budget pays for the “American Empire” of over 1000 military bases spread across the world, including over 200 in Germany (why?) and about four thousand here at home. The Pentagon also maintains resort hotels, ski resorts and more than 230 golf courses overseas. It also funds America’s ill advised and futile efforts at “nation-building” which featured roomfuls of “bricks” of cash to buy the favor and support of locals in Iraq and Afghanistan. It continues to buy outmoded and outdated weapons systems at huge cost including planes and aircraft carriers that will never be needed in any present or future conflicts. Plus the Pentagon continues to maintain a “mini” state department all of its own and weighs in heavily on foreign and domestic policy decisions. All this spending and waste while countless domestic needs go unmet and unfilled must be halted. Experts have noted that the US military budget could be easily cut by one third without threatening the nation’s safety. Our national legislature needs to take some action.
Gun Control. How many more Columbines, Tucsons, Auroras or Newtowns will we need before we do anything? How many more bloody bodies and grieving loved ones do we need to goad our useless Congress to do something? A majority of Americans favor gun registration and background checks, as do a majority of sportsmen who support responsible ownership of guns. Yet because of the influence of the National Rifle Association and its army of lobbyists, we can’t get anything done. We now have nine guns for every ten Americans in our country – what for – hunting? Protection? Protection from what? A scholarly review of the Second Amendment by law professor Michael Waldman traces the genesis of the Second Amendment from its original intent, to its present day interpretation of guaranteeing that every American can own a gun, an interpretation that because of the flood of NRA propaganda, is unfortunately now accepted by most Americans. The NRA, which was formed after the Civil War to improve citizens’ marksmanship, used to concentrate solely on hunting, sportsmanship and safety. After being taken over by right wing zealots in the 1970’s, its primary focus is now not only maintaining Second Amendment “rights” but also disastrously extending “carry” rights into all public areas including bars and churches. As a recent example of NRA antics, several South Carolina legislators, also ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council, funded by the Koch brothers) members are presently sponsoring a bill which would require a “Second Amendment Day” in all schools, replete with poster contests and awards, and also would require that teachers at all levels spend at least three weeks studying the Second Amendment. Congress needs to reflect the will of the people and act immediately to at least require background checks and licensing and a powerful groundswell of common sense needs to limit the influence of the NRA.
Trade Agreements. NAFTA has been a disaster for American manufacturing jobs and for the middle class, as this corporation-brokered agreement sent millions of jobs overseas. A snake oil sales job sold NAFTA to the US public as a “shot in the arm” for the American economy but the agreement has benefitted corporations, not American workers or the American economy. The same dishonesty and subterfuge now characterizes corporate efforts to “fast track” another disastrous agreement – the Trans Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement, or TPP, backed by none other than our own Democratic (read ”Corporate Democrat”) president. This agreement, if passed and approved by Congress will mean the loss of thousands more jobs, more corporate destruction of the environment and will even allow corporations to sue foreign governments if corporate privilege and profits are threatened. And, amazingly, all these negotiations are being conducted behind closed doors. TPP can be stopped by our Congress and it can insist that the negotiations be transparently conducted in the open. But what will result ultimately I am sure, in this corporation owned and corporate run Congress, is TPP’s safe passage and a corresponding augmentation of corporate power and additional reduction of the power of American labor.
Strengthen Environmental Regulations. Another announced intention of our new Republican-controlled Congress is to gut the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. Again, our lawmakers hasten to do the bidding of their corporate masters. Naomi Klein’s new book, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate” makes it crystal clear that capitalism and environmental stewardship are antithetical and contradictory. Exploitation and plunder of the environment are essential to corporate growth and profit, and growth and profit are the objectives of capitalist economies. It is crystal clear that we need to change our economic systems or suffer the consequences. To me, fracking seems to be the perfect example of corporate environmental abuse – it is very profitable to obtain more oil and gas by poisoning our air with massive releases of methane and our water with the huge injections of poisonous chemicals into our precious earth. Congratulations to the states that have outlawed fracking and God help those that have not. Congress needs to protect the Clean Water and Air Acts and dramatically extend their scope.
Close Guantanamo. This moral, legal and ethical outrage should have been closed long ago and its occupants tried in Federal court and properly sentenced or released. To hold these so called “worst of the worst” in captivity with no charges and no trial will be forever a disgrace to this country and has long served as the most effective of magnets for the recruitment of more jihadists. Congress could close Guantanamo tomorrow but the latest nonsense from the Senate triumvirate of John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Kelly Ayotte about the Paris slaughter being a reason to keep these people detained without trial for even longer will likely keep the open wound of Guantanamo festering for the foreseeable future.
Strengthen the IRS. This government agency, much hated and maligned but very necessary, has had its budget cut 17 percent over the last five years. Why, when the job becomes more difficult and the number of taxpayers grows? These cuts are the result of sequester games and little paybacks from Republicans resulting from the IRS questioning the tax status of certain Tea Party organizations (Democratic party groups were targeted as well). Despite what we think of the IRS, our system of voluntary reporting requires the regulation, the oversight and the audits of a healthy tax agency and to further weaken it is foolish. These cuts need to be restored by Congress and consideration needs to be given to increasing the budget.
Rein in Drug Companies. If there is any area that needs more regulation it is our billion dollar drug companies. These companies, who concentrate more on profit than health, are allowed to run roughshod over rules and regulations because of their generous funding of our senators and congressmen. As primary examples of the “revolving door” between corporations and the agencies that are supposed to regulate them, in this case the FDA, we continue to see bad drugs and ineffective drugs foisted upon the medical community at ever inflated prices. The trend of our drug giants is to create minor variations on existing drugs and create new uses for them, some potentially dangerous (see the history of J & J’s dangerous new use for Resperdol), and thus generate new floods of profit. I mean how many more drugs do we need for erectile dysfunction? Or COPD? Or atrial fibrillation? These corporations also concentrate on drugs that people will have to take the rest of their lives, which are much more lucrative than the “quick knockout” kind of disease drug. Right now, Big Pharma spends 19 dollars on advertising and promotion for ever one dollar for researching new drugs. Why have no drug companies come up with a cure for Ebola? “Not profitable” is clearly the reason. The really big money has been in the statin drugs, which you have to take until the day you die. Statins lower cholesterol but do not prevent heart attacks. Some drug company executives have had the temerity to suggest that statins should be put into drinking water. Drug companies need to be regulated, directed, cut off at the knees, beaten and humbled and need to start working for the health of Americans, not for profit. And Congress could do this, if members were not bought by the 2.7 billion dollars the industry spent on lobbying last year, far more than any other industry.
The “Food Industrial Complex”. Our overweight and unhealthy nation is a daily reminder of a serious food problem in our nation, a problem that Congress could easily address. This problem is not one of scarcity – farmers produce an abundance of food. The problems, as most of us know, are in ways the food is produced. Our profit-driven corporate industrialization of food production has resulted in inhumane conditions for growing food animals, widespread use of antibiotics to counter the disease resulting from these condition and inappropriate diets many animals are fed. The same industrialization of food production has also resulted in a plethora of processed foods stuffed with sugar and chemicals to enhance taste, texture and freshness. Reading ingredient labels on foods today is a frightful exercise in deciphering and interpreting, as well as pronouncing. Food production is concentrated in fewer and fewer companies – the bulk of the world’s food is produced by 10 companies and over 75 percent of the meat in the US is supplied by four companies. With the political and corporate (usually synonymous) power wielded by such corporations they pretty much do what they want. Our “food industrial complex” has presented many other issues that need to be addressed, among them the reckless use of pesticides and genetically modified crops. Congress has the duty to protect our food supply and needs to act.
Regulate the US Security Apparatus – CIA, FBI, NSA. The recent revelations by whistle-blower Edward Snowden have underscored once again the need to rein in the power and secrecy of our outsized and frightening security and intelligence apparatus. Secrecy in the name of security has gone much too far. The money we spend on these agencies far outweighs their limited usefulness and questionable success. The growth of the CIA into a quasi-army violating the borders of sovereign nations and killing hundreds of civilians with its flocks of drones is great cause for concern. The FBI’s practice of entrapment to prevent dubious acts of “terrorism” that likely would never even have been contemplated were it not for the exhortation and temptation enthusiastically proffered by out of control agents needs to stop. And all of these agencies need to cease violating the privacy rights of our citizens with the uncontrolled collection of phone and email data. Congress must examine and reevaluate the role of these dangerous agencies and accordingly proscribe their activities in order to protect our civil rights and our democracy.
Modernize the US Constitution. Why is the US Constitution such a holy document that it cannot be modernized to fit a modern country with problems very different than its authors envisioned? This document was not delivered to us by God, despite the picture, venerated by conservatives, showing Jesus presenting it to the Founding Fathers. I know perfectly well that Congress itself cannot revise the Constitution, but it could certainly speak out on the need, if congressmen or senators had the courage, and thus make it an easier task. Retired Justice John Paul Stevens has spoken out on this need forcefully in his book “Six Amendments” and it’s time a few active justices spoke out as well. There is no other democracy in the world that does not adjust its constitution from time to time to accomodate changing conditions and needs. We need to do the same. The need for amendments addressing individual gun ownership, voting rights, corporate power, protecting the environment and keeping money out of politics come readily to mind.
Energy Policy. As noted earlier in this article under the Climate Change heading, we need to rein in the fossil fuel industry and adopt a “leave it in the ground” policy. To make this happen we need to increase support for renewable energy far above what we provide now. It’s incredible that one of the most gray, cloudy and dreary countries in the world, Germany, is far ahead of us in utilizing renewable energy sources. In fact cloudy Germany is much further ahead in using solar energy that our sunny states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and California. There will not always be fossil fuels in the ground, but there will always be the tides, the wind and the sun. Congress needs to act to increase support of renewables, reduce support of coal and oil and help “leave it in the ground”.
Looking back over this list, which as noted earlier is not comprehensive, I am amazed to consider that positive resolution of most of these issues is favored by an overwhelming majority of Americans. That our pathetic Congress represents corporations and special interests, not the American people, should be obvious. Equally obvious should be what to do about the problem. Money is the problem in Congress as well as in our Presidency and all elections throughout our national, state and local governments.
It is amazing that over two recent days in the US’s major newspaper, the New York Times, were six articles addressing much of what I have written above, and none were reassuring. Here were the headlines:
In New Congress, Wall St. Pushes to Undermine Dodd-Frank Reform
2014 Was the Hottest Year on Earth in Recorded History
Study Finds Local Taxes Hit Lower Wage Earners Harder
2 ½ Years after Aurora Theater Rampage, Colorado Braces for the Trial
Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says
Why Drugs Cost So Much
And a piece by a New York Times columnist that I read often begins:
“The police killing unarmed civilians, horrifying income inequality, rotting infrastructure and an unsafe “safety net”. An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. A food system that causes disease. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.
You get it. This is the United States, which, with the incoming Congress, might actually get worse.” (Mark Bittman, NYTimes 12/13/14)
It’s Mother’s Day this weekend and Mom is on my mind. Born on April 7, 1915, Mom was one of seven children born to Swedish immigrants, Nels Baxstrom and Anna Johnson, who met in Minnesota and farmed in North Dakota as they raised their family. All seven children – Clarence, Ruth, Vernon, Glenn, Elma, Ida and Emil – at some time attended Belleview schools in Westminster, Colorado, where Ida met Charles Ralph Friedly, my Dad. I am the second oldest of Ralph and Ida’s eight children: Barbara (passed away in 1984), Ralph, Elaine, Robert, Charles, Richard, Glenn and Stanley.
I remember Mom for her love, patience, generosity, kindness, faith and love of music, which all of her children have exhibited in their own lives to a greater or lesser degree. Mom always demonstrated an absolutely unconditional love for each one of us. No matter what mistakes we made, what feelings we hurt, what promises we broke, we could count on Mom’s love. Mom approved of her kids no matter what. It’s not that she was in denial about our shortcomings, but she always had confidence that we could right our wrongs and make good on our mistakes.
Mom had patience as well, maybe to a fault. She put up with an awful lot from many of us, particularly me. It must have saddened her incredibly but I remember once when I was playing Little Richard rather loudly, she lost her temper and asserted that this was likely the kind of music they had in hell. My response was, “Well if this is what they play in hell, that’s where I want to go”. I am sure my siblings would have many stories to tell about Mom’s patience much more illustrative than mine.
Mom was generous with her time, her energies and her talents. She gave unstintingly to not only us, her family, but to others, even when her resources were limited and strained. She worked hard for the church organization to which we belonged, putting in time cooking, canning, sewing, and doing whatever she was asked
Stan and Mom 2006
My memories of Mom are many but some stand out in my mind and deserve mention here:
Mom drinking her coffee in the morning. Like most Swedes , Mom was a dedicated coffee drinker and never missed that morning cup of coffee. The dominant image in my mind is of Mom sitting on the radiator at our Morningside house in the winter, drinking her coffee and trying to keep warm.
Canning fruits and vegetables in the summer, drenched in perspiration with a big copper kettle full of Mason jars of vegetables boiling on the coal fired stove.
The smell of Vicks, which Mom caringly rubbed on our chests when we had a cold or the flu. It was not only the smell, but the loving feeling of her rubbing it on my chest that I remember so well.
Mom lying on her bed with her legs up to relieve the pain of her varicose veins. Mom always had this problem and later had surgery to help alleviate the condition, but being on her feet all day caring for us must have produced unbearable pain.
Sewing dresses for Barb and Elaine on her old Singer pedal sewing machine out of the beautifully designed and printed cotton sacks of Purina chicken feed we used to buy.
Mom’s pride and relief in finally getting an automatic washing machine, a Whirlpool, making it so much easier to keep up with the diaper and clothes washing requirements of this family of ten.
Her additional pride and relief in getting finally a deep freeze, so that the vegetables formerly canned in Mason jars could simply be blanched and frozen in plastic bags, along with the peaches and berries frozen instead of canned.
Mom’s care for us when sick. I remember especially when she had to scrounge the cash to buy penicillin for us when sick with a serious infection. And these expenses came from mostly from her own funds, saved from selling eggs or chickens.
Mom having most of her babies at home – the suspense, the waiting, the presence of Miss Sturma, the midwife, the occasional visit by Dr. Edelberg if there were problems, the preparation and disposition of mysterious materials needed for the birth. I used to think after eight children, that the births were easy for Mom. But they were not as I later found out. She suffered terribly with several, almost died from one.
Her dream, shattered for sure, of Rob and I becoming the new Billy Graham and Tedd Smith – Rob with his prodigious talent on the piano pounding out hymns while I preached hellfire and damnation sermons.
Mom never getting over Barbara’s passing. Barb, her oldest child and our oldest sister died sadly at the age of 46. Any time a child dies before the parent, upsetting the natural order of events, it is a terrible experience for the parent. Mom always became serious, thoughtful, sad and teary when the subject of Barbara’s passing came up.
In later years, picking through shelves and cupboards of different vitamins to find something to correct what ailed you. Mom was a great believer in vitamin and mineral supplements and behaved a bit like a doctor in her selection and administration of each. “Upset stomach? Take this. Headaches? Take some of these. Constipated? Here’s what you need. Aching muscles? This will take care of that problem.” I used to be astonished at the quantity of vitamins and minerals she kept on hand and thought that they might be bad for her. But…she lived a really long life and maybe the vitamins helped.
Mom listening to youngest son Stan on the radio. Stan worked a long time for the church radio station KPOF and did a great job announcing for the station, doing news and music programs. Mom used to always tune in when she knew Stan was on and beam with pride listening to him.
In later years Mom needed the help of an oxygen tank. I can remember entering the house and wondering where Mom was and then by following the oxygen tubes, I would know if she was in her bedroom, the bathroom or maybe in the living room.
Beaming with pride at living in a house her sons built. Indeed, Richard, Glenn and Stan had worked with the church to construct a wonderful modern house for Mom and Dad on the church compound. I can remember the warm feeling I had pulling up in the front of the house on my many visits over the years, knowing the comfort, love and hospitality that awaited me inside.
Richard, Glenn, Mom, Ralph, Stan and Charles 2004
Mom absolutely loved music, all kinds (except maybe Little Richard!). She would be absolutely mesmerized by certain classical pieces, country songs, hymns and folk music. She especially liked to hear George Beverly Shea, the Cliff Barrows choral arrangements and Tedd Smith’s piano on Billy Graham recordings. Another favorite was the rich baritone of Tennessee Ernie Ford. Though gospel music was perhaps her favorite, she used to dance around to Sousa marches and Strauss waltzes. I always thought it tragic that she did not get the opportunity to develop her musical talent completely. I will always remember her playing “Star of the East” on the piano which she did sensitively and artistically. Mom was always open to new music – new artists, new instrumentation and new songs, and I always knew I had a receptive and appreciative listener when I brought something new for her to listen to. She was so proud of any music her children made, especially Robert’s wonderful piano playing. It’s too bad that her passing predated my wonderful collection of music in my iTunes library. I would have loved to present her with a loaded iPod and some speakers to play it aloud on. She would have absolutely loved the variety and the new music in my collection. I can’t say how many times I have thought to myself when hearing something new – wow, Mom would have really loved this song.
Mom had incredible faith – in her God and in each one of her children. She always had hope and faith that Dad would get over his Alzheimer’s Disease. She had faith in each one of her children, that they would be successful and find happiness. Most of all she had a staunch faith in God – reading the Bible and praying regularly. She had faith that she would see Barb and Dad again when she passed away and that the whole family would be together again in heaven someday.
Mom also had a remarkable capacity to forgive. After fights, serious differences of opinion and hot tempers, she always was the first to forgive. She totally forgave me for the difficulties I presented as a teenager and for my marital difficulties later. She completely forgave Dad for serious neglect for much of their marriage and was totally and passionately in love with him during their last years before Alzheimer’s slowly took him away from her.
After collecting random credits for courses taken since the 1940’s Mom was finally presented with a college diploma by Alma White College, the church college, in 1980’s. She accepted it with pride, considering that she had raised eight children and struggled against all kinds of obstacles for all those years.
There were some sad memories also. I had serious arguments with her and hurt her grievously with my quick temper, sharp tongue and profanity. Mom maybe was too lenient in disciplining her children and applied discipline more as guilt and shame than as hard rules and consequences. During serious emotional crises often the best she could do was to say, “Please pray about it”. She gave me too much emotional baggage to carry as a young boy but neglected and lonely from an often absent husband she needed the shared confidence and support. But even considering all this, I am sure she did the best she knew how with all of us and of course had the faith that all would turn out well in the end.
Ida Marie Friedly passed away on October 10, 2006. She was a wonderful mother and I miss her terribly. I am sure my brothers and my sister feel the same way and join me in remembering her on this Mother’s Day 2014.