I Will Rise

Albert Heebner, circa 1945Dan Heebner, 2014

Written Winter of 2015

And I will rise when He calls my name

No more sorrow, no more pain

I will rise on eagles’ wings

Before my God fall on my knees

And rise

I will rise

I can’t hear these words without hearing my cousin Dan Heebner singing on a cold wintry day in March of 2009. It was a bit too cold to stand outside on that day, especially with our feet in the snow, but we all wanted to show our respects to my uncle Albert or as we called him “Junie.”  So we gathered, standing in polite lines under the tent on that Monday afternoon when Dan’s voice rung out clear as a bell with an accompanying violin.  I will never forget it.  It was one of those poignant moments in life when all things come together.  It was the beauty of the blue sky and the cold crisp air and the worshipful voice that confidently sang for his father who could no longer join us in his beloved hymns. It was as if he sang the words his dad had been longing to sing, in the same warm, graceful tenor timbre.

Albert Heebner, my mom’s brother, had been stricken with macular degeneration and diabetes and sadly, in his later years, the strident farmer had lost both his legs.  The last time I visited him, flanked by my cousin (his daughter) and my mother, he had spoken about going to heaven where he “would have legs” and walk again.  He had been stripped of his mobility and it was not something this outdoorsman took lightly.  He spoke at that last visit of days gone by, of egg sorting, of a hard-working mother and father, and of words spoken in anger to his brother Norman.  It was as if he were already seeing his life flash before him.

So, on that brisk, blue sky day of March in 2009, his son Dan sang him into heaven and sang baring his soul with this song of hopeful release. Oh I wish you could have heard him sing…it was something I’ll never forget.

And I will rise when He calls my name

No more sorrow, no more pain…

And I hear the voice of many angels sing

Worthy is the Lamb

And I hear the cry of every longing heart

Worthy is the Lamb

A Glimpse of Life at Norristown Mission

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Written Winter of 2015

The following is from Mary Lederach’s writings about Willis and Mary Lederach’s time at Norristown Mission during the 1920s. This is just one example of the service of many at our first mission church, Norristown Mission on Marshall Street, Norristown. Stay tuned for the release of the history of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (NVNNL) later this year. 

“A lonely man came to our back door, and …asked for a bite to eat. I asked him to come in, and I prepared breakfast for him. As he sat up to the table to eat, my husband (Willis Lederach) was ready to leave for work. He hesitated as he bade me good-by and asked whether I was afraid alone. I told him I was not.  And truly I was not.  I was alone in a large house most of the time for three years. In this time I had made it a custom to invite in to the table all who came for meals, and treated them as guests, not as outcasts. I never could tell when perchance I might be entertaining an angel unaware.” Mary went on to tell how after reading Scripture to the man, he opened up about his estranged wife and child that he desperately missed and how he had enlisted in the Army, wanting to die, but had returned home without a scrape on his body. Mary “tried as best [she] knew how to show him his need for a Saviour, who could fill that aching void, and make life worth living.” The next day, the man came back to thank her and ask her to pray for him. Mary continued to pray for this man throughout the years and in 1936, over 10 years after the incident happened, Mary wrote on her typed copy, “In August 1936, God gave me the assurance that this man is saved.  Now I pray, God, use him mightily to Thy glory, and oh God, I humbly thank thee. –Mary Lederach”

A Young Sara Heebner Benner

Sara Heebner grad pic and info

Written Fall of 2014

I have always had a lot of respect for my mother and, truth be told, wanted to be exactly like her for most of my life.  My mom is a nurturing, generous and gracious person that lavished me with motherly care and concern for as long as I can remember.  But she was the kind of mom that empowered me to make my own decisions as well.  Obviously, I still find it hard to say anything negative about my mother, so it came as a surprise to read the blurb about her in her high school yearbook that said she played the banjo and talked “especially in study periods with a certain Eve.”  One of my mom’s gifts was talking? Wow, that doesn’t sound like the shy, studious person that I always thought she was. In fact, those same words could have been said about me since I have always enjoyed talking.

It also says she spent her time in Souderton and infers that she must have a special friend there. Mom did marry someone from Souderton, Merrill Benner, but she says “that was many years later.”  Mom admits that what the authors are referring to is how she “spent a lot of time at the Souderton Train Station, which was a popular place for young people to gather.”  Say what?  My mom hung out at a train station?  No way.

I thought I really knew my mom, but she also recently told me that she remembers playing the banjo at the Clemens Literary Society, which was a group that J.C. Clemens’ children formed and that met in a local hall.  At the same time, her sister Grace played the piano and Jonas Mininger sang a solo.  And get this, my mother sang a song about a lonely black boy without friends.  So not only did my mom sing publically as she played the banjo but she sang a song of social justice.  How did I not realize this part of my mom before?

It’s odd how you think you really know your parents and then all of a sudden a slice of their younger life rises up and hits you between the eyes.  My mom was a very social person and loved music…wow, we’re more alike than I thought. I still have to work on the selfless nurturing part, but apparently, I’m halfway there.

Giving Back What I Experienced

1953 Dawn with Carrie Noble

Written Fall of 2014

“When we were around Mennonites, we didn’t see black and white,” says Carrie Noble Duckett, the spirited 76 year old that was the first black person to graduate from Christopher Dock Mennonite High School.

“John Ruth planted the church in Conshohocken and he went around the community looking for people to come up to church. We lived two blocks away, down the hill by the railroad tracks and he came down and asked if we wanted to come to the Mennonite church. Oh yea, I wanted to go and some of the other kids wanted to go, too.”  Couples from the church would invite the Conshohocken neighborhood children to their houses for Sunday noon and then take them back to Conshohocken in time for the evening service. “ ‘Go on…and take your sister!’ my mother would say.  “She trusted John.”

Carrie joined the Mennonite church at age 12 or 13 and spent a lot of time after school at the Ruth home, talking to Roma and John and taking care of their newborn baby, Dawn. “It was something to do and I enjoyed it.” When Roma and John needed to go to Johnstown for a weekend, Carrie, at age 15 was the one that took care of Dawn.

Soon Carrie began attending high school at the newly constructed Christopher Dock.  She attended with her good friend Mary, but after a year, Mary’s family moved and she began attending elsewhere.  Carrie found the white Mennonite children at CD to be very friendly and not pretentious in any way.  “I didn’t see color and didn’t feel prejudice even though I was the only black person that attended the school at that time. I was always very outgoing and maybe that helped.” She admits to sometimes getting in trouble at school.  She remembers Pearl Schrack telling her to “stand outside for a while.”  Carrie would often stay overnight at Eileen Moyer’s house if she needed to be at evening school events.

Carrie still recalls the three-quarter length sleeves, dresses twelve inches from the floor, and the head covering she wore while she attended at Dock.  “It didn’t bother me because in those days we lived in an apartment building where all of us girls learned to sew in seventh grade and made our own clothing.  We had a fabric store right by us so it was nothing for us to make our clothes.”  Her younger sister even seemed to admire Carrie’s clothing.  Although her sister, Pearl, did not attend Dock, she liked Carrie’s clothes and would sometimes claim them as her own, taking what she needed from their wardrobe.

The only racial tension she experienced (but didn’t know about till a few years ago) occurred on the senior trip to Washington DC. The class advisors, Pearl Schrack and Ben Hess had arranged for a hotel for the class, but when they arrived, the owners of the hotel said they couldn’t stay there due to the presence of one black teenage girl.  So the plans were changed and the advisors found another hotel but her classmates never forgot how they were treated.

During Carrie’s senior year at Dock, she had to go out at Easter time to look for jobs. “I went to Bell Telephone and I applied and took the test. Then they called me and told me I passed the test and had to go get a physical. They also asked me ‘When do you graduate?’ and I said June 5th.  So Bell Telephone called and I started on June 12, about a week after graduation. That was in 1957 and I retired with a pension in 1988.”

When Carrie was 21, she married James Duckett and soon they had 2 boys, Darrell and Brian. Her mother passed away at a young age, so Carrie took in her sister and younger brother in addition to her own family. Her sister watched her boys while she worked and her husband was in the service. After her husband retired from the military, Carrie made sure he got a job with Ma Bell and he also worked there for about 20 years.  “I’ve traveled a lot all over the US. I went to Spain for a while with Bell Telephone and while Jimmy was in Vietnam, I even met him in Hawaii for some R & R.”

Carrie currently attends Methacton Mennonite Church where the former child she babysat, Dawn Ruth Nelson, was the pastor until recently.  She still keeps in touch with many persons from her 1957 graduating class. “I talked to almost half the persons from my graduating class today. I just had lunch with 2 of them.  Out of a class of 27, ten of them showed up at my husband’s funeral a year ago. My schooling helped me to get my job and my job helped me to do all the things in life that I was able to do.  But I’ve always been the kind of person to help others in need because I had that type of early influence on my life. [The Mennonites] always gave and didn’t require anything so I try to do the same today.”

A Picture Resurfaces

img053This picture of my mom’s aunt Sara Halladay is a glimpse into the past.  My mom’s aunt was apparently a teacher at Sunny Hall School which at one time was a one room schoolhouse on the edge of (the current) Christopher Dock campus.  Things my mom, Sara Benner remembers about Sara Heebner Halladay:

  • May have been a teacher at Sunny Hall School, Lansdale, Pa
  • Very outgoing personality that couldn’t do enough for you
  • Didn’t marry till later in life but kept in touch by writing letters and always signed them, “Lovingly, Sara”
  • Married Paul Halladay and had two children, Ruth Mary and Karleton
  • Merrill and Sara Benner stopped in on them when they needed a place to stay in Indiana while on vacations. One time they came late at night and brought 5 children with no prior warning.  Aunt Sara was very surprised at their arrival but was gracious.  Sara Benner had a 1 year old and when Sara Halliday wanted to give Beverly (the young baby) a bottle, Sara B said not to give it to her since Beverly would not eat any breakfast.
  • Heebner’s didn’t go very far in school, but Sara was different and possibly had more schooling than Dan or Willard (other 2 children from second wife [Katie] and Daniel Heebner)
  • Paul died unexpectedly and after he died Sara missed him so much, especially at the table. So she sat in his place at the table.
  • They had lived in Chicago for a while but then settled in Indiana.
  • Paul was an excellent singer.

The picture is circa early 1960s possibly when my parents stopped in on them while taking a family trip to Oklahoma.  Pictured are Paul, Ruth Mary, and Sara Halladay.

Being Resilient

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Written Summer of 2014

I looked in awe as I watched my mother and my aunt turn and walk to the door at Souderton Mennonite Homes, compassionately leaning on each other, yet also steadying each other. My mother has struggled with congestive heart failure in recent months and my aunt has been receiving chemotherapy for cancer, but off they went, finding the support and encouragement they needed together.

We all need to feel needed. I’ve recently realized this as I have been searching for a new job that uses my 50 year old gifts and helps me cope with an empty nest. I realize it’s not an easy place to be…plenty of educational degrees and spunk to last a lifetime, but nevertheless…over 50. How do I continue to feel like a vital part of life when my daughter, my last child, travels 1000 miles away to study architecture at Iowa State University? That distance alone has my heart reeling. What if she needs me? What if she gets sick? What if she feels alone and desperate and yet is so far away? I could use a stimulating job to distract me.

So what keeps people like my mother and my aunt going when they’ve experienced health issues and have lost husbands and other loved ones? Resiliency seems to be what keeps the newly ousted New York Times executive editor, Jill Abramson, moving forward. She touted in a speech to Wake Forest University, “It meant more to our father to see us deal with a setback and try to bounce back than to watch how we handled our successes. Show what you are made of…” In a recent article from the Boston Globe, Deborah Kotz suggests tips on developing resiliency:
1. Have a sense of realistic optimism. Stay positive in the face of adversity.
2. Rely on a social support system. You need friends and loved ones to buoy you in times of distress.
3. Work from your strengths, not your weaknesses. Write down the five things that are best about you and let those things lead you, rather than listing deficiencies that need to be overcome.
4. Set goals. Research indicates that people who establish goals are more resilient.
5. Be mindful. Acknowledge that opportunities abound. Part of being mindful also involves being authentic in how you handle the situation. Knowing that you are staying true to yourself throughout can make you more resilient.
6. Embrace the small rough patches. See minor challenges — like dealing with a new boss or a flood in your basement — as a way to build your resiliency over time.
7. Adopt an attitude toward gratitude. Rather than dwelling on all the things you don’t have or used to have, think of what you do have that you can be grateful for.

These are things my mother and my aunt must have learned a long time ago…because at ages 96 and 91, they certainly are resilient.