Chapter 18: Life in the San Fernando Valley

When we left University, we moved to Isis Street in Westchester, right near Inglewood. The children were in their schools while I was still teaching at 107th Street School. Nancy and Ron were going to Airport Junior High School and Ken and Merilee were attending an elementary school right near where we lived, 98th Street School.

Chuck, Ronald LeRoy, Nancy Louise, Mickey, Merilee Joyce, Kenneth Charles

Chuck, Ronald LeRoy, Nancy Louise, Mickey, Merilee Joyce, Kenneth Charles

While we were there, we were looking for a church home. We didn’t think it would be proper for the former preacher and his family to continue to attend the church from which he had just resigned, so we couldn’t go to University. We went to several churches that failed to meet our expectations. We then made a list of things to look for at each church we attended. We were looking for a church which had a good Bible school, good teachers, friendly members and a good preacher who knew the Word. At the end of a morning service, we would discuss how things went, and at night, we would go back to the same church and check it again. We did this at several churches, but were never satisfied. For a while, Chuck filled in preaching at a church in Lennox near our house, and we all went there with him, but we also went to other churches during that period, never finding a church home in the year we lived there.

Meanwhile, we had determined to move out to the San Fernando Valley so that I could get a school out there the following year. I was exhausted from teaching at 107th Street, and wanted to go to a different school. But we were still in the LA City School District, and until I had been there for three years, district policy said that I couldn’t get into a different school in LA, so we decided to look elsewhere. I checked out the Newhall School District in Newhall, applied, and was accepted there. The salary wasn’t quite as high, but the difference in the caliber of students and the suburban setting was so different from Watts that it was a different world. I loved it, and finally felt like I was back into teaching as it was meant to be. As Chuck told the principal, Les Tanner, of my Newhall Elementary School, “I thank you for giving me back my wife!”

We moved to the San Fernando Valley, finding a house at 16321 Lassen Street in Sepulveda, and we started looking for another new church home. The first place we looked was Hillcrest Christian Church, because our old friend, Murray Postles, was preaching there. We had worked with him and his wife at Crenshaw Christian Church in years past. Eleanor Postles and I had worked together in the Junior High Department at Crenshaw, and we had a good relationship.

Murray had been the assistant minister at Crenshaw at that time, too, and our children knew their children quite well. It was after that first Sunday morning visit to Hillcrest that we went home and started talking about if we would go back that evening. The children all said, “Yes, we want to go back. This is our church!” There was no more discussion about it. That was that. Hillcrest Christian Church became our new church, and the children and I began to go there regularly. At that time, Hillcrest was meeting in a building right next to the fire department in Northridge. It was on the west side of Balboa just south of Devonshire, across from the Sav-on shopping center.

I said, “The children and I began to go there regularly,” because Chuck was not going there with us. Instead, he had been called on to preach for different churches in other areas from time to time. He preached first at the Lennox Church of Christ in Lennox from 1964 to 1965, and then at West Lynwood Church of Christ from 1967 to 1972. Those churches were too far away for our kids to participate in their youth activities, so we elected to continue on at Hillcrest and let them get in on youth activities there.

The kids and I loved going to church at Hillcrest. They soon moved their church to an old building located at Rinaldi and Shoshone up in Granada Hills, about two miles away. There were actually two older buildings on that property at first, and the youth met in them while the adults met in the auditorium of an elementary school across the street on Rinaldi. Later, a huge new sanctuary and administration facility with classrooms and offices was built on that corner.

Chuck’s life consisted of commuting back and forth to his churches while also taking classes at UCLA in the field of Linguistics. He came home in the evenings as we all did. Meanwhile, I was teaching fifth grade in the Newhall School District. All was well with the world. We had gotten into a comfortably smooth routine, which, you might have guessed, would not last long. It was Chuck’s work in the field of linguistics that propelled us to make a rather drastic change in our life’s trajectory.

In the year of 1965-66, our family went to the Philippines on a Ford Foundation Grant. Chuck worked at the Philippine Normal College with another student from UCLA teaching Linguistics to Filipinos. While there, he received his Master’s degree from UCLA in absentia. He worked on his doctorate degree in Linguistics and started gathering data for his doctoral dissertation on a Philippine language named Kapampangan. He would continue working on it with stateside Filipinos after he returned home.

The Ford Foundation paid for our trip to the Philippines, but it didn’t pay for the schooling of our children while there. So, I got a job working for the United States Embassy in the IRS. I was paid enough to send the children to the American School near the gated community where we lived in Makati, a district of Manila. Other activities the boys got into were Boy Scouts and Little League. Every day, all four kids would cram into one of the tiny little taxi cabs and ride to and from school, hopefully not causing the driver too much pain and suffering with their antics.

The Ford Foundation grant paid for one and a half stipends for our whole family, which was not enough, so eventually, they raised it to two and a half stipends. This, with my salary at the Embassy, helped make it possible for us to live there and for the children to go to school. San Lorenzo Village was a beautiful place to live and we had a full time house-girl, a cook, as well as a yard-boy. But we couldn’t live there for more than the one year the grant allowed, and the year quickly came to an end.

The time came for the family, (excluding Chuck) to go back to the States. We had 30 days in which to make the trip. So, we set our travel plans to visit missionaries in the Far East on the way home. Our first stop was in Hong Kong where we spent 4-5 days visiting the Reeses and sightseeing. We stayed in a nice hotel downtown, on the 14th floor, where the boys dropped mothballs on the roofs of passing cars and buses. One day, while out on the town, we met a young navy man. He was out there on his own, so we invited him to have lunch with us. Then we spent the rest of the day seeing Hong Kong. It made him very happy to have a family experience in a foreign port, and we all enjoyed it, too.

Then we were on to Taipei, Taiwan for a visit to Isabel Dittemore, long time missionary to South East Asia, for a couple of days, Next was Okinawa. I remember the concrete turtles on the hillsides. I couldn’t figure out what they were for. It turned out they were burial markers for the indigenous people. The Boultons, Claire and Donna, were our hosts for several days of rain. They had five or six kids of their own, and we all had a blast playing board games, doing jigsaw puzzles, and just enjoying each others’ company. And there were several days without rain. On those days, we traveled around visiting ancient ruins and discovering other exciting places on the island of Okinawa.

After Okinawa, we went to the main island of Japan, Honshu. We stayed in Tokyo for about a week with Julius and Virginia Fleenor, in their home. We saw the Ginza area downtown and marveled at the Pachinko machines, a Japanese gambling device like a pinball machine. It seemed like there were Japanese people everywhere. One day, we were on top of the Tokyo Tower, the tallest structure in Japan at that time, taller than the Eiffel Tower. From the observation deck, we surveyed all of Tokyo, taking lots of pictures. On the train going home, I realized I had left my camera on the observation deck. I grabbed the kids and scurried back to the Tokyo Tower, praying that the camera was still there. I felt like I was in a crisis situation. I absolutely could not lose that camera. Low and behold, a Good Samaritan had turned the camera in to the lost and found. This was one of the high points of my time in Japan, and I came away from that experience believing the Japanese people are very honest.

The Fleenors kept telling us about a property which had been donated to their mission in a place called Karuizawa. They insisted we spend a few days there as it was so beautiful, so we took the Bullet Train (at that time the fastest commercial train in the world) up to the resort town. It was just as beautiful as they said, and at the house there, we all slept on tatami mats, mats made of Japanese rush grass. There was a very quaint old cemetery the kids just loved, and we also went to a public bath site where we took a very hot bath and then jumped into a pool of ice cold water. It was very Japanese. We were so glad we all went there. After that adventure, it was time for us to go home to California.

It was June 30, 1966, when we finally made it back to the States safe and sound. At Hillcrest Christian Church, I was soon made the missionary chairman. The missions committee decided to have a Missionary Fair at Hillcrest, to which we would invite several missionaries to speak and to set up their displays. I cannot remember everything that happened at that fair, but I do remember we had much prayer about it ahead of time, and got all our affiliated churches in the Valley involved. We had regular meetings of the Missions Chairmen from each of these churches in order to get their input and to make plans for what we would do. They got their members to come and participate, and they helped in the special missionary dinner we had. Some folks set up displays for missionaries from their churches that weren’t able to be present. It was one of the largest affairs that our brotherhood had ever held in the Valley. In fact, everyone was excited about it, and we praised the Lord for His blessings.

It started Friday night and ended Sunday morning. The first night turned out to be well attended, but the next morning, when there were only a few people in attendance, I was quite discouraged. Woodrow Phillips was the main speaker that morning and he said, “Don’t be discouraged! The Lord will bring those He wants to be here.” That thought had not occurred to me, but of course, it was true. He was in control, so no matter who came, I was encouraged, and the Lord blessed us. The rest of the fair was well attended and widely considered to be a success. Over the years, we had some good youth ministers at Hillcrest.

They were Larry Bailey, Larry Niemeyer, Don Olsby, Jon Arenson and maybe others I can’t remember. They kept the youth involved and happy by organizing clean and sober activities to keep them busy with each other instead of with drugs and alcohol. There was also a good Boy Scout group that our sons got involved in, and they went on various scouting trips. Walt Bennett was the man who directed this. We had some excellent Vacation Bible Schools, too, and the whole church was involved in those. The fellowship times were delightful.

In February of 1971, a big earthquake hit the Valley damaging the Van Norman Dam and many roads and highways in the northern San Fernando Valley. It was feared the dam could break and cause flooding at any time, so a large area of the north valley was evacuated by the police. We had to leave our home, which was below the dam, taking the most important belongings with us in case we were unable to return. It was easy to decide what we needed to take with us at that time. Chuck’s dissertation took precedence. We couldn’t take a chance it would be ruined in a flood, because he had been working on it for over five years. We evacuated to Hillcrest Christian Church, which was one of the emergency evacuation centers sponsored by the county. He continued working on his dissertation all the time we were there, which turned out to be five days.

One lady in particular kept things going in the kitchen for those who had to go to the church to live during those days. Her name was Mary Cronkwright. She was on the job to help supply food for those in need. She kept coffee on at all hours. Mary’s main thinking was, “What shall we serve for the next meal?”

In the parking lot, the city put in some portable rest rooms that anyone could use. By the end of five days, enough water had been drained from the dam that the flooding danger was past, and we were free to go home.

When we got back into our home again, the road over the mountains to Newhall wasn’t ready for use yet, so it was a while before I could go back to teach in Newhall. In fact, it was many months before the freeways were open, but they were able to open secondary roads sooner, so I eventually got to go back to teach.

One Sunday morning, during the time that Jon Arenson was the youth minister at Hillcrest, his new wife, Dixie Schaefer Arenson, disappeared before the service. No one ever really knew where she went or what happened to her. Her parents, who were missionaries in Nairobi, Africa, returned to make an investigation. This was indeed a terrible time for their family and the whole congregation. Many people tried to locate her, but no one ever came up with an answer as to what happened to her.

Over the years, we had several ministers: Murray Postles, T. Lloyd Cummings, Vernon Rodgers, Ted Hurlburt, Tom Moll, Ron Carter and then Dudley Rutherford. We went to church there up through the time of Vernon Rodgers, and on furloughs after that from time to time during the ministries of Ted Hurlburt, Tom Moll, Ron Carter and Dudley Rutherford.

In the early 1970s, the US Army was drafting 18 year old boys using a lottery system. A boy’s number was picked according to his birth date. Ron’s number was 41. So, he knew he was going to go the next year. Instead, he chose to enlist for the draft in December, 1971, so he would spend only one Christmas away from home. It was a 2 year commitment. Besides three training stations in the States, Ron went to Korea for 13 months. He trained to work with dogs in Lackland AFB in Texas, coming in first in his class. He dearly loved this, but when he got to Korea, they let only the Koreans work with the dogs, and he didn’t get one. He got out of the army on September 24, 1973, an anniversary he celebrates every year.

Our time as a normal happy nuclear, American family was coming to an end, as was our time in the San Fernando Valley. The kids had all moved out to various schools or other places, and Chuck and I were getting ready to go on our next adventure.

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