Before I graduated from high school, I was like most other students in not knowing what I would be doing later in my life. I was quite young, graduating from high school when only 16 years old. When the yearbook asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “A Success.” This looks meaningless now as I look back on it, but I didn’t feel I could put down I wanted to be an airline stewardess, even though that’s what I wanted. In those days, a stewardess had to have a nursing credential, and had to be taller than average. I didn’t think I could get a nursing credential in the first place, and couldn’t very well grow a couple of inches, either. I had considered putting down that I wanted to be a housewife, but that didn’t seem very inspiring. I could have said I’d like to be a missionary to Africa, but that might draw laughter. It was important to me as the youngest in my class, to be accepted and not laughed at, so I wrote the least ridicule-provoking thing I could think of: When I grow up, I want to be “A Success.”
When I did go to college, I went to Los Angeles City College. I went there for one year, and it was 1942. My father was willing to pay the tuition fee and whatever it took to go there, so I had it made that way. A streetcar went to the end of the line right at LACC. The courses I took there were all in Pre-Nursing. That seemed to be the best because maybe I would have the opportunity to go into nurses’ training some day. I enjoyed the courses I took that year, and had some good friends who were also planning on going into nurses’ training.
During that time, I worked as a sales clerk in a gift and card shop in downtown Los Angeles. It was owned by a little Jewish lady named Mrs. Stein, and she had beautiful glassware and gifts I kept clean and shiny. I learned how to gift-wrap things and got some good experience there. It also gave me pocket money so I didn’t have to depend quite so much on my father.
The next school I went to was Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma in 1943. I stayed with my brother, Bob, and his wife and helped take care of their little girl, Bobbie Fern. We lived right across the street from the university. That summer, as soon as I turned 18, I earned my way to go there by being a riveter at North American Aviation in El Segundo, CA. I got up early in the morning to go to work. It was extremely exciting when I got there every morning. It was like going to the Coliseum at Exposition Park when there was a big football game. So many people worked there. It was especially crowded because some people were getting off work and others of us were going to work all at the same time. Most of my short time there, I spent learning the job of riveting on P-38s. I had no sooner learned how to rivet than I quit in order to go to Phillips University. In that short time, I was literally Rosie (Fern) the Riveter. “We can do it!”
I took the train to Enid, Oklahoma, the first time for me to take a train. This was also my first time ever to live away from home, and I was half way across the country. My father gave me fifteen dollars to help me on my way. He really didn’t want me to go to this University. My sister, Violet, had gone to Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and that’s where he really wanted me to go. However, I wanted to go where my brother Bob was living and going to school. It meant I would have to work my way through the whole year and work hard. Fortunately, I was able to get a scholarship for the College of the Bible at Phillips University. This made it affordable for me, and that was exactly the college I had wanted to attend.
On Saturdays, I worked at Sears Roebuck and Company as a shoe clerk. Weekday afternoons at school, I worked in the library at Phillips University. At noon and evenings, I worked in the cafeteria and got my meals there. The going wage was 35 cents an hour at each of these places, typical for those days. On Sunday, I went to church with my friends.
I had enough homework to keep me busy constantly, but I thoroughly enjoyed the school and getting the education. I especially liked the classes where I learned the scriptures better. My mother insisted I come home still believing that baptism was not necessary for salvation. However, the more scripture I read, the more I realized that it had to be true that it was really necessary. I felt like I was letting my mother down, but at the same time, I felt I needed to let her know the truth about it so she would be able to agree with me about it. I went home armed with all the scriptures they had shown me at school, but she remained unconvinced.
At that time, I was still engaged to Ralph Carter, the young man I told you about who was in the Air Force. He was going to the University of Missouri while I was in Enid, so he came to see me once, and I got back to see him once during that year.
I remember at Christmas 1943, I was never so homesick in all of my life. It was worse than almost any illness I had ever had. I lay in bed crying my eyes out. I was truly sick at heart. Bob and Ruth tried to help me, but there was little they could do. Finally, I got up out of bed and went out into the snow, and that helped a little. It was a cold and windy day. The wind in Enid is the worst I have ever seen. Bob and Ruth said it is the windiest city they knew of, and I believed it.
I decided to walk to town, and along the way, I met a service man from Vance Air Force Base in Enid. He was about as homesick as I was, so I invited him to come home for Christmas dinner with me. I knew Bob and Ruth wouldn’t mind, and it kept both of our minds off of being homesick. We had a wonderful time the rest of that day. He went back to his base that afternoon a very happy young man, and I felt good having helped someone else. I’m sure Bob and Ruth were very happy not to have me moping around all day, too. After that, I never was homesick like that again. I never saw that soldier again, either.
I had some of the best professors there at the College of the Bible. I had Stephen J. England, Dean of the College of the Bible, and Dean Walker. Then there was another man whose name was Dr. Taylor. He had a long pointed nose and looked a bit fierce, but he wasn’t at all. He really knew his Bible. Dean England taught my Greek class. It was Koine Greek, the Greek spoken at the time of Jesus and used in the New Testament. Dr. Taylor taught the Bible Survey course, which was excellent.
At the end of that school year, I went home on the train. I had quit school and was planning to marry Ralph Carter, but he was waiting to get married until he knew whether he was going into combat because he didn’t want me to marry a potential invalid. I spent that summer waiting tables, helping Miss Katie Vee Clarkson at VBS, and visiting with my friends.
Next thing I knew, it was time for that weekend camp where I made the decision to go into full time Christian service and to go to Bible College. At the end of that camp, in fact, there were six of us girls from our church who decided to go to Bible College. Three of us went to Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Oregon while three of us went to San Jose Bible College in San Jose, California. The church paid part of our funds for attending Bible College, and the rest of it we had to pay ourselves by working part time.
Virginia Dana Grant, Alma Massey and I went to Northwest Christian College. We were such close friends we decided we would wear the same wedding dress when we got married. The first one to get married was to buy the dress, and the others were to use it when they got married. It turned out that Alma got married first. She quit after her first year to go back east, and there she married an officer in the U.S. Navy. It was 1945. She bought the wedding dress. In 1946 when Virginia got married to Julius Fleenor, she had Alma send it to her. She put a placket on each side to make it large enough. The Fleenors ultimately went to serve the Lord in Japan and were there for over forty years. I was the last one to be married, in 1949, so I had the dress sent to me, and I wore it, too. It fit me perfectly. Although we weren’t the same size, where Virginia was tall, I was shorter and more plump than she, so filled it out in ways she hadn’t.
At Northwest Christian College, we lived in the dorm called Sigma Chi, a men’s fraternity house NCC rented from the University of Oregon since many of their men had gone to war. The University of Oregon was just across the street from NCC. In fact, some of us took courses at the U of O which correlated with our courses at NCC. Since my major was “Missions,” I had to take Koine Greek at U of O because it wasn’t offered at our college. Students taking the ministerial major had to take Greek, too. This was the first time U of O had offered Koine Greek. I had taken my first year of Koine Greek at Phillips University; this was my second year. The Greek program at Oregon was less aggressive than it was at Phillips, so I got a lot of repeat information and thereby was able to pass the course satisfactorily. We had to translate from the Greek New Testament. One of the students in the class was a fellow named George Alder who was a big man on campus at NCC, and later taught Greek at San Jose Bible College.
Also required was Preacher and His Task, which was a course in homiletics or learning how to preach a sermon. We took several Bible classes and classes in missions, teaching children and speech. Virginia insisted that I take a course in voice, too. I enjoyed singing, so got into the choir, the ensemble, and two trios. The ensemble was made up of fewer people than the choir and sang more difficult music. I was singing soprano at that time.
On Sundays, we went to churches near NCC called “preaching points” to serve the Lord in some capacity. We went as a team to the same church for a whole semester as other teams went to other churches for that semester. My team consisted of two women and a student preacher. We went to a little church in Vaughn, Oregon, where I usually played the piano and we both taught children’s classes. Because we both took Preacher and His Task, we had an assignment to preach a sermon at least once during that semester. My companion preached on one Sunday, and I preached on another. For one year, Ralph Holcomb went with us, and later on, Julius Fleenor went. One of the nice things about Vaughn was that we got to go to the home of Josie Rauch for lunch afterwards, and that meal was the best we had all week. Josie was a delightful lady and cook.
Virginia Grant and I went to another church a few times. We had charge of their Junior Church. I played the piano while Virginia led the singing, and we took turns telling the lessons. Roger Carstenson, one of the professors at NCC, preached there regularly. From time to time, our men students went to hold evangelistic meetings at various towns around Eugene. We lady students went along for moral support and to help with special music. This was a real honor, and once I got to go and sing a special number, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” Our trio got to sing several times at some of these meetings, too.
One of my favorite places to go during the day was down by the Willamette River. I went down there to find a quiet place, and although the river always made its noise flowing along, it was soothing, and I could read and memorize scriptures which we had to learn for given classes. I could have my devotions down there privately when the weather was beautiful and warm. Our junior class went down there once for a picnic.
One time, very early in the morning when it was still dark, our junior class went to a park near NCC to have a class get-together. We sang songs, praising the Lord, and were having a wonderful time. All of a sudden, the police came. They said we were making too much noise and had no right to be there that early. They took us to jail downtown in their police cars. We sang along the way, thinking of Paul when he was put into jail, praising the Lord for His letting us be counted worthy to be suffering for His Name. The police warned us and let us go, telling us not to do that again.
Sigma Chi was called Rice Hall at NCC. We had 57 girls in the dorm, so they called it the Heinz 57 Variety. In my room lived three girls—Lorraine Filby, Louise McDaniel and me. Louise only stayed at the college one year, so the next year, I had different roommates. This time, there were four of us—Virginia Grant, Velma Webb, Virginia Clausen and me. We lived in one room but slept on a sleeping porch with the four girls who lived in the next room down the hall. We slept in bunks that were stacked three high rather than the usual two. I slept in a middle one.
We enjoyed our nights on the sleeping porch. In fact, Mother Rice thought we enjoyed them too much since we did a lot of giggling and talking when we couldn’t get to sleep. There were rules about that, of course, so every once in a while, Mother Rice would come up, knock on our sleeping room door and warn us to be quiet. One night, some of the girls in the other room decided to put a bucket of water on top of their partly open door. If Mother Rice came up to tell us to be quiet, she would have to come through that door, the bucket would fall down, and they hoped that this would be a warning to us to be quiet. As it turned out, when we were giggling and talking about what the girls had done, somehow she had passed through the door that had the bucket of water on top of it without the bucket falling, and come to warn us to be quiet. We got scared that it might have killed her accidentally, and we never tried that trick again.
Another night, something very weird happened. While most of us were asleep, some pranksters went around to the various dorm rooms, gathering different items, and taking them to different rooms and leaving them there. For instance, they got all the umbrellas and took them downstairs to one area in the reception room. They took boots to another part of that room, jackets to another room, notebooks to somewhere else, shoes to another room and pictures and plaques were taken somewhere else, etc. In the morning when we got up, we couldn’t find our things, so we had to go around looking for our missing articles. We never did find out who did this, but I think it may have been the same girls who got the idea to put the bucket of water over the dorm door next to our sleeping room!
In my second year there, very early in the morning when it was still dark, we had prayer meeting in the music hall at NCC. Anyone could come, but there were only a faithful few who did. Virginia Grant and I went regularly. We would go running down the sidewalk to school reciting a poem and doing gestures that went with it that we were learning for speech class—
Surmount the rocky steeps!
Climb boldly o’er the torrent’s arch;
He fails alone who feebly creeps;
He wins who dares the hero’s march!
Be thou a hero! Let thy might
Tramp on eternal snows its way
And through the ebon walls of night
Hew down a passage unto day!”
by Park Benjamin
Virginia and I had to work our way through school, even though part of our fees were paid by our home church. We got a job at The Anchorage Café in Eugene not far from the college, and it was right across the street from the University of Oregon. The restaurant overlooked a mill-race, a channel or current of water that drives a mill wheel. This particular mill-race came into Eugene from the Willamette River right near NCC. We worked there at noontime, certain hours in the afternoons and on Saturdays. We enjoyed the work, and making tips made it worth our while. Students from the University of Oregon frequently came in, and their tips would be pennies left under each of the dishes and glasses or cups on the table. Older patrons left more substantial amounts. Once, at the end of the football season, the whole football team of University of Oregon came in for an awards banquet dinner. I remember they all had steaks, and I felt honored to be there serving.
During the summers of 1944 to 1947, we also worked as waitresses in Los Angeles at different places. The first job at which we worked in Los Angeles, Virginia got for us. It was at a restaurant. We had never worked in a regular restaurant like that before; it was a busy place and kept us on our toes constantly. The pressure to perform well was unbelievable. We learned to carry dishes of various and sundry kinds on our arms, all the way up to our chins. Fortunately, we didn’t drop any of them. It was only through the grace of God we got through each evening. When we finally quit that place to go back to school, I was so relieved to get out of there.
Later on, I worked as a waitress at a Thrifty’s near MacArthur Park, then at a place on Figueroa Boulevard near Santa Barbara Avenue. Still another time, I worked downtown on Vermont, which was a good place for tips. By that time, waitressing had lost its appeal except for the part about making money.
During my first year as a senior at NCC in 1945, our class went on what we called a Senior Sneak. We went during winter time when there was snow in the mountains, and we took skiing equipment and toboggans. I had never skied or been on a toboggan before, so this was a real big deal for me. I’m not sure which one I tried first, and although I have cousins that are professional skiers, I was lucky just to be able to stand up on skis. I got a little way down the hill on them, but it didn’t last long. My toboggan ride was much more fun, and I loved the exhilaration of that ride. What a great way to go on our Senior Sneak.
Also, that year I was made the class treasurer and part of my job was to receive the class dues. I didn’t realize I could have put them into the school safe for safe-keeping. Instead, I kept the money in a quart jar in my dorm room drawer. I never dreamed that anyone would come to steal it. After all, we lived in a Bible College dorm, didn’t we? Well, one day I happened to look in that drawer and found the jar was empty.
Where could the money have gone? Was someone playing a joke on me? No. No one was playing a joke at all. The money was really gone. We called the police and had them come in on the case to see if they could help. They took finger prints first, and then put powder on the jar and area around it. That way, if anyone came again to get money, their hands would have the powder on them, and the police could tell they had been there.
I’m not sure how long we had to wait, but eventually, they did find the culprit, and it was a girl who lived right across the hall from me. I don’t remember how it was figured out, but apparently, she was a kleptomaniac! She had been going around to different rooms stealing things, taking them to her room and putting them into cartons which she would then send home to her parents. In one of these cartons, they found a single sock, items of clothing that had no relation to her size, one shoe, one mitten, and other stolen items. Of course, when they found out what she had done, they kicked her out of school so that never happened again, but for me, I still felt I had to repay the senior class funds that were stolen from me, and it took quite a while. It was this incident that caused me never to take on a job as treasurer again.
Although women in the Philippines are usually the ones who handle money in their families, I never took on that job even in my own home. The first and second years, I lived at Sigma Chi or Rice Hall, which was on 13th Street south of NCC. However, I moved to Stephens Hall the third year, which was two blocks away from NCC to the west on 11th Street. In this dorm, I had six roommates in a very large room. We all slept on the sleeping porch on bunk beds, the usual two bunks to a stack.
During that year, I thought I fell in love with a young man who was very handsome and spiritually-minded. We even went so far as to have an announcement of our engagement at my dorm. To that end, we went to the bakery and bought hot bread, serving it with peanut butter! We shared this with my dorm mates who were all home, letting them know of our engagement. However, that didn’t last very long. It may have been that very night as we were sitting in the waiting room in my dorm that he looked at my fingernails, and he told me they were too long. “No wife of mine will wear her fingernails that long!” he said. Well, that was it. I was not about to be told by anyone how long I should wear my fingernails, so I returned his ring that very night.
Virginia and I were best of friends. She married Julius Fleenor while we were still in school. After a year or so, she got pregnant and decided to quit school to devote time to her family. At that time, Julius was preaching at the Vaughn church every weekend. When Virginia was about ready to give birth, I stayed overnight with her that Saturday night. We were together when her water broke, and it was good that I could take care of her until Julius came home and was able to get her to the hospital, which was a few blocks from their house. Stephen was born that very morning.
The following year, I was a second year senior. At NCC, there were first year seniors, second year seniors and then there was Harold Haskell, an older student who seemed to have gone there for many years. (We secretly thought he was an eighth year senior.) I graduated in June of 1947 with a Bachelor of Theology degree. World War II was now over, and I went home for the summer. NCC had been a good school, and I was going to miss my friends there.