My cousin, Darla Stanko passed away on February 26, 2023, at 63 just years old. As I think of Darla, I remember her laugh, which was just like her mother’s. It was sweet and a little shy, but when they laughed…you laughed, because their laugh was contagious. As kids, we would all go down in Grandma Byer’s basement to play, while the grownups visited upstairs. Grandma’s basement was a little creepy and worked well as a “haunted” house…if the kids liked that sort of thing. Some did and some didn’t. I preferred other games. I think Darla did too. She had asthma and scary stuff could trigger things.
As kids do, we all grew up…quicker than we would ever have dreamed possible. Before long, babies were coming along. I remember talking to Darla once. She told me that without a doubt, the best thing she ever did was JeanAnn, and of that I have no doubt. For a mom to look at the beautiful little baby they have just given birth to…there is no greater honor. Kids are a big part of our lives, and games are a part of kids. JeanAnn told me about the times she and her mom played cards. Their favorite game was Speed…which is a high drama card matching game for two players. It was perfect for them.
The other thing that JeanAnn and her mom loved to do was to spend time jumping on the trampoline in their yard. I can just picture it now, a summer evening in the back yard, just the two girls, jumping and giggling the hours away. Of course, there was also their dog, Nelly with them too. Now Nelly was a different sort of dog. She was very gentle with JeanAnn, but then she was JeanAnn’s guard dog. She was also gentle with Darla too…except for that one time. JeanAnn could make Nelly mad and then point at a new person, and Nelly would go get that person. That was all well and good…until JeanAnn did that to her mom. My guess is that JeanAnn had no idea what was about to take place. Darla saw it coming, and she jumped on the furniture to get away from the guard dog that was now hot on her trail. She almost knocked herself out jumping down. JeanAnn says, “It was great” and maybe it was…for her anyway. Darla…maybe not so much, but I’m sure she laughed about it later.
Now, for me, possibly the funniest story about Darla’s life was the “fateful” trip to Denver. Darla decided to take her daughter to Denver, and to take her mom, my Aunt Delores Johnson with them. She needed a “navigator” and while I can’t picture my Aunt Dee in that capacity, maybe Darla thought map reading was like breathing…anyone could do it. My thought is, “Have you met your mother?” Anyway, off they went, and to make a long story short, they ended up on a one street in rush hour traffic, going the wrong way!!” Oh yes, that’s the Aunt Dee I know, and I can totally picture that whole situation…once I can stop laughing!!
My sister-in-law, Rachel Schulenberg joined our family when she married my brother-in-law, Ron Schulenberg on June 2, 2010. It was a match made in Heaven. Rachel was introduced to Ron by his nieces, Machelle Moore and Susan Griffith. She was perfect for Ron. She was kindhearted and sweet, and a blessing to all who knew her. Rachel was a Christian girl, who worked at a church in Powell, Wyoming, when she was introduced to Ron. She was dedicated to the Lord, and witnessed to everyone she came across.
Rachel was a wonderful mom to her kids, Cassie Franklin, Riley Birky, and Tucker Schulenberg. She is also an amazing grandmother to her grandchildren, Lucas and Zoey Iverson. I just wish she had known her grandkids, Ryder Birky and Alicen Burr, as well as bonus baby, Jace. She would have absolutely loved these new little ones. Rachel really was a great mom and grandma. It really blessed her heart to become a grandma. I think that quite often, when we are done having kids, we almost immediately start to look forward to having grandkids. After all, it’s all about the babies. Who doesn’t love babies? No one, I know anyway!!
Rachel was a part of our family for the last ten years of her life. Like her mother, Connie who died in 1985, when she was 35 years, Rachel passed away at a young age. Rachel was just 45 years old when she passed away. It is always so sad when someone so young leaves us so early. Rachel died of a stroke, which is, I believe, how her mother also passed away. Looking back, so many of us wish she was still with us today. Rachel had such a sweet way about her. Kindness radiated from her, because she was kind deep down in her heart. How can someone so young, leaves us so soon? When Rachel left us, she left a huge hole in the hearts of everyone who cared about her…and believe me, that was a lot of people.
Rachel changed everything in Ron’s life, and in the life of her kids and grandkids. My only wish is that their time w ith her hadn’t been so short. They all really needed her in their lives for many more years. Rachel’s influence in their lives was beyond huge. Everyone needs the influence of their mother and grandmother, but sadly, when they are gone, you really find out how badly you missed them. There are countless number of times that all you want to do is pick up that phone to ask them a question or tell them about your day. Today would have been Rachel’s 48th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Rachel. We love and miss you very much, and can’t wait to see you in Heaven, when we all get there.
My mom, Collene Spencer went home to be with the Lord, eight years ago today. It’s so hard for me to believe she has been gone that long. That was the day my sisters and I officially became adult orphans. It’s a strange thing to think about, after having your parents with you most of your life. I think that the things I miss most about my mom are her faith in God, her natural goodness, and her humor. Mom’s humor still makes me laugh today. She really was kind of a natural comedienne. She loved to laugh, and even more than that, she loved to make others laugh. She was known for the funny faces she made, and the goofy things she would do.
Mom was the true middle sister. She had three older sisters, Evelyn Hushman, Virginia Beadle, Dolores Johnson, followed by brother Larry Byer. She also had a younger brother, Wayne Byer, followed by three sisters, Bonnie McDaniels, Dixie Richards, and Sandy Pattan. I think her humorous side might have come from her brothers, both of whom were hilariously funny. I could say they were a bad influence on her, but even with their mischievous personalities, they were really a good influence on her. The three of them were always in some sort of “trouble” with their mom. Not real trouble, just mischief. There was never a dull moment. That’s how it was when Mom got her girls laughing too. Never a dull moment.
My mom loved to sing, and she made sure that our days started off with something like “Keep on the Sunny Side” or “You Are My Sunshine.” Even if we didn’t “feel” sunny, she tried to bring out the sunshine in a cloudy day. We didn’t really know just what a wise woman our mother was, but looking back, I wish we had known. Starting your day with a smile is probably the single best way to start your day. Life isn’t always easy, but living life with a smile on your face gives it joy. All too often, we try to be far too serious, and we miss out on all the funny parts of life. Mom didn’t hold grudges. She just wouldn’t allow those kinds of feeling to ruin her day or her life. She tried to teach that to us too, and I like to think she succeeded. We may not jump out of bed with a smile on our faces…at least not before a few cups of coffee, but we are all happy people, and on occasion, we still sing those songs, because it reminds us of our sweet mom. It’s really hard for me to believe that Mom has been gone for eight years now, but it is really easy to believe that she is in Heaven, because it was Jesus in her heart that made her so happy. We love and miss you everyday Mom, and we can’t wait to see you again.
February 3, 1931, dawned beautiful and calm in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, but by the end of the day, few people would be thinking of how the day had started out. At exactly 10:47am the hands of the clock on the band rotunda in Napier stopped turning. That was the moment when the area was hit by a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The quake shook the area for a full three minutes, causing such destruction that it actually changed the topography of the area forever. Buildings were leveled, streets were destroyed, fires broke out, power and phone lines were knocked out, and 256 people lost their lives…161 in Napier, 93 in Hastings, and two in Wairoa. Many thousands more were injured. The 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake the deadliest natural disaster in New Zealand’s history.
The earthquake left the people in shock, as they surveyed the damage to their beautiful seaside city. People had trouble breathing, due to dust clouds from shattered buildings, and the roads were filled with huge splits making it impossible to get emergency equipment into the area. When the initial shaking began, people ran panic-stricken out of the buildings and into the street. Many of them were killed instantly when they were struck by falling masonry, as stone decorations on many buildings crashed to the ground. Still others were buried alive in the rubble as the buildings collapsed. To make matters worse, fires were burning throughout the city of Napier for a full 36 hours before they could be contained. Most of the surviving buildings from the initial impact of the quake, were leveled by the fires. Nearby Hastings lost approximately 200 buildings and most of the deaths there were in a single department store, although many died in the public library too. Hastings also suffered from out-of-control fires due to problems with their water supply, but fires weren’t as bad as in Napier.
While the earthquake was a major tragedy, there were numerous acts of heroism that will never be forgotten. Water for fighting the fires ran out because underground pipes had cracked and broken. Fire engines at Napier’s central fire station were covered in debris from the destroyed brigade building, and they couldn’t be used when fires broke out in the town anyway. Napier Hospital, built only a year earlier, collapsed, claiming the lives of 12 nurses. Rescuers fought to bring out trapped and injured victims from the rubble before the fires reached them. Still, many died in the terrible inferno. With the loss of the Napier Hospital, first responders quickly set up emergency hospitals. Unfortunately, the hospitals lacked the necessary medical supplies, and so the doctors and nurses were limited in what they could do to help the injured. Back-up medical teams were sent from Auckland on board Navy ships and from Wellington by train, but this took time to arrange, and with communication largely out, the communications had to be routed through ships in the harbor, like the HMS Veronica, which had just tied up in the harbor when the quake hit. At first her captain thought there had been an explosion on board…until he saw the wharf twisting and beyond it houses and other buildings crumpling to the ground. It was then that the sickening reality hit him. He quickly sent his sailors ashore to assist with the rescue effort. By the morning of February 4, 1931, the area was filled with rescue workers trying to save anyone they could. Unfortunately, for many, help came too late. Still, a full three days after the quake a 90-year-old man who was buried in the earthquake rubble was finally dug out alive. Miracles do happen.
Napier was forever changed from this devastating tragedy. The Ahuriri Lagoon and tidal flats that was once a large body of water was completely emptied, and today the area is the site of the Hawke’s Bay Airport. The sea floor just off Hawke’s Bay was lifted approximately 8 feet 10 inches. The main fault, which was buried under the earth’s surface heaved up the land, setting off two smaller faults which broke on the surface. Following the terrible devastation, came resilience and determination in the people, and the area would be rebuilt and improved. The streets were widened when they rebuilt, and services were improved, including New Zealand’s first underground power system. The architectural fashion of the time was known as Art Deco, and central Napier is almost entirely built in variations of this style. One beautiful legacy from an otherwise tragic chapter of Napier’s history.
The first official Groundhog Day celebration in the United States took place on February 2, 1887, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, but it had its roots in Germany and was brought to the United States as a German tradition. It may have had other connotations to some people, but for most of us, it’s just a fun way to break the monotony of Winter, by guessing how much longer it will last. It is my guess that old Punxsutawney Phil is wrong about the prediction as often as he is right about it.
Since, my husband, Bob Schulenberg’s grandma, Vina Hein was born of Groundhog’s Day, the day has always been a little bit of a fun day for her. Of course, I suppose the level of “fun” would depend on the prediction for that year, and whether or not she liked Winter, which I don’t believe she did…as an adult anyway. Montana winters can be harsh, and Grandma even had to have her daughter Esther Hein live with her son, Walt Schulenberg, and his wife Joann during the winter, so she could be able to get to school more regularly. So, I’m sure she…like most of us, preferred an early Spring prediction, not that the prediction mattered much anyway. After all, what could she do if old Punxsutawney Phil guessed wrong? The same thing we can do today…nothing.
Grandma Hein stayed busy all year long. Between canning in the summer, cleaning, cooking and baking, as well as helping out with the garden and the animals on the ranch, life could sometimes be pretty fast paced. She also raised five children, two from her first marriage, Marion and Walt Schulenberg, and three from her second marriage, Esther, Eddie, and Butch Hein. A ranch, a husband, and five kids can keep a person very busy. Nevertheless, even with the hard work and distance from town, Grandma was happy in her life…most of the time. Having an outhouse wasn’t the easiest thing, but they had one the whole time they lived on the ranch. Grandpa did put one in the house later on, but they only used it in the winter. I’ll never forget using that outhouse. It was like living in a backwoods campground. Still, I loved going to visit Grandma and Grandpa Hein.
Today marks the 114th anniversary of Grandma Hein’s birth. She has been in Heaven a long time now of course, and I’m sure that the Winter on Earth makes no difference to her. Nevertheless, for any of you that do care, old Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow today, so there will supposedly be six more weeks of Winter. My guess is that old Phil does better with his predicting when he sees his shadow than when he doesn’t. Happy birthday in Heaven, Grandma Hein. We love and miss you very much.
My husband, Bob’s uncle, Bobby Cole was a fun-loving person who always made people around him laugh. It wasn’t so much that Bobby told a lot of jokes or played a lot of pranks, but more that he liked to laugh and found a lot of things funny. His laugh was an infectious one, and so you found yourself laughing too. I think that was what made going for visits to Kennebec, South Dakota pleasant enough to make it an annual tradition…at least until they moved to Winnemucca, Nevada, which was a little too far to go for just a few days. The trips to Kennebec were inexpensive enough for a young family like ours, because Bobby, and Bob’s aunt, Linda Cole owned the only hotel in that “podunk” town, so there was nothing to spend money on, other than the contribution to the meals. I don’t recall a restaurant, although there might have been one up by the interstate, which was the only reason anyone would actually go through Kennebec. Mostly we would head up to the tiny market to stock up on snacks and meal items for the three or four days we would be there, and then head back to the hotel, where we had a room upstairs to sleep, when we weren’t gathered downstairs in their apartment to play cards or just visit.
Kennebec wasn’t a place where Bobby and Linda would become millionaires or anything, but it was somewhat close to his family, and family ties are something that often keeps people in an area beyond the financial viability of the lifestyle. Nevertheless, the cost of living in the area was very low too, so they made a comfortable living, and the laid-back lifestyle suited them. It wasn’t that there was nothing to do in Kennebec, because there was. Bobby and Linda were in a square dance club, and they actually traveled around the area going to square dances, complete with the fancy costumes that are common to the old-fashioned dance they loved. These days, I don’t think square dance clubs even exist anymore, although I could be wrong. Maybe they still do in small-town America…who knows. Once they moved to Winnemucca, I never really heard of them going to square dances anymore or anywhere else, so maybe it was just a South Dakota thing.
I miss those old days of visiting Bobby and Linda, even though it has been many years now since we last went to Kennebec…or to Winnemucca, for that matter. Bobby passed away on May 30, 2014, and Linda on September 22, 2016. It’s hard to believe they have both been in Heaven for so long now. Today would have been Bobby’s 80th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Bobby. We love and miss you very much.
For Christmas, I gifted my grandson, Josh Petersen and his fiancée, Athena Salazar a Cribbage Board game. Since that time, I have been thinking a lot about my uncle, Bill Spencer, who taught me to play Cribbage when I was a kid. We had so many great times playing Cribbage together. Uncle Bill was a stickler for actually “teaching” me the game, without “giving” me the game. I always appreciated that about him, because I knew that when I won…I really won. Uncle Bill was a fair, and sometimes, as with his family history documents, brutally honest man. He didn’t take credit where it wasn’t due him, and he always gave fair and honest praise. I think I am a lot like him in that way. I like things to be fair, honest, and above board.
It’s hard for me to believe that my Uncle Bill has been in Heaven a little over 2 years now. He passed away on Christmas day, 2020. I didn’t see much of him toward the end, because he had dementia. Still, the times I saw him were such a treasure to me. The fact that he went home to Heaven didn’t really change very much in my life…physically, but it changed so much mentally. I always knew he was there, and while writing him a letter was out of the question, we were able to send him gifts that we knew he would enjoy…even though he wouldn’t know who sent them.
Uncle Bill was my favorite uncle. I loved all my uncles, of course, but Uncle Bill was like me…or, I was like him. I think my dad, Allen Spencer was a lot like his brother too. They were two of a kind…the Spencer boys. Always coming up with some new idea, even if it was a mischievous one. I can practically see God’s, for lack of a better word, reaction to Uncle Bill’s homecoming. My first reaction was, “Hide the dynamite!! The Spencer boys are back together!!” Of course, if there is dynamite in Heaven, it will not be a destructive force, but I have no doubt that it will make a loud noise. The Spencer boys would love it if it did, so I’m sure God would make that arrangement…just for them. Today would have been my Uncle Bill’s 101st birthday. I think he would have loved that he almost made it to 100 years old. The only thing that would have pleased him more than 98, or almost 99 years, would have been 100 years. Happy birthday in Heaven, Uncle Bill. You boys be good and have a great party!! We love and miss you, very much.
As a kid, and especially as a teenager…those stupid ‘I know everything’ years, I like many kids thought my mother, Collene Spencer couldn’t possibly understand life as it was in my day. I think we all thought our parents were ‘older than dirt’ in our teen years. Then, we grow up and become parents, and suddenly, we find out how much our parents really did know. I found out that my mom was really a wise woman. Yes, she was wise in the ways of raising a family and managing a household, but my mom was also very wise in the ways of the Lord. I think if she had chosen to, she could have been an evangelist…not that she wasn’t really. What ’embarrassed’ me, was simply my mom telling anyone who would listen, about the Lord. When this happened in stores and such, I wanted to crawl under the floor. I kept thinking, “Mom, they don’t want to hear that…from you or anyone else!! Please leave them alone!!” Of course, I was wrong to do that. Mom saw what I didn’t…a person in need of the Lord. I can only imagine how many people she brought to Jesus…either that she knew of or that she never knew of. Knowing my mom, she immediately claimed Isaiah 55:11 over them, which says, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Mom knew her Bible, and could be found reading it, listening to it, or listening to Bible teachings every day…pretty much all day. It was only after her passing on February 22, 2015, that I really knew that quietly, behind the scenes, my mom had been ‘secretly’ sharing the gospel with people, and many were saved because of her. She also had a way of being a type of counselor to people…not people with real big problems, necessarily, but just a person who could be counted on to listen when needed. That truly was my mom. She always had an ear to hear, and a caring heart. She was a person who always gave of herself and anything she had, if someone needed it. So many people have told me since her graduation to Heaven, that she was there for them with just the right words, when they needed them most. It was truly ‘Mom’s Secret Legacy’ and so welcomed by so many.
It was her secret, probably because she knew that her girls (I was probably the worst) would try to have her not do the work she felt led to do. She did of course, talk to all of her family, as well as her siblings and Dad’s siblings…whether we wanted her to or not. She wanted all of us to be in Heaven with he when our turn came…and how thankful we all are that she was that way. We all think of a legacy as something that just happens easily, but it isn’t it takes work, time, and sacrifice, and most people do it without even knowing that they are building a legacy. That was my mom, exactly!! Today would have been my mom’s 87th birthday…our New Year’s Baby!! Happy birthday in Heaven, Mom!! I know you and Dad are having the time of your lives!! We love and miss you both very much, and we can’t wait to see you again!!
Looking back on my life really, but focusing on Christmases, so much has changed. I remember Christmases with my parents and my sisters…simple times with just our family. After we opened gifts in the morning, the house would begin to be filled with the wonderful smells of the coming dinner. While things were cooking, we were playing with our various toys and such. While the day was relaxed and fun for my sisters and me, I’m sure it wasn’t quite as relaxed for my parents, who would spend most of the day with meal preparations. Nevertheless, they lovingly prepared for that dinner, and before very long, dinner was ready…and what a dinner it was. My parents could really cook. I can still taste all those wonderful foods.
Later, with the marriages of my sisters and me, the dinners became a little more complicated, meaning we would need to incorporate the in-laws’ side of the family. Still, it worked out, with a little bit of time management. We somehow managed to go both places and eat two meals…were we ever full sometimes!! With so many good foods, it’s hard to take a small sampling of them, and walk away from the rest. The day usually ended with us feeling like beached whales as we crashed on the couch or the floor. Nevertheless, the kids enjoyed the day, and really, wasn’t that what it was all about, after all. As the next generation grew to marriage age, we had to try to combine again…this time adding the new set of in-laws to the mix. That usually meant dinner at the grandparents’ homes with multiple generations all crowded into the house. Still, togetherness was the key to it all. Now, it was the great grandchildren we focused on, because they were the new little ones, and the excitement centered around them.
The next change that happened was when our parents went home to Heaven. That was probably the biggest change of all…and the hardest to accept. Now we have a big family Christmas party a week or so before Christmas or on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day we go our separate ways to celebrate with our own families. We are the great grandparents or grandparents now, and it’s our children who have to work around the in-laws in their own way. Some trade years, others go both places, and others celebrate on two different days to make it easier on everyone. Who could have known all those years ago, when this all got started, that Christmas could be so complicated.
With all the complicated holiday situations, it is important to remember the real reason for the season…the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. While God is all for giving gifts, He always hopes that we will remember the greatest gift ever given…Jesus!! Were it not for Jesus, we would be doomed. So, while the gifts are nice, and the food is great, let’s not forget why we celebrate this day…the birth of our Savior. Happy birthday Jesus!! Thank you coming to Earth and saving the world!!