Childhood to Wedding
by Irene Gurganus
Valentinefs Day, 1993, San Diego, California. Although emotionally exacting, today has been extremely inspirational. At the end of the San Diego Church of Christ Sunday worship service, with about 2,600 people present at the Civic Center, Jim Fulcher, one of the churchfs evangelists, asked me to come up to the stage.
George Havins read a passage from Hebrews 11 about heroes of faith. He said that I, too, could be considered a heroine. He announced that it was my 55th spiritual birthday and presented me with a beautiful bouquet of red roses. I made a brief statement that throughout these 55 years, I had learned that Godfs unconditional love was always present and that I could always trust Him. The Lord had given deep meaning and purpose to my life.
Of course, those few words could not begin to portray the depth and breadth of all that occurred in that 55 year span . . .
A New Beginning
I began thinking back to the night of my baptismc I was a freshman at David Lipscomb College in Nashville, Tennessee. I remember returning to my dormitory, overflowing with joy after being born again, wondering what would come of my new life and where the Lord would lead me. I felt cleansed, forgiven, and whole, and deeply in love with my God, the sole desire of my heart was to serve Him unconditionally. I had made Him the Lord of my life.
Fellow students who were born and raised on the mission field had inspired me. Robert Brown, whose father was a missionary in Africa, told stories about the Africans and their need for God, which touched my heart deeply. Logan Fox was born and raised in Japan and told fascinating stories about the Japanese. My Sunday school teacher in Chicago, Harding McCaleb, was the son of a missionary who had served in Japan many years before World War II. I never tired of hearing his captivating anecdotes. As a result, from the first moment as a disciple, my dream and passion became to take the gospel around the world.
The Early Years
Baby Irene with Her Proud Parents
I was born in Cookeville, Tennessee in the Cumberland Mountains to Ralph and Winnie Davis Rout. Mother was named after the daughter of Jefferson Davis, the first and only President of the Confederate States of America, because her father had served in the Confederate Army. My maternal grandparents, H.H. and Annie Laurie Neece, and all of my family at that time, were members of the Broad Street Church of Christ. My grandmother was a loving, caring woman, who was very sensitive to the needs of others and continually serving them.
Stamps & Rout
My father worked in a machine shop across from my grandparentsf home when he first laid eyes on my mother. He noticed her as she swung on a swing in her front yard, such beautiful curly red hair flying in the breeze. He began courting her, though she was only 15 years old. On their dates, he drove her in the sidecar of his Harley Davidson through winding mountain roads. They eloped on Christmas Eve, 1917.
Daddy on his Harley-Davidson
After marrying, they lived with my motherfs parents. I was born the following October 31, 1918 on Halloween night. Because my mother had scarlet fever at the time, the doctors did not expect either of us to live, but by the grace of God, we were both spared. Those who were present marveled at the miraculous working of God. Jeremiah 1:5 describes my first days with God,
"Before I formed
you in the womb I knew you,
Although my mother was in bed for a long time after my birth, the world rejoiced eleven days hence as the town bells blared to announce the end of the World War I. Another significant event from my infancy occurred one day as my mother bathed me in front of a pot-bellied coal stove in the living room. As she lifted me out of the tub to dry me, I suddenly pushed my feet downward and the bottoms of my feet were badly burned. My grandmother heard my scream and urgently put some egg whites on my feet, which are still tender to this day.
My grandfather had lost one of his arms in the Battle of Chickamauga in the Civil War. At two or three years of age, I would sit beside my grandfather who would pat my head, then I would say, "Umpafs baby, Umpafs baby". My sister, Kathryn, was born in the same house, June 9, 1920. My family called me Lynette, and my sister Kay. One morning I went outside to see my grandmotherfs 20 new baby chickens. I loved them so much I squeezed them to death. I still hurt thinking of it!
The Rout Family
Grandmafs Black Hotel
When I was five years old, we moved to Loraine, Ohio, where my paternal grandmother lived. My fatherfs parents were Hugh Thomas and Carrier Dorman Rout. His mother had been divorced and remarried and her second husband, Fred Walden, had passed away. We moved to help her run the Black Hotel, which she owned. We lived in the hotel, where people usually stayed several weeks or months, which was fun and interesting. Because it was unusual for children to live there, my sister and I became everyonefs pet and were rather spoiled. I remember the spacious lobby, long staircase, and sliding down the banister once in a while, even though it was forbidden.
My Grandfather Rout was an engineer on the Tennessee Central Railroad, so my father loved trains. One day, my father went to the train station to watch a new train come in, while my mother, Kay and I went to see a movie. On the way, Mom said, "It looks stormy and I donft want to walk home in the rain. Letfs go home and you can play in the hotel lobby".
The old hotel had a huge lobby with plate glass windows all around it. As we sat in the lobby, intently listening to Momfs stories, we became frightened as the sky turned from very blue to an ominous black. The wind howled, the rain poured down, and we shuddered as we heard the tornado warning bells. Grandmother rushed in and hurried us all into the dining room. We obediently crouched in a corner on the floor, my sister first, then me over her and my mother over both of us. Then my grandmother gamely bent over my mother in an attempt to buffer us from danger. As we clung to one another, the wind exploded through all the beautiful stained glass windows, which were between the dining room and lobby, instantly shattering them. Soon thereafter, the entire roof was ripped off the structure and rain poured in unabatedly. Incredibly by the grace of God, none of us was hurt.
Meanwhile, my father was caught unaware at the train station and had clutched onto a telephone pole. He later said, "The wind blew me around like a flag." After the tornado passed, the streets were flooded with water up to waist level. My grandmother carried me, and my mother carried Kay through the water to a streetcar that had stopped in front of the hotel. My father soon arrived, saw us in the streetcar and climbed aboard, thankful that we were not injured. We thought we would have to spend the night there in our wet clothing, but a neighbor, whose home had not been damaged graciously took us into her home. She gave us some cookies and milk, then insisted we lie down because we were quite distressed.
Looking back on this time, I am reminded of Psalms 139:15-16, realizing that God was already working in my life!
My frame was not
hidden from you when I was
Our New Home - Chicago
The hotel was damaged beyond repair. We could only salvage a few items and some pictures, which were our sole mementos from Ohio. My father had a very close friend, named Watson who had moved to Chicago from Columbia, Tennessee. He had secured a good job and suggested my father could do the same. He offered to share his home with us while my father looked for a job, so along with my grandmother, our family left for Chicago.
We lived with the Watsons until we were able to move into our own house. We began attending the church of Christ congregation at 72nd and Cornell Avenue and later learned there was a group meeting downtown also. My father didnft attend church, but drove us there every Sunday. Some good friends, Earnest and Edith Hayes were extremely kind to us, and would take us to church when Daddy was unable. Earnest brought his car to be repaired in Daddyfs shop and tried to teach him about the Bible, but my father wasnft interested at the time.
Greta Schrade became my Bible class and piano teacher when I was about ten years old. Kay took violin lessons from Gretafs husband, John and we performed together in recitals. I loved Greta, as well as the Bible class. All the young girls in my class were being baptized at the age of 12, so I too was immersed. I believed in Jesus and I knew he had died for my sins, however, the reason I was baptized was to be a member of that church. From that time on, I went to church not just on Sunday mornings, but many Sunday evenings and sometimes on Wednesday nights when I could get a ride.
Daddy was morally upright, but didnft wish to be part of the church. He thought that every denomination claimed to follow the Bible, but could not accept this nor that the Bible was true because their teachings were so diverse. He believed it was enough just to believe in God. His mother, who lived with us, started coming to church, became a Christian when I was in high school, and remained very devoted until her death.
Our home for twelve years was at 10730 Prairie Avenue. Kay and I went to Van Veissingen Grammar School through grade eight before attending Fenger High School. We walked two miles to high school everyday. Several times we came home with a frozen nose or fingers because it was so frigid and the snow so deep. We played in the street and became friends with all the boys and girls who lived on our block, most of whom were Polish, Lithuanian, or Irish. I loved to play football and was especially adept at tackling. In winter we would flood an empty lot and enjoy ice-skating.
Annie, Stella, and Rosie, who lived next door, were Lithuanian. In their basement they kept large wooden barrels, which they used to make sauerkraut in the fall. They cut up mountains of cabbage, washed their feet really well, and got into the barrels, enthusiastically stomping the leafage. As a young girl, this was fascinating and to this day sauerkraut is a favorite of mine!
Daddy owned the Hudson dealership in Chicago, along with a partner. His partner sold the cars while my father serviced them. His partner asked Daddy to be dishonest, so my father sold his part of the business and started an automobile repair shop, RVR Motor Service. Besides being an excellent mechanic, he was a man of utmost integrity and trained his men well. His customers returned year after year for some 25 years. Daddy was a good financial manager and, even during the Depression, was able to take care of us, saving enough money for me to attend college.
He believed in spanking as one form of discipline. Mother never spanked us, but would always say, "Wait until your father gets home and hefll take care of it!" Sometimes both Kay and I would get spanked for the same thing because neither of us would admit what we had done. He would take us into the bathroom, sit on the side of the bathtub, turn us over his knee and spank us with the backside of his hairbrush. I got many spankingsc(maybe thatfs why I turned out so good!) When we grew too old for spankings, he would make us stay inside for a few weeks without having any friends over. Kay and I had a very close relationship except for one thingcshe would borrow my clothes and, since she was a tomboy, they usually needed some mending before I could wear them again.
Every Memorial Day from 1926 through 1937, our family went to the Indianapolis Speedway to watch the Indianapolis 500 races. At that time, there was no stadium. We departed very early in the morning with a picnic lunch, and spread a blanket in the park to enjoy the dayfs festivities. We met the same people every year. Kay and I played, while my mother visited with the other women. We watched some of the races and I came to know most of the driversf names. Even now I recognize some of the names as grandsons of the drivers I saw. My father elatedly went down in the pit where they maintained the cars, and took movies of the races with an 8mm camera enjoying the excitement of being with the drivers.
I had a very happy life growing up in Chicago. We played various card games with the neighborhood children on our large glassed-in back porch. When not engaged in card games, football, or ice skating, I was busy reading. I went to the library, which was about a mile from our house, and every weekend checked out books. I loved novels that featured a star basketball or football player. I liked to read about heroes who were clean cut and had integrity. I brought the books home and sat in a great big easy chair in the living room with my feet up on the back of the chair and my head down in the seat, where I would read for hours. My mother complained that I read instead of helping with the housework. Many times I put a flashlight under the covers of my bed and read until two ofclock in the morning against my fatherfs wishes. In high school, we made puppets and put on plays at the library, which I enjoyed because it had something to do with books.
While in high school, I went to every Fenger High football game and watched my team win many games. I also continued my involvement in church. I knew the difference between right and wrong, but I donft recall trying to apply Scriptures to my life nor did I pray much, being too busy with classes, football games, dances and other activities. While I didnft get into trouble, neither did I do anything constructive spiritually. My sins were those of the heart and sins of omission.
Bob Van Rite was my boyfriend, with whom I spent considerable time. He was an excellent dancer and dancing also became my passion. On dates we would go to a theater or to dance at the Aragon Ballroom on the north side of Chicago or the Trianon Ballroom on the south side. Both were huge and featured the big bands led by Kay Kaiser, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Harry James, and other famous bandleaders. The girls wore evening dresses, decorated with a corsage. Bob usually presented me with gardenias, my favorite even to this day. We went often, and because Bob was such a good dancer and had taught me well, the crowd would stand back and watch us put on an exhibition. I loved ballroom dancing, the sheer gracefulness of a waltz; it seemed like I was floating on air.
Irene Goes to College
Because Bob and I spent so much time together dancing, my father became concerned. Bob was Catholic and although my father did not attend church himself, he didnft want me to marry a Catholic. So, in order to break up the romance, he decided to send me to David Lipscomb College in Nashville, Tennessee, which was supported by members of the Church of Christ, where I spent some of my happiest days. At that time, the Church of Christ was very spiritual and although the vocabulary was different, the practices resembled those of discipling ministries today.
In those days, the emphasis in the church was on evangelism and making the decision to follow Jesus as Lord. I took a class entitled "Social Ethics", taught by Athens Clay Pullias, the future president of the University. In it, we were taught to make decisions regarding activities that were open to our participation, and think about what Jesus would do if he were on earth. How would he react going to campus parties, being a part of social clubs? What would Jesus do if he were going with you; how would he react? This class greatly impacted my thinking as I planned for the future. From that time forward, in making decisions, I would think, "Is this just a tradition? Is this something that is inherently wrong?" If I concluded something was wrong, I would not participate in it.
A Bible professor named Charles R. Brewer, was also a preacher who lived what he taught. His family, which included five sons and one daughter, was exemplary. He took good care of his family, was very evangelistic and his children often accompanied him as he studied the Bible with people. Later, when I married and lived in Syracuse, New York, he was one of the first ones to volunteer to come and preach. He was very willing to go anywhere to plant a church, even if it was small, because he was so zealous to help people become Christians. The first thing he did when students enrolled in his class was to give them a nickname. While Irene means "peace" in Greek, he decided on the Latin word for peace "pax" and from that time he and the other students in his class called me "Paxie".
My German professor, S.P. Pittman, was a very unusual person. He was an elocutionist and loved to roll his "Rfs". He also had a very important spiritual influence on campus. He was not only a professor, but also preached in nearby churches and followed the Lordfs will for his life. He and his wife were very hospitable and invited students to their home regularly. If anyone had a problem, they would go to Brother Pittman, who would listen and give advice, always using the Scriptures.
All of our professors were strong disciples and we were very close to them. We visited in their homes and at church activities. The school was small (there were only a hundred in my graduating class) so we all knew each other well. Our dates at college usually consisted of the boys escorting the girls, which they called carrying us, to church. I didnft understand what it meant to be carried and thought I was perfectly capable of walking. Some of my most enjoyable dates were having a young man come to the dorm, call on the intercom, and walk me to church. Then we would sit together and walk home. Sometimes we would stop at the drugstore for a sundae, which may not sound very thrilling, compared to what kids do today, but it was exciting. If we ventured very far, we would have to have a chaperon.
Since I lived so far away, during school breaks, I went to Chattanooga, Tennessee with a woman who lived in our dorm. She had her own room because she had given a lot of money to the school and, in fact, one of the dorms (Johnson Hall) was named after her. We called her Grandma Johnson. She took several of us home with her to Chattanooga and I went with her many times and enjoyed attending church, then driving to the top of Lookout Mountain. This set an example that I followed to some extent into my 70fs.
Lamar Baker, a sophomore, was my boyfriend at the time and his father had a candy factory in Chattanooga. They often gave me candy with little notes saying, "Sweets to the Sweet". He and I became pretty serious my first year and I received a lot of candy, which I could afford to eat since I only weighed 98 pounds. During our first summer vacation, I went back to Chicago and he to Chattanooga. We decided we would not continue going steady when he transferred to Harding University, another church-related school for his third and fourth years. Lipscomb was only a junior college then. The custom was to exchange 8x10 pictures to set on your desks in the dorm when you went steady. Lamar asked me to come back to Nashville early, so he could return my picture on his way to Harding in Arkansas.
George and Irenefs Early Days
While I was home for the summer, the church had a young peoplefs class on Sunday evenings led by J.H. McCaleb, son of a long-time missionary to Japan. He asked the students from Harding College to stand and then those from Lipscomb and so on. That was the first time George Pope and I noticed each other. He was three years older and wefd been going to the same church for many years, but had never seen each other very much. He was at Harding and I attended Lipscomb. He asked me out on a few dates that summer and we enjoyed each otherfs company, going to parks, on picnics, hiking, or occasionally to a show. The church had a lot of activities for young people and since he was one of the leaders, we attended everything.
I had to ride a streetcar from our house in the southern part of Chicago all the way down to 72nd and Cornell, then transferred three times to get to church, which took about 45 minutes one way. George and I got to be pretty close that summer although I didnft take it as seriously as he did. I learned later that in his mind we were going steady. In the fall, we said goodbye to each other and I went back to Nashville early. When I arrived, Lamar was there with my picture. He stayed a couple of days and we talked a lot and decided to make up. I gave him back my picture to take with him to Harding. He promised to come back for some joint school functions, the next of which was a Missions Forum in October.
Georgefs Big Surprise
Meanwhile George Pope went back to Harding for his senior year. He was a leader on campus and had had quite a few girlfriends. He told some of his buddies that he had a new girlfriend, a nice young lady from Lipscomb. He decided to welcome some of the new students from Lipscomb and promptly went into Lamar Bakerfs room, where to his chagrin, he saw the 8x10 picture of me on Lamarfs desk. Needless to say, George was upset with me and we were not going steady after that! Oops, I got into a little bit of trouble over that.
That year, George was the editor of the yearbook and also circulation manager of the school newspaper, The Harding Bison, and was voted "Favorite Boy" of the school. He sent me a subscription to the newspaper so that every week I could read about all of the activities he was involved in. His picture was in the paper quite often and he wrote a few articles. I think he wanted to let me know what I had missed by not going steady with him. I never did ask him if he repented of that, but I hope he did! That year I decided I would not go steady with anybody because things got complicated when the guy was more serious than I was.
Life at Lipscomb
I spent a lot of time with Brother Barney Morehead and his wife, Nellie, who operated a Bible bookstore right across from campus. (Everyone was called "brother" and "sister" in those days and I still use those titles half the time.) They had been missionaries in Japan for five years, but had come home because of his difficulty in learning the language. They started a church in Ota, in Ibaragi-ken. When they returned he was still very interested in missions, so he began driving to churches all over the United States to elicit support for missionaries by sending them items they needed. Throughout the years, I donft know how many miles he traveled or how many cars he wore out. He was never sick and never had an accident. He always carried his honey and bran cereal with him wherever he visited. He believed eating a tablespoon a day kept him healthy. When my father passed away, Barney told me that from then on he would be like a father to me, a relationship that I had already felt.
When George and I were married, Barney drove to Chicago for the wedding and in the ensuing years, stayed with us many times. When we moved to Syracuse, he always came to our campaigns and offered both advice and financial support for our mission works. He had an apartment behind his house, where he would let missionaries stay. Later he moved the business to his house and rented an upstairs apartment to students for minimal or no rent. Many leaders of the traditional Church of Christ started their Christian lives there and are indebted to the support Barney Morehead.
George Pope wrote a biography of Barney Morehead, but, because he had to write it in about a four-week time period, never felt he did it justice. He went to Nashville during the Christmas holiday and rented a motel room, interviewed Brother Morehead every morning and then wrote every afternoon. He felt it should have been longer and more detailed because of Brother Moreheadfs accomplishments.
I went on many mission trips with Brother Morehead, who was a significant part of the missions group at Lipscomb. He read us letters from missionaries, which kept my interest high. When it was time to graduate, he asked me to work for him for the summer. They were quite busy and used all the profit made from the "World Vision Bookstore" for missions, as well as asking individuals for contributions. Often when on an errand together, he would get out of the car and tell me, "Now you sit there and count your blessings." Ifve never forgotten that and have repeated it many times when Ifve left someone sitting in a car. His wife, Nellie, wrote poetry and made visits to a hospital for patients with tuberculosis several times a week bringing flowers from her garden. She was very fruitful, later focusing on those in prison, and was exemplary in every area as a disciple.
My grandmother still lived in Cookeville, a beautiful mountainous region, and I treasured my visits to her every two or three months while I was at Lipscomb. She lived alone, in the same house in which I was born, and slept on a large feather bed in the living room. She had a little kitchen, which still had the potbellied stove, around which we would cuddle up and talk about many things. She was a happy, loving person and always counted her blessings, even though she lived alone.
My paternal grandfather, who was an engineer on the Tennessee Central Railway, lived in Nashville. He had remarried, and had a son who was born November 13th, the same year in which I was born. So, I had an uncle who was 13 days younger than I who came to visit me several times at college. I visited them in Nashville and enjoyed my grandfatherfs train stories. It was quite dangerous riding through the Tennessee mountains on the train due to the hairpin curves, and the tunnels. I enjoyed my time with them, and like any college student, I thoroughly enjoyed a home cooked dinner!
My first semester at Lipscomb, my boyfriend from Chicago, Bob came to visit me. Bob and I went dancing because there was a big band playing at one of the hotels and as we danced other people stopped to watch us. At Lipscomb, we were taught that any kind of dancing was wrong so when I became a disciple, I had to give it up, but that weekend, lucky for me, I didnft get caught.
The spring of my second year, I was dating Robert Brown pretty steadily, and often went to his aunt and unclefs home on Sundays. One time he left to go to Starkville, Mississippi to help start a new church and while he was gone, his aunt, uncle, and I planned a special birthday party for him on the 4th of July.
Irene Returns to Chicago
The day before the party however, I got a devastating phone call from my father telling me that my mother had left him and they were going to divorce. He told me to stay and finish the summer in Nashville, but I deeply loved him and because he had never cooked or done housework, I knew he would be helpless. My sister was in nursing school so it was difficult for her to leave. I had planned to transfer to Harding in the fall, but decided instead to go home and take care of my father.
That was the first real suffering I experienced as a disciple. I had to trust God that somehow some good would come of this. I didnft depend on Romans 8:28 (And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.) then like I do now, but there were other Scriptures that helped me. I had many close friends who were very supportive, offering comfort and encouragement. Many prayed for my mother and father and I decided about the only thing I could do when I felt helpless was to pray a lot, remembering 1Thessalonians 5:16-18 (Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.) This experience helped me to draw even closer to the Lord.
I took the train to Chicago, with thoughts swirling through my mind. I struggled to understand why my parents would separate. Mother was eight years younger than Daddy and only 38. I thought they were happy, although he was pretty quiet most of the time; she was very pretty and had many friends. We had gone on summer vacations together and made many trips to Tennessee and Indianapolis. I didnft know the cause, but since she left him, I conjectured it must have been something she had done; that it was her fault. My father was a good moral person, very honest and upright.
While I was at school, they had moved to an apartment over a drugstore and beauty shop at 107th and Michigan, a very busy street, right on the streetcar line. My fatherfs auto repair shop was about four doors down. It felt very strange going home to that place, like it wasnft home at all. When I got there, Daddy told me that Mother had been drinking and that there was another man. I was shocked and found this difficult to believe.
Mother came to see me a couple of days later, but I barricaded myself in the bedroom and refused to speak to her. She returned again and again, but was rejected in the same way every time. I wouldnft have anything to do with her, which Ifm sure hurt her deeply. I loved my father and felt she had wounded him deeply. It was a long time before I apologized and repented of my unloving heart toward my mother.
I helped Daddy with the housework and also did accounting at his office. I prepared breakfast every morning, cleaned the apartment and then headed to the office. Then I would return home and prepare our dinner. They had put my piano in his office because there was no room for it in the apartment. When I wasnft busy in the office, I played the piano.
Daddy decided to teach me to drive, though his method was very different than the average person. As a mechanic, he believed one should know everything about the car before driving it. After working hours in the shop, he would jack up one of the cars and have me sit in the driverfs seat. He would sit beside me and explain all about how the engine worked, most of which I forgot soon after he told me.
During this time I was very active in the Cornell Avenue Church, where George Pope also attended, having returned from college. He had forgiven me for my picture being on Lamar Bakerfs desk and we started dating again, although I wasnft very serious about it since I was so concerned about my father. Daddy would drive me to church and pick me up, and then we usually went sightseeing. I always told him I had to be back in time for the Young Peoplefs class on Sunday night. He would question me, "Why do you have to go to church on Sunday night and Wednesday night and all the other activities too? Why canft you stay here with me?" Sometimes hefd say, "If you really loved me, youfd stay with me". It hurt me to leave him, but I had made a commitment to be part of the church and not only needed to be there, but really wanted to go. I loved working with the young people and had many close friends with whom I had gone to church since I was six years old. Brother McCaleb, who was our leader was very interesting and taught many good, practical lessons.
One of the elders, H.A. Roland, who owned a paint company had loaned George Pope some money to finish his last year of college. He lived in the suburbs of Chicago, had two daughters about our age, and helped George Pope in many ways. We went to his house often for parties. Another elder named Ernie Taylor had a great influence on our lives as well and was always a great support to us.
The Gurganus Clan
I taught Sunday school for a couple of years. George Popefs nieces, Betty and Ruth, were in my class and I became very close to them. I got to know his older brother Howard and his children, Lois, Edward, and Carol. George Pope was living with them at the time because his parents had gone back to Alabama where his father was an itinerant preacher. Georgefs grandfather John and his wife Amanda began to worship in an upper room in the Masonic Hall over Dr. Millerfs drugstore in 1899 with eleven disciples. They also began a church in 1900, which is still meeting in Cordove, Alabama. His fatherfs brothers and uncles were all members of the Church of Christ. They were evangelistic, studied the Bible, tried to follow it, and were involved in each otherfs lives, much the same as we are today in the discipling movement. His family was known as "Ganus". His cousins taught singing every summer and completed their own songbook, the Ganus Hymnal, of which I have a yellowed copy.
Georgefs father traveled around the country preaching and was very sacrificial. Some family members told him he was neglecting his children, so he took a job cutting meat in the Barney Coal Mine Store. He also worked as a farmer and taught school at Sulfur Springs as well. Whenever asked, he would go to preach in the surrounding area. He would be paid with produce rather than money, which helped his family a bit. Though George grew up in a log cabin with his family of nine children, and sometimes went without shoes, he often said he had never realized that he was poor until later in life. His grandfather hauled the children seven miles in an ox cart to church, while the adults walked. G.C. Brewer was a well-known evangelist in the church. When he preached at Liberty Hill, Alabama in 1905, Georgefs father led the singing.
George Pope was three years older than me and two classes ahead in Sunday school. I remember when he was baptized along with one of his friends, Walter Larkins. W.S. Long was the preacher of the church at that time and taught them how to preach as early as 14 years of age. They had several sermons, which they would divide up, into three parts. One was on the life of Moses and each boy would preach about 40 years of Mosesf life. Little did I realize then that some day I would marry one of these young men and at the age of 70, he would receive a statue of Moses from Kip McKean sculpted by a French artist. Prophetic?cI donft know.
Georgefs family had come from either Greece or Hungary. We have two stories that wefve heard and donft know which one of them is true. As far back as the family can be traced, they lived in North Carolina when there were just 13 colonies. One of his relatives had a number of slaves, a fact of which he was definitely not proud.
Some of the family moved from North Carolina to Texas, where quite a few still live. Some of these cut the "Gur" from their name and call themselves "Ganus". The president of Harding University, Cliff Ganus, is one of George's distant cousins. The largest group moved and settled in Northern Alabama. My daughter, Janetkay, has done a genealogical study, going as far back as records were kept.
When Georgefs Uncle Fletcher turned 100 years old, we took our daughters to Alabama for a big family reunion at his home. Janetkay was in college and Lynette in high school at the time. They were amazed as we drove along the country roads to find Gurganus on so many mailboxes, having grown accustomed to being the only Gurganusf. It was quite a phenomena for them to see so many relatives, listen to Uncle Fletcher tell stories of old, play the organ and sing. He was thrilled as he reminisced about childhood. He was next to the youngest child who lived and had a younger sister, Frances. His oldest brother, Howard, joined the Marines and later moved to Chicago where he married and had three children.
Howard Gurganus and Wife
At Howardfs urging, three other brothers moved to Chicago to be able to make more money - Homer, John Warlick, and Wiley. They rented a 10-room house where they all lived on the South Side, but as they married and left home, it was impossible to keep a place that large. Georgefs father wasnft happy in Chicago so he returned to Alabama. His mother, whom I only met a couple of times, stayed in Chicago for a while, but later also returned. Georgefs brothers and sister, and many nieces and nephews attended the Cornell Avenue Church so I became acquainted with his family.
George Pope lived with his eldest brother Howard during summer breaks and right after he graduated. George felt Howardfs wife, Doretta, criticized him unduly and finally got to the point where he just didnft listen to her. Adding to the burden, her mother didnft like George either. After her mother passed away, Doretta started going to church with Howard and in a short time became a Christian and Howard became an Elder at the Cornell Avenue Church. They were very happy together then and we all got along well. Doretta was frank and very particular, but she was also very kind, so we learned to accept her even when she became critical.
George had worked very hard for his degree, while working 40 hours a week for only 50 cents an hour. He also ran track and played basketball. Because he was so tall, the other players would grab on to his shorts from behind. Invariably, the referee didnft see the violation, which frustrated George greatly. I still donft know how he concurrently managed all his extra curricular activities, a full time job and his education.
When times were tough, Howard encouraged him to go back to school. His older sisters, Vema and Mal, would give him money or clothing and take care of him because he was the baby boy of the family. George graduated in 1939, while America suffered in the midst of the Great Depression. At graduation, in debt and in need of a job, he gamely searched, but couldnft find anything. Finally, he was hired by American Airlines, to taxi and clean their DC3fs. It wasnft exactly his idea of the job for which he had prepared. He worked odd hours so our dates were at peculiar times. When he had to work all night, hefd stop by in the morning on his way home. Sometimes he began work at 1:00 a.m. and wefd go out for a late evening date.
The Romance Begins
We started going out that summer, but I had a lot of boyfriends in Chicago, whom I continued to see. One of them, who lived on my street, took me to football games and another took me to symphony concerts. George and I would go to parties at church, to the movies or just visit at home. In September, he finally said that if I really cared for him, I wouldnft date all the other guys. He asked me to choose between them and him. I said that if he wanted to go steady he would have to say so! So, he finally asked me to go steady and I said yes.
George and Irene
Young people often ask me, "What was it that impressed you about George? Why did you fall in love with him?" I didnft know much about his history or his family at that time. He was very handsome, had beautiful eyes with long eyelashes and a great physique. I also saw his spiritual qualities, how he was so dedicated to his Lord and eagerly engaged in every church program he could help. He was a very good speaker and led many of the discussions in our Bible classes. We had many deep, spiritual conversations, which made clear that his focus was on being the best disciple he could. He greatly respected his professors at Harding, who impacted him by their missionary zeal, dedication and sacrifice for the school. He desired to be a missionary, which drew me to him because that was also my ambition and that became a special dream of ours.
He loved to tease me, especially about my giggle. He said I had a very distinctive giggle and that I could talk the ear off of a rabbit. He had a habit of mixing up his metaphors which, later on in life, my daughters thoroughly enjoyed. The teasing never bothered me; I teased him right back. George also had a great sense of humor, right up to the last days of his life, which helped us to persevere through some of the most stressful times we faced. We always found a way to rejoice in the Lord and focus on our blessings.
In November, Harding University planned to have the burning of their mortgage. Dr. George Bensen had been very successful raising money to get the school out of debt. Some teachers from Harding were studying at the University of Chicago and attending the Cornell Avenue Church. A number of us rode down together to Harding for this special event. There were six of us riding from Chicago, but we were young and it didnft seem too cramped. In those days, the roads through Arkansas and Missouri were not very good, but we arrived safely and had a great time. George introduced me to some of his favorite teachers whom he dearly loved and had a great influence on his life.
J.N. Armstrong was a man he greatly admired because he was one of the most devoted, sacrificial Christians he had ever known. He learned a great deal from him. After we were married, we decided that if we had a boy we would name him after John Nelson Armstrong, but we had two daughters. He had been president of the school from Georgefs freshman through junior years. In Georgefs senior year, Dr. Bensen, who had been a missionary in China, became president of the University. The teachers at Harding loved the school and were very sacrificial. They were paid very little and often worked without a salary because it was a small school with little money. Through their example and teachings, they profoundly impacted the lives of the students.
The campus was attractive, with many beautiful white wooden basket swings. There was one basket swing by the bell tower, which became forever etched in my memory. It was while sitting on that swing that George proposed to me. He said, "I donft think I have the right to ask you to go to Africa with me as a missionary. Itfs a very hard life, but itfs what I really want to do. I would be so happy if you would consider marrying me and going with me." Of course, I was delighted to say, "YES". I too had a definite zeal for missions and had thought about going to Africa, so it wasnft a very difficult decision for me. George had classmates and teachers who were working for the Lord in Africa, mostly in Limbadive.
Former Harding students were allowed to buy the blueprints for the swings, so when we lived in Abilene, Texas George Pope sent for a copy. He hired a carpenter to build a replica of that swing, which still remains in Abilene at the lake home we sold when George retired. In 1986, we were living in Missouri and planning to return to Japan. On the occasion of our 45th wedding anniversary, George drove three hours to Harding University to buy a miniature of that swing to give me in memory of our engagement. Since then, that swing has gone with us everywhere. On our golden anniversary, someone gave us a little statuette of a man and woman together and we placed it beside the swing to remind us of those days.
The Swing at Our Abilene Home
Soon after our return to Chicago, American Airlines offered George a job as a station agent because he had been such an outstanding employee. It was a promotion, but required a transfer to Syracuse, New York, about which we knew almost nothing. It was a difficult decision because it meant we would be apart for a time, but since there werenft any other opportunities, he agreed to try it. He could come back for Christmas and we hoped to get married soon after that.
Syracuse had a fairly new airport, with only five daily flights in and out, all DC3fs. Although the job was very interesting and the training beneficial, he was quite concerned that there was no Church of Christ. He found a church that was similar in some ways, but used only instrumental music and in which the daughter of one of the elders preached. He hoped to convert someone and start a church, but decided to worship with these people until that time. After talking with his brother Howard and praying about it with me, he decided to accept the job.
Howard was a very thrifty person and managed his money well. George respected him as a great Christian and admired his wisdom. Howard wasnft in favor of our getting married until George repaid his college debts and he doubted that we could live on Georgefs salary.
Georgefs flight to Syracuse was his first long distance flight as air travel was still uncommon. I was inspired by his glowing reports of the beautiful clouds he saw from the air. Since he and I were nature lovers and very much in love, he also wrote poetry about the clouds and many romantic letters in which he described the deep lakes and lush mountains around Syracuse. Although he wrote often, I missed him dearly.
He took a meteorology course to enable him to forecast the weather and had many exciting experiences with the other agents. He liked the work, but we were both very lonely. He attended parties, but was the only one who didnft drink so other agents would call him the next morning to take over their shift. They all respected him for his convictions and appreciated that they could count on him to work for them. Several famous people came through the Syracuse airport. One of them was Sally Rand, who unless youfre my age, you probably donft know. She was a very famous striptease dancer and actress. George said she looked really old and wrinkled! He wasnft very taken by her.
After he had been there for a while, he spoke with his boss about changing his schedule so he could go to church. He was on a split shift so he couldnft go either Sunday morning or evening. His boss said, "Well, Ifm sorry, but if you want to get anywhere with American Airlines, youfll have to make it your god." George Pope said, "Well, Ifm sorry, but I canft make American Airlines my god. But, if you will let me off on Sundays so I can worship my God, Ifll take the worst shifts and even work two shifts. Ifll do anything in order to get off." When his boss saw how sincere and committed he was, he agreed. He was given the worst shift, but it was worth it to him because he was able to go to church.
George was able to come back to Chicago twice to visit, but Howard still opposed our marriage at that time. His father became ill and he was able to fly on a pass to visit him in Alabama just before he passed away. His mother had already passed away his junior year in college. It became increasingly difficult to be separated so we decided we would get married, with or without Howardfs approval. Wefd been apart long enough! We set the date in March, corresponding with Georgefs vacation schedule and Howard reluctantly gave in.
My mother and I had reconciled and I saw her frequently. Since I was concerned about the care of my father, my sister decided she would move back home in May, after graduating from nursing school. Although my father was apprehensive about my departure, he recognized the depth and strength of our love and thus gave us his blessing.
The Two Become One
In great anticipation, we made the arrangements for the wedding by phone and mail. I picked out white satin material and hired a Russian dressmaker, who lived nearby, to make a dress according to my own design. George and I had been in a chorus led by a woman in the church who was a professional singer. We performed in downtown Chicago and had done a couple of operettas and both loved to sing. Six of the women from the chorus agreed to sing at our wedding, wearing white floor-length dresses. Ralph Wilburn, the preacher of the church at that time performed the ceremony.
The wedding day finally arrived on a beautiful spring day. To my great chagrin, I became very ill the morning of the wedding. I took some medicine, but needed to get into bed under piles of blankets and sweat out my fever. I finally was able to get up, but still felt weak. My hair, which was set the day before had become disheveled so my hairdresser hurriedly repaired it with a curling iron. Nonetheless, I was 20 minutes late for the wedding! George Pope anxiously waited. He wondered, "Have I misjudged this gal? Is she not as great a Christian as I thought that she would stand me up? Shefs always on time." He was very thankful and relieved when I finally got there. In the end, our wedding ceremony was beautiful followed by a reception held at the church building.
After the wedding, Roy Anderson, the best man drove us to the Southmore Hotel in Jackson Park on Lake Michigan where we would spend our wedding night. We were eager to get there, so Roy sped along, until a policeman stopped him. The policeman said, "Did you realize you were speeding along Lake Shore Boulevard?" Roy said, "Yes, but this couple just got married and Ifm trying to get them to the hotel." The policeman answered, "Well, I seriously doubt they would like to spend their wedding night in jail so, if I were you, Ifd take it easy the rest of the way." Roy obediently complied with the policemenfs advice.
George Pope had a deep conviction that no travel should keep us from the assembly on Sunday. We delayed our honeymoon by one day so we could attend church services the next morning. Because he worked for the airlines, we had passes all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles and back to New York. I was very excited, as I had never flown. Saying goodbye to my family and moving to a strange city was difficult, but I was elated to be married and deeply in love. Itfs been 57 years since that day, but I clearly remember those exhilarating feelings.
We drove to the Midway Airport and flew to Dallas, Texas, leaving Chicago in a blizzard. We arrived in Dallas at an old airport by a large lagoon surrounded by picturesque peach trees in bloom, where we stayed at the Adolphis Hotel. (We planned to return there on our golden anniversary, but we were in Japan at the time.) We flew to Little Rock, Arkansas the next day and drove throughout the state in a borrowed car. George Pope loved Arkansas, the Diamond Cave, Harding University and the peculiar names of the towns. Instead of Los Angeles, we decided to go to Nashville, where we visited friends and David Lipscomb college. From Nashville we flew to Washington, D.C. and New York City before arriving at our new home in Syracuse.
On our flight into Syracuse, a dignitary was supposed to be on our flight and a newspaper reporter was at the airport to greet him. The dignitary was not there, but one of the agents told the reporter that George was returning from his honeymoon. The photographer took our picture, which appeared in the newspaper with the caption, "Gurganus returns with his bride." We looked pretty important and, of course, I still have the clipping. Little did I guess or even imagine the kind of life I would lead the next 51 years with this iconoclast of a husband, so devoted to his Lord Jesus.
Copyright (c) 2000 Tokyo Church of Christ. All rights
Revised: January 18, 2002 .