Tag Archives: Dawn Duncan Harrell

Virginia’s Senior Year Wasn’t a Great Year

[Virginia]: I had my eighth grade year and then through high school, but of course, I got accustomed to the kids. Now I would say I am closer to those kids than I am to the Peru kids because it was in the high school years. So graduated in ’81. I went. . . .

kathy-gail-virginia-will-lee-doug-ca-1981

Kathy, Gail, Virginia Will, Lee, Doug; Texas, ca. 1981

Oh, and then my senior year was the year that Chet Bitterman, one of the missionaries, got kidnapped. They were after the director, who was my—Dad [Will Kindberg] was the director. During that time that Chet had been kidnapped and before he was killed, my mom and dad were in hiding. They had to keep moving and I was left by myself out at the base with one of the single ladies. But I didn’t know where my parents were and that was a very, very traumatic time for me.

[Heidi]: What? Really?

[Stephanie?]: Really?

[Virginia]: Yeah.

[Dawn]: So wait a minute. [Can’t hear], why didn’t they take you?

[Eric]: [Can’t hear] at all.

[Virginia]: Because they were after my dad, not me.

[Mary Lynn]: What do you mean, they were in hiding?

[Virginia]: They had to move from place to place to place so that the guerillas—so they were after the director and because they had to keep him hidden, so that they [M-19 guerillas] couldn’t find him. He was the goal. He was the target. They took Chet because Dad was not in Bogota. They were after Dad, so in order for him not to be, you know, them not come back and try to get Dad, Mom and Dad had to move.

[Gail]: But he was on the base the whole time?

[Virginia]: No.

[Gail]: Where was he?

[Virginia]: I think he was in Bogota.

[Lots of Voices]: He was one of the negotiators?

[Eric]: Right.

[Virginia]: He may have been, but he was not—nobody knew where. I mean, he was in an undisclosed location and he had to move around.

[Kathy]: They had to keep the base secure.

[Heidi]: So you knew that he was in hiding?

[Virginia]: Yes. Oh, yeah-yeah-yes. I didn’t know where he was, but I knew he was. . . .

[Heidi]: How long did that go on?

[Virginia]: It was only a few months. Oh, I cannot, I can’t remember.

[Kathy]: Well that whole ordeal, I think, was two months.

[Eric]: Chet Bitterman had been captured. He was held for a long time. It was probably a year.

[Virginia]: No. No, no, no. No, it wasn’t because it was during my high school months. And it was during that time that Dad and Mom had to move.

You guys [Steve’s family] were talking about soldiers. During my high school years, we always had soldiers around our house because when my dad was director. That was kind of weird because I had curtains that were almost like these curtains. You know, being a teenage girl, and these guys are right outside my window. You know, it was a shock, I mean, you know, when they’re not shot guns, but machine guns. So we had, we had a lot. And we had curfews during the whole time we were there. We had to be in by 10:00. There were shots, you know, occasionally we’d hear shots in the middle of the night and wonder what’s going on.

Anyway, so that was my senior year and so that wasn’t a great year.

story told by Virginia (Lee’s daughter) with interjections by Eric, Kathy and Gail (Lee’s kids), Mary Lynn (Eric’s wife0, and Heidi, Dawn and Stephanie (Steve’s kids) to the family reunion gathering on January 11, 2014; transcribed by Dawn Duncan Harrell (Steve’s daughter) 

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below. (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.)

  • You mention your Dad/Will writing memoires. Did he publish those? Are those available? Is it possible to add them to this collection?
  • The Steve Duncan kids didn’t receive trauma counseling. Did Wycliffe/SIL provide any kind of trauma counseling for you or your folks? Was that a known necessity at that time?
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They’re Twins, They’re Girls, They’re Identical

We came back and we lived in Waltham [Mass.] for a year. Steve a year of internship at what was then Waltham Hospital [now Boston Children’s at Waltham]. Then he did residency at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, where he had done that externship.

It was during that time that I got pregnant again, and so we were pretty sure that—we found out we were going to have twins. That was kind of unexpected. It did come from my grandmother; [she] always used to tell me that she had a miscarriage that would have been twins if she had carried them to term. My aunt always wanted to have twins and never had them, but my cousin did have twins. She had fraternal twins and our twins are identical. They say that that isn’t so much a part of your heritage as fraternal twins are. At any rate, we followed the twin tradition.

My mother thought we should have a boy in the mix, so when Steve announced—and we thought we would, just because that was most—statistically that was most common. Then we had two girls [Kimberly and Stephanie]. He called up my mother and said, “Guess what? We have two girls!” And she said, “Oh, no!”

[Dawn]: Did she?

[Heidi]: Yeah.

[Dawn]: I love it because she came outside and she said, “Your mom had two girls.” And I said, “Oh, no! I wanted a brother.” And she scolded me!

[Stephanie?]: She had done it herself.

Anyway, so then we moved. When Dawn and Heidi. . . .

[Victoria]: How many years between you [Dawn and the twins]?

[Dawn]: Six.

Dawn is six years older than the twins and Heidi is two years older than the twins. The twins were 14 months and Dawn was in second grade—is that right?—when we moved out to South Dakota?

Steve Duncan Girls, 1982

Heidi, Dawn, Kimberly, Stephanie, Christmastime, 1982

[Dawn]: Yup.

Heidi was. . . .

[Heidi]: Toddling.

Not in school yet. And we lived in South Dakota for five years [1977–1982] and then we came back to the East Coast, raised our support and went to Angola. Dawn was in seventh grade and Heidi was in third grade and the twins were in first grade when we went to Angola [1983].

Then gradually they all—I homeschooled them in Angola. Dawn left in tenth grade to go to Ben Lippen School and Heidi wanted to go sooner because she didn’t want to do all the work that Dawn was doing in school.

[Heidi]: She had to do homeschool in ninth grade and it was just like uuuggghhh.

[Stephanie]: That was back when homeschooling was in its infancy and you had no options except the University of Nebraska.

We had University of Nebraska, a high school course from the University of Nebraska.

[Stephanie]: GED, basically a GED course.

Heidi went off when she was in ninth grade to Ben Lippen. Then we came home on furlough and lived in Sumter, South Carolina, for four months in a colleague’s house when the twins entered school. They weren’t too keen on being at Ben Lippen, but we said, “Try it.”

[Kimberly?]: [can’t hear] We were like kicking and screaming.

We said, “Try it.” We were on furlough. We stayed there until Christmastime and then they came home with us for Christmas break. Then they went back and stayed.

story told by Marcia (Steve’s wife) to the family reunion gathering on January 10, 2014 with interjections from Kimberly, Dawn, Heidi, and Stephanie (Steve’s daughters) and Victoria TJ Ramey’s wife; transcribed by Dawn Duncan Harrell (Steve’s daughter)

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below. (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.)

  • Which grandmother was it who had the miscarriage?
  • I’m thinking Heidi went to Ben Lippen in 1988 and Kim and Steph went in 1990. Is that right?

Steve Falters on Dermatology, Kids Contract Chicken Pox

Steve Wearing Laurel Wreath at Medical School Graduation, 1974, courtesy of Marcia Duncan

Steve Wearing Laurel Wreath at Medical School Graduation, 1974, Harley Smith and Marcia Duncan also pictured, courtesy of Marcia Duncan

All his exams were oral and his graduation was also a combination of a—he had to represent his dissertation to a panel of medical doctors. And you could invite all your friends to come. Uncle Harley came over from France for his graduation.

So he sits at a table with this horseshoe of professors and he has to answer questions on his dissertation. Then they pronounced him with his medical degree. Then friends of ours brought a big laurel wreath, Italian friends, and put it around him. We probably have some pictures with us.

[Heidi]: Then they kicked him out of medical school.

Steve Being Booted Out of Medical School, 1974

Steve Being Booted Out of Medical School, 1974

Yes, that’s right. They had a tradition of all your friends line up in two rows and you run down between them and they kick you out of medical school.

Dawn, actually, was about three then, three and a half, and Heidi had just been born. Heidi was supposed to be born after he finished his final exams, but Heidi came a few days early. Heidi was born at something like, what, two o’clock in the morning? Then he had, that morning, he had—was it a pharmacology exam?

[Steve]: Dermatology.

A dermatology exam. So he walks into his examination and the professor asked him, “What happened to you?” because he’d been up most of the night. He said, “I just had a baby!”

Heidi was—basically we had to wait a month before we could fly home, in terms of her age.

We went home via France to visit Harley and Betty one more time.

[Dawn]: We got to stay there extra long.

We got to stay there extra long because one morning we woke up and Dawn had a pock on her face. Lo and behold, she had broken out with chicken pox, so we had to wait until she was no longer contagious before we could get on the flight.

[Stephanie]: Way to go, Dawn.

[TJ]: You all know that you’re eligible for shingles later on?

[Dawn]: I know it. My mother-in-law. . . .

[Stephanie]: Looking forward to it.

[TJ]: Patti had shingles and before it she had chicken pox. When she did, they kept me away from them. I didn’t have chicken pox.

[Victoria]: Maybe you did.

[Virginia?]: I never have had any.

Heidi, at a month old, eventually had one little pock on her face, so I don’t know if that means she had chicken pox or not. Kimberly and Stephanie got it in [Ben Lippen] high school.

[Stephanie]: Our junior year. We both came down with the chicken pox.

[Virginia?]: Ohhhhh. At the same time, huh?

[Stephanie]: Well, we had house-parents and their kids had chicken pox. I babysat for them. I think that’s how it all went down. It’s a little confusing because there were a bunch of people who came down at the same time with it. I was babysitting for them. Also a friend of mine. It was going around the school. It was the only thing I ever came down with in high school. I never even had a cold all through the years we were there. But it came through this particular set of house parents and their children. A bunch of us got it at the same time, but it was right before our final exams our junior year. I just remember that because I was in agony trying to study and we got it bad.

story told by Marcia (Steve’s wife) to the family reunion gathering on January 10, 2014 with interjections from Steve, Dawn, Heidi, and Stephanie (Steve’s daughters), Virginia Gorman (Lee’s daughter), TJ Ramey (Kathryn’s son), and Victoria his wife; transcribed by Dawn Duncan Harrell (Steve’s daughter)

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below. (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.)

  • Any other Smith and Steve Duncan family stories from the “extra long” stay in France?
  • Anyone else have chicken pox or other childhood/epidemic diseases stories?
  • Any other stories from the trip home?
  • Mom and Dad/Marcia and Steve, can you send digital copies of the laurel wreath and kicking out photos for this story? Thanks.

Marcia Did Not Teach Burlesque in Italy

Cristoforo Colombo took Marcia, Steve, and Dawn to Italy, 1970.

Cristoforo Colombo took Marcia, Steve, and Dawn to Italy, 1970.

We did go to Italy.

I didn’t learn Italian ahead of time.

In fact we went separately. Steve flew there. He flew ahead to find a place for us to live and some work for me to do because I was going to be “putting hubby through,” so to speak. I had a trunk full of our household goods and at that time it was cheaper to go across on an ocean liner and take your trunk than it was to fly. So he flew and I came later.

I learned a little Italian on the ship. I was on the Italian lines. I met up with him in Italy there and then I took some Italian lessons when I was there. Basically we learned Italian from just living in the culture.

I remember. . . .

[Heidi]: The ship came into Venice.

No.

[Steve]: No, that was the second ship.

No, that was the second time we went back. The first time it came into . . . um.

[Steve]: No, uh, the other side of the peninsula.

[Heidi]: Florence?

[Steve]: Florence, no, um.

[Heidi]: I mean, um, Genoa.

[Steve]: Genoa.

Genoa! We came into Genoa.

[Heidi]: And then you trained across.

[Steve]: Yeah.

[Heidi]: To Padova.

Yeah. We did a lot of train travel in Padova.

[Eric]: While he was in medical school, you were working?

So then he found me a job in a Berlitz school, teaching English. So I taught English in a Berlitz school.

[Bruce]: Burlesque?

[Steve]: Burlesque?

Burlesque?

[laughter]

[Heidi]: Mom did burlesque to bring in the money.

And I learned a lot of, you know, I learned a lot of Italian teaching English, just because of the way the Italians would speak English. It helped me to learn how things were said.

[Heidi]: Twenty-six years later, I moved to Italy and lived in Venice and taught English in a Berlitz school and learned some of my Italian.

[Virginia]: Are you serious? Oh, Heidi, that’s awesome.

So after three years in Italy, he took an externship at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton. Came back for a period of six months. I came ahead. I was six months pregnant with Dawn. I came ahead and Dawn was born in the States at that hospital, Saint Elizabeth’s. He was not—were you here for the birth? You were back by the birth time. OK.

Then we went back to Italy and the second time we went back together in a ship. That’s when we went to Venice. On our way there, we stopped in various ports. So we were in Malaga, Spain. We stopped and visited Pompeii and we were in Naples and visited Pompeii.

[Steve]: We stopped in Sicily.

We did. We stopped in Sicily. And then we went up the Adriatic and stopped in Greece.

[Steve]: In Greece. We went to Greece.

We stopped at Piraeus. And then we took a day trip to Athens. And then we went over to Venice.

That gave us a chance to see a lot of places in Europe and when Dawn was baby, we traveled—when we had vacation times, we had a little VW Bug and traveled to various places, to visit places in Italy.

[Heidi]: You went to see Aunt Betty and Uncle Harley.

And we went to Austria also because we had met a couple on a ship—he was Austrian and she was American. They invited us to go to Austria to visit them at Christmastime, so we did a few things like that.

[Kimberly?]: Aunt Betty and Uncle Harley.

[Steve]: That was up in Switzerland. We had gone also, among other things, we saw where The Sound of Music was designed in Salzburg.

[Victoria]: Yeah. In Austria.

They lived in Salzburg, so they took us around to all the sites in Salzburg.

We traveled to Switzerland several times and met up with Aunt Betty and Uncle Harley there and Sandy and Debby. They would get apartments for missionaries in various places in Switzerland where we would have vacation time. So we would drive through the fog out of Italy, because it was usually very foggy at Christmastime.

Then I can remember one time when we were driving up in the mountains in Switzerland. Steve was not feeling good. Did you ask me to drive? And I was like. . . .

[Dawn]: Dad was in the back seat.

Dad, he would look out the window and see that it was a drop-off like this and he just closed his eyes and hoped we didn’t drop off.

Anyway, so we had a lot of good memories from those years. We were there for six years. Came home in 1974.

story told by Marcia (Steve’s wife) to the family reunion gathering on January 10, 2014 with additions from Steve and Heidi (Steve’s daughter) and interjections from Virginia Gorman, Bruce Kindberg, and Eric Kindberg (Lee’s children), Dawn Harrell and Kimberly Duncan (Steve’s daughters), and Victoria (TJ Ramey, Kathryn’s son’s wife), transcribed by Dawn Duncan Harrell (Steve’s daughter)

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below. (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.)

  • Any other Smith and Steve Duncan family stories from those Christmastimes spent together that you’d like to tell?
  • Would someone please tell the flaming fondue table story?
  • Can someone relay the peanut butter story? Didn’t Harley and Betty come to Italy for that story? What was the context?
  • How about going to France to help build the camp one summer story?
  • Sandy? Debby? What do you remember of those intersecting times?
  • Why would Betty have stayed behind in France at Steve’s graduation? Children? Other duties? Finances?
  • Any other stories from the ocean liners? How about the diapers-in-the-hold story from the second crossing?

Steve Suggests He’s Caesar

CeasarI started with my father Taylor Albert Duncan. It was senior. He was, I was the last child, his last child, and I was an unexpected child.

And so there’s Virginia, my mother, at age 18 or 17. Something like that. [Shows photograph.]

[Someone Else]: Nineteen?

Nineteen? This is her, yes. Pretty, wasn’t she?

So they—my mother Virginia White Duncan—they were twelve years separated in age. When I was born, she was forty years old. I was sort of unexpected. In fact the doctor had told her that I would not, that she would not have any more children. I’m not sure what I am. [Laughter].

[Someone Else]: You kinda opened yourself up there for suggestions.

Right. I was born and I was born by cesarean, which is something. . . .

[Someone Else]: Are you saying you’re from the Dark Ages?

[Kimberly]: Emperor of Rome is what he’s trying to suggest.

Cesarean was first done, or at least historically, by Caesar or his mother’s doctor. Or somebody.

[Somebody Else]: Are you making this up?

No. No. No. That’s true. That’s why it’s called a Caesar.

Anyway, I was the last of six of Virginia’s children.

[Heidi]: Virginia was told at the beginning that shouldn’t have kids, right? And then she just kept having them?

[Other Voices]: I don’t remember hearing that.

[Heidi]: Am I wrong in that or was it just you?

She never told me that, but I should never have—she just told me I should never have been born.

story told by Steve to the family reunion gathering on January 10, 2014; recorded and transcribed by Dawn [Steve’s daughter]

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Reunion January 2014 Reminder

Paul, Altha, JA, Kathryn on the ocassion of Paul's retirement from the pastorate in PA, ca. 1975Last Day to Register is Sunday, December 15!

Have you: Booked your housing? Confirmed your arrival and departure times directly with JAARS? Signed up with me?

Update

So far, the following people are signed up:

  • Eric & Mary Lynn Kindberg
  • Kathy & Allan Courtright
  • Dawn Duncan Harrell
  • Heidi Duncan
  • Kimberly Duncan
  • Stephanie Duncan
  • Steve & Marcia Duncan
  • Gloria & Chris Boyer, Brett Boyer
  • Virginia & Bill Gorman
  • Bruce Kindberg
  • Gail Montez
  • TJ & Victoria Ramey

If you aren’t on this list, the party can’t start! Please confirm with Dawn. See below for how.

Lodging and itinerary have also been updated below. There’s still room!  Registration closes on Sunday, December 15.

Invitation

Are you related to Paul, Kathryn, Lee, Wally, Betty, Bob, Tad or Steve? Then you are invited to a family reunion hosted by Eric and Mary Lynn Kindberg and Kathy and Allan Courtright (Lee’s kids).

Waxhaw, North Carolina

Thursday–Sunday, January 9–12, 2014

  • Thursday, Jan 9: arrive; meals on your own; welcome meeting at 7 pm in hotel
  • Friday, Jan 10: Billy Graham Library outing (round trip 3.5 hours); dinner together in Waxhaw restaurant; evening pictures and family stories at Kathy’s house
  • Saturday, Jan 11: Carolinas Aviation Museum outing (plane that landed in Hudson River); volleyball if it’s not too cold; cookout at Kathy’s; family and personal updates, more pictures, more fun
  • Sunday, Jan 12: local church with Eric and Mary Lynn or Kathy and Allan; depart

RSVP to Dawn Harrell (Steve’s kid)              

Fill in this form, IM Dawn on Facebook, or email Dawn, so I know you’re coming. I’m collecting responses. I’ll pass them along to Eric and Kathy.

Meals

  • Breakfast: continental in JAARS hotel for a donation
  • Lunch: Thursday and Friday can be purchased on the JAARS Center; Saturday and Sunday in area restaurants
  • Dinner: see above itinerary

Lodging

The closest housing is in the JAARS guest hotel at the $40/night rate for one or two adults (plus tax). Note if you will share a room and with whom (additional people: $20/adult, $7/child, $56 maximum for families). Apartments are also available if you prefer. 

Make your housing arrangements with Penny at JAARS. Mention the “Duncan Family Reunion.” Call 704.843.6130 or see the JAARS website.

Pass this invitation along, so that everyone knows they’re invited. Thanks. Hope to see you there!

Robert Eugene Duncan, November 13, 1933–June 17, 2010

Bob, ca. 1968Mum called Thursday morning to tell me that Uncle Bob had died. On Monday, he was sitting up in the hospice care facility when Aunt Polly returned from a family wedding in Colorado. On Tuesday morning he was unresponsive and they decided to bring him home. Mum spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights with them. On Thursday morning, Mum was holding his shoulders while the hospice caregiver bathed him. He opened his eyes wide and stopped breathing.

How many people felt the air go out of them when they heard that news. Expected perhaps, but not welcome. Death never is. God comfort my Aunt Polly, my cousins Andy, Gene, and Colin, my dad and his sisters and brother. We all feel so sad.

Uncle Bob is most assuredly not sad. He’s been longing to hear his “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21) for a while now. “I want to be at home,” he told me several times during those long months in the hospital. When he opened his eyes wide, I’m sure he was taking his first look at the Home of all homes.

He would have recognized it. After all, he and Aunt Polly created a home, not just for their children, but for me and my three sisters, for their many other missionary kid nieces and nephews, for the larger family, for their church families, for just about anybody who needed to feel welcomed. My dad tells the story of Uncle Bob catching heat from Aunt Polly when he even welcomed some hippies to set up their tent on the Duncan front lawn, years before I ever moved in.

For many of those years, Uncle Bob and Aunt Polly’s house was my Grandmother Duncan’s home, too—the family seat. When I was a kid, we would drive to the Fort Square parsonage for holidays and birthdays. Far flung family, returning from Illinois, Georgia, California, France, Peru, Colombia, and beyond, could be found in their house. All through high school and college, their home was the one to which I returned during vacations.

During one of my school breaks, I heard Uncle Bob praise me to my parents, “I’ve never walked into my own kitchen and had anyone ask me what they could get for me.” This might sound self-serving until you know that meeting other people’s needs, predicting and supplying them seamlessly was my childhood “job,” my role in the family, but no one had ever noticed that out loud. Uncle Bob saw it in me. He saw me. And for an adolescent girl, who wouldn’t figure out who she was for another fifteen years, being seen and celebrated was profoundly important. He saw into many of our souls.

Uncle Bob became my second father. There were things he could say to me, which I couldn’t have heard from my own dad. As a young adult in crisis, I craved his voice of wisdom, though it was probably the quality of his listening and his sense of assurance that changed things for me. And not just me. Years after he’d left one church, a troubled parishioner would still call him at home, usually at dinnertime, and pour out her anxieties. He always took that call.

He could listen, but Uncle Bob could speak firmly, too. During Urbana ’97, which we attended together, we met for lunch one day. I told him about a young roommate who was asking me many questions concerning women in ministry, which is still a controversial topic in some churches. Though I myself was in seminary, I’d counseled her cautiously because I didn’t want to get her in trouble with her elders. “It doesn’t sound like that is what she needs to hear right now,” he challenged me.

He was a good preacher, too. He’d trot out his sermon ideas during Saturday night dinners and I enjoyed listening to him weave them together on Sunday morning. He delivered the homily at my wedding seven years ago, driving with Aunt Polly from Ballston Spa in New York even though they had to turn around just hours later so he could be home to deliver the sermon on Sunday morning.

Uncle Bob officiated at many weddings, including my cousin Sandy’s thirty-three years ago. I still remember him complaining to my father, a surgeon: “Everybody thinks they know best. Family at weddings where I’m the minister is like relatives crowded into your operating room, all insisting, “Less blood now. Can’t you cut after the tumor is removed? No. No. We need fifteen clamps, not five.”

Being a preacher was good, but what he really wanted to be was a missionary. At least, he really wanted to experience the world. Before he tried seminary, he tried the armed forces, but they wouldn’t send him overseas because of the metal pin in his leg, the result of a youthful motorcycle accident. He and Aunt Polly even moved to Costa Rica temporarily to learn Spanish during the early ‘90s just to see if this wouldn’t morph into a call to missions.

Still God didn’t send them, so he had to content himself with traveling, which he did avidly. He visited missionaries and missionary family members ever chance he got. He led tours to the Holy Land. He joined a Presbyterian delegation to the church in Cuba. He visited his grand-children in Korea. For a long time, an apt cartoon of him in his preaching robe and hiking pack hung on the basement wall. “After the benediction,” it read, “Polly and I will be leaving for Israel.”

One time he and Polly were lost in Morocco. They’d eaten something that disagreed with them. It was hot and they were out of water. And now they were in danger of missing the ferry back to Spain. Afraid and unable to find anyone who spoke English, they leaned against a wall and prayed. Seconds later an old woman touched him on the arm and motioned for them to follow her, which they did. She led them back to the boat, but when they turned to thank her, she was gone. Years later, he still claimed that God had sent them an angel.

There wasn’t anywhere he wouldn’t go. And if he couldn’t fly, he drove. He loved to drive and he loved cars. On one long trip, we stopped at a gas station for a break. Heading back to the station wagon, he detoured to an old Studebaker. Without a qualm, he pulled open the door and leaned in to inhale. “I just wanted to smell it,” he explained.

There were many drives to and from college and during one, he collected me at my roommate’s house. “Whadya got in here, a dead minister?” my friend’s dad teased as he hoisted my suitcase into Uncle Bob’s car. Then realizing that Uncle Bob was a minister, he blushed and apologized, but Uncle Bob was too busy laughing. Laughter and tears came easily to Uncle Bob.

He enjoyed music and reading, filling his theological shelves with all comers. “Don’t read that commentary,” he exclaimed one day when he found me in his office after Sunday worship. He didn’t think the author’s scholarship was sound, but the book was still on his shelf. Another time, he lent me his favorite book A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. “What is it,” I asked? “A love story about a couple who try to build the perfect love between them. It’s a selfish love, though, because its only expression is inward.” In that book Uncle Bob recognized his own ideal as well as the temptation to selfishness curled up inside.

Uncle Bob was unselfish, a good minister. He preached well. He pastored empathetically. He visited the sick constantly. He used to wear a clerical collar when he went to the hospital to keep security and nurses from questioning his motives. This earned him the honorary “Father” because people thought he was a Catholic priest, and some not so honorary glares when people saw him with his beautiful young wife Polly sitting in the front seat of a car together.

During this past year in and out of hospitals, his ministry to his own caregivers continued. Word of his testimony filtered back to me through many sources: Our daughter’s babysitter’s husband played cards with him a couple of times and I heard about his love for Jesus. A woman who knew one of my co-leaders in ministry was married to one of his doctors. I heard about his faithfulness from her. His family and I are grateful to all those who cared for him and for Aunt Polly through this final, hardest sickness.

My sisters and cousins and I cannot properly thank Colin, Gene, and Andy for sharing their parents with us. Uncle Bob and Aunt Polly leaned on God for their apparently endless store of family love, but I know it was sometimes your space that we took up. All of us in the church families that they served have a debt of gratitude to you. Thank you for sharing even your grieving space with us.

The last time I heard Uncle Bob pray, we were together in one of his hospital rooms. I was taking up his grandson’s space, so I gave hugs and turned to Uncle Bob. He held out his hand.

His grip was strong. Before I could offer, he began to pray. He prayed a short blessing on me and my dad, who was in Angola at the time. Then he began to bless God. He asked him to “be with us here, too” and confessed “for we do not know what tomorrow will bring” in a cadence and with a strength that sounded like Uncle Bob in the pulpit. He told God, in a tone that felt instructive to us also, that “we will be careful to offer nothing but thanksgiving” and “we will have nothing but praise on our lips for you.”

And interspersed with his prayers he said, over and over, “and we will rise with the wings of the morning. We look forward to rising with the wings of the morning.”

He was misquoting Psalm 139, applying it to himself as he looked ahead to his new day. It reads, “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I fear, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (vv. 9–13).

Even this darkness is as light to our God. Uncle Bob has risen on the wings of the morning. Our turn will come.

written by Dawn Duncan Harrell (Steve’s daughter) on the occasion of Bob’s death, June 19, 2010

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below. (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.)

  • Do you recall other stories about Bob as an adult? Please tell us.
  • Do you have a Bob preaching story? A visiting Bob story? A Bob’s book story? A Bob traveling story?
  • Can Did you live with Bob as a child while your parents were elsewhere? What stands out to you? Do you have a story of that time to tell?
  • Did Bob perform your wedding ceremony? How did it go? What do you remember about it?