I may be only one oat seed in a field of millions, yet I have a story to share of beginnings on our beloved farm in southern Minnesota and beyond to life as I've seen it to this point. Famous? No. Gifted? Unlikely. Yet, I want to leave a legacy to my children and grandchildren of who this gentle Norwegian man was. My happy times, sad times, successes and failures. Someday, those who are tiny now, will have this volume to come to and get to know this Norwegian Farmer's Son.
September 9th……...”PLEASE SHARE WITH US, GRANDPA, ABOUT WHEN YOU WERE A TEENAGER AND HOW YOU HELPED YOUR CUSTODIAN DAD DO SUMMER CLEANING AT GLENWOOD HEIGHTS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.
A dappled shade, flecked with dancing spots of summer sunlight, filtered down through the coolness of the two massive Birch trees that stood as stately guardians in the front of Glenwood Heights Elementary School. Within a stone’s throw, the rural, two-lane highway of NE 134th Street was the demarcation line between this quaint, domicile of education and local farmer’s fields to the south. In those quieter times, one was as likely to hear a tractor and hay baler drive by as you would a local family car.
In the regal, warm ritual of routines, I’m taken back to those early days when our father, Russell Noorlun, was the Head Custodian of Glenwood Heights School. The governing Principal of the school, in those pleasant days of long ago, was the very respected and loved Mr. Lowell Horace “Pic” Lyford. Although these two men had traveled life in different echelons of education, they were of the same echelon in that they were brothers in their Christian faith as well as kindred spirits in the comforting facts that they were both born the same year (1918), came from the Midwest (Iowa & Minnesota) and both came from farming backgrounds. In the enjoyment of those summer rituals of routine came our daily lunch time…..together.
Mr. Lyford (as my father always called Lowell out of high respect for his position of leadership at Glenwood) would join Dad and myself as we would bring a transistor radio with us just outside of the school’s front main entry doors to the shade of those lovely Birch trees. Out came the traditional black, metal lunch pails and always a thermos of coffee to wash down their sandwich and cookies.
In amongst the fragrance of good coffee and visiting, the three of us would “keep our ears peeled” as we’d listen to the “Paul Harvey News & Commentary” broadcast. There was a sense of honor, truth and camaraderie, and yes, even a believability to how Mr. Harvey shared the news of the day and would end most broadcasts with his favored “Rest Of The Story”. It was like a dessert at the end of each broadcast. While birds above us sang and summer breezes cooled the three of us, we enjoyed that fellowship of a relaxed summer day and lunchtimes. Once school would start up in the Fall, life at Glenwood would be too hectic to take these satisfying lunch times together. It was a time relished by we three each Summer when I helped Dad clean his school.
Our dear father had been a farmer for his entire life up until 1967 when he began a new career as a custodian for the Battle Ground School District at Glenwood Heights Elementary School. Needless to say, there was a lot to learn in this new occupation of cleaning a school. For instance, one summer afternoon, Dad decided that he and I would use rags to clean the interior windows of the 3rd & 4th Grade East Wing of the school. We sprayed and rubbed and rubbed and sprayed for hours, thinking we had done a pretty nice job on those windows. NOT!!! When we arrived the following morning to school, the sun was cresting over the Cascade Mountains to the east of us. We gazed with forlorn shock into those East Wing classrooms and their windows. Sadly, you could see every single rag swipe on those slimy windows that we thought we had properly cleaned the previous afternoon. It was time to swallow some custodian “humble pie” in our paradigm shift and quickly relearn the right way to clean windows with a proper window cleaner solution and a squeegee.
From that first Summer of 1967, through my High School graduation of 1972, I was glad to spend time with our father as he learned the trade of taking care of a school and meeting the needs of students and staff. There are some things Dad gleaned from previous custodians teaching him and many things he was able to improve on his own. For myself, rather than learning to drive tractors, as I would have done on our farm in Minnesota days, I instead learned how to drive a rotary scrubbing machine and a myriad of other bits of knowledge that helped me in my own 31 years of being a custodian for the Battle Ground School District. I’m grateful for those warm routines of life that have come back to bless me as the Norwegian Farmer’s Son!!! 😉
August 31st……..“TELL US ABOUT SOMEONE IN YOUR LIFE WHO TRULY CHOOSES TO LIVE OUT THEIR CHRISTIAN CONVICTIONS AS THEY DAILY ‘WALK THE TALK’ OF THEIR FAITH”.
“STAND BACK!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WATCH OUT, IT’S GOING TO EXPLODE!!” Those are just some of the super excited exclamations that came from a family whose Mercedes rear brakes had “hung up” and erupted in flames. In terror, the father managed to steer their ‘ball of flame’ off to the far right shoulder of the north-bound lanes of the Interstate 5 Freeway in southwest Washington State. Thankfully, the family had escaped the vehicle and were a safe distance away as they stood there in helpless horror on that drizzly, cold Fall Sunday afternoon. The person they were calling out to was a total stranger that appeared out of nowhere and hobbled towards them with a pronounced limp to his gait. This man approached the flame-engulfed car with a fire extinguisher and was about to pull the pin of his powder-loaded device. Keep that thought folks, cause I’m gonna hold you in suspense here and digress from this scene, for the moment, to divulge more of the background story of that “Good Samaritan” and what led to this amazing interaction.
It was July of 1979 and our father, Russell Noorlun, had just come from the operating room where he’d had emergency exploratory surgery. Shocking news entered our family’s life because Dad had now been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Our Norwegian patriarch was convalescing after his surgery at the Bess Kaiser Hospital on Greeley Avenue in Portland, Oregon. One day, while the whole family was visiting our beloved Poppa, into the hospital room walks a handsome young man in a nice suit and wearing cowboy boots while carrying a Bible. A stranger to us, this young pastor and his fine family had just moved to the Northwest from Powell, Wyoming. His name was Landis Epp and he had just been called as the new pastor at Battle Ground Baptist Church.
Within a matter of minutes, our entire clan came to love this dear man of God as if he were a part of our family unit. Just think, to be a brand new stranger in town and yet he’d heard about Russell’s cancer and without hesitation had come to introduce himself and let our family know he was there for us in any way we needed.
In the Old Testament book of Proverbs Chapter 27, Verse 2 it says, “Let another man’s lips praise you and not your own………”. It is with joy that I do just that here in this short story about this dear and godly man who has ministered to so many in his 43 years of life there in Clark County Washington! Ya know folks,…..NOW is the time we should take the opportunity to uplift and encourage those special friends among us for all that they do in our life………..once they’re gone from us and step into eternity it’s too late and their honorable deeds can only be eulogized for the survivors.
Landis has always had a giant heart for people!! Another Bible verse comes to mind. First Corinthians Chapter 9 and Verses 19 – 23 (paraphrased) “……..I have become all things to all people……….I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” Not only was Landis a trained seminarian in sharing the Gospel (Good News), but this dear man could identify with countless folks in the community. Everyone from car mechanics (Landis could “turn a wrench” with the best of them) to meat cutters (Landis had learned the butchering trade to help get him through seminary) could relate to Landis and he to they. It wasn’t long before the big heart of this Christian man began reaching out to the community as he became a chaplain for the Battle Ground Fire Department while still ministering, full-time, to his congregation at Battle Ground Baptist Church. Eventually, Landis, and other dedicated people began what is known as County-Wide Chaplaincy and touched even more lives with their love and caring.
One of this dear man’s hobbies was riding motorcycle, that is, until one day when Landis hit some loose gravel and ended up laying down his bike and sliding for a long, painful injury to his leg. Of course, his family and our entire congregation praised the Lord that his incident, although very painful, had not been worse. Needless to say, that injury resulted in our pastor having a distinct limp for quite awhile.
Landis blessed me with the opportunity to accompany him, with his big Ford pickup and camping trailer as together we headed north on our way to Camp Arnold in the shadow of Mount Rainier not too far from Seattle, Washington. It was time for a grand Fall Men’s Roundup for many of the Conservative Baptist Churches around our State. There, we as brothers in the Lord, enjoyed a weekend of great food and fellowship and excellent teaching/preaching from Dr. Earl Radmacher and Dr. Ronald Barclay Allen from Western Baptist Theological Seminary.
Remember now, our good Pastor Landis Epp was still very much convalescing from his motorcycle injuries and his limp was almost to the point of using a cane to traverse the camp grounds.
After an uplifting time and waving goodbye to our Christian brothers at Camp Arnold, Landis pointed us southbound on the Interstate 5 Freeway as we headed home to Battle Ground, Washington and our respective families. Just south of Longview, Washington we both noticed a car on fire on the far side of the northbound lanes. To my shame, if I were driving, I would have thought to myself, “Ohhh, that’s too bad” and kept on driving. NOT Landis!! He pulled the pickup and camping trailer off to the right side of the freeway and climbs out to pull the seat forward as he grabs a fire extinguisher and says, “You watch the rig here, I’m gonna try and put out that car fire.”
Dear Landis had absolutely no idea who those scared people were, but out of a Christian caring heart, there he went, hobbling across the southbound lanes, across the grass median and he, carrying that fairly heavy fire extinguisher, hobbled across the zooming traffic of the northbound lanes till he reached the car fire. That kind-hearted soul could have had his leg buckle and give out at any time, but the good Lord obviously had His angels holding him up for that wild hobble.
As it turns out, the Mercedes rear brakes had hung up and caught on fire. As the family yelled, “It’s going to explode!”, Landis replied, “It’s not hot enough yet for that!!” So, pulling the pin on his fire extinguisher, crippled Landis managed to get down alongside of the car’s rear fender well and fired the charge of powder up onto that brake fire. Our hero then managed to limp over to the other side and was successful in firing another charge of powder from the passenger side to those flaming brakes, as well. The fire was OUT!!!
The terrified family were in shock and awe over what they had just witnessed!!! A stranger, and an injured stranger at that, had literally come out of nowhere and put out their car fire!!
In deep gratitude to this amazing ‘Good Samaritan’, the father of the family offered a gift of money as a heartfelt thank you to Landis. When my brother in the Lord once again hobbled across that crazy busy freeway, he got into the truck and shared with me about how they offered him some money for what he had just done. Landis had told them, “I didn’t come over here for money……….your car was on fire!!” 😉 I count myself as deeply blessed to have Landis Epp as one of the heroes of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son!! 😉 ><>
September 10th……..“WHAT WAS ONE OF THE WAYS OUR GRANDPA RUSSELL GOT FROM ONE END OF YOUR FARM ACREAGE TO THE OTHER FOR REPAIRS OR JUST PLAIN FUN?”
Mourning Doves took their musical cue from the dawning sunlight that crested Charlie Heitzeg’s hill to the east of our family farm. Gentle in grace and manners, their pensive, melancholic melodies floated on the cool morning breeze from a high perch in our Maple tree and sifted through the upstairs window screen of our eleven year old brother Lowell’s bedroom.
It wasn’t only the Mourning Doves that jostled Lowell awake on that early Summer’s morning of 1954. All the way downstairs, he could also hear the wailing of his new baby brother, Elliott, howling in his crib. Lowell did his best to climb out of the “valley” of his very old bed that consisted of a sway-backed mattress and springs while visions of possible fun times danced around in his young thoughts while pulling on clothes and shoes for the day ahead.
Lowell’s ebullient eleven year old enthusiasm was evident as the magnetic aroma of Mom’s bacon and eggs drew his energetic legs to fly down those creaking wooden stairs to our family kitchen and “inhale” some delicious “fuel” to spark another day of adventure there on our family farm northwest of Kiester, Minnesota.
These were the days before we owned our Ford pickup, so, for our farmer father, “necessity is the mother of invention” was his mantra to this agrarian lifestyle he lived. Dad was seeking a type of vehicle that needed to be easy to get on and off of and still able to do some hauling for him, too. There eventually came the day that Dad was able to procure an old Ford Model A car and the idea struck him to create his own “jeep” for farming chores and even some fun. Russell’s brother, Doren, had a welding business nearby in our hometown of Kiester, so, between the two them, using acetylene torches and welders, they took the old “A” apart, shortened the frame, put a little platform/box on the backend and “PRESTO” there appeared a utilitarian vehicle we affectionately called “The Jeep”.
That morning, while Lowell was helping Dad milk our herd of Holsteins, there came a new tune from the barn radio that was popular in 1954…… “I Am A Happy Wanderer”. Right through the dust and cobwebs, that clung to that radio, sang out that catchy tune that incited Lowell to wanna be a “happy wanderer” and ride along with Dad in our “jeep” while he drove our farm’s fence lines to check for needed repairs.
Dad had the option, on that ’29 Ford, to use a crank to turn over the engine or give a push of the electric starter button on the floor. Either way, that old “jeep” came to life with a “POP” and a “WHEEZE” and almost a human “Yahoo!, let’s GO!!” kind of a report from its almost non-existent muffler.
A brisk west wind tousled the hair of our farmer and his son as they bumped and careened over the fecund, onyx soil of our farmland. The old, former Model A Ford ( now with chains on the back tires for better traction) even managed to drive right down an embankment and into the waterway bed of Brush Creek that ran west to east along our south property boundaries. Wherever there was a broken stretch of fence on our land, or a need for a new fencepost, our Norwegian dynamic-duo would jump off the “jeep”, grab tools and supplies from the back platform and make repairs. Some fun always ensued whenever Dad found soggy ground to “spin out” with or churned his way out of the Brush Creek bed itself…….ohhhh, how the mud could hit the sky with those chained tires spinning away!!! 😉
With Dad’s teaching, Lowell’s young 11 year old legs were able reach and work the floor pedals as he became quite adept at boogying around the farm property in the “jeep” as well as the gravel road that ran past our farm.
Along came the day that Dad’s brother Erwin (and family) came for a visit from Colorado. Erwin had been a Staff Sergeant during World War II as a member of the Army’s 17th Airborne Division. During the final phases of the war, he and his fellow Paratroopers were heading for Japan in 1945 to parachute their forces in a land invasion of the Japanese Mainland itself. That mission was gratefully called off thanks to the atomic bomb being dropped and Japan’s surrender.
“Come on, Uncle Erwin, let me take you for a spin in our “jeep”!!!” invited Lowell. Having survived World War II and being a man of adventure, Erwin thought, “Sure, why not!!” and took a seat on a large tool box of Dad’s that sat where a passenger seat would have been. With Lowell’s foot punching to the floorboard starter button, the “jeep” happily snapped, popped and jerked to life for this fun ride. Lurching forward, Lowell and Erwin rolled down the south sloping driveway as Lowell rolled the steering wheel and banked right as they headed onto the county gravel road with the throttle wide open. With bugs and wind whipping their faces, all was fine and dandy until Lowell took a side road towards the Kephart farm and decided to turn the jalopy around in the width of that gravel road. Our big brother almost had the “jeep” turned around when he mistook 1st Gear for Reverse. Lowell revved up the engine, popped the clutch and ……...KAZOWEEE!!!…..Uncle Erwin, Lowell and the “jeep” shot backwards down the road embankment and right through the Ozmun family’s barbed wire pasture fence!!! Needless to say, our dad’s brother must’ve thought he was back in World War II again with all the mayhem going on around him. With a stern face and voice, Erwin took command of the situation and poor brother Lowell was demoted from being driver to passenger as Erwin managed to rev up the engine, climb the ditch embankment and headed that old “jeep” back to the farm of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son!!!! 😉
September 8th……….“WHO WAS ONE OF THE FIRST DOCTORS WHO PRACTICED MEDICINE IN YOUR SOUTHERN MINNESOTA BOYHOOD HOMETOWN OF KIESTER??”
A vanquished, yet virulent last blast of a late Nordic winter’s wind careened down the streets of Christiania, Norway. The year was 1888 as the timid season of spring was trying to get a foothold of warmth around the harbor of this grand city in the land of the Vikings.
In their native Norwegian tongue, Hans Urstad called out to his eighteen year old son, Oscar, to close the front door to their business as the brisk winds were upsetting some of the gentler merchandise in their store window displays.
Eighteen years earlier, on December 24th of 1870, the Urstad family not only called out “Gledelig Jul”(Merry Christmas)!!!….but also gave a loving welcome to their handsome baby son, Oscar Herman Urstad.
As was true in most Norwegian households, Oscar’s mother, Thrine, was the queen of the kitchen when it came to creating the aromatic delights of tasty enjoyments like lefse and kringla. Young Oscar would gleefully ask his mother to pack these treats as desserts, along with other food, in his lunch box. With a full head of little boy “steam”, he energetically trotted down the city’s streets to Osterhaus Gate 22 and the Borger School where knowledge was dispensed in his early days of learning.
Now, at the age of 18, an exuberant wanderlust had captured young Oscar’s imagination as he heard stories of America and her grand opportunities for anyone who was ambitious and energetic enough to work hard to make their dream come true in this new land called the United States. America was calling and this young Scandinavian answered, “YES!!” 😉
One can only wonder what may have been coursing through Oscar’s young, eighteen year old heart as he boarded a ship in Christiania’s harbor for the first leg of his journey to America. Possibly, these poetic words may have been his own………“I took my meager luggage to the dock, From where I’d soon depart. But leaving all my loved ones, Nearly broke my Norwegian heart! And as my ship moved from the shore, Floating slowly to the bay, I was seeing my last glimpses, Of my native land, Norway.
I looked intently, Towards the shore, In my mind the picture preserved. T’was etched into my memory, The sight that I observed. The last thing I remembered, As here now I can tell, Was the sight of those white handkerchiefs, That waved a last farewell!!!”
Tearful as it was to part with his beloved family and his native Norway, Oscar’s youth and positivity towards his new adventure propelled him onward in this first leg of his journey to America.
Docking in the port of Liverpool, England, Oscar disembarked from his first ship and got his ticket purchased for passage aboard a four-masted, twin-funneled steam/sailing ship called the “USS Alaska” which was owned by the “Guion Shipping Lines”. Without a doubt, while on his voyage, the late March and early April Atlantic seas must’ve tested Oscar’s sea-legs and stomach along the watery way.
Any oceanic suffering that may have been inflicted on Oscar in his journey to America was well worth it when, on the sunlit morning of April 16th, 1888, “Lady Liberty” greeted our young Norwegian lad as the “Alaska” steamed into the harbor of New York City in Oscar’s new land of America!!!
What an amazing metropolis lay before him. This gigantic city of street cars and overhead rail systems along with telegraph wires and spidering power lines crisscrossed the air above him for as far as the eye could see. Once Oscar had drunk in the sights and sounds of this immense city, it was then that this young Norwegian had achieved the next goal in his saga and bought himself a ticket on a train bound for the State of Iowa and eventually love.
At a whistle stop in Mitchell County, Iowa, it’s possible that Oscar heard other Norwegians chatting at the train station. That was good enough for this young man to plant his roots working for a Norwegian farmer nearby for the next couple years. There he was on their expansive, rolling farmlands that were the very opposite of the sky-high mountains in Oscar’s native homeland of Norway.
From 1890 to 1892, another door had opened in Wisconsin as a store clerk and then love brought Oscar back to Winnebago County, Iowa. A grand young lady had entered Oscar’s life as he joined in marriage to Thonette “Nettie” Lee on May 22nd of 1895.
It was while working at a drug store in Lake Mills, Iowa that Oscar had the inspiration and aspiration to focus the rest of his life in becoming and serving his fellow man as a doctor. With the loving blessing and support of his young wife, Oscar traveled, in 1896, to receive his medical training at the “Central College of Physicians and Surgeons” in Indianapolis, Indiana.
What better scenario could there be for a new doctor than to be drawn to a new town. Kiester, Minnesota hailed her birth in the year of 1900….the same year Dr. Urstad received his degree in medicine. Kiester saw the Urstad family build a handsome, two story home for their enjoyment and residence. The Urstad’s new hometown received her name in honor of the well-respected Senator, Judge and Attorney by the name of Jacob Armel Kiester.
Dr. Urstad, and his dear wife, Nettie, came to love this brand new farming community that had sprung up next to railroad tracks of the Central & Northwest Railroad.
This close-knit town, made up of mostly Scandinavian folk, were reciprocal in their love to the Urstad family as well. So much so was this familial love for their doctor, that they urged and called him to serve as one of the town’s first mayors for several years. Dr. Urstad, in turn, saw to it that this young village grew to be progressive and business friendly under his administration.
With his Norwegian enterprise and determination, Dr. Urstad saw to the construction and completion of Kiester’s very first hospital in the year of 1913. How modern and how comforting it must’ve been for farm families who lived in the untold miles around this village to know that you could receive the most modern medical care of the day in this new facility located to the north end of Main Street.
What love and compassion dwelt within the heart of this naturalized citizen of America who’s Norwegian roots still flavored every aspect of his daily life here in this new land he called home.
The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, once said, “The only thing consistent in life is change”. In the year 1920, after two decades of faithful medical care to the families of the Kiester area, it was time for that change in the life of Dr. Urstad and his family.
In 1921, just a year after starting his medical practice in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Dr. Urstad came down with Encephalitis Lethargica. After he managed to recover from this illness, it was suggested that a milder climate may be better for his overall health.
Stanwood, Washington became home for the Urstad family and he began another practice in that fine community until a heart attack, in 1927, brought this fine, upstanding man, doctor and civil leader to the end of his days here on earth.
The Urstad family had worshipped at “Our Saviour Lutheran Church” over the years in Stanwood, so it was fitting that this former Son of Norway be laid to rest in the earth of his new country. Both America and Norway could be proud of the enterprise and abilities, coupled with love and compassion that brought this fine young doctor to the boyhood town of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
At the conclusion of this story, I’d like to take the opportunity to honor another Norwegian gentleman. Mr. Robert Ledreu Johnson (December 14th, 1923 – January 2nd, 2017) who was better known by his playful stage name of “Uncle Torvald”. Robert, along with his cohort in laughter, Red Stangland, toured the entire Midwest over many years and appeared at as many Scandinavian festivals as possible to tell Norwegian jokes and sing silly Norwegian songs. In my story above, I paraphrased an excerpt from a poem he wrote called, “White Handkerchiefs”.
September 5th……….GRANDPA, TELL US ABOUT A HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER THAT YOU HAD THE PLEASURE TO KNOW BEYOND YOUR HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM DAYS”.
The skrinch of saddle leather sounded out as Smitty stood in his stirrups, trying to get a glimpse of what was causing such a powerful noise nearby.
It was the summer of 1944 and America was still engaged in World War II while this young buck was doing some cow-hand work along the mighty Columbia River Gorge on the high plains of eastern Washington State. Not wanting to miss the intriguing moment, Smitty gave a right rein to his handsome mount and the two of them made a gallop towards the precipice of the cliff that dropped straight down hundreds of feet into the Columbia River Gorge.
Pulling his faithful steed to a sliding stop at the vertical edge of potential doom, Ralph Vincent Smith was captivated by what his eyes beheld. Far below him, the twin, 1600 horsepower, Allison engines of not just one, but two Lockheed P-38 “Lightning” fighter planes were flying wing-tip to wing-tip just a matter of a few feet above those blue waters of the Columbia River. The immense, propeller-churning sound of those four powerful engines bellowed like a megaphone off both the Oregon and Washington gorge cliff facings. The young horseman was in awe of all of the sounds plus the derring-do of those two United States Army Air Corps pilots. They gave Ralph a thrill as he watched these two warbirds then begin to climb back up into the azure blue of that Northwest sky and split off like two blithe spirits heading to their next war destination.
Like those two P-38 “Lightnings”, Ralph “Smitty” Smith was to experience his own version of a wild ride while flying low and high in his life’s conquests.
The slap on Ralph’s bottom from the attending physician caused the first gasps of air and a wail heard round the house for the Smith’s fourth-born child on May 24th, 1926 on the family ranch near Cheney, Washington (which is just south of Spokane).
Life on the Smith ranch, during the “Great Depression” years was about as much of a cowboy existence as you could get. The Smith brothers learned how to ride horses and tend to the chores that were a quid pro quo of family expectations as they gleaned their very existence by caring for the land and the livestock that grazed upon it. With each passing year of youth, Smitty’s love for horses (and all animals) grew exponentially. He was even a blessing to meet his parent’s needs by helping to man-handle a sixteen-horse hitch that pulled their wheat gleaning machine over the rolling hills of fertile eastern Washington.
When you put three rowdy brothers together that were only a couple years apart from each other…….well, sometimes exuberant sibling rivalries boiled over into downright donnybrooks of a fight, now and then. It was during one of those heated brother altercations that the elder brother, Robert, got ahold of one of their father’s firearms. Whether Robert knew there was a live round chambered in that gun, or not, he pointed that “thunder stick” at younger brother, Ralph, and pulled the trigger. The slug and report of the gun’s blast dropped poor Ralph to the ground in less than a blink as the bullet tore into his flesh. Mom and Dad Smith scooped up their son’s almost lifeless body while someone went to fetch the doctor. Young, thirteen year old Ralph’s life lay on the edge of eternity’s door, but, praise the Lord………..he pulled through; although the wounds he received plagued him for years and left him unable to serve during World War II. He carried the souvenir bullet of that incident which nearly punctured his pericardial sac, for the rest of his life.
When it came to education for two of the three Smith brothers, academic life was to be a “double-delight” in that both Ralph and his younger brother, Keith, enjoyed being Cheney High School Seniors and graduates together in 1944. Chronologically, Ralph would have graduated a year earlier, but was held back due to recuperation time from the shooting incident he had suffered at the hands of his elder brother, Robert. Even though younger by two years, Keith became his big brother’s advocate and protector as Ralph was eventually able to, once again, re-enter daily school life. Keith and Ralph continued as a team in that they both attended Eastern Washington University as well as Washington State University.
While Ralph’s heart was drawn, by his love of animals, to his hoping for a degree in Veterinary Medicine, younger sibling, Keith, was eventually drawn to the Marine Corps and became known as “A Marine’s Marine” with the rank of a three-star Lieutenant General. Even one of Keith’s sons followed his father into the Marines. Sadly, though, that son, Marine Corps Captain Vincent Lee Smith was one of the 220 Marines killed during the terrorist bombing of the Beirut, Lebanon Marine Corps Barracks on October 23rd, 1983.
With his various time investments into college life, Ralph garnered a Livestock Degree as well as a Judges’ Certificate for rating livestock in general.
It was May of 1956 when love bloomed in the hearts of Ralph and Miss Patricia Ann Collins. From their union, two lovely children came into the world in the form of Robin and Nolan Smith.
In the mid-1950’s, Ralph Smith went from riding horses to riding the wind while going to work for the Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle, Washington. Starting as early as 1954, Boeing had been conceiving and designing what would eventually become America’s first jet engine passenger airliner………….the Boeing 707. Part of Ralph Smith’s new job, in this jet liner design phase, entailed his team creating a wooden mock-up of the aircraft to study its design characteristics. To be better suited in his new line of work, Ralph began attending the University of Washington and Seattle University to gain his credentials in Architecture, Drafting and Industrial Drawing. Little did he know, at the time, that this knowledge would open up a new world of his teaching those subjects as a staff member of the Battle Ground School District in Battle Ground, Washington.
It was here, in my student years at Battle Ground High School, that the juxtaposition of my life and that of Mr. Smith intersected. I was both trepidatious and excited as I settled into the venue of learning the very basics of what drafting was all about. Mr. Smith commanded respect and admiration from his students for his high standards as a teacher and person.
In those days, there were no fancy digital electronics to make your lettering for your blueprints and daily draft work. Mr. Smith taught us well the importance of proper pencils to use, types of lettering fonts, etc. Even Mr. Smith’s young daughter, Robin, when she was done with her own school campus for the day, would come over to her dad’s classroom and marvel at the intricate work he and his students achieved. There on the wall of her dad’s classroom was a magnificent pencil drawing of a handsome railroad train trestle. Robin’s young memory of gazing at that three-point, landscape perspective drawing stirs her heart’s appreciation for her father’s vocation to this very day. 😉
Once again, due to health issues, our good Lord closed the door on Ralph Smith’s teaching career, but He knew, good and well, that Smitty still had a great love for horses and also aspired to the reaching of young people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To this end, in 1978, Ralph and his lovely bride, Pat, were the first “Horsemanship Directors” for the newly established “Royal Ridges Retreat” Christian Horsemanship camp in the lovely forested hills near Yacolt, Washington. It was both a challenge and a delight for Ralph and Pat to impart both the knowledge of horsemanship and share the Good News that Jesus loved every camper that came under their care for a week of fun, learning and life changing times.
In 1987, while on a hike with his wife, Pat, Smitty suffered a stroke and was taken to the hospital. It was determined that surgery was needed to correct Ralph’s leaking heart valves. But, while on the operating table, Ralph had yet another stroke that was so severe, it robbed him of the ability to swallow (among other issues). It was at this juncture, in my former teacher’s life, that I had the opportunity to get to know him closer as a brother in Christ. Since it was hard for Ralph to get out and about in those days, three or four of us men from Battle Ground Baptist Church would drive out weekly to the Smith home and have a Bible Study together.
Like any of us on this earth, Ralph had issues in his past that plagued him deeply. I remember, on more than one occasion, when Smitty would say to us. “Ya know, fellas, in the New Testament, 1st Timothy 1:15 says, ‘This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief”!! Smitty continued, “And if the Apostle Paul called himself the chief of sinners, well, that makes me second in command”.
True, each and every one of us, in this life, have our failures and victories, our friends and our enemies. I, for one, saw this dear man realize his shortcomings. He was humbled by the Grace of God and strove to live a godly life by God’s mercy and love. I like what his gravestone says………“Truth Has Set Me Free”.
I look forward to Heaven someday and rekindling the fellowship of Ralph Vincent Smith, who was not only a fine High School teacher of mine, but a brother in the Lord to this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.