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My memories of Hillsboro are so very mixed. I fell in love and married there and, at the same time, Dad got sick and we went through the years of his suffering. My first memories are of arriving there. Betty, Joanne, and I cried as we drove into town because we did not want to move there. We cried many days that first year as we walked home from school. The academic standards were so low--no homework even--and we were not accepted by the locals. Nobody spoke to me at school for weeks. I felt so out of place because we did not have the clothes that others had. The ironic ending to this is that last summer at our class reunion I talked about this reception and was told that having three pretty girls come in at once was threatening because we might steal all the boys! They had not even noticed the clothing thing.

The Willems took me in during Dad's illness and that was a salvation. While mom and dad were living in Minnesota we had little heat because we couldn't afford the coal and nobody was home during the day to stoke the fire. I had an emergency appendectomy and felt very very sorry for myself because mom was not there. She did come finally for a few days. I also remember that I needed a long dress for the Junior/Senior Banquet and wrote her about it. She came a day or so before the event but I didn't know if the dress would be ready until about an hour before I had to go to the banquet--and give a speech to boot!

I still find it difficult to be in Hillsboro for any length of time. When the Willems were still alive I could tolerate the pinched atmosphere for 3 or 4 days and then became too depressed to stay. Now I go to the class reunions for about 2 days and find that to be a wonderful experience. At the reunion about 10 years ago I came to the realization that much of my problems making friends when we arrived was due to ME--I had held back as much or more than they did! What a revelation.

Mom and Dad in Hillsboro


My first thought when we saw the elevator that marks Hillsboro's skyline was that there are no trees here. I felt we were coming to a desert. I missed Kodai's trees and plant life. Hillsboro had cottonwood trees but little else.

I was a bit upset because rather than begin college I had to complete American History and American Government before going to college (state rules). So I added Journalism and Chemistry to them to take a full semester of work.

We were so poor that adjusting to life in the US was hard, especially due to lack of suitable clothing to feel we fit in. We bought cooperatively so that we could share sweaters etc.

At first we were a kind of spectacle - Dad a minister with all those kids. We had to sing Indian songs at church and go on show. Once we got past that hurdle, it was better.

We never were out of the looking glass in that many felt free to tell our parents about the behavior of their young, especially neighbors. They knew what hours we got in etc.

I think Mom's lack of fondness for the place colored mine. She was not particularly happy there, especially after Dad's illness. I did meet Carl there and so things changed, not about Hillsboro, but about the prospects of getting out of it with Carl. I always hoped we would find a more urban place.

But Hillsboro made possible a college education. I worked at the creamer for 40 or more hours a week and got enough to help support the family and go to college. That was not all bad.

I went to HIllsboro about once every 6 weeks as Carl's parents aged. I have not been back since we buried Carl's Dad. Perhaps that is a reflection of a certain ambivalence I have about the memories.

Tabor College


Hillsboro? That's a tough thing to write about---one of the hardest of all our topics.

We came to Hillsboro, Kansas, because Dad had been asked to be the President of Tabor College. Gwen, Betty and I were in high school. When I left Kodai I wasn't happy about the change but I had dreams that I'd come to this American high school and be adored for the terrific, bright, world traveler I was. Instead I found I wasn't that smart in the ways that were important at Hillsboro High. I knew nothing about styles of clothes, ways to act, what to chit-chat about. I soon learned that girls were NOT supposed to be as smart as boys---and if they were, they were not to show it. I tried not to let other kids see me take books home to study. Also I found that--unlike in Kodai--only boys got to be in organized sports; we girls were supposed to cheer for them. Great. As for world traveler, no one wanted to hear about how wonderful Kodai and the kids/classes/teachers there were!

I finally adjusted a bit. Having Fran Dahl for a best friend helped a lot. Together we dreamed up all sorts of great adventures, like sneaking out of the house late at night to go bike riding and burying our time capsule (with its document signed in our blood) under a pine tree near the entry of the Tabor administration building. It's still there, I would guess.

One class I hated was Sewing Class. Gwen was in the same class, and she could sew up a storm. It took me the whole semester to make one dishtowel and a pair of pajamas; the pajamas actually were made several times by the time I took the seams out over and over. I thought they should be put in our family museum. I STILL hate sewing. I did learn what not to wear from that class, though. Mom bought me this gorgeous dark blue taffeta dress for church when we first got to Hillsboro. I liked it so much that I wore and wore it to school, until the teacher (in kindness, though I didn't know it) told our class that taffeta was one of the materials you didn't wear for school. I only wore it on Sundays from then on---and wore my broomstick skirts instead while wishing I had a poodle skirt and brown & white loafers.

Broomstick skirts

Church activities were a big part of our lives in Hillsboro. Bets and I played organ and piano at church, trading off. I liked our youth fellowship group, but often got into problems because I disagreed with what was being said and wasn't very quiet about this. I learned a lot of things that I hadn't learned as a missionary daughter, like:
-the Mennonite Brethren had somehow found the one true path to heaven. The First Mennonites and other Mennonite groups in the area were close to the truth, but didn't quite have it right, and the Catholics....well, they were trying to take over the world.
-the world was not as old as the worldly scientists were saying, that God had created the world in exactly six days People Time, and that for some reason He had created dinosaur bones that only appeared to be ancient.
-if you broke the church rules you had to apologize in front of the whole church or you could become excommunicated.
-that I was too mouthy and asked too many questions.
-that in spite of all the above, there were many warm-hearted, caring people in the church who tried to live their lives serving God and others. This focus was a strong influence on me. And I loved the church dinners and the cooking of the church women, especially the zwiebach.

I did also learn something neat--that Fran Dahl and I could sneak Grace Livingston Hill books out of the church library and get them back without getting caught. (I later accomplished my Grace Livingston Hill dream of marrying a super rich, handsome, once-heathen guy...well, maybe not super rich or once-heathen, but the rest applied....)

Then Dad got sick and our lives all changed. The older ones at home worked to help bring in much-needed money. I worked at the Missions Office summers and half-days during schooltime my high school senior year and first two years of college. Dad died the summer after my college freshman year, and I went through my sophomore year in a haze. Uncle Lando Hiebert helped me a lot that year. I left Hillsboro at the end of that school year and have only gone back one time. Too many unhappy memories.

But we all have survived those tough days and, like I tell Frank, we've found that we have a lot of strength. To me, that's an important thing to know about myself.


As with most of my childhood memories, "Hillsboro" evokes an emotional mix of innocent pleasures and the sweet confusion of growing pains, together with nightmares and heartbreak. I was 10 when we moved into the presidential manor 2 blocks from Tabor and l block from the park, and 13 when everything disintegrated and the move to California took place. In those 3 years my life changed forever--as did the lives of all of you. I remember vividly:

-running through the lawn sprinkler on hot summer days
-playing "kick the can" and "capture the flag" in the park and out in a field at the edge of town where there was a Dairy Queen for chocolate dipped cones after play was finished
-picnics with watermelon and crullers
-having a secret club up in the rafters of the garage with Connie Wiebe and Mary Ellen Voth and Willard Dick and Gordon Stelting
-climbing up the tree by the front sidewalk and spying on my older sisters as they came home from their dates
-also creeping up to the French door windows between dining and living room to do more spying when the dates came inside
-sharing rooms/beds with various sisters upstairs
-Jo listening to opera on Saturday afternoons, and introducing me indirectly to the grandeur of this form of music
-listening to "The Shadow" and "Johnny Dollar" and other such spine-tingling mysteries on the radio
-Mom baking all day Saturday, and us sneaking in to cut all the crust ends off the bread loaves, and eating up the Toll House chocolate chip cookies while they were still warm
-having new dresses for Easter and Christmas that Mom stayed up all night to sew; I still remember a plaid tafetta with black velvet, and a pale green dotted swiss with a square collar & wearing my first garter belt, stockings, high heels and artificial flower corsage--and several boys wanting to walk me home from church when I first wore all that
-my first real crush on a boy--Paul Toews, as several of us were hired to weed dandelions together at the Mission Board building & lawn; I managed to get hold of a school picture of him and kept it under my pillow until it was ragged and worn
-learning to play the violin and being made to practice in the big closet in Mom & Dad's room because it was so screechy (and there was a light in the closet)
-Mom's bottom drawer filled with dozens of patterns--and the chore of sorting loose pattern pieces by pattern number--also huge "rag bags"
-having to wear ridiculous maroon bloomer style gym shorts
-tasting victory during 8th grade track meet--winning races and high jump
-feeling very important as I got to climb the steps to Tabor College and march in to Dad's office and visit him
-Gwen winding her hair in socks for that lovely soft curly look
-holding piano recitals in the living room, with Phyll as my teacher, but humiliating myself by forgetting even what song I was supposed to play or how it started
-endless church services, memorizing Bible verses, DVBS, being baptized by Uncle Waldo
-playing piano with Jo on the organ, a duet, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" for church once
-thinking how lovely my sister Betty was with her blond hair, blue eyes (unusual in our family) and musical talents--and handsome boyfriend
-Paul showing me how he carved a wooden cage with a ball inside, and demonstrating the wonders of a gyroscope

Paul's Carving

-Mom having us all hide when Dad was home late for dinner, and all popping out to yell "surprise"

-left-over Saturday lunches with huge piles of pots and pans to wash, in which we had heated -late night cereal snacks with us all sitting around in the kitchen (Kix, Cheerios, Wheaties and Corn Flakes)
-sleeping on summer nights on the floor in the dining room with the water cooler "air conditioner" blowing, since anywhere else was just too hot; sleeping in "baby dolls" that we sewed ourselves
-the cruelty of some of my teachers (as well as the students) towards a mentally retarded boy in our class
-the cruelty of my classmates after dad got sick, taunting me that "your dad is crazy"
-the awful confusion and emotional vertigo of dad's illness and hospitalization
-seeing him in a whirling frenzied spin in his room, eyes wild, and me terrified
-hiding behind the sofa crying for hours
-having to go to the store with a note to pick up Kotex for my older sisters and bringing it back in a brown paper bag, knowing somehow it was something too mysteriously embarrassing for them to go buy themselves
-the mournful call of the doves and the lonely buzz of cicadas
-visiting Grandpa and Grandma in the nursing home, the musty "old people" smell, dimly lit rooms, and air of quiet despair
-the wonderful "vaspah" Sunday early evening foods: zwiebach, homemade pickles, pluma moos, hot tea, peach jam, cold meat left from Sunday meal of pot roast
-everyone leaving little piles of things on the stairsteps for carrying upstairs later
-a coal furnace that burned out long before morning on bitterly cold winter nights
-a garden
-cats--a white one who loved sleeping in the coal bin, a yellow one who got accidently slammed in a closing door and lost its voice
-Mom feeding the birds most mornings, with crumbs and leftovers
-a cool, spooky basement with trunks and secret treasures
-a bustling family of parents, sisters and a brother for those few lovely years before Dad fell ill
-much, much more.


(Paul is in India right now, so I'll get his part in when he returns. -Jo)

Paul driving the Cement Mixer


A few memories of Hillsboro. On first seeing the place after India, I was appalled that the only place to go hiking was around a wheat field, one mile each side. I never did it. The PE class took a "hike" to the water reservoir...along a road about half a mile...very funny.

A second memory is spending my entire summer vacations ironing everyone's cotton broomstick skirts. The big laundry basket was always full of rolled-up sprinkled clothes for me to iron (the rest of you were working or too little).

A third memory is driving out to Prairie View with Mom to see Dad. Once he remarked with satisfaction that the piano was now paid for. At Christmas he grew so agitated that halfway home we had to turn around and take him back. Mom and Dad's 25th anniversary was celebrated, sort of, in the park across the street. I remember making sandwiches.

We were always sewing. Once I made a brown taffeta dress. There was material left over and Jo wanted the same dress; but we were half a yard short. It was Saturday afternoon...we were afraid they would sell out so we jumped in the car and chased all the way to Wichita to get the taffeta before the stores closed....we made it, and there is a photo of Jo and me in our matching dresses.

Brown Taffeta Dresses
(Phyl says note the crocheted purses; she still has hers!)

I also remember cramming for my master's orals at KU in some small house the folks were in at the moment. There were the courtships of Gwen and Bette with Margie peering under the living room door and Jo hiding behind the couch, or some such, and Bette working at the creamery wrapping butter, and Paul disappearing to Enid when he wasn't working at the cement place. I remember laughing during prayers because I had just thought of a name for Loey's rag doll: Noodleneck. Gwen I remember more at Bethel in Newton.

Grace lived in the dorm with a roommate from Reedley and had a lot of fun, including setting up bogus prayermeetings for Esther Wiebe who was "going to India as a missionary." (Esther and I roomed together in a house near by--she was NOT going to India.) Well, that's enough.

Margy, Loey and Noodleneck