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Memories of Dad

Rev. J. N. C. Hiebert


My fondest memories of Dad came at Kodai. Dad helped the mission buy the Bruton compound and he came up several times to negotiate the sale. I had the luxury of open study hall - that is, I could study wherever I wanted. I often studied lying out on a grassy slope or on the benches above the tennis courts. When Dad came up, we took long walks to nearby falls or Coker's walk, or we went boating. We talked about life in general, my goals, my accomplishments and my music, his work, etc. I felt very close to him those days. This was a pleasant switch from childhood.

I recall how proud how I was of his interest in history and his work at UCLA on the popular history textbook by Wallbank and Taylor(??). Dad taught me so much about history. He had me memorize a time line and he tied all events into that line. It helped me in college in later studies. Dad had us watch Gandhi on the railroad; he had us meet Nehru; he showed us the palace of the Nizam of Hyderabad, etc. He would get so excited about historic events taking place in India. In college I did some major papers on techniques of pacifist rebellions like Gandhi led, papers on fiefdoms like Hyderabad, etc. His love of history led him to choose ships that landed in places he felt we should see. I really learned a lot from him.

I knew that despite the strict discipline, Dad loved me.


(Paul is working on a longer article on Dad, but these are some memories he sent for this issue.)

I remember going on tour with dad when I was a small boy. He took along a pillowcase full of reshta zweiback [roasted zwieback] and alot of coffee, and he was o.k. for weeks on end. I don't remember what I drank--not coffee I know, but I do remember the zwieback. He would take four or five preachers with him and camp in a mango grove near a village. They would visit the village and talk to people in the daytime. In the afternoon he held a one-person school in which he taught the preachers reading, writing, bible and alot of other subjects. In the evening there would be a meeting in the village square with one of them preaching. My job was to keep the chickens quiet, so the Indian preachers taught me how to hypnotize them by laying them on the ground and drawing a line in the sand from their beak out on the sand. Twenty minutes and they would start to shuffle, so I drew another line. (We want you to demonstrate this technique for us, Paul!) Services were sometimes an hour or two. Most people didn't have cash so they brought rice, vegetables or live chickens [no freezers in a hundred miles] to keep them fresh.

Dad was an educator par excellance. He started the first high school in India which today is at Mahbubnagar and is a great school. He started Immanuel Academy in Reedley. It was a small Bible school in the church basement when he came. He turned it into a first rate Christian High School which now has an enrollment of over a thousand, I believe. He completed his B.A. at Willamette on furlough number one, his M.A. in South Asian History at U.S.C. on his second furlough. He was invited by Dr. Wallbank to teach at U.S.C. in Indian History, but he declined and returned to India.

I remember dad always losing his keys in Reedley. Also he was overloaded with work, teaching, administering, preaching Sunday nights on the radio and traveling for the mission board. Once we went from the farm to Reedley and Dad remembered he had promised to pick up the Harms next door to us, so he went back to get them. Got home and wondered why he had gone back. Remembered and went and got them and took them to town. Late that afternoon we returned home and he remembered he had forgotten them in Reedley, so he returned again to get them. So it went.


I remember the wonderful feeling of getting Dad's full attention when we traveled. For example, on board ship he played games with us (shuffle board & ring toss), talked with us, and gave us his full attention. Traveling by train to and from Kodai, he was truly enjoyable. He would order food we liked, made sure we were aware of the history or facts of the area we were traveling through. Trecking through Europe (in old clothes from the missionary barrel) on the way back from India the last time, he got us up at 2 am so we could say we had seen the Rock of Gibralter; made a side trip to see where Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded; etc. He instilled in us a curiousity and interest in history, which was his love.

I remember on the Mission Station he was preoccupied with his work and I always was afraid to bother him, even to ask for a piece of paper. I especially remember when Rajarutnum climbed the girls' boardinghouse wall one night to see Sugnanama and Dad found out. I watched as he beat Rajarutnum until he agreed to marry Sugnanama. I was scared to death! What if he found out that I had been smuggling my boy friend, Bill Cummings, into my dorm room at night? Would he force us to marry? Or would he just kill me? When the Krauses, houseparents, came to visit later that summer, I held my breath for fear Mr. Krause would tell Dad. Mr. Krause did start to say something at the table and I interrupted him saying, "I have asked God to forgive me and He has." So Mr. Krause shut up. (Dad did find out months later and just took me aside and talked to me.)

I remember the painful years of his illness. I was so angry because I had finally gotten to that magical high school age when I expected that he would stop ignoring me and pay attention to me and interact with me as a real person. That is what seemed to happen to the older ones when they got into high school. Now it was my turn, and I didn't get to have that time to talk with him about college, my career, what I wanted out of life, etc.

And, of course, I remember his death. Three major events characterize my life. When Dad died, when Ed left me, and Peter's accident. Dad's death was the first and so difficult because I felt responsible. It was so healing over later years to find others felt the same way. I have come to realize that he was in unbelievable pain and this was his only, and understandable, recourse. Ed's leaving was a preparation for the loss to come when Peter was no longer the boy I raised and no longer the person any of us knew.

I often wonder what Dad and I would have talked about all these years had he lived. Whenever I drive through a monstrous mix-master in a large city I say, "I wish Dad could have seen this. What would he say?" I think he would have truly marveled at what man could create. Maybe, over time, he and I would have stopped fighting with each other (which we did a lot), and would have become friends.


I realized early on (sorry, siblings, but it's true) that I was the most-loved child in our family. The evidence was clearly there; I was the only one to be named after both Dad and Mom---Jo for John and Anne for Anna. I think folks were beginning to realize by the time their 6th girl arrived that they'd have to use the female version of Dad's name since they'd missed their chance to use the name "John" when Paul came.

My early memories of Dad were of going out on tour and seeing him visit people who were very poor and sick. I grew up thinking I was very special since we kids always were the center of attention when we were out in the villages, with people crowding around to look at us. Then I remember Dad's carrying me up on deck and holding me so I could see the Statue of Liberty when we sailed into New York.

In Reedley Dad was so busy with preaching and with Immanuel Bible Academy, but he still would play ball with us, have devotions and music, and would put up with---and I think enjoy---our many presentations, with Phyl as our director. He would hurry to Fresno on Sunday nights to preach on the radio, and we would listen from home. I was so proud to tell people that I was "J.N.C. Hiebert's daughter." When I was older I was told that dad's voice was one in the Mennonite Church that was highly respected and that he had a way of focusing on the main concept of the idea being discussed. (Somehow that gene missed me.) I also remember that during this time we'd tour churches to get support, and I LOVED getting up in front of people and singing (Gwen would say I was singing too loud). We all got to go to Dad's graduation at USC, and Helen Trauble sang so loud that you could hear her AND you could hear her voice through the speakers. I thought that was funny.

Back in India we were in Kodai most of the time so my memories are mostly of Dad's efforts to do family things with all of us---hiking, going on picnics, visiting old fort ruins, and reading to us at night. My favorite stories were The Hoosier Schoolmaster and The Three Musketeers. I thought it was neat, too, the way he could raise only one eyebrow when he'd tell a funny story, so I practiced and practiced and finally could do it too with either eyebrow----and still can (one of my more extraordinary assets). In Kodai one May they asked Dad to be one of the lead characters in a musical, but he didn't do it because he would have to kiss a woman other than Mom and that was not okay. I never doubted that Mom and Dad loved each other; I'd find letters he'd written her when she stayed in Kodai during the political unrest and they would start out "My Dearest Anna." It was fun to have conference time on the plains and practice plays to put on for the parents---I just knew Dad was the top missionary in our conference.

Dad was very strict in those days---especially if we talked back to Mom. One time in Shamshabad Gwen got spanked too hard and I sat next to her on the bed and cried and we refused to go to supper; later Mom brought us something to eat. I wasn't as bold as Gwen, so I pretty much grew up unspanked. I think Grandpa's way of handling kids influenced how Dad thought he should raise his kids---and that's tough to remember because Dad tried so hard to be a good and loving father. I especially felt that love when he hurried to be with Mom, Loey and me after the accident when our car went into the Krishna and Mrs. Casper & Julian died. He hugged us all so tightly.

Going through Europe was a great treat that Dad gave us when we came back to America. He not only took the extra effort to show us a lot of historical sites, but he also sat us down the night before to tell us about the things we would see. Being a teenager, I was not overly impressed; I really was more interested in what kind of guys we might see---but now I appreciate this education immensely and amazed he persisted. I especially loved Versailles and the mountains in Switzerland.

When we came back to the States I was focused on trying to adjust to American high school ways and Dad was so busy at Tabor. I was so sad when he became ill, but I thought he'd soon be better. Shortly before he died in California we took a walk with him in the park. He looked so worn-out, and he said that going through electric shock therapy was hell. It was the only time I heard him use that word other than in a religious sense. When he died I felt guilty that I hadn't cared more about him and written him when he was sick. And I was so angry at the head Mennonite folks for saying he shouldn't have a church funeral. I guess I still am, if I think about it.

Gradually as the years have gone by, the memories of Dad's last days have faded and the happier memories of the earlier years have emerged. I very much loved my Dad and appreciate the many things he did. Actually, as I look at his life now, I think that his greatest accomplishment was....US! He'd have been completely awed by what a neat bunch of kids he had and loved helping us put together our family history on this web page, right?