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Part 14

by Betty Dahl


As we approached Hillsboro, our hearts sank. Was this cold, treeless little town on the Kansas prairie to be our home? We were used to the dense plant life and beauty of Kodai. Could a college actually exist in such a small town, with its single main street and a population of about 2000? We children grew unusually quiet, somewhat shocked by the bleakness of the vast white prairie and prospect of the bitter cold. We knew we would have to buy warmer clothes to endure the climate, but there was hardly any money for this. Mom and Dad had taken out a loan to travel in Europe, as well as to get from Mt. Lake to Hillsboro. Mom, however, was upbeat, happy to be back in the U.S. She reminded us that God would provide.

Shortly after arriving, Dad was installed as president of Tabor College. I was very proud of Dad and felt he must be special to have been called away from his work in India. Dad showed me around Tabor and encouraged me to attend college. My parents wanted all of us to get a higher education degree, though they did not have the finances to help us to.

Folks rented a small house for six months, and then rented a four-bedroom house two blocks from the college. All of Hillsboro was in walking distance--at the most twelve blocks across in any direction: two blocks to the college, three blocks to church, three blocks to the hospital or doctor, five blocks to our uncle's house, four blocks to high school and two blocks to the college. The house was a large, two-story home. It had two bedrooms and a study upstairs. Jo and Margy shared one bedroom and Gwen and I shared the other one. Paul used the study as his bedroom. Downstairs Mom and Dad had a bedroom, which Loey shared while she was little. The only bathroom was located next to folks' bedroom. Having one bathroom for eith people caused some problems, especially when Paul took long baths after a hard day of work and school. Once we knocked on the door because he was taking so long, only to find that he was so busy reading in the bathtub that he had forgotten to run the water. The back yard had clotheslines to hang up and dry the wash. A narrow driveway leading to a single-car garage and a fenced-in garden the length of the house graced the west side of our home.

Grace had married Ricardo Zapata while we were still in India. They were serving a small church in Texas and given a very small salary by the mission board. Phyllis had obtained her MA degree in English at Kansas University and was teaching at Pacific Bible College.

Culture Shock

The culture shock was difficult for those of us in high school. Even though Hillsboro was a small rural town, the high school youth were very concerned with material things and had a style of dress different from the one we'd been accustomed to in Kodai. The few clothes the budget would allow or which the family was given were traded back and forth among us girls so as to get a little variety. I refused to wear the red and white shoes we bought in London since they were so obviously out-of-style. We frequently complained about the failure of a sibling to use enough deodorant (very sparse in Kodai stores so we had to change our habits), claiming that our clothes were ruined forever and ever. We worried that we might be wearing used clothes that had previously belonged to someone in our class, and we were sure that we were total misfits.

The family, being new to Hillsboro, was often invited to sing Indian songs or give a mission program. Paul played a clarinet solo, I played a piano rendition, and the family sang Telegu songs; Dad preached and showed slides. I was a self-conscious adolescent and hated to participate in these "shows." I felt the audience would notice every wrong note I played, would notice every pimple on my face, would consider my clothes old-fashioned, and would notice if we sang off-key. Loey and Margy, being younger, did not appear to fuss as much about these appearances.

I soon became a pianist for the church, and then became the organist. This meant practicing long hours for Sunday and Wednesday services, with male chorus practice on Tuesdays and choir practice on Thursdays. It also meant I would be called upon to play for weddings and funerals, as well as any special services the church held, such as revival meetings. If there was no one else available, I was asked to miss class, play for the event, and return to school. At times, these tasks were a pain and took away from study time. Being church organist was not a paid position. Usually the only pay I received was if I played for a funeral or wedding. Even then, most people felt it was the church's responsibility to pay an organist to play for weddings, funerals, practices and performances of two men's choirs, the regular church choir, Sunday morning, afternoon and evening services, evangelistic meetings, performances by soloists or groups like the male quartet, and instrumental performances; however, the church had no funds available and the pastor felt this was my "Christian Duty." After all, the talents came from God!

Hillsboro High School

I had finished all the credits required for graduation before I left Kodai. However, in order to enter Tabor College I needed to take American History and a writing class. I also wasn't sure my chemistry course had been rigorous enough for college prep. To meet these requirements, I took my last semester of high school at Hillsboro High, where I took American history, journalism and chemistry.

Fitting into existing social structures was hard on us. Paul was already in college and seemed to have adjusted. For me it was more difficult as high school friendships were very structured along socioeconomic lines. There were Carol and Yvonne, the two best dressers in class and the best-looking; there was Peggy, a handicapped girl who was pretty well isolated outside of classroom activities. Peggy cut out engagement notices and matched them to wedding notices; she kept a scrapbook on wedding features like the gowns, colors, etc. She said she was choosing a dress for her own wedding. Then there were the girls who dated boys far older, a group with little interest in school affairs. Evelyn and Ruby were to be married after graduation. One girl got pregnant and was sent out of town to have the baby; she gave it up for adoption, as was customary in that time. I felt I didn't fit into any of the already-formed cliques. I felt miles ahead academically but felt left out of the loop socially. Margie Dick, who was also an MK from India, and I would spend time studying together. In addition to studying, there was so much work to do at home that I spent many of my hours helping at home. I also wanted to find a job so I could have some money of my own.

I needed to earn money for my college tuition, so I took a job working for a local dentist. In those days, fillings were made of lead and were softened by rolling the lead in your hand to make it stick together and be more pliable. No doubt those of us who worked in dentists' offices got exposed to lead poisoning from doing this, as well as patients who had the fillings put in. I did not enjoy this job and looked for other work after the first summer. I gave my earnings to my father for safe-keeping. When the day came to pay for tuition, I asked Dad for my money. He told me it was all gone. It had been spent. I was in shock. I asked Dad what he expected me to do. He was silent. I knew then that to go to college I would have to work full time. I made up my mind that I could do this and set out to find a new job.

The best-paying job in town was at the creamery. With luck I landed a job working there from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. That way I could go to college in the mornings. I also gave piano lessons on weekends, and earned a little money playing the organ for weddings and funerals. A bright spot of these busy early years in Hillsboro was that I really came to know Margy and Loey. I looked forward to playing with them after work. I often stopped at the five and dime store to get something for them, and they would be so delighted to get these little gifts.

I was bored in high school chemistry, which I was retaking since I wanted to be sure the course I had taken in India was up to snuff for college entry. I began to challenge the young male instructor, a Tabor College senior doing his practice teaching. I felt he was arrogant, so I checked out college chemistry textbooks and found the most difficult questions I could find pertaining to the topic at hand. I raised my hand and asked the somewhat flustered young man the answer to these questions. If he could not answer, he always promised to find out; he later informed me that I had made life difficult as he spent too much of his time anticipating questions I might raise. It was fun for me--a game to show up the young man and to put the class on notice that I would be a competitor.

I became a challenge to the existing academic pecking order. Before I had come to Hillsboro High, Carl and Calvin were clear winners of the coveted valedictorian and salutatorian awards. Where did I belong? I had the top grades but had attended for less than a semester at the time of graduation. The school awarded me an Honors Certificate. This solved the dilemma for the school and provided me a 50% reduction on tuition for the first two years at Tabor. In addition, I was selected to play a piano solo for graduation, so at least I had made my mark. I chose "Dumka," translated meaning "Russian Village." Many of the people in Hillsboro came from Russia, and I thought it was an appropriate choice for the graduation ceremonies.

The journalism teacher was a middle-aged man, who had smoking among his vices. The Mennonites viewed this as sinful behavior and it was forbidden. The teacher liked Yvonne, and she flirted with him in class. He would walk down the aisles during study hall and close my books and tell me to lighten up on my studies. He was the only teacher who ever told me not to study. I was shocked and a bit peeved.

(To be continued)