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Our Memories of Grace

Grace with granddaughter Hayley

Grace Luella Hiebert Zapata

Born on November 10, 1929 in Hyderabad, India
Died on December 23, 1996 in Santa Ana, California

Grace was born in Hyderabad, India to missionary parents, John N. C. and Anna Hiebert. She spent the early years of her life there. Her school years were spent in a boarding school in Kodai, India. During her high school years the family returned to the States where her father became the principal of a new Bible School. She was a 1947 graduate of this school, Immanuel Bible School and Academy in Reedley, California.

Following graduation, she went on to Tabor College, then continued her education in nurses' training, and in June 1950 married Rick Zapata. They moved to South Texas where David and Linda were born. In 1955 they moved to Reedley, California. Lori, Sandra and Dale were born there. Grace kept busy raising her family and was active in the Reedley Mennonite Brethren Church.

In 1972 the family moved to Santa Ana where Grace became active at Parkview Church. She also taught painting classes. Later she worked with handicapped children at Carl Harvey School. They students had a tireless, creative teacher who dearly loved her students. She would continually do her best for them. She was loved by her co-workers and students. She also has been active in a group at Newport Mesa Church.

Grace was a natural teacher. She will be remembered by family and friends for her patient lessons in sewing, oil painting, ceramics, doll making, Christmas ornament making, crocheting and cooking.

Other interests Grace will be remembered for are gardening, camping, traveling, and building sand castles at the beach. She always made time for her eight grandchildren. They have had an opportunity to learn to be creative, sew and paint. She had a green thumb, anything grew well for her. Her yard was always green and lush, with flowers and fruit in season.

Grace loved the Lord and was always concerned about the spiritual welfare of others. She spent time praying with and for others. This was a very important part of her life.

Grace loved and valued her family and friends. They were very important to her. She was very grateful for the friends who gave her so much support during her challenging times the past few years. She will be missed by her family and friends.

(Taken from Grace's funeral folder)

Phyllis and Grace playing together

Best Friends

Dad and Mom with the first 2 of 9
(Grace with Dad, Phyl with Mom)

Family life in Oregon during furlough


I remember being with Mom in the kitchen a lot, making jams - especially strawberry. We used to go to the strawberry fields together - Mom, Lori, Dale and I. We each got a basket and got to pick as much as we could in an hour, I think. Then we'd go home, clean them and start the jam. I remember a lot of sugar being put into the pot and lots of stirring. I made my first batch of jam (as an adult) last summer with the tons of apricots from our tree and it really brought back memories of Mom. It also made me realize that there is a real art to the making of jam - my first few batches were way too soupy. I had to use it as ice cream topping!

As an adult, the most amazing thing to me about Mom was the way she accepted me and all things about me without criticism. When I moved in with my boyfriend in college, when I changed spiritual paths, when I stayed the night at her house and came home drunk one night, when Chris and I told her we were going to try to have a baby and didn't plan to marry -- all the things that I know she didn't agree with. Each time, she was supportive, never lectured and always said that she trusted my judgement and even though she may not have picked that path for me, she was okay with it. That acceptance fills me with warmth, even today thinking about it.

Her soft hugs, the smell of her cooking, the oil paints mixed on the palette, the beautiful colors in her garden, the zillions of ideas for crafts made out of ordinary stuff that ended up so neat, the six o'clock dinner gong (from India) calling us each evening. So many thoughts and memories - I love her and miss her. I know she smiles down on me and my family, blowing kisses from somewhere. I'm not sure where she is - but I know she's still with us. I love you, Mom. Sandy

Hiebert family ready to return to India

Having a good time on the ship

Older siblings saying goodbye at the train station

Leaving for Kodai

Phyllis, Grace, Paul and Betty at Kodai


In Kodai, I remember, we fought so much that we couldn't room together. And then my birthday fell in July so there were parties, whereas hers was in November on the plains with nobody around. It wasn't fair, but what could she do?

In high school, Grace was too busy consorting with her friends, rebelling, and generally enjoying life to bother with the cares (e.g., church) that weighed some of us down. The same in Tabor College. Then came nursing school for a while, and marriage, and home and children.

I remember how eagerly she did the things she enjoyed, and what pleasure she had in them: the plants and flowers growing in profusion around her trailer, pictures she had painted and hung on her walls or given away, dolls she made, enchiladas for guests, dresses for Mom, padded book covers and all sorts of crafts.

I remember her deeply felt concern over problems the children had. She went far out of her way to offer help--counsel, a place to stay, food, forgiveness. She did the same for a friend in trouble. Many people have come to her home seeking assistance and gone away comforted. She found her own comfort in the church and from close long-time friends.

I remember how she coped with unhappiness, hung in there for the sake of the children. She was realistic--did not close her eyes to troubling facts or ignore her feelings. Once in response to a great hurt she smashed all the tumblers in her cupboard and then had to go buy new ones. I found myself grieving one night long ago that she had always given so much and often gotten so little in return.

I remember that in Reedley she was always working. She had a big house to keep clean, five children to care for, and no big budget to do it with. She washed, cleaned, canned, scrubbed, raked and planted, cooked. Her R&R was going out with her friends, and she had many of them.

I remember her hearty laugh; her driving up from LA to Fresno (75 m.p.h. in the fast lane) to see us; her trips to Arizona to help on an Indian reservation; her bright new swimming suit each year bought at the end-of-summer sale; the carved chest she found for her living room, and the antique bed for her 50th birthday; her collection of green glass; her house crammed in all corners with treasures she could not part with.

She is now the treasure we have had to part with. Probably in heaven she is carrying on as before: meeting friends, talking with relatives, working hard, enjoying the beauty of the Tree of Life and all the flowers.

Grace and Phyl's Alma Mater

Immanuel High School in recent years

Graduating from high school


-In our family Grace was a symbol for freedom and was definitely not a conformist
-She and Phyl were the big sisters at Kodai in the early years before WW II. We all had to practice bombing raids, and then left Kodai in a car filled with Hieberts and Wiebes. Shoes had to be tied on outside. Farewell parties would be held for those who were leaving Kodai. Feeling especially warm-hearted, the kids who were staying would give up prized possessions as goodbye gifts. If plans changed, as often happened in the uncertain times, and it turned out students weren't going to leave (at least at that time), then the understanding was that the prized possessions would be returned.
-When Grace attended Immanuel Bible Academy, she liked the boys and often had a boyfriend. One of these was Joni Peters, who lived down the road from us; she would volunteer to carry the large milk cans to and from their place. When Betty and I went with her, we'd dive into the ditches to hide when cars would come---I'm not sure just why.
-After she married Rick, they went to Texas to be missionaries. The Mission Board wouldn't give them good housing or pay them what "American" missionaries were paid because Rick was Hispanic. This used to infuriate Grace.
-I remember Grace's many stories of Dale's escapades, including one when he brought home the mail from all along their street.
-In Reedley she lived in a big white house with a large porch. She loved flowers and had beautiful flower gardens. This gift for growing flowers continued even when she lived in her trailer in Santa Ana during her last years. She had an orange tree that was filled with delicious oranges and she made her whole yard into a garden.
-She was an artist at heart, and loved to paint and sew and collect beautiful things.

Family picture before part of family left for India

Saying goodbye to Phyl and Grace at Tabor College

Grace in nursing school


The Chinese suggest that life is best with a balance of Ying and Yang. Phyllis, our surrogate mother, taught us Ying and Grace, with her imaginary friends, taught us Yang. Phyllis helped us learn to be good people: obey and honor our parents, do our fair share of work and mind our manners. Grace, on the other hand, helped us gain flexibility, humor, imagination, and a willingness to test the boundaries. Each helped us younger children learn a good balance of serious study and hard work with a strong desire to play or travel.

Who of us growing up with Grace will forget her imaginary family? She would convince us that the family was arriving "any minute" and we should set the table, clean our bedroom, etc. She would hear a knock, go to the door, and invite them in. Only thing was, we could not see them. We were very puzzled at this state of affairs. It was, however, one way she got us to clean up our room.

In Reedley, I was a creature of the neighborhood, playing baseball or kickball whenever possible. I would come home to eat, help with dishes, practice piano, do my homework and thus I did not interact with my older siblings that much. I enjoyed going with Grace to get milk from the Peters' farm as I thought it so romantic that she would see one of the boys there. I also recall teasing Grace unmercifully about having a boyfriend or date at Immanuel High School.

Grace learned to sew in desperation. If you wanted new clothes, you pretty much had to sew them, and Grace liked pretty clothes. This became a lifetime love affair; sewing was a big part of her life. It evolved into doll making. She made such beautiful doll clothes that I would have her sew doll clothes for Carol for Christmas. The clothes are still enjoyed by Katie and Mary Sexton, my granddaughters. They are so far superior to what one can buy in the stores. I still marvel how she got those Barbie doll clothes done with such details. It is not easy. I prize the doll she made for me.

On one occasion, about 8 months after David was born, I asked her to help me get my measurements for making a new dress. So she took out the measuring tape and measured my hips, bust, waist etc. She looked puzzled and did it over again. I looked at her quizzically and we both started laughing. "Betty, you're square," she said. We laughed so hard that tears fell and we were limp. "You must be pregnant again." I didn't really believe it then, but made an appointment which confirmed another child was on the way.

Grace was a friend. We shared by letter, phone, and visits our most private thoughts. She taught me so much about sewing and cooking as she was good at both. I enjoyed having her and the children up to San Francisco - walks with 9 children in the park, on the beach, or in Muir Woods. Grace was so practical and taught me so many useful skills. But she also taught me to love gardening, to sew doll clothes, and to paint. These hobbies are helping me cope with Parkinson's.

I really learned to know Grace best during the years following her divorce. She would come spend a week each summer or I went to her home and we talked late into the night. She also spent time here taking care of Mom to give me a break. What a caring person she was, so patient with Mom, much more patient than I was. I only hope someone like Grace will care for me when I need it.

Grace took such good care of handicapped children, as does Jo. I admire them for this work. Having taught retarded youth one year, I could relate somewhat to their challenges.

I think of Grace in terms of words like practical, home-loving, patient, and caring. We had made plans to get together after retirement. But it was not to be. I now understand her pain and wish I could have been of more help in her last days. I miss her.

Hiebert reunion; Grace and Rick with lst grandchild David

Grace with her mom and sisters
Taken in Hillsboro


My earliest memories of Grace are from Wanaparty when I was about 3 or 4. I remember Grace and Phyl being there and then being gone and it was empty without them. We got letters and paperdolls from them from Kodai but I just didn't understand why children had to be sent away and worried that my turn would come some day.

Then the days in Reedley were wonderful. We were all home all the time. Grace would sit in that back porch-room and paint paper dolls which were so absolutely beautiful. She would sometimes back them with cloth so they would last and make all sorts of clothes for them. She was the "worldly" one and knew about things we didn't like clothing styles, hair styles, and boys.

Over the years when we were grown she and I shared the sewing projects, doll making, and generally an interest in crafts as well as gardening. This was the connection between the two of us and I still want to pick up the phone to discuss some project with her.

The last memories are of the last few days I spent with her just before she died. The last talk will always remain with me. She told me she did not want to go (I thought it was a matter of us letting her go and giving her permission, but I was all wrong on that). I did tell her that she had to go but that I knew she would be around. She asked how I'd know and I said I just would know. And sure enough, her presence comes and goes, sometimes it is like she is right here beside me.

Grace with family at Betty's place

Traditional" Legs" picture

Grace with Gwen and Mom

Exploring California Missions with Jo


My early memories of Grace are ones of an older sister who didn't always act like the role model an older sister is supposed to be. She went to Immanuel Bible Academy, where I'm sure she wasn't the quietest and most proper student around. I remember, from overhearing bits of conversation among the older group, that she really liked guys, enjoyed riding with them in cars--giving Mom and Dad gray hair--and that she was much too fun-loving and independent in her thinking for a minister's child. I was VERY impressed!

Actually, Grace cannot be divided from Phylly in my Reedley memories. With all the work to be done in a family of 8, those two helped raise us "little ones." Phyl would use all sorts of hidden persuasion and unique consequences to keep Gwen and me in line, like tricking us into playing games during dishes time (e.g., guessing how many pieces there would be to dry) and braiding my hair to the chair when I was being a pill. With Grace, on the other hand, there was no attempt at anything subtle. She was straightforward in dragging us out from behind the couch at choretime, and she didn't listen to our complaints when she was braiding our hair so tight we became squinty-eyed. BUT she did make wonderful paper dolls, and if we were in her good graces, she would draw a marvelous paper doll dress for us.

When we left for India, it was so hard to say goodbye to Phyl and Grace. I can still see the two of them standing there by the park near Tabor, waving. We were all crying, especially Mom.

For years Grace and I, like most of us siblings, went our own ways--busy with getting our education, marrying, having families. Then in the later years we found ourselves both working with children with disabilities and became good friends. I could understand her joys and problems, and she could understand mine. Often I'd call Grace if I'd had a particularly tough day or wanted to complain about the dumb decisions the school/state was making--and she would know what to say. For the first time in our lives, we learned to really know each other. It was great.

When Grace became ill, I thought she'd surely get better. But then she didn't. I went to see her the November before she died and helped celebrate her last birthday. Her home was filled with her artwork--beautiful dolls she'd made, wonderful paintings, sewing projects. Her tub was filled with all these gorgeous fabrics she had planned to use. Outside there were flowers growing everywhere, and I especially loved her roses.

Then she died and our family had a big hole in it. I was angry because I felt it wasn't fair for her not to finally enjoy some relaxing times after working so hard. I was with Loey at Mom's place in Boulder the day they were having her funeral in California. I think Mom had hung on until Grace died; Mom died only three weeks later. That was very hard, losing both of them so close together. I miss them so much; they made my life richer.

Gracie made a doll for me--I named her Jenny, and she stands on my bedroom dresser. Grace made her to represent me as a tomboy from when I was young. Jenny's face is smiley and the artwork is beautiful. She's a constant reminder of the artist and sister I loved.

I'm usually a strong skeptic of unexplainable events, but something unusual happened shortly after Grace died. When I was at her place in November, I told her I wanted to be able to know that her spirit was still here near us after she was gone. She said she knew it would be. I asked how I'd know, and she said I'd just know. After she died, I was missing her so much one morning, and I said, "Gracie, if you're around, let me know." Suddenly I had an overwhelming sense of the aroma of roses, and I'm sure she was answering.

At Loey's Place in August, 1996

Phyllis and Grace
Still Best Friends

Grace with Jo and Paul in Boulder

Family picnic at Boulder


I've been trying and trying to find words to capture the essence of my sister Gracie. It's hard for me to find an order to the swirls of memories and thoughts and pangs of emotion when thinking about her. So I'll free associate for awhile.

At the oddest moments of the day, from out of nowhere will suddenly come a vivid audio-memory of her lilting voice saying "Hi Margy!" when I'd call her on the phone. She had a way of saying those simple words in a way that made me feel like I was the most special person in the world and that my call was just what she was waiting for. There were many many late nights or early hours of the morning when I'd be restless, lonely, unhappy, or just too wired up to sleep, and needing to talk to someone. Since her time zone was 3 hours earlier, I could still call her without being thoughtless, and she would listen, share of herself, give advice, accept even the most intimate dark secrets and just love me. We'd laugh a lot, cry a little, and just talk and talk. She'd always worry about my running up my phone bill, and I'd tell her this was my present to myself--calling her--and that life was too short not to spend it all on people we love.

We didn't really get to know each other at all until after her divorce, and a visit she made to Florida. We must have talked for 10 hours nonstop, with that thrill of discovery you feel when making deep connection with someone for the first time. We must have had a deep hunger for being really soul sisters, not just sisters by virtue of birth to the same parents. We drove down with Mom to visit Uncle John and Aunt Wilma in Fort Myers, and spent more hours walking the beach and talking. We hugged a lot and felt very grateful to have found each other, even so late in life. After that, we stayed close in dozens of ways small and large.

Like all the others who knew her, I cherished her love of family, her gift with all growing-living things, her instinctive sense of color and style, her generous nature, her sense of fun and adventure, her courage in the face of the nastiness that life can test us with, her sturdy nature, her love of all things beautiful.

There are so many things: I laugh when I think of all the fabric she left us with to sort through. She had to be the ultimate "queen of polyester"! And finding all her exquisite, stylish hand-made paperdolls was like unearthing a buried treasure. Her faith was astonishing in its purity and simplicity. She told me once about a friend who had experienced miraculous healing. What both of us were thinking was that perhaps that would happen for her too. Her Tex-Mex cooking was out of this world -- I learned to love it from sampling her enchiladas.

Her aura is in my home--a breathtaking oil painting of a Kodai scene, the doll she made for me (Annie) lying cherubically asleep in a little bed. I kept a few of her clothes, and when I miss her just way too much and want to feel close to her, I wear them. I did that with Mom too -- I have a nightie and bathrobe of hers, which comfort me when I wear them. I have a painting she did of a family scene -- father, mother and child -- in warm earth tones, all with peaceful and happy faces. I imagine that is how she hoped her life would be, though we know it wasn't always so.

I loved what she did with her special children at work. That work suited her so well, though the physical demands often were almost too much. Those children were so fortunate to have her.

I regret deeply that she never got to enjoy retirement up in northern California, where I believe she had some property and enjoyed fantasizing about what type of cabin home she would build there. It always feels as though she were cheated out of many things in life she richly deserved.

Probably the most special thing I can talk about is being with her during her last 10 days of life. I was so honored that she asked me to come be with her as her private "nurse" companion. Even though she became unresponsive soon after I got there, I never felt closer to her than during those last days and nights. In some way I felt able to give back a little for all the riches she gave me. Being able to hold her and talk to her as she drew her last breath is something I'll cherish always. When they came to take her body away, wrapped in her sheet, she seemed so very small and fragile my heart almost broke. Her funeral was so painful. After the service Phyl and I sat for a long time in the chapel looking at her, unwilling to leave her alone in an empty place. It helped a lot to know she was in a place beyond pain, loneliness, disappointment, sorrow.

I miss her dreadfully.

Grace's trailer home in Santa Ana

Some of the beautiful flowers she grew around her home

Grace's painting of Mt. Paramal


As the youngest child (by far) my older sisters were not always sure if I was sister or daughter. Gracie had kids that were closer in age to me than she was (2 years vs 19 years), so she treated me as one of the gang of kids - not with special "sister" treatment. So there was an occasion when I had not been the model child I usually was and she was upset and wanted to SPANK me. I thought that was highly outrageous as she was my sister - not my mom. So I called Mom in to be the arbitrator and decide if this was acceptable behavior on the part of a sibling. Mom, not being inclined toward spanking, put a stop to it all and I got off with a warning. Grace was not at all happy with my special treatment.

On the other hand, Gracie was the one who would be very enthusiastic about my accomplishments with school, quilts, art of any kind, etc. She knew how to appreciate the effort someone put into a project and found the right detail to praise. It always felt good to show a new quilt to Grace as she could make the appropriate "oohs and aaahs". I still miss that. Part of this came from her own good sense of style and color so she could find something good or give some advice based on her own knowledge.

Some of Grace's paperdolls, including an original one

More of her paperdolls
It's amazing that Grace kept these in such good condition all those years

Grace's Reedley Funeral Service
Written by Phyllis Martens:

Dear family,

It was raining today during the committal services at the cemetery so that two of those canvas canopies were set up. Quite a few people were there, perhaps fifty, including Harry and Alma Beier, Marvin and Darlene Harms, Celeste, Waldo and Rachel, a lot of Grace's special friends from back in high school. Linda and Sandra and David and Irene with two of their children. Dahong came too. The casket was open beforehand, with the flowers sent along from Santa Ana looking a bit bedraggled, but it didn't matter since it was raining all around anyway. Elmer had a short message from Psalm 16, the one Grace marked with the date when she found out about the return of the tumor. It has some powerful statements--you may want to read it. David sang. I want you to know how lovely Gracie looked. They had softened the makeup and in the natural light she looked queenly, beautiful. She wore a summer colored dress with peach-colored flowers over blue. The roses mother sent and the sisters gave were in with her. When we left I looked back and saw the closed casket with a crown of flowers resting there.

Lillian Pauls and Georgia Lindscheid were in charge of the lunch, very nicely done--quite a few people came. Uncle Waldo (in a wheelchair because he broke his foot a few days ago; Elmer insisted he come anyway and arranged for the wheelchair) talked about Mary and Martha, said he was impressed by the assertiveness of Martha as well as Mary's listening to the words of Jesus. He didn't say which Grace was but said we needed both. David sang very well the same song as at Costa Mesa. A young woman also sang, a marvelous voice, a new soaring arrangement of "It is well with my soul." Then many persons came to the open mike to give tribute to Grace, most sincerely--she had more really good friends than anyone I've ever met. I read Fran's poem at both funerals and want to make a special copy of it to send you all.

So the services were appropriate to Grace--her love of flowers, her interest in people. At both places there was a display of photos of Grace from small on, even her birth announcement, done by Irene. Her pictures were on display in Reedley and one of her dolls. But I am here at home now and I don't want her to be there in the cemetery at all! I want her to call or write or work on her projects. I'm not ready for her to be gone.

Dolls that Gracie made:

Jo with Jennie

Kristin with the doll Grace made to look like her

Margy's sleeping doll

Betty's doll

Grace's Touch
By Fran Martens Friesen

We saw her yesterday, ages ago.
She, drifting to the final free-fall.
White hair on the pillow
like the stretch of evening clouds
across the sky.
Pain through closed eyelids.
Parched, blistered lips struggling
to talk.

Her words to me, caring and soft,
reflect the graciousness of her life.
"Take good care of your sons--
your beautiful family."
My newborn she holds
awkwardly across her knees.
She searches his face,
gathering for a cry.
Does she find hope there?

Her words cause me to see
beyond the pinched face and frail fingers,
beyond despair to a strong gentleness,
to warm hands that are held out to family,
even through the blowing of bitter winds--
hands that tenderly create delicate,
smiling doll-children--
hands that clasp needy, special students' hands
in the work of daily life--
hands that reach, always,
for God.

Rest, Grace, and know.
There is beauty here
in your faded features.
There is strength in your frailty.
There is breath, warmth, hope,
The touch of life.

Gracie, we miss you