Back to Stories


The Reedley Gang


As I look back at growing up in Reedley, I feel very positive about those years. Windsor School was particularly fun for me because I had a good balance of athletics and scholastics.

Windsor had one teacher for two grades. I know I had a Ms.Donner and Mr. Krause. I do not recall any others. I grew up physically very early and was the tallest and heaviest kid in class, bigger than even the boys. I excelled at sports and was on the school volleyball, basketball, softball, baseball and even football team (girls were substitutes in football and hardball games).

The only boy who was not a shrimp in my estimation was Leroy. Leroy also enjoyed sports and was a good football player. I often went over to his house after school not only to see Leroy but because there was sure to be a pick-up game of kickball or softball. I recall the trill of holding hands on the bus going to and from school or to athletic events. I wore his sweatshirt and did all those delightfully crazy things one does as a child.

Betty (middle, back row) and Paul (right, front row)

I excelled at school with the exception of one course - sewing. I flunked sewing, which embarassed Mom. We were supposed to have our samplers and aprons on display at Open House one semester. Mom went early and I saw her hide my sampler under my academic work as she did not want others to see it. When I told her this in the last years of her life, she said she did it for me, to save face. I recall the day I missed my first spelling word. I cried while classmates cheered. I thought I would recall the word but it has faded from memory.

I enjoyed being pianist for the county sings in which schools gathered and put on programs. I got to be on stage and this got me attention that fed my ego. It balanced the negstive comments on my weight.

Paul and I were good buddies and played basketball and other games together. I roomed with Gwen and Jo. They recall me as being bossy about cleaning the room and recall frightening stories I told them on the second coming of Christ. I was recalling the sermons by Rev. Hubert about the second coming and I too was afraid and wanted to find answers to it all. I recall going to Gypsy Smith's (well known evangelist) meetings and getting emotionally bound up with feeling like I was a sinner; Dad told me something that has stuck with me - that one can confess sins to God in private and one need not go to the altar to do it. Naturally I ever after sought God in privacy.


I lived in Reedley while I was in 6th grade - but only for one semester. Mom and I moved to Reedley from Minneapolis - probably to be closer to Phyl and Grace and to escape the Govt housing unit we were in. We stayed at Gracie's for a month or so but then Mom found a job in Fresno, working as the secretary at one of the churches quite near the house we had lived in when dad was sick. So Mom went off to Fresno and I stayed in Reedley to finish the first semester of 6th grade - but Grace and Rick were busy enough with their kids so I moved in with Aunt Helen. We were quite a pair - me at 11 or so and she at 75 or 80. We did our exercises every night and had a reasonably good time together.

During that time my old flame from Fresno (I had lived there with Phyl for one summer), Roger Jost, and I went swimming at Dad's hospital swimming pool late one night. Somehow I felt I was betraying Dad by having a good time at a place where he had had so much misery. I was also quite melodramatic about it - something I continued for many years later.

The only other thing I remember about Reedley is sitting in the Mennonite church balcony with James Hiebert, throwing paper airplanes down onto the audience - while Uncle Waldo was preaching --- poor Aunt Rachel, she always did think I was a bad influence on her kids!


My first Reedley story is the time dad went to Reedley and forgot to pick up the old neighbors who had called and asked to go along. He remembered and came home, and wondered why he had come back. He remembered and picked them up. He came home late that afternoon and remembered he had forgotten to pick them up to bring them back, so he headed back to Reedley! One round trip turned into Four!!

Another is the time dad took Phyl, Grace and me to pick grapes the year we got there--1943, I believe. He showed us what to do and left. Phyl made an effort to pick grapes, but I discovered that if I put grapes on a long slim dry stick, I could bend it back and let it go and the grapes flew off like machine gun bullets and hit whoever I shot at. The short is that that afternoon I cut maybe a half-dozen trays [should have taken 15 minutes] and I chased Grace around the field. Dad didn't show any disgust, but I am sure he was discouraged. Later we all made up by picking grapes and turning trays all summer. After turning trays for a couple hours we could never stand up straight for an hour or so. Phyl and I turned a lot together, as I remember.

A third story is that I had to do the outside gardening and lawn care, but you girls decided I had to do my share with dishes so you didn't let me off. Betty and I snuck off through the window to the grape fields (hey, so that's who Gwen and I learned that from! -Jo), but Phyl then began telling stories and locking out all those who didn't help. We came back and beat on the door, but she wouldn't let us in. After that she did get our grudging cooperation, but only to hear her stories.


Reedley....I have no distinct memories, just stories people have told me about the place and about me AT that place. Which include:

Dad building a large outdoor playpen/fenced in area for me, since I wouldn't tolerate a small playpen, but not wanting to be "fenced in" in any way, I would hang out by the gate and wail to get out.

Also about being bitten by a cat, and Dad crying because they didn't find the cat and couldn't know if I would contract rabies.

I do remember fresh zweibach, and how we would scoop the warm middle part out with our fingers and eat it, leaving a satisfying crater to fill with butter and homemade jam.

I remember visiting some people in town, and wandering on my own down the street, then not remembering which house was the one to return to, and panicking. My first "I am lost!" experience.


There were two very happy periods in my life. First when we lived in Reedley and second when I was an elementary principal. In Reedley I had my dream of coming home everyday to mom, not to a cold, unliving dorm. (As an elementary principal the children came to school and I was there everyday to greet and love them.) Although mom remembered the Reedley years as a time of desperate poverty and struggle to maintain an image of more than third-class citizens in a world where others had, by comparison, such riches, for me it was a time when I felt so secure. When I came home, mom had been there all day (she couldn't drive and we lived in the country) and a time when the family was together - nobody was sent off.

I remember working in the grape fields--Joanne and I persuaded Dad to let us quit when we had picked 100 trays (A whole dollar's worth of work! We didn't get the money but we had the rest of the day to play). We also used the fields to escape from washing dishes. This was maneuvered by sneaking out to the fields when the dinner table conversation got heated. Phyl caught on and began her wonderful stories to entertain us while we dried the dishes.

I remember being the smartest kids at Windsor. We essentially ran the school through the Student Council. I learned to curb my vocabulary in order to fit in and not appear so smart. Then theJapanese kids came from the Concentration Camps and outplayed us at Jacks so we hated them. They were also smart.

I remember Marion Wiest who lived nearby. Joanne and I played for hours and hours with her and got into a bit trouble - drove her Dad's car (we were about 8 or 9 years old); failed to watch Marg because I ran off to play with Marion and a cat bit her and Dad ran all over the county looking for the cat so we could see if it was rabid; stole fruit from the orchard; examined the private parts of a young male cousin, and so on.

I also remember very vividly the day Dad came home and shattered my secure and happy world. He said, "God has called me to go back to India." I didn't like God much for a long time after that. Later I found out that Dad's history professors (he got his masters) had asked him to teach at the University (which was it? UCLA, USC?) and I have always wondered if he was running to India or was running from the awesome challenge of being a university professor. I guess I'll never know but I wonder what he thinks of my taking that step to become a professor (and a tenured one at that!)

Windsor Teachers: Mr. Herb Krause, Mr. Arnold Krause, and ? and ?


I remember Mother outside feeding the stray cats.

I remember Dad very upset when a cat bit Gwen and then escaped out of the car on the way to Reedley to determine if it had rabies...the only time I saw Dad cry. (The cat returned the next day and was okay.)

I remember learning to drive on the 5 miles between the farm and Reedley. Once, nervous about a car behind me, I nearly crashed into the vineyard. Only Dad's hasty grab at the wheel saved the car.

I remember you little punks escaping through your bedroom window into the vineyards when it was time to wash dishes---until we thought of telling stories.

I remember our home piano recital--Jo, Gwen, and Margy. When Marg didn't appear, I looked in the hall and saw her gravely pacing down as at a wedding.

And there was the time Paul finally got a chance at the bathroom to take a bath--he sat in the tub reading, finally realized something wasn't right, and saw he had forgotten to run water into the tub.

And lots more.


I absolutely loved our time in Reedley. I was still young enough to not be responsible for much of anything except myself (and sometimes for our pesky little sister Margy), but old enough to have a lot of freedom. Things I can remember:

Our Home:
-The swing that Dad made; it was long and had 4 ropes attached to it; two of us could go on it at the same time.
-All the little sheds out in back; we made a house in one of them. Paul made running water come out of a big barrel, which amazed me; we canned overripe vegetables in old jars (got a bit smelly at times) and put them up on the shelves. There was also a chicken house, where we had to go get eggs each day, and a big hoop without a net attached to the barn, where I'd play for hours.
-Our sandbox right next to the big tree where they butchered hogs; I was completely fascinated by this process, but it smelled by the sandbox for a long time after this.
-Our single bathroom. This was a real problem when we'd had watermelon and Rull Coka for supper. Paul had to wait a long time for his turn.
-Our dog Mickey; we once fed it curry that Grace had made; it was too hot since she'd used Tablespoons of curry powder instead of teaspoons. After he'd eaten the curry, Mickey ran around in circles trying to bite his tail....poor thing!
-Phyl would organize recitals and other programs. Once she had a great presentation: she kept changing the height of the books on the piano bench so as to make them just right to sit on; finally she tore off one sheet, then sat down satisfied and played. She also taught us to play mahjong with the game she'd made.
-Betty was great at playing piano and got to go hear some famous pianist---Rachmaninoff?
-I couldn't figure out why Mom always had to wash, cook, clean....I no longer wonder. She'd make bread and zwieback on Saturdays and we had to save some for Sunday. Margy and I would squish the middle of the zwieback into a ball, make a wish, and then eat it.
At Reedley church Mom would make her handkerchief into different things to keep us quiet when we were little; we would have to sit with Auntie Wiens if we weren't good. Dad often would impulsively invite someone over for lunch after church---used to worry Mom that she wouldn't have enough to serve.
-Dad would go to Fresno to preach on the radio on Sunday evenings; we would listen at home and be so proud to be JNC's kids.

Joanne in 4th Grade
(Joanne on left of teacher, Marion Wiest on right, Peggy - 4th from the right)

-Gwen and I loved to get "sick" because then we would go lie down in a room off the gym; up the ladder was the costume room, which we delightedly explored until we were caught and the teacher no longer believed us when we said we didn't feel good.
-I was in the same room as Gwen every other year; I liked that but she certainly didn't.
-On the playground we'd swing in circles on the iron rings and every now and then someone's head got smacked by one if a kid let go. I could hang by one leg on the trapeze; had trouble holding on to my dress at the same time.
-We had neat all-school programs. I played the part of the little girl in one of our Christmas plays; I thought I was gorgeous in my red wool skirt/top. I had a high fever that night but luckily Mom let me go anyway. I can still remember a couple of the songs, including: "When I was a boy with candy and toy, Christmas was a happy time; but now I am old the world seems more cold, Christmas la-la-la-de-dah (whatever)."
-My best friend was Marion Wiest; we'd go through the fruit orchards and across a field to get to her house. We'd cross our fingers behind our backs when we just HAD TO lie to our the time we went wading in the irrigation ditch against orders and Gwen cut her foot badly on a piece of glass.
-My 2nd best friend was Peggy, a Japanese girl. We didn't wonder why the bus dropped her off at a quonset hut enclosed by barbed wire and security guards at gate---just the way it was.
-Other kids we knew included Bobbie Albright, who was sick with a terminal illness; Red-haired Roxy Radcliffe, who caused all sorts of problems and would climb up on the garage roof so his grandma (who was raising him) couldn't get at him; also the Okie kids--I always thought it was strange that some of their mothers called the fathers "The Old Man."

It was a wonderful place to live. In later years, Dad's death and funeral put a shadow over my memories of Reedley.


Immanuel High School, Reedley, California

In February, 2000 I spent a few days driving around California siteseeing. Before my trip, mom had shown me on the map where Reedley was so I thought I'd take a drive through. When I got to Reedley, I called mom and she said I should look for Immanuel High School. (This is the high school Dad helped develop back in the 1940's. -Jo) I asked around and was told I was two blocks from the school. I found the school and took a couple of pictures of it which are attached. The school was in good shape and there was also an Immanuel Junior High next to it.

A few things struck me about the area. It was warm and green with orange trees everywhere (different than Illinois in February), almost the entire town was hispanic (mom said this was much different than when she lived there) and that the town was clean and well-kept. I did talk to one Japanese lady who had lived there for 60 years and she remembered the Hiebert name from years ago. It was neat getting to see the area where my mom had lived for awhile.

Immanuel High School grounds

Postscript from Paul regarding Immanuel High School:

The Reedley Mennonite Brethren Church had a two-year Bible institute meeting in Sunday School rooms--a small struggling affair. Dad was asked to be the principal and he agreed. He hired two other faculty--Mr. Hofer and a woman whose name slips me at the moment. They ran the school for the first year but persuaded the church to transform it into a fully-accredited high school. Dad achieved this, and was central in buying the new campus and putting up the first new buildings before he left. He is the real 'founder' of the academy. He was the visionary and the one who made it operational and got it accredited.

Dad was strong on education both in the U.S. and India, where he started several schools and got them accredited. He himself went to college to complete his B.A. at Willamet while on furlough in the U.S., and later completed his M.A. in South Asian History at U.S.C. Walbank wanted to hire him as a professor at U.S.C. but he decided to go back to India. He could have been one of the first South Asian Historians in the U.S.