The Age of Coronavirus

Written by Dale Buchanan

I recently attended my first meeting via Zoom. I mention this because until very recently I had never heard of Zoom and when I heard about it I dismissed it as something I would never do. I have been a lifelong avoider of meetings of any sort. I certainly was not going to ZOOM. But then along came our present pandemic and I found my self sitting ill at ease in front of a lap-top. 

It is certainly true that the only constant is change. I attended this meeting more than a little skeptical. I came away encouraged and hopeful. As the Food Pantry Group checked in it became obvious that it was a changed world and that new methods and new systems were going to be required as we serve food to the less fortunate in our community.

This post is designed to announce that  Free Food Friday is tentatively scheduled to happen on Saturday, August 22nd. Thus the first change.

Other changes are inevitable as we go forward. Hand in hand with the Saturday distribution is a recognition that the food pantry is a mission of the church and there is a need for volunteers.

More information will be available soon. In the meantime remember that Jesus said, “Feed my sheep,” and pray about donating an hour or so once a month.

Getting to Know Andrew Fennacy

By Dale Buchanan

Hello! My name is Andrew. I was born here in Fresno in 1990 which makes me 29 –almost 30—years old. Although you may not recognize me, I have a rather long history and connection to the Big Red Church. My Great-great-grandfather, Norman B. Henderson, was the pastor at FCCF from 1929-1941. My paternal grandparents were married at Big Red and my mother is an active member in the church today. With my credentials established, I will proceed with my story.

I am the child of separation and the product of blended families. While I could wish that I might have had more choices about things, all-in-all, I can’t complain. My folks separated when I was four years old, consequently my memories of family revolve around what is today called “the blended family.”  Both of my parents remarried and I found myself living weekdays with my mother, sister, and later her new husband and weekends with my dad’s new family. The dynamics of joint custody and blended family are, to say the least, different with two homes, four parents, and any number of children. In my case there were five children in my blended family—me and my sister Erin, a step-sister Aleisha, and step-brothers Nick and Ryan. 

Grandparents, parents, and siblings, along with multiple pets which include two large Maine Coon cats, several dogs, many fish, two lizards, and a snake comprise the cast of character around which my story must be told. Also necessary for an appreciation of this autobiography is an understanding that this complex cast of characters and family dwellings make the memories less than clear about when and where. My hope is that the mini-stories which follow will flow together and illustrate the positive aspects of life in a blended family.

At the Twain Avenue house with my father’s family, I was never lonely. We built forts in a vacant lot and rode our bikes to Baird Middle School and Fig Garden Village. Great adventures for a shy little boy!

When I was in middle school, mom was into celebrity culture, and we shared People magazine and celebrity stories. When I was about 13 and my sister Erin was 15, the three of us packed up for a vacation in Hollywood. Our goal was to find celebrity homes. Mother was the driver and since it was pre-cell phones with GPS, Erin had a big fold-out map and served as the navigator. I was in the backseat finding the whole process funny.

Because I lived with my dad on weekends, I went with his family to Northwest Church regularly until I was around 16 or 17 years old. Dad was and still is a guitar player in Northwest’s music program. During my high school years, I was active in Awana at Northwest. Awana is a ministry to give children ages 2 to 18 an opportunity to know, love, and serve Jesus. I worked with the third and fourth grade boys in Awana every Wednesday for four years. 

My work with Awanas was a rewarding experience for me and probably laid the ground work for my job in the City of Fresno’s after school programs for four years and for the work I have done the last three years for Fresno Unified School District at Ewing Elementary School as a nursery school paraprofessional.

While I did not grow up in the Big Red Church, I went with mom to Christmas eve services. It was mom who told me that Big Red was looking for nursery assistants. That led me to an interview with Patsy Finster and my current Sunday job and for a brief time serving as Youth and Volunteer Coordinator.

My grandparents have played a significant role in my life and my story. There are two sets of them and they all four have had a stabilizing influence on me. My maternal grandparents are Kirk and Janeen. We are very close and I see them once a week. Grandma is everything you could expect from a grandma—soft, loving, and caring. Grandpa is also loving and caring but tends to be stern, strict, and decisive. Grandma is a good cook. She calls Grandpa and me her guinea pigs because she tries out her new recipes on us. She loves people, parties, and family events. She is best known for her Super Bowl parties!  

My paternal grandparents are Jack and Brenda—the ones who were married at Big Red Church. Although they live close by now, I see them mostly on holidays. They are both loving and sweet. When I was a child, they owned a motel In Cayucos. It was fun to go there for a visit, stay in their motel, and spend time on the beach. Building sand castles and breaking waves was a child’s paradise.

Other childhood memories are: taking naps in the living room with other children in the lady’s house where I was in daycare and sitting on the carpet at home when I was in first grade watching Nicolodean cartoons and Seinfeld. I was raised on Seinfeld!  Star Wars came out when I was in the third grade and I became a Star Wars nerd collecting Star Wars toys and action figures. 

Now my passion is photography. Nature and architecture are my specialties. I like to take photos on the coast and recently took photos in Sacramento at the Court House Park. I enjoy the hunt for a photo. It is a perfect hobby for me because I am fine by myself. I’m still a shy kid at heart!

Getting to Know Russell Weaver

Written by Dale Buchanan

Born in Modesto, California, Russell grew up in Clovis where he lives today with his wife Ann and two daughters, Clara and Caroline. Let me be clear from the outset that Russell’s story is a love story. A summary of the notes that Gayle handed me to use in putting together this column would be just one word:  LOVE.

My first prompt to Russell as we sat in Gayle’s front room was, “Tell me about the women in your life.”  That was more or less the only prompt he needed. Ann, Clara, and Caroline are the heart and soul of this 36-year-old special education teacher and pole-vaulting coach’s story. 

Along the way, Russell inadvertently shared much about himself thus inspiring this sketch of our “From the Pews” person. “Ann grew up in Rocky Mountain, Virginia. I grew up in Clovis, California. There is no way our paths would ever cross. The odds of our meeting were nil and the chances of any kind of relationship were beyond astronomical. And yet, in the summer of 1998 the miracle beyond probability happened. I traveled to a National Youth Conference in Colorado sponsored by the Church of the Brethren. The conference attracted 4,000 youth from all over the United States. Now, I admit that when we both arrived on that college campus in Colorado the odds of our meeting increased significantly. She was 15 and a sophomore and I was 14 and a freshman. Still not very good odds. 😊 

While a group of us were exploring the campus, we met a group of Virginia girls. As we talked, I noticed this quiet girl. She was cute. Actually, she was very cute. I had beat the odds—a boy from California had met a girl from Virginia. We ran into each other the next day. She remembered my name, but I had forgotten hers. She told me her name and we walked in the rain. Magic happened. We were together every free moment the rest of the week, and I was devastated when she went home to Virginia. I wrote a letter that almost beat her home. ‘Peach, I love you!’  That settled it. She was my girl and I was her guy. 

Next began my effort to get her to California for a visit. Of course, no self-respecting Southern woman was going to send her daughter all the way to California on the assurances of a 14-year-old boy. Then another miracle—her mother knew a Brethren family in Modesto who knew my family. The deal was sealed. On the day after Christmas 1998, I met Ann at the airport. I said then and I still say, ‘Wow, this is great.’  Those wonderful ten days were like a fairy tale come true. Hand-in-hand we went to Kings Canyon, Shaver Lake, Disneyland, Morro Bay, and San Francisco (with my parents as chaperones, of course!)

I could not wait until summer vacation and a cross-country flight to see Ann again and meet her family. On that late-night drive from the airport, I was awestruck at my first sight of fireflies. Things just kept getting better. My first sight of the huge, beautiful farm house she called home left me speechless. Her mom and grandma made me feel at home and the extended family embraced me with hugs. Ann took me everywhere. The honesty and genuineness that I saw in Ann on that visit continues to impress me. 

I went home more in love than ever and sure that it would never change. However, I got that inevitable call that she was going off to college and we broke up. We always kept in touch, and it seemed the tie was never broken. 

Again, fate intervened at the National Youth Conference that I went to in my freshman year in college. Ann wasn’t there, but I overheard some girls talking about Virginia and one of them just happened to be Ann’s best friend. All those feelings came back. I called Ann from a pay phone and left a message. A full year later she called, ‘I’m graduating from college early and coming to California with a couple friends for Spring break.’  I drove my 1995 white jeep ranger with no top to San Diego and found her on the beach. When I saw her, I knew where my head and heart were, and we fell in love again. Together again, we drove to Morro Bay to meet my folks on what I consider the best 6-hour drive of my life. Too soon she had to fly home. We drove to San Francisco. At the boarding gate we kissed and embraced. She whispered, ‘I love you,’ and I said, ‘I love you too.’

The story of my proposal to Ann on her grandma’s front porch and our wedding is best told by Peach. We had challenges as a young married couple, but Ann’s love saw us through every difficulty we faced. While training as a pole vaulter for the 2008 Bejing Olympics, I had to drop out because of a serious injury. What next?  My dream job to be a park ranger was realized when I was offered a part-time job in Kings Canyon. My four-year career in the National Park Service was glorious, but it was only part time and we were expecting a baby. What next? While coaching pole-vaulting and working as a teacher’s aide, I got a Master’s degree in special education and am now in my fifth year of teaching at Clovis North High School. 

Clara and Caroline are the other two loves of my life!  Clara is 6 years old and Caroline is 4. Clara was born in Kings Canyon when I was park ranger there. I didn’t think I could love a second child as much, but then Caroline showed up two years later, I found I could. They are everything to me!  I am an adventurer and my two girls are my adventure buddies. I take them everywhere! They were born with my adventure gene and thankfully with their mother’s good looks and brains. The truth is that like their mother, they have me wrapped around their little fingers!

Getting to Know Candice Blair

By Dale Buchanan

It is my pleasure to introduce you to our newly appointed Chair of the Ministry of Christian Education. Candice has been a member of Big Red for about five years and if you haven’t met her you are missing out. This woman is a dynamo, which is to say that she is a forceful, energetic person. I am here to tell you that this definition fits Candice to a “T.”

After several tries, I got this dynamic woman to sit for an interview. I half expected her to be in such a hurry that we would not get many answers, however, this was not to be the case. She leaned back in her chair and gave us a marvelous glance into the essence of who she is and left this scribe convinced that the Nominating Committee had found a winner. Indeed, when Candice rushed off to her next appointment, I was breathless with the passion with which she approaches every aspect of her life.

I asked where she was born and she responded with a concise verbal autobiographical sketch that provided a perfect introduction to this “From the Pews” post.

“I was born in Ventura, California, and lived in Santa Paula, a Ventura suburb. When I was four years old and my sister was two, our mother gave custody of us to our step-father who raised us as a single parent. He did his best. He combed our hair although it didn’t look like it and if K-Mart did not have it, we did not get it. Dad made up for those shortcomings with love. His family became our family. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins made up for our ragamuffin appearance.

We moved to Visalia when dad got a teaching job at the College of Sequoia. I attended middle school, high school, and College of Sequoia during those growing up years. Shortly after graduation from Sequoia, dad was killed in a motorcycle accident. This loving man continued to look after his two little ragamuffin daughters even after death. He left trusts for my sister and me. With my trust money and a job at Save-Mart, I moved to Fresno, enrolled at Fresno State, rented a room in the Tower district, bought a car, paid my own way for everything, and had money to finance my wedding. Along the way I graduated from Fresno State with a major in sociology and a minor in non-profit management leadership.”

The first time I talked to Candice was in the Fellowship Hall at Big Red. We were chatting about an interview and she remarked that she was passionate about hot air balloons. I stored that comment away for future use. Looking back at Gayle’s notes from the interview, that first conversation stands out loud and clear. First and foremost, it is obvious that Candice is passionate in every pursuit she undertakes. Secondly, the interview notes reveal her four great passions.

When we finally got together, my first question was about that first great passion, “How did you get interested in Hot Air Balloons?”  Her answer floored me, “It is true that I am a balloon enthusiast, but I have a fear of heights and flying. I go to the Clovis Balloon Fest and love watching the balloons go up. They are beautiful as they soar across the sky, however, I would have to get drunk to get in one.”  Temporarily at a loss for words, Candice quickly rescued me by offering that while she doesn’t fly in balloons, she does sky dive. “Are you telling me that you jump out of airplanes?” “Well, yes, there is nothing more exciting than a parachute leap from an airplane. Isaac and I even planned our engagement party around skydiving.

The next great passion revealed in our notes is her passion for Girl Scouts which really impressed me. Candice was never a Girl Scout but Girl Scouts is her passion. She says she was so involved in other leadership activities in school that she didn’t have time to be a Girl Scout. And like hot air balloons and parachutes, she sees no inconsistency here. 😊 A glance at her employment history, however, suggests that a career in Girl Scouts is perfect for her. She has worked for the Girl Scouts of Central California for almost seven years and is now Manager of the Girl Scouts Experience Department that serves 11,000 to 15,000 girls from Kern County in the south to Madera County in the north and east to Ridge Crest. The goal is to provide high quality experience for the girls. The focus of these experiences is: (1) STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math; (2) Entrepreneurship; (3) Life Skills; and (4) Functional in the outdoors.

Hidden between the lines of our notes are two names:  Isaac and Henry. Isaac is her husband and Henry her son. Together they are another of her great passions. Together they are family. Together they are love. Sweethearts since junior college, Isaac and Candice surely love each other as evidenced by the fact that they leap from airplanes together. Henry is five years old. His hair will not stay combed, and he is the precocious child who delights us all with his “awesome” responses during Children’s Time. When Candice speaks about Isaac and Henry, there is a passionate softness not evident when she speaks about sky diving and Girl Scouts.

As our time wound down, I prompted Candice to talk about her new volunteer position as Coordinator of Christian Education. Her passion flared immediately. “God put this in my lap for a reason. Everything up to this point has prepared me for this position. My goal is to create structures that will be in place when my term is complete so others can pick up and run with it.

Greetings from the Pews

Written by Dale Buchanan

One of my favorite parts of Sunday morning worship at Big Red is the time set aside to greet one another with a handshake, or a hug, or the traditional “the peace of Christ be with you” greeting and the response, “and also with you.”  I did not realize how much this little greeting ritual meant to me until the concern for infecting each other with the flu prompted its discontinuation last winter. I was delighted when the greeting practice was reinstated.

The stated purpose of this column is to focus on getting to know individual members of the congregation better.  “The peace of Christ be with you” greeting gives us an opportunity to speak to those who sit on the wrong side (I mean the other side) of the aisle, as well as those in the pews directly in front of us and right behind us.  The front and back greeting requires very little effort and is more-or-less the way I have always practiced this part of my Sunday morning ritual.

Recently, after speaking to those in front of me and in back, I casually looked around and observed the greeting ritual in full swing.  It is true than many, like me, were still in their pews. But amazingly many of the congregation had stepped out of the pews and with happy smiles on their faces were busily greeting one another up and down the length of the sanctuary.  

This greeting time is limited and some seem reluctant to get too far from their seats, but I have observed that the folks that have to hurry back to hear the sermon appear to be blessed from their interaction—brief as it may be—with fellow worshipers.  There is a relaxed atmosphere that is almost tangible. There are smiles passed as the late-comers step on the toes of those who stay put because it is all right.  

I have watched this greeting time very carefully for several weeks now and must conclude that no other part of our worship time evokes quite the same response from the pews.  The only other time we collectively step from the pews is when we go forward for Communion where we rightly adopt a serious and solemn demeanor.  

It seems to me that those who take advantage of the opportunity to step out of their pews, extend their hands, and greet one another are on to something.  

I came here four years ago hurt and angry and determined to sit in my pew and be still.  I have resisted those smiles and warm greetings far too long. I am resolved to step out of my pew and share “the peace of Christ” with you.  Please forgive me if I get back to my pew late.  

The contagion passed among those Sunday morning greeters is indeed worth catching. 


P.S.  I composed this before the current flu epidemic.  Caution demands the suspension of this delightful practice for the present time, but you can bet that I will be first in line when it is once again safe to offer “the peace of Christ be with you” greeting. 

Getting to Know Steve Hay

Written by Dale Buchanan

Our “From the Pews” person this week is Steve Hay. Steve and his wife Sue have been members of Big Red for just about two years, which in and of itself makes them unusual. I guess if there is a commonality among our church family, it is our diversity. Time after time I am approached by a long-time member who says, “Dale, I have known_____for twenty years and had no idea______.”   If I have learned anything writing this column, I have learned that we are more different than the same, and that we glory in our diversity. One casual glance at the gathered worshipers on any Sunday morning proves the veracity of the claim that we are open and affirming of everyone.

I have spent the morning studying Gayle’s notes and hardly know where to begin. They are so rich and diverse. It is obvious that my task is not so much to compose but to edit, not to create but to choose from the wealth of material that Steve provided.

Let’s begin with a brief etymology. The surname De La Hay was introduced in England after the Norman conquest of 1066 A.D. The name comes from an old French word meaning an enclosed forest. The name was reintroduced into England and Scotland by French Huguenot’s—Calvinist Protestants—fleeing religious persecution. In 1760 four of the De La Hay brothers arrived in Virginia and became the Hay family.

In 1820 one of those four Hay brothers moved to Kentucky and put down roots. Coming from those roots, Steve was destined to keep alive the Hay tradition of migration. He was born in Dayton, Ohio, where his dad was in the Civil Service. Dayton was a short stop, and Steve has only vague memories of that first house in Ohio that had a vacant long next door infested with green snakes. It was here that he had his first entrepreneurial adventure selling toys from the front porch.

At around age four, it was off to Germany and dad’s latest Civil Service posting. For Steve, it was a German kindergarten where he remembers marching around the school and being forced to take unwanted naps. Steve lived on the military base with his parents, older sister Julie, and middle brother Mike for three years. Their German housekeeper called Steve “the little monkey” because he would jump off the top bunk bed onto her back!  During those three years, Steve and family toured all over Europe in a Rambler station wagon. He remembers visiting castles where he and his brother chased lizards and choking on salt water while wading in the Mediterranean.

Your biographer has reached the critical stage in his abridged biography wondering where to go from here. It might be romantic to leave him wading in the Mediterranean, but Gayle will say, “You can’t leave him in the ocean!”  So, I will bite the bullet and go forward.

We next find Steve and his family in Fairfax, Virginia. In those next years he remembers preferring to explore the woods and Civil War sites than go to school. His parents divorced when he was in the eighth grade and while he was in high school, his brother Mike tragically committed suicide.

Steve’s coming of age consisted of college at East Texas University where he was in the ROTC and earned a degree in business, even though he was more interested in history and science. Then it was off to navigation school at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento before being stationed in San Bernardino flying C141 cargo planes for his five years in the U.S. Air Force. Finally, it was back to Sacramento and a Master of Arts degree at Sacramento State where his last class—geographic information systems—was “terrific” and led to a twenty-year career working for an engineering company in Modesto mapping for cities and school districts, for pollution and environmental concerns, and for accident sites.

Steve met Sue on a Sierra Club hike on Angel Island. He proposed in October and they married February 14th twenty-seven years ago. They have been blessed with a son Ian who works in a microbiology lab and lives in Berkeley and a daughter Laura who is majoring in drama at U.C. Berkeley.

Steve is a confessed entrepreneur at heart beginning with selling those toys off the front porch when he was about three or four years old. Just out of the U.S. Air Force, he designed and marketed information videos. Later he wrote and sold job profiles to help high schools students identify prospective careers. He sold 600 of these programs but let it go because he did not want to commercialize it.

After his mapping career, Steve had a lot of experience substitute teaching and earned a teaching credential along the way. Today Steve teaches at a local charter school and one day a week teaches a science class in Hanford. Ask him about his recent class in frog dissection!

One of the last things we talked about was Steve’s website: Steve is a writer and a poet. Recently he had a 4-bypass heart surgery and to express his gratitude he wrote on his website:

“For My Friends at Cardio Rehab:  Let the spirit move you, and have its way to polish you, set you and shine light into you that you send back into the world as a color that is oh so brilliant.”  Shay

This is just the last couple of lines from Steve’s missive for friends. I cannot imagine any words that might express the essence of this week’s pew person clearer than these.

I encourage you to check out Steve’s website and consider his dreams.

Getting to Know Sue Karibian

Written by Dale Buchanan

“Hi there Grapeleaf readers. I have been invited to share this short autobiographical sketch with you as part of Big Red’s ‘From the Pews’ column. Right now I am sitting in Gayle’s living room. Dale is relaxing in a recliner and Gayle and I are in rocking chairs pulled into a cozy circle. We have spent a few minutes in congenial chit-chat, and now Dale is looking at his little red notebook that he explains are full of prompts. Gayle has her notebook open and both of them are smiling and waiting expectantly for me to tell my story. 

My maiden name is Martin. My parents and grandparents were dairy farmers in Modoc County, the northern most county in California. The nearest town was Lakeview just across the Oregon border, so  my brothers and I were born in Oregon even though we lived in California. I spent my first five years on that dairy. Although I didn’t milk cows are my young age, I have a vivid memory of how cold it was at 4:30 a.m. on a winter morning in Modoc County. Most of my memories are faint and dreamlike. I remember riding with dad along a levee on a horse named Buz. The horse was big, Dad was big, and I was little. I was scared, but sitting safely astraddle that big horse wrapped in Dad’s arms. What more could a little girl ask for?

There were two houses on that property. My grandparents lived in the big house and we lived in the small one. Grandma Martin had very nice things and everything was in order and immaculate. She ironed everything. I think she even ironed the towels!

At age five we moved down to Redding where dad worked in a gravel plant. We only lived there about a year. I don’t remember much about our circumstances, but I remember wonderful times with cousins. My dad’s sister lived in Redding and we spent a lot of time there with her. My brother Denny was only eighteen months my senior and my brother we called Scooter was three years younger. My aunty had three children about our ages, so that made six of us under that age of ten. Chaos reigned and someone was always in trouble. In fact, it was rare when just one of us was in trouble. Dad was the designated spanker. We children were spanked and no one thought to question if this was right or wrong. Once a girl cousin and I had misbehaved and knew a spanking was coming. We thought if we sat on the potty and looked pitiful it would deliver us from the deserved punishment. Not so!  Another time when we were all in trouble, we ran upstairs and began to cry when we heard dad coming thinking he wouldn’t spank us if we were already crying. That did not work either.:) That year in Redding I learned the joy of cousins!

Next came Reedley and another year on a dairy. We children loved it because there were little calves everywhere who licked our fingers. But mother hated it because we lived in a tiny worker’s house and there were cows and calves everywhere along with flies and nasty smells!

When I was eight, we moved to Selma and that is where I grew up. Dad’ name was Russell and Mom’s name was Lillian. We kids sometimes called them Russ and Lil, which some folks thought was irreverent, but we knew when not to call them by their names. 

Dad was a handyman and could always make things work even though he was not the finest craftsman. We used to say when describing one of his projects that he ‘Russed it.’

When Mom and Dad married, Dad had to agree to raise us Catholic, so we were sent off to church and dad stayed home and watched football. Mom always fixed a roast on Sundays, so the smell of a roast and the sound of football still makes me nostalgic for those perfect Sundays.

Looking back, I see that my parents were from different worlds. Mom was quiet, sweet, a refined Southern woman. Dad was a fix-it guy and a farm foreman who worked hard and expected us to do the same. Before I was nine years old I was cleaning house for seventy-seven- year old Cousin Lilly who lived down the road from us and by the time I was fourteen I was packing peaches in the packing shed across the street from us. Everything I do even now I do fast because packing peaches was piece work.

The first time I saw Mike he was a tall, curly haired Armenian with a huge afro. I found that attractive and we have been dating ever since. That was 1973. We were married in 1976. Abby was born in 1980 and James in 1983. Even though I loved the thirty-seven years working at St. Agnes as a pharmacy tech and then in supply chain and purchasing, Mike and my children are the high points in my life. Everything else revolves around those three life-changing, life-shaping individuals.

Mom divorced Dad five years before she committed suicide at age sixty-five. Dealing with mental health problems that led Mother to that desperate place was the most difficult struggle in my life, but today I am able to empathize with others and talk about death because I have been there.

I came to Big Red because I discovered my children did not know the Lord’s Prayer. I stay because no one beats me over the head with dogma to make you believe something you don’t believe. I stay at Big Red because no one says I have to go every Sunday.:)

Getting to Know Donna van Wyhe

Written by Dale Buchanan

I hardly know where to begin with Donna. I guess I should begin with the beginning, but that presents a problem. Our purpose is to tell Donna’s story. Starting at the beginning seems simple enough. However, nailing down her story was not so simple. 

So, let’s begin with her personality. When we rang the doorbell and were greeted by this gregarious, sociable, extroverted woman. She ushered us into her dining room for tea time which happens every day at their house around 3 p.m. I only had a nodding acquaintance with Donna. However, from the moment we stepped through her front door, and she graciously served us tea and mini mince pies, a clear picture of Donna began to appear—a woman who designed her own kitchen remodel, spent hours doing counted cross-stitch, and loves to read.

“Born in Calwa, I lived in the same house until I married Dick. The name Calwa comes from California Wine Association. Our house was next door to my grandparent’s home where my dad grew up. To say the least, I have deep roots in Calwa.

My mother was born in Stockton of Volga German immigrants and came to Fresno to work as an au pair. She and dad met through friends and were married in 1935. When I think of mother, I see a clean house and her scrubbing floors and polishing furniture. Every afternoon she “freshened up” just before dad came home from work, and dinner was on the table soon after he got home.

I was an only child until I was six and a half years old. I was daddy’s girl and often took his lunch to him. I was allowed to go into the empty houses he was painting and think about the possibilities of that house. Dad was a Boy Scout and loved camping and fishing which in turn played an important part in my childhood. 

My earliest memories of church attendance are going to Sunday School in the basement of First Congregational Church on Divisadero and M Streets. There was an alley connecting our church to Temple Beth Israel. The Rabbi and our minister exchanged pulpits once a year and we children played baseball with each other in the alley not knowing we were of different faiths. A commitment to interfaith cooperation began way back then.

When I was ten years old, construction of Big Red Church was complete and the congregation joyfully moved into the current location on Van Ness Avenue. I was in the Children’s Choir which was 30 or 40 strong. We rehearsed every week and sang on special occasions. Dad was the Scout Master at the church for 24 years. While serving as Scout Master, my dad came home furious after an awards banquet because the benediction had been offered in the name of Jesus Christ. He felt that was a slap in the face for his Jewish scouts.

I met Dick as a senior at Roosevelt High School and he a sophomore at Fresno State. I saw his photo at a girlfriend’s house and fell in love with his eyes. While dragging the Main, we “happened” to see him and my girlfriend introduced us. On our first date he picked me up in his green ’46 Chevie, took me to a movie, and we dragged the Main. Dick and I have been married sixty-two years. 

Dick began his career with PG&E, and his climb up the corporate ladder found us located in nine cities and fifteen different homes over the years. Each house we bought was an investment opportunity and sold for a profit when a promotion sent us to the next city. When I got discouraged, Dick would say we were beautifying California one house at a time. Along the way we acquired four sons, nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. I never had a brother, so I didn’t know about boys and the games they played. I learned to arm wrestle and could compete for a while. As a child I could roller skate in the street faster than the neighborhood boys and in high school my passion was ice skating and these were things I could do with my boys. Dick and I always had a boat so it was water skiing in the summer and snow skiing in the winter. We have sold our boat, but each of the boys seem to consider a boat as a necessity for family life.

Eventually Dick retired and we moved back home to Fresno. I am often asked how I dealt with constantly moving from place to place. It is true that there was a line of moving vans in our driveway. I was always learning a new phone number and taking my boys to a new school. As a newcomer, I became a joiner. The first thing I did in a new town was join the PTA, the DAR, and various women’s clubs. As a result, I grew and learned and was enriched by all the people I met along the way.

Traveling has been an exciting part of my life with twenty-five trips to England seeing such highlights as the British Natural History Museum, a private tour of Darwin’s lodging, and the old British Library with a domed roof. And then there was the visit to the Singapore Animal Reserves where we saw all kinds of jungle critters. All in all, our travels up and down the state of California and to three continents have been rewarding experiences.

Dick and I were married at Big Red Church and our sons were christened there. I guess my faith might be described as radical. It is not based on Christian mythology or ideology. I believe in a basic goodness. I practice to the best of my ability Christian teachings and my goal is to always be tolerant of others.” 

Getting to Know Helen Jane McKee

By Dale Buchanan

Good afternoon. My name is Helen Jane. It is Thursday, January 16, 2020. It is a stormy, rainy afternoon in Fresno, California. I am in my favorite Denny’s with Gayle and Dale. We are in a quiet cozy corner and ready to interview. I have a breakfast and they have pie and ice cream. Small talk is over, Gayle is poised to make notes, and Dale is ready to ask his first question. He wants to concentrate on my story with emphasis on my early years, my adult years, and my years as a senior citizen.

My parents were afflicted with “wander lust.” I was born in Alton, Illinois in 1941 and by age ten I had traveled around the country from coast to coast and border to border at least twice. Needless to say, until the seventh grade when my parents divorced, I had never completed a year in the school I started.

As I recall, I was enrolled for first grade in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. At Christmas we moved to Fresno where I finished the first grade. Fall found us in Eureka and me enrolled in second grade. Again about half way through the term we came back to Fresno, and I finished second grade at Jane Adams Elementary School. Third grade found me back at Jane Adams, but not for long. We moved across town, and it was Heaton Grammar School for the fourth grade. Things were looking good, and I started fifth grade at Heaton. That was short lived, and we moved to Merced where I finished the fifth grade. From there it was back to Fresno and sixth grade and I completed elementary school at Heaton. At this point in time the folks divorced and my life became more or less stable. After that it was Hamilton Junior High and Fresno High School.

When I was in eighth grade, Fresno Unified began an experiment with teaching algebra to eighth graders. I was among the hundred chosen. By our senior year, only twelve were left and I was the only girl.

This seems like a natural place to transition to those adult years. Along the way, I won a scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley. I moved for the first time since seventh grade and proceeded to flunk out, but that year at the university was not a loss. Wandering in the Music Hall after not making it into the university orchestra, I stumbled onto auditions for a choir and much to my surprise I was selected to be a part of this forty-member choir with only one other freshman in the class. I found my passion—music. I returned to Fresno City and then Fresno State to earn a Bachelor’s degree in music, a teaching credential and a master’s degree.

My first teaching position was at Washington Junior High School in Sanger. I had flunked English two or three times but agreed to teach it in order to get to teach general music and choir. I retired from that same school after twenty-eight years. After six years my general music and choir classes went away when an administrator hired a young man fresh out of college and left me with just English. When I dared to complain, the response was, ‘If you don’t like it, do something useful—get married.’ I watched my mom marry three times and that did not seem like an option to me.
With the door closed to my music classes, I took my love of singing to Renaissance Fairs as part of an a cappella group performing English country songs. We were known as the Jolly Tradesmen and traveled from fair to fair for twenty-five years. Retired now, five or six of us meet once a month for dinner and call ourselves The Trenchmen.:) Along the way I was also singing in and directing choirs in churches. Those two things rescued me from bitterness and satisfied my passion for singing.

My school was a hotbed of gang activity in Sanger and those children became my kids and marvelous relationships were formed. My two takeaways from twenty-eight years in the classroom are: 1. When a teacher you become, by a student you will be taught. 2. I am not here to teach you, I am here to help you learn. If along the way I saw one of my kids learn to think on her own and question me, I felt I had succeeded. I teach English, but I am not an English teacher was my motto and it served me well. Looking back at my adult years, it is obvious that I have seen and heard a lot. These experiences have left me determined to live in the moment—not in the past or the future.

I am a senior citizen and still love to sing—not solos, I’m a workhorse singer. I have been privileged to direct and sing in a host of churches with Christians of many different stripes. I believe we are called to make a joyful noise unto the Lord and the Lord does not care from which building it comes.
I am a senior citizen. I go to bed when I am sleepy and get up when I wake up.

I am a senior citizen. I read an average of two books a week—one fiction and the other non-fiction. If I don’t like the book I am reading, I stop reading it. I collect the books I read and have them on shelves lining every wall in my house.

I am a senior citizen. I like the Denny’s on the corner of Blackstone and Shields. I like to go there after Jeopardy at 7:30 p.m. I know all the evening staff and they know me and automatically bring me a pitcher of ice tea.

I am a senior citizen. I have had Siamese cats for fifty years. The present one is my Jewish mother.

Getting to Know Ken Schoelen

Written by Dale Buchanan

It is my pleasure to introduce Ken as this week’s “Pew Person.”  He has been an active member of Big Red Church for decades. If you do not know this fellow, you are missing an experience. Yesterday afternoon, with the holidays over, Gayle and I knocked on Ken and his wife Carol’s front door. There we came face-to-face with the epitome of Big Red diversity.

I consider myself a storyteller, but this guy is a master at storytelling which the following anecdotes illustrate. I suggested that we wanted Ken to tell us his story for the Grapevine. Carol responded, “That’s okay, Dale, but you will have to google it to see if he is telling the truth.”  And later in Gayle’s notes she captured Ken saying this: “We were at a party and I was well into the details of my story when my daughter Kim strolled by and without breaking her stride or cracking a smile said, ‘Don’t believe a word he says!’ 😊 Ten minutes later, I was putting the finishing touches on my tall tale and here comes Kim again. This time she stops and with hands on hips exclaims, ‘Did you folks not pay attention to a word I said?’  Needless to say, I was done for the night!” 

Because Ken is a master storyteller, I only gave him four prompts:  Santa Claus, Camp Tamarack, the fall, and love. From his responses to these prompts, Gayle produced 19 pages of notes. Obviously, the following is a severely condensed account of Ken’s story.

SANTA CLAUS:  “When our daughter Amanda was in kindergarten at Roosevelt Elementary School, her teacher asked me if I would be the school’s Santa. I agreed and $75 bought me the biggest Santa suit available. It was too small, hot, and furry. The third year Carol made me one to fit, and her love has since stitched up five more Santa suits. 

With my own suit, the calls mushroomed and private parties and nonprofits multiplied. I am Santa Kenny at Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Valley Children’s Hospital, and the Muscular Dystrophy Support Group. The Leukemia Lymphoma Society auctions me off for three visits each year. My sled makes personal visits to Parlier, Hanford, and Turlock. In Hanford I have been seeing a little girl named Izzy since she was three. To her, I am the Santa of the world. This year I was inspired by a 3½ year old boy who gifted me with the news he would not have to have a bone marrow transplant. And there is the family I have been seeing for twenty years. The children are grown but still want Santa at their family gathering. 

I have found children who are challenged mentally and physically to be the most appreciative of my visits. They ask Santa for simple things like a book or a doll—nothing expensive—just a bit of love to help them through the day. Santa goes home blessed after being with such children. And then there are what I call the ‘six-pack’ children. One whispers, ‘I need a gun to kill my brother.’  Another sobs, ‘My mama has cancer, make her well.’ And way to often, boys and girls alike plead, ‘My daddy is in prison, please send him home.’ In this group are also the children who no longer believe in Santa and sit on my lap just to say, ‘I don’t believe in you.’ My response to them is: then give me back the candy cane.”

CAMP TAMARACK:  “Tamarack has been part of Schoelen family life for thirty years. We wanted our girls to go to camp, so I volunteered to help. When it was going to be cancelled one year, I agreed to be the director. Over the years I have also served as chaplain, first aid dispenser, and cook. One year when I was cook, an ordering mix-up resulted in boxes and boxes of shredded cheese and zucchini. From that mistake, I created what has become a favorite and a legend—Zukenny. 

I cured a homesick little girl of several imaginary hurts with the Star Trek ‘Bones’ treatment. When she really sprained her ankle, she only wanted the Bones treatment and assured me, ‘I won’t tell anybody you are Santa Claus.’   Another year a little Indian girl who witnessed a murder and was so traumatized she could not speak, dug up an arrowhead by the creek and began speaking. Such stories as these continue to draw me back year after year.”

THE FALL  “I am recovering from a fall suffered while repairing a roof at Camp Tamarack. More therapy and surgery are scheduled. My old friend ‘Tamarack’ taught me a most powerful and painful life lesson that day. Tempted as I am to describe in detail how Wade Hobson and Joel Bright refused to give up on me, tempted as I am to talk about the physical pain and agony of that horrendous fall on my head, I want to share my reflections on that experience.

‘Tamarack’ taught me that I am not indestructible. My old friend ‘Tamarack’ helped me to be content with circumstance beyond my control. Nature dumped me on my head and gave me a fresh understanding of what IS important. Flesh and blood people ARE important. Motorcycles in the garage ARE not important. Simple things like music and long-ago memories ARE important. Tangible stuff IS just not important.”

LOVE:  “On waking up from my life changing fall, my first words to Wade and Joel were, ‘Tell Carol I love her!’  And so I have learned again that love is the most important thing of all and doubly so when clothed in the form of a loving mate named Carol.”