A column dedicated to the folks in the pews.
Written by Dale Buchanan
This week our “from the pews person” is Gonnie Crone. Friend Gayle and I have been helping her with transportation as she battled cancer. Thankfully the new treatment is working, and the doctor just pronounced her cancer free. All of this driving back and forth between Kerman and Fresno has given me time to appreciate this witty, fascinating woman.
Gonnie was born in Utrect, Holland, the youngest in a family of seven children. Her father was a contractor and built the 3-story house they lived in. Utrect is about twenty miles from Rotterdam which was totally flattened by the Germans in WWII. Utrect was bombed extensively also. Gonnie was five years old when the Germans occupied Holland and ten years old when they were driven out. Gonnie tells harrowing stories about those five years of her life, but she cannot write them down and asked that I not write about them either. They are tender stories of a little girl. Perhaps too tender.
“Gonnie, tell me about your name. I’ve never heard the name Gonnie before.” “Well, first I will tell you that my maiden name is Kroon and my married name is Crone and both mean “crown.” Now I will tell you about my given name because I am very proud of it. It is Hillegonda and is an ancient Viking word that means ‘courageous heroine.'” She tried to teach this “red-neck” to correctly pronounce this name to no avail. She went on to tell me, “Upon arrival at Ellis Island I was informed that Hillegonda was too long, and my name was arbitrarily shortened to Hilda. “Hilda? But we call you Gonnie.” “Yes, Gonnie is a nickname for Hillegonda, but officially—like at the doctor’s office—I answer to Hilda. You can call me Gonnie.”
“Okay, Gonnie, I have another question. How does a girl from Utrect, Holland end up in Kerman, California?” Gonnie is a natural storyteller and this is quite a story, so I will have to shorten it a bit.
“I had just broken up with my boyfriend, an American lieutenant, and bought myself a motor scooter. Some friends invited me to a get-together and there was this young man there who had a small Fiat. I was interested in his Fiat and he was interested in my motor scooter. That’s how I met my husband. We had been seeing each other just a short time when one day he said to me, ‘I am getting a Visa to go to America. Would you like to go with me?’ That was his marriage proposal! I said “yes” on two conditions: (1) there was enough money to return to Holland if we did not like it there, and (2) my piano must go with us!” They stayed in America and the piano now sits in her front room.
Her husband was a sugar beet specialist and went to work for Spreckels in Woodland, California. “When they built a new plant in Mendota he said ‘no’ to transferring the first time, but they would not take ‘no’ for an answer the second time. We found a house in nearby Kerman and moved ther e in 1967. I was pregnant with my second child.”
Gonnie would have three children—Jennifer, Jay, and Bert. Her son Jay is a music professor and an accomplished musician. He is known to us at Big Red because when he comes from Virginia to visit his mother, he stirs our hearts with his trombone or euphonium.
Gonnie raised her children, taught paino lessons, played the organ at the Methodist church in Kerman for 45 years, and found a church home with us at Big Red a few years ago and occupies a place in the pews when her health allows.
This “courageous heroine” has been labeled “fiesty” at the Cancer Center where she has been going for infusions. Indeed, I agree! She is a fiesty woman and the courageous heroine in her life story.
Dale Buchanan is a member of FCCF with a passion for stories and writing. In between penning his own memoirs, he is helping us get to know our members, one pew at a time.