Saturday, August 29, 2009

Two-and-a-half-minute Talks

Once upon a time Sunday School was a stand-alone meeting with its own opening exercises. Actually, the truth is that Sunday School was the meeting of choice for many members, and lest they should miss partaking of the sacrament (because they did not attend the sacrament meeting that was held on Sunday evenings), the sacrament was administered and passed both morning and evening.

Of course many members today won’t remember any of this because the consolidated meeting schedule (the three-hour-block of meetings instituted in 1980) spelled the demise of the Sunday School opening exercises. Too bad, because with opening exercises went a unique Mormon icon—the two-and-a-half minute talk.

You read that right. Not three minutes, not five minutes, but two-and-a-half minutes. Why this prescribed length? Well, remember that Sunday School talks were the Lord’s own training ground for public speaking, and all members of the branch were given their turn, child, new convert, and life-long member alike. Who could be intimidated by speaking such a short time, and to such a small audience?

And, on the rare occasions when the two speakers actually managed to speak for 2½ minutes each, the talks neatly added up to five minutes, just the right amount of time for a few brief thoughts before the practice hymn and dismissal to class. (The practice hymn is another casualty of the consolidated schedule.) The exact time was rarely achieved, however. The speakers either sat down after thirty seconds or rambled on for fifteen minutes, and it didn’t matter anyway.

Beginning in September 1949, the assignments for 2½ minute talks were published in the Aurora Branch newsletter. It would be interesting to know if the people were asked ahead of time, or if they learned about the assignment when they read the newsletter—echoes of mission calls issued from the pulpit at General Conference.

Here are some of the assignments as published. It appears that a male and a female member were assigned each time, but otherwise there were no age and experience requirements.
The McCarty family had moved from Utah to Aurora where H. Ward McCarty was the manager of the Montgomery Ward store in downtown Aurora and second counselor in the branch. Nancy was his teenage daughter. Jackie Owens was a non-member friend and neighbor of the Greer family. Ginger (that’s me) was not quite six years old. Cora Hall was a woman who had joined the Church in Southern Illinois, and of course, James T. Greer was branch president. (September 4 was stake conference in Chicago.)

In the above list from December 1950, Craig Tatton, Vera Ruth and Jimmy Resch were children under 10. Mary Jane Greer was almost 14, and the others were adults.
In the next extant copy of the newsletter, July 1951, we already see familiar names. At least seven are repeats. Oh, the blessings and bothers of a tiny branch. (Sister Murri was a missionary working in the Branch at that time.)

Since I was thinking about Sunday School, I asked my father to help me remember how the program went each week. Here’s what he came up with, and I’ll take his word for it as he was the Sunday School superintendent for more years than anyone can imagine.

Greeting and announcements
Opening Hymn
Opening Prayer
(No official Branch business was conducted in Sunday School)
Sacrament Hymn
Sacrament Gem
Administration of the Sacrament
Two 2½ minute talks
Practice Hymn
Separation for Classes
Reassembly and reminder of announcements
Closing Hymn
Closing Prayer

Did you catch that “Sacrament Gem”? Yet another tradition lost to the consolidated schedule, but more about that another time.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Soybeans and Missions

The Lord blessed the Aurora Branch soybean fields for welfare and building fund assessments. He was also generous when money was needed to send Jimmie Greer on a mission.

James T. Greer prided himself on having “clean” fields, not a weed in sight. His grandchildren, Tom, Erek, and Ginger Erekson, caught up with him one day in 1952 while he was cultivating his soybeans.

Here’s the story of that very field, as Jim Greer recalled it: “When Jimmie went on his mission, I’d just got out of that hospital. [He had a heart attack in 1951.] I didn’t have no money, no nothing, and an $800 hospital bill.

“I had a little Avery tractor and a one-bottom plow. I rented 11 acres [in the spring of 1952]. I was 11 days putting that out, cultivating it, and raising beans. While I first started cultivating, the mail carrier, who lived across the street, come over and says, ‘Partner, I don’t know you from anybody else, but you might just as well be out fishing or hunting.’ He says, ‘This ground’s wore out. You’ll not make your salt to put on your bread.' I says, ‘I’ve got a son on a mission, and I expect this to help keep him out.’

That fall I got over there, and the bean crop was harvested and gone. I went up to the place where I had it registered, and they said, ‘Well, a fellow come in with a big red truck, and combined your beans.’ I didn’t know about it, but I figured it was old Bill Vaughn. I goes to Bill’s place, and his wife says, ‘He’s gone to Oswego with your beans. If you go down there, you can catch him.’

“I went down and walked in. Old Bill turned around and says, ‘Here’s the fellow.’ He said, ‘We just put down 11 acres of beans.’ I said, ‘How much did I make?’ It was $958 and some off cents—that for 11 days of work.

“I took that check (which was after the combining cost was out) over to that mail carrier and handed it to him. He called his wife out and said, ‘I want you to look at this check.’ He says, ‘We’ve said many a time that you planned on those beans helping to pay for your son’s mission. We’ve never seen such beans in our lives as there were in that field.’ I didn’t either. They was just as thick with beans all the way up and down.

“When Jimmie was released, I rented that field again. We didn’t break even. It didn’t make nothing. Now the good Lord was just in it for one year, and turned me down on another year.” (From The Story of Jim and Myrtle Greer: Family and Church, pp. 74-75)

Jimmie (James H.) Greer sent this photo to his sister, Louise Erekson, from the Texas-Louisiana Mission in 1952.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Saints and Soybeans

The Aurora Branch was renown among the other units of the Chicago Stake for paying its stake building fund and stake welfare assessments in full and on time. How did a handful of members do what wealthier, more populous wards could not manage? They knew how to raise soybeans!
Men out standing in their field (of soybeans), in the early 1950s: John Earle, Rueben Earle, James T. Greer, August Kramer, Edmund Kramer holding Auggie, Robert L. Erekson.

The Kramers and the Earles had their own farms south and west of Aurora. Bob was raised on a farm. They all knew what they were doing. Beyond that, James T. Greer was a farmer at heart, and he was determined to make it happen.

Myrtle recalled: “Jim was branch president, and if the members wouldn’t pay it, we felt we had to. All the members was like us. They didn’t have no money. That’s why Jim got two tractors and a cultivator. He raised all these crops, and sold them to pay these assessments.”

And the amounts of the annual assessments were staggering. In July 1951 the branch newsletter reported that the Chicago Stake set a goal of raising $100,000 to build the stake center in Wilmette.

We don’t know how much Aurora Branch had to raise, but it was, thankfully, less than $50,000. And everyone pitched in with pie socials, watermelon busts, and long days hoeing soybeans.

The members cleaned out the weeds that grew too close to the beans for Jim Greer’s cultivator to take out. Here, hoes in hand, are Bob Erekson, Ginger Erekson, Rosalie Resch, Vera Resch, Rose Marie Resch, Erek Erekson (front), Myrtle Greer, Jim Greer.

The entire branch felt ownership in these soybeans that grew so tall. Gathered at the field (early 1950s) are Myrtle Greer, Iris Dombrow holding Mark, Louise Erekson (in back), Grace W. Erekson holding Erek Erekson, James T. Greer holding Tom Erekson, Mary Jane Greer, Dorothy Kramer (in back), Reuben Earle, Ginger Erekson and Donny Earle (in front), August Kramer, Phyllis Earle, John Earle, Edmund Kramer holding Auggie Kramer.

Donny Earle, Tommy and Erek Erekson, measuring themselves by the height of the soybeans, ca. 1952-1953.

In her book The Story of Jim and Myrtle Greer: Family and Church, Myrtle Greer continues: “Jim would come into Chicago Stake meetings, and President Edmunds would ask who all’s got your assessment paid. Of all those people, none of them had their assessment, but when it come to Jim Greer, Jim just handed him a check, paid in full. Jim done it all from farming” (63-64).

The soybean success story was repeated throughout the 1950s. In 1957, Myrtle noted that the soybean profit that year was $444.43.

Simply put: “We worked hard. Soybeans is what we raised and sold for the church” (64).