by Tracy Harder, granddaughter and PAA’s 1979 Class President
Hoping to make it to her Mom’s place in Minnesota, Emily and Pearl were surprised when Thelma Vera Payne entered the world not at the Emerson home in Minnesota as expected but on a quick stop to see the Payne family in Hankinson Ranch – Hankinson, North Dakota. This would not be the first or the last time Thelma would do the unexpected.
Emily and Pearl would be inordinately proud of little Thelma. She was cute and smart. Emily, while traveling with toddler Thelma, gave her a firm command to sit on the suitcase with their belongings while she used the facilities. A passerby saw her, thought she was a doll, and was startled when Thelma called for her mother. Throughout her life, her parents made a point of telling her she was average in looks, so she wouldn’t become vain. It wouldn’t be until later that Bob Sr. would tell her that she was a good looking woman, and she looked great in any color so long as it was red.
A proud father, Pearl would pick up Thelma and put her on the picnic table at church potlucks and have her recite the books of the Bible, Genesis to Revelation, and other Bible texts from memory. He would say, “Can you believe how smart my little girl is?” When Thelma earned her Master’s degree from University of Oregon, he would again remark, “Today, I have seen something that none of my siblings ever has – my girl has earned her Masters Degree”.
Thelma was given the task of helping her mom with the children. The oldest of nine, she was the second in line to care for them. Elvin came first, then Clyde, Cassius, Earl, and finally, hallelujah—a sister—Vadah, then Jesse, June, and last, Ted. Each one held a special place in her heart. She had so many stories, which she would write and tell through the years.
Emmons County, N. Dakota had a small, rural school. She walked the mile to school. Thelma writes that her first teacher was Josephine Opime. “Even though my mother had a teaching certificate, she sent me to school “tabla rosa,” a philosophy for letting the school system do the teaching.” She quickly learned that letters made words and that words made up stories. She was hooked on reading just like that.
That winter she was sent quickly home because a blizzard was coming. Later her mother found her floundering in the drifts of snow behind the barn, nearly frozen to death. She would struggle with the cold feet and hands the rest of her life. She would always prefer an 85 degree day. During the second World War, Thelma was in a religion class at George Fox, listening to the professor speak about the horrors of hell. After describing several painful details, the professor, who knew she was an Adventist turned to Thelma who was shivering near a drafty window and asked, “Does this idea of a burning hell bother you, Mrs. Winter?” “Oh no,” quickly replied Thelma; “It would have to be something besides hot to bother me.”
The Depression was a struggle. The family would move to Glendale, California for a few years, but eventually move back to Oregon.
Taking jobs to support the family was everyone’s job. Thelma writes of learning to pick berries and cherries, gathering walnuts and hazelnuts, can pears, pick and pack peaches—all the seasonal work which people kept doing for a living. She was fast and good at the jobs. Throughout most of her adult life, she would pick and can food for the family each summer.
Then came another son, Clarence Stephen, and the beginning of World War II. Steve and Bob would grow up, with family around them.
Thelma continued to make her “famous” pies throughout life.
Thelma and family would work crops in addition to her working at Jon’s Ice Cream, where she became famous for her pies, particularly lemon meringue pie. Truckers would stop and wait for her pies to get out of the oven.
One day while picking green beans, Thelma was talking across the row to a woman, who had been accepted to Berkley. Thelma stated that she planned to go to college one day. The woman told her that lots of people “plan” to go to school, but they don’t ever do it. Thelma writes, “The next Monday I was at the registrar’s office at Pacific College, now George Fox, enrolling for classes that would eventually lead to a degree in English.”
When granddaughter Tracy started a family, Thelma was ready to move to Thousand Oaks, California to play nanny. With the SIDS death of “precious MacKenzie,” Thelma once again found herself teaching part time at Newbury Park Academy, this time teaching Spanish. Over the next five years, she would play nanny to her great-granddaughters as well as teach part time.
The loss of her younger brothers and sisters was difficult for Thelma. But it was the loss of her younger son Steve, which caused her to realize she was aging. No longer just stating her age, she would excitedly saying, “I’m 99 and a half”—and then “100 in August.” With her health still strong, Thelma would reach 100 years old with zeal. She wanted to see the Lord come in the East. She loved her Eagle Rock church family, relishing the fact that she was the oldest of the Golden Eagles, the seniors club. Daily, she would get up and go to Newbury Park Academy with Tracy to be with her beloved caregiver Ana Meza and the school family. She was affectionately called “Grandma” by staff and students alike. They all loved her quick wit and genuine love for youth.
On July 5, Thelma failed to wake up when called by her CNA. Admitted Sherman Oaks Hospital, she would spend her last two days, surrounded by her family. She had always said, “I don’t want my body to outlive my brain, and I don’t want my mind to outlive my body.” God granted her wish. On July 6, she slipped into that “one short sleep.” She waits now for her Lord and Savior to call her home.
Thelma Winter, August, 1915 – July 2017
Read Thelma’s memories of PUA / PAA HERE.
Read PAA’s Tribute to Thelma Winter HERE.
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