Full Circle

My father, David Gideon Lehman, was born January 25, 1926 to Joseph L. and Stella Lehman in Kenmare, North Dakota and joined their adventure. He was not quite three years old when his father died, which left little direct memory and no personal relationship with his dad. However, the sense of his mother’s grief and the weight of the load she had to carry, did leave a powerful impression, contributing to a lifetime habit of responsibility and sensitivity to people in need.

Here is Dad with all of us children, Anne, Margaret, Jane, Mary, Joe and myself by the pump handle on the home place.

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During the late twenties and early thirties, the shadow of the great depression hung over the country, and farming in North Dakota was getting even more difficult. Fortunately, Grandma Stella knew that true wealth was not about having lots of stuff, but having a Good Father, who she trusted to care for the fatherless and widows. Much kindness was expressed by the local Christian community, and she taught her children to have thankful hearts. And for a bonus, there was the one Christmas when some friends brought presents…

Dad’s older sister Mary remembers that her mother often read to the children, and played a variety of games, many of them being homemade. Grandma Stella often used scripture text calendars, teaching the children a new verse every day. Mary also said that Uncle Levi C. and Aunt Becca Kauffman helped them buy a small house, and move it to their farm where they could have a garden plot and a cow in the barn. As a young boy, Dad remembers being responsible to ride out on the pony and keep the cattle out of the corn. Here he is doing a show and tell about the farm where he lived for the first eight years of his life.

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When it was time to go to school, Dad walked one half mile down to the one room school house. His first teacher, Miss Anderson, got sick and died in the middle of the year, and she was replaced by Miss Coffee from Minneapolis. She had a harsh attitude and a pointing stick, used to correct wrong answers by hitting the student’s hands or heads. He does not remember her fondly. Below is inside of that school house where Dad went 85 years ago.

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In the early 1930’s, farms were experiencing crop failure from drought, dust storms, and grasshoppers and the gardens produced little. For awhile, Grandma received a Widow’s Pension from the State, but it had been reduced. Many people were leaving North Dakota, and Stella wrote a letter in November 1934, to her sister, Aunt Lina Zook in Fairview, Michigan asking for help. Her husband, Uncle Chauncey Zook took the letter to the Fairview Mennonite Church and a vote was taken to invite Stella and her children to come.

In early December, Grandma Stella took the letter of invitation to the North Dakota welfare board. They stipulated that if she would stay off welfare for two years, they would provide one-way train tickets to Michigan. Grandma quickly arranged for a sale, and they boarded the train with only a few clothes, linen bedding, a trunk of dishes, books and a few photos. This was right after Christmas 1934, and they arrived in Fairview with a new sense of optimism and faith.

Below is Dad returning to Fairview to be honored with the Wall of Fame Award.
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The refugee family was welcomed with open arms, and the whole church showered them with furniture, food and clothing until they were able to fend for themselves. Uncle Chauncey and Aunt Lina provided a small house for the family rent-free, and gave them milk, firewood, and helped in so may ways. Uncle Chauncey was a godfather in the most true representation of our Heavenly Father and is thought of kindly whenever the story is told. Below are Chauncey and Lina’s children, Delbert and Ruth, who grew up with Dad.

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They wasted no time that January 1935, settling in and finding their place. At a family gathering with the Zooks, daughters Vera, Vesta, and Ruth quizzed Dad on his reading. Vera said to give Dad the Bay City News, and the Gospel Herald to read out loud. He read well, and joined most of his church friends who were in 3rd grade.

The Fairview chapter of life was satisfying in so many ways and left its mark on Dad for the rest of his life. Opportunity was knocking, and he answered its call with preparation and persuasive diligence. When heart and soul are wound tightly together, with a dash of good fortune and a heavy dose of adrenalin, the memories made can last beyond the time when you can no longer remember your phone number.

So it was for Dad. Life was simpler then, with daily work around home, baseball in the summer, and basketball in the winter. School was done by Memorial Day, and summer kicked off with swimming at Smith Lake or the gravel pit, for those with no internal thermostats. The last swim was on Labor Day, and then back to school.

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In 5th grade, Dad found an old discarded baseball glove with most of the seams gone. He restitched it with string and began practicing, throwing the ball up in the air and running to catch it. Sometimes, he could persuade Josephine to hit ground balls for him to practice.

By junior high, Dad was splitting poplar and birch firewood with an axe for heating their home. This added muscular strength to his mental will to prepare. In the fall of 9th grade, Clyde Knepp was moving from shortstop to pitcher, and Coach Johnson was looking to replace him. After hitting grounders to half a dozen contenders, Dad was invited to step in.

In the next few years of baseball, there were quite a few double plays from Dad to Bob Shantz at second, who threw to first. One day over at Harrisville High School, a shallow blooper was hit over third base with bases loaded, and the runners took off. Dad sprinted back in the grass toward the ball, and with a leap at the end, caught the ball on the fly. He turned quickly and threw to Bob at second, who threw it to first, to complete an extremely rare triple play. Here is Dad standing by third base at Harrisville, some seventy plus years later.

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One spring day, the Fairview baseball team was down 4-1 against rival Alpena High. Dad came up late in the game with two outs, and hit a ball into deep right center with bases loaded. As he rounded third, and saw that the throw was inadequate, he came home to win the game 5-4.

As he started his senior year, a chance came to go to school at Hesston Academy in Kansas. His school day ended around 3:30 and he started using his time to practice basketball, including the revolutionary one hand push shot. The money ran out at the end of the semester, and Dad returned to Fairview. He managed to find his place once again on the basketball team, thanks in part to an encouragement from Coach Armitage.

In the first game of the district tournament, Fairview played Gaylord St. Mary’s and won 32-26, with Dad scoring 16 points. Next, they faced Gaylord High and were down 23-26 with a couple of minutes left. Richard Kaufman shot a long one, that Dad fielded and put back for two. With just seconds left, Gibbs was fouled and missed his free throw. Dad had positioned on the lane where he anticipated the ball coming off, caught the rebound in the air and simultaneously tipped in in the bucket for the win, 27-26.

In the Regionals at Petosky, Fairview first overcame McBain High in a squeaker, 27-25. Then they prevailed over Frankfort, before playing Bear Lake in the final.

Dad got to play on the team that became legendary, winning the district, and regional tournament in 1944 for the only time in Fairview history. He stands below with Dick Handrich, captain of that team.

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Fairview provided the opportunity for the children to begin to work and gain independence of their own. Below is Dad in front of the 1/4 acre field where he planted and harvested nearly 100 bushels of potatoes.

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It also gave a chance for them to go to high school. All seven of the children, Reuel, Mary, Ruth, Genevieve, Dad, Ethyl and Josephine, graduated from high school at Fairview, four from Goshen College, two from La Junta School of Nursing and Dad from IU Dental School.

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Following high school, Dad went to work on a turkey farm near Detroit, and also on a boat taking horses to Poland after the war. Then he enrolled at Goshen College and diligently pursued a science degree, leading toward dental school. During this time, he married Doris Liechty, and started the family which eventually included Anne, Margaret, Jane, Mary, Joe and me.

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A formative event in Dad’s growing up years occurred one summer at the Fairview Mennonite Church during the yearly evangelistic meetings. He was around twelve and remembers being so moved by the Holy Spirit during the hymns of invitation, that he went forward to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior. It started a lifetime of being a student of the spoken and written word.

At many crossroads and critical moments as life unfolded, Dad found just the right help from God to go forward with purpose and provision. Most times it was the opportunity to work, in the cafeteria on campus or the construction job on the Indianapolis center circle. This led to the decision to take our family to Puerto Rico for a two year service term, doing missionary dental work. Here he is talking about dental health in a school classroom.
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Dad’s story is a book in itself, so I can only mention a few more of his activities and interests. He was the catalyst for bringing the Leighton Ford Evangelistic Crusade to Elkhart in 1972 and received the Layman’s Leadership Award from the Kiwanis Club that year for community Christian service. He served as President of the Elkhart County Dental Society, President of the Goshen College Alumni Association, and was a member of the Concord School Board.

He took us on family vacations to Little Eden, and the west coast, photographed beautiful flowers, had a passion for orthodontics, traveled the world in dental or mission trips, and enjoyed golf, reading, softball and skiing.

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Dad has had to exert great effort to overcome loss over the years, and to take opportunity with faith. His youthful dreams have either been fulfilled or put aside, and the resolution of life regret and pain seems mostly complete. The chafing against the immovable past is generally over and he is more contented than ever. Dad is thankful for the little things like his children coming to visit and Jan always having enough of something healthy if he comes for dinner.

Earlier this summer we were doing our bi-annual golf outing, and I asked if there was any thing else he would rather be doing, and he said no. He also told me that it is a pretty fine boat I had built. It never hurts when a father compliments a child, and it is not likely to ever be forgotten either.

Only a couple of weeks ahead, I decided to take this afore-mentioned boat to the Les Cheneaux Boat Show in Hessel, Michigan show. On Friday, August 12, Jan and I hooked up the boat trailer to the Honda Pilot, and headed north with Jeff and Cheryl Margush.

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We stayed at the Cedar Hill Lodge in St. Ignace and took the boat over to the marina early Saturday morning. After three years of mostly private building, it was an amazing time of affirmation, interacting with like-minded boat builders.

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There were 162 boats there, some of which are shown below. Thanks to Jeff Margush for all of his photography and much help all along.

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We were entered in the Contemporary/Replica Class and honored with first prize. At the end of the show day, we headed out to cruise the islands and sat for a few minutes with a mechanical problem of my own creation. Fortunately, we got a short tow by the Coast Guard, and a mechanic was there who had just the trick to get it fixed.

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The ride from Hessel to Cedarville, around the Les Cheneaux Islands was filled with the beauty of the north. The next day, my curiosity was rewarded as we explored Lake Charlevoix, particularly one hidden water cul-de-sac. Around the corner, we encountered this 82 foot boat and house.

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As we returned home and put the boat in the garage, I passed a milestone that seemed like it would never come, and then sneaked up to surprise me. Three years ago, my daughter Amanda had initiated the process of writing, with the blog she designed and has managed since then. These stories were written for my children and grandchildren, so that they might know a bit more of their family heritage. Maybe some of them will follow a dream, gain a stronger sense of commitment, and pursue Christian faith more actively from people told about here.

So with this post, I have come full circle, finishing the duty and pleasure of telling my stories and the challenges of building a boat in my basement. It is already a mix of nostalgia and the dreams of new places the experience might take me. Much gratitude and appreciation is due, especially to my wife Jan, who has tracked with me on this zig zag course and has been strong support of all my adventures.

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I also give genuine thanks to anyone, from more than 100 countries, who took time to read this blog. It would be really satisfying to hear from any of you.

David Lehman
Elkhart, Indiana

As some unknown person said, “Never be afraid of doing something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark and professionals built the Titanic.”

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