Dave and I first met Edith Verstege in 1986 when we went to Montreal, as Salvation Army cadets, for our summer appointments. Edith, the administrator at the Catherine Booth Hospital, was Dave’s supervisor. Her husband, Hank, the administrator of the Montclair Senior Citizens Residence, was my supervisor. As Dave worked with Edith throughout that summer, he was thoroughly impressed with her professionalism and wisdom. As I got to know Edith, I was impressed with her personal warmth. She made child-care arrangements for Jonathan, who was 1.5 at the time, and went out of her way to make sure that our family needs were met.
Edith, Dave and I connected again in 1989, when Dave, Jonathan and I moved to Winnipeg, where Edith was the director of William & Catherine Booth College’s social work program. As it turned out, Edith’s house was just a mile or so down the road from ours, so we frequently saw each other after hours, as well as at work. On the night Joshua was born, Jonathan stayed with his “Aunt Edith.” She is the only non-family member who ever received that kind of appellation from either of our boys.
In addition to being close to our home, Edith’s house was just around the corner from the University of Manitoba. Since I started working on my master’s degree the day before Joshua was born, Edith’s proximity to the university was a godsend. Twice a week I took Joshua to Edith’s house, walked to class and back, then picked him up and took him to work with me. Needless to say, Edith bonded as closely with Joshua as she had done with Jonathan. She truly was a family friend, as well as a respected professional colleague.
One of the most important lessons I learned from Edith was how to distinguish between professional and personal issues. Edith could fight tooth-and-nail with someone in a faculty meeting, put her books in her office after the meeting, then go out for dinner and a show with the same person with whom she had just been arguing. She understood that professional differences don’t have to become personal matters. In professional settings she stood her ground resolutely and intelligently, but always graciously. That grace, which was always a mark of her personal relations, was the secret to separating the personal from the professional.
The other gem I’d like to write about today was Eleanor Loewen, another friend and colleague from the William and Catherine Booth College. Eleanor, a Mennonite, was one of the first (perhaps the first, actually) non-Salvation Army faculty members hired to assume a full-time position at the college. Eleanor and I had some common interests, as she was musical, enjoyed following collegiate sports (she was an Indiana grad, but I never held that against her) and specialized in education. These commonalities gave us lots of things to talk about over lunch, at basketball games, and even at the opera (since Dave won’t go with me).
One of the things I most admired about Eleanor was the deep respect she showed for The Salvation Army. She didn’t just show up to teach her classes and collect her paychecks. She was really interested in understanding The Salvation Army. Her strong, sincere desire to fully know this somewhat quirky organization led her to audit a Salvation Army history course. Being a Mennonite, Eleanor naturally had some differences of opinion regarding certain Salvation Army practices. Nevertheless, she wholeheartedly supported the college’s mission and became a true friend of the Army.
When Eleanor died of cancer a few years ago, the William and Catherine Booth College lost a monumental faculty member. I lost a very dear friend.