Someone once asked me how I became passionate about peacemaking. It began before I started school, during the Second World War, when my parents and German grandparents were always worried about their relatives in Germany. My grandpa hated “that madman Hitler.” Most of the young men in our extended German family had been conscripted and became casualties of war. I had two uncles who served in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force. My parents and grandparents worried about them, too, of course. After the war our family prepared care boxes filled with basic living needs such as soap, wash cloths and imperishable foods to send to our relatives who were left without anything after the devastating war. One relative told us she walked many miles with her father up a high hill by a neighboring town just to pick wild blackberries, they were so hungry.
Born on a farm near Floyd, Iowa and raised on a farm near Charles City, Iowa, I attended country school one year and then rode a school bus to Charles City to elementary and high schools. My goal was to attend Iowa State College in Ames, Iowa where my uncles attended with veterans’ benefits.
While in college I worked many part-time jobs to help pay my tuition and/or room and board, and to have some spend money. I found time for three extra-curricular activities: college touring choir, directing a dorm choral group, and S.C.O.R.E. or Student Committee on Racial Equality. I was sensitized in a big way to racial prejudice as I worked on a survey in which we tested the home owners who were on the college-approved open housing listing. I was to call a telephone number and ask, “Do you have any rooms available?” Then a person with a voice identifying that he or she was from another country or another race would call five to ten minutes later asking the same question. If the answer was suddenly no, then the home owner was sent a warning letter.
Subsequently, I participated in my first open housing demonstration, a march around the State Capitol. I was glad when the college issued a new listing limited to homeowners who would rent to students without discriminating regarding race or nationality. I learned the value and efficacy of non-violent protest and careful research. I learned peace and justice go together.