CCS Development Coordinator Lori Stewart asked Oriole Veldhuis (graduate of 1961) to lunch with the graduating students last month to tell her story of why she continues to support the Centre for Christian Studies. Here’s Oriole’s story:
I’ve accumulated 80 years so this story could be very long indeed. I’ll try to be concise. My childhood on a farm at the end of the road was the best. It was the dirty thirties with horses, and a Shetland pony that my sisters drove to school. We had calves, a lamb, a baby pig and our dog for play mates.
Although our parents stressed education, school was not fun for me—restrictive and discouraging. Gradually the red marks on my pages became less important than the world I discovered in our classroom’s library cupboard.
After graduation, I arrived at Normal School with my older sister. Teachers were in short supply and the following year I found my shy self in a little white school house with 23 students, grades 1 to 8. I boarded my horse and rode to school. Two years later I’d saved enough for a year at MacDonald Institute in Guelph. My roomie, on the executive of Ontario’s United Church Young Peoples, encouraged me to attend their fall conference. A “Damascus Road” experience set me on a path to full time Christian service. I tested my commitment by going even farther east—accepting a teaching position in Newfoundland for a truly outstanding year.
After coming back to Manitoba and two more years of teaching and saving, I was off in my little Volkswagen Beetle to the United Church Training School in Toronto. Miss Christie and her staff did their best to train me. Between the two years, I worked for the WMS in British Columbia and gained great respect for the dedicated women and camp leaders in that province. The board of Home Missions nominated me for the Rama Indian Day School—Kindergarten and Grade1. At my interview for admittance to the deaconess order, I told them I planned to marry in two years and expected to be refused. Yet, I was accepted and set apart at Manitoba Conference in1961. The two years I spent at Rama were fantastic: I loved the people, the twenty-five little ones in my classroom, the Explorers and youth. Art and I married in 1963, and while he studied and volunteered with an inner city church in Winnipeg, I worked at Fort Garry United Church. It was there in the church office, that I opened the year book and looked for my name. Art Veldhuis, but no Oriole. Without consultation, my name had been removed. I did not take it quietly and roused Don Ray, the minister in his office. “I’ll look after it,” he said. My married classmate, Rosalene was in paid employment at Bloor Street U.C. in Toronto. We had cracked open the rigid mould that said Deaconesses are single women. Although my name was back in the book the following year, the Board of Home Missions made it clear that Art was ‘The Missionary’ appointed to God’s Lake. I fought to keep my status, even though like many of my sisters, I was not officially employed. Some ministers in Presbytery took up my cause and I was not disjoined again.
But my life as the wife of an ordained minister was not exactly a piece of cake. You know the story. We did the Christian education role, but without acknowledgment. Art and I had four challenging children. I studied, and worked at part-time church positions. Diaconal gatherings were my life-line. I may not have added much to the meetings, but the friends and events saved my life.
In 1985, Art and I went as a team to Trinity U.C. in Elmira. I immediately stirred up a controversy by asking for the privilege—no questions asked in Manitoba—to administer the sacraments. By year three when it was finally granted we were heading back to Manitoba. It paved the way for other Diaconal Ministers in Waterloo Presbytery to be granted the same right.
Our youngest child was deaf. He needed a small quiet high school and chose St. John’s Cathedral Boys’ School at Selkirk. Where could I get the $7000 tuition? I walked the gauntlet and for four months took any substitute position offered. By February I had a ¾ time position and the next year accepted a contract as a teacher-librarian. I was back where I began, teaching for pay and gifting my time to the church.
Retiring nine years later with library skills, I volunteered in the Centre’s library entering books into a data base. I also met with the University of Winnipeg’s chief librarian and arranged to connect our library to the university system. It was going well until my old allergy to musty books reared its ugly head. After spending a long day at the Centre, I landed in emergency.
Not able to continue, I turned my energy to keeping a promise I’d made to my father 30 years earlier when he placed a small granite stone on his grandmother’s grave. I decided to find out who was she and why was she buried on the Criddle homestead with nothing known about her. It took twelve years to uncover the dark family secret and get her story into print*.
Meanwhile I wanted to keep my commitment to support the Centre. “I can’t do it by giving my time in the library,” I said, “ So, I’ll give money”. I made a pledge to consciously not pay for parking. As long as I am able to park in a free zone and walk to events, I will do so and add that amount—even though small—to my donation. It keeps the Centre and its ministry in my thoughts. Furthermore, it’s good for my health and good for the church.
Blessing on you, this year’s graduates—you just might save our United Church.
*Oriole’s book, For Elise: Unveiling The Forgotten Woman On The Criddle Homestead is available from the McNally Robinson website