Many of you asked to read the Life Story that I wrote about my Mom so here it is. It is a bit over 4,000 words long so it will take you about 30 minutes to read.
Bernice Wilma Duke
Born August 16, 1932 Died November 29th, 2019
Mom’s father Hugh Carlton Lyons, married Ida Marjorie Matthews, and they had seven children, six girls and one boy: Mabel, Iris, Viola, Maxine, Evelyn, Homer, and Mom. Mom’s father had come out from Minnesota with his uncle and homesteaded land on the Horse Heaven Hills outside of Yakima in the state of Washington, dry wheat country. After they were married they raised wheat for several years. The first three girls were born while they were farming wheat. After that the family moved to the Yakima valley where Hugh worked for established farms and acquired a small herd of dairy cows of his own (a small herd in those days was eight or ten cows). He rented small farms and continued farming, and the family moved all over the Yakima Valley, always having a small herd of dairy cows.
Four more children were born during this time. Hugh was 48 years old when Mom was born so she was the “tail-ender” as she put it. She was eight and nine years younger than the closest sisters, Maxine and Evelyn, and 4 years younger than Homer. When Mom was about three years old, her mother started working away from home because of the Depression, working as a mid-wife and taking care of families. Her mother was very ambitious and was in high demand as a midwife, and at this point her children were old enough to fend for themselves. She started working more and more, both as a midwife and as a cook and housekeeper, taking care of older people in their homes. By the time Mom was four, her mother was very seldom at home. Little by little, she stopped coming home altogether, and her parents eventually divorced when she was twelve. By the time Mom’s mother was out of the house, there were only four kids left at home. Mabel had dropped out of high school and left home to work during the Depression, and then all three of the older girls married and moved away. Evelyn and Maxine were twelve and thirteen, Homer was eight, and Mom was four. The girls managed the housework and got along just fine, though when they had boyfriends visiting, she would go through the living room as many times as possible, sometimes even choosing to do her chore of carrying out and emptying the chamber pot. She would swing it back and forth and watch her sisters’ faces turn bright red, and then the boyfriends would give her a piece of gum to go away and leave them alone. A family tradition was in the evening to gather around the old battery radio and peel apples while they listened to programs like The Lone Ranger and Fibber McGee and Molly. Hugh would sit in his chair, and the rest sat on the coal bucket or the wood box and talked about what the characters should have done and how they should have known what was coming.
Mom raised rabbits when she was a little girl. One day she went out and there was a dead rabbit in the pen, and the water bowl was empty, and she had to go tell her dad that a rabbit had died. He said, “Well, I thought probably you hadn’t been watering them enough. Didn’t you think that rabbit wanted to drink water just like you do?” She started crying and knew that it was her fault that the rabbit had died. Mom said that lesson stuck with her, “Do what you are supposed to do, regardless of how long you wait, you will still have to do it and it won’t get any easier so just do it.”
By the time the Second World War broke out, the young men that Mom’s sisters were dating thought they were going to go into the service, so her Dad gave his permission for them to marry. So when Mom was ten years old, there was just Homer at fourteen and Mom at ten, alone at home with her dad. Homer and Mom’s Dad could not have been more wonderful to her, and she described her growing up years as being part of a wonderful family. Mom became the one in charge of keeping the home up and cooking, she was in charge of the house. Things did get easier when she was about eight years old and they got electricity. She was more excited about the electric iron than anything else because now she didn’t have to heat the old one on the stove anymore!
So at ten years old, the only girl in the house, she would come home from school, chop the fire wood, build the fire, cook the dinner and do the dishes. Mom grew up fast, and at fifteen she knew more about what to do with a home than most girls in their twenties do today.
Mom loved her dad and brother very much. Her dad was a wonderful person, a fine Christian person, who saw to it that they made it to church every Sunday.
Mom had a good relationship with her brother, Homer. He had failed a grade, and Mom had skipped up a grade, so they were pretty close in school. His job was to get up in the morning and get the cows milked, and Mom’s job was to fix breakfast.
Mom was alone a lot, and read a lot of books, and dreamed of what she wanted when she grew up. She would dream about what her family someday was going to be like. As she dreamed of the future she wanted five kids. She had them all named. She would imagine them sitting on her lap as she read them bedtime stories and kiss them good night and hear their prayers.
Mom and Dad met because Mom’s sister Evelyn married Dad’s step-brother, Charles when Mom was ten, and then when Dad would come home on leave, he would be there on their farm. Mom knew him as a kid growing up, this sailor coming home during the war, and his
picture was always on the desk in their living room. Mom said that she thought he was the most handsome sailor in the whole world. Then he came home on ninety days shipping leave from December 1944 to February 1945, when Mom was fourteen, a sophomore in high school. That winter all the kids went to the dances at the local grange hall every Saturday night. When Dad came home on leave, they all went to the dance together. But Dad was so bashful, he wouldn’t dance with anybody, he didn’t know how. So Mom decided she would teach him, and she did. He started walking her to the door, and one night he walked her to the door and kissed her, and by the time his leave was up they were in love.
Mom’s Dad wouldn’t let her have an engagement ring, because she was still in high school, so a few days later he came driving in the driveway and Mom was at the barn pumping water for the cows. He stopped, and she ran over to the car and he handed her a present, it was a beautiful watch. He said he wanted her to know he really meant it when he said “I love you.” “I’ll be back again as soon as I can, he said. With a kiss, he was gone, shipped out to Hawaii the next day. Six months later Dad was assigned to duty at Key Port, Washington, about three hundred miles from Yakima. He would hitch hike most weekends from Key Port to Yakima to see Mom, and after a couple of months he asked Mom’s Dad if he could marry her, and he said to wait one year, so they got engaged on Mom’s fifteenth birthday. It wasn’t long after that, that Dad talked Mom into getting married before the year was up October 30, 1947. Their first little house that they rented for $30 a month was in Keyport, WA. Mom and Dad didn’t own anything so a friend of Dad’s who drove a Navy ambulance would put pillows, blankets, dishes and things from the hospital in the ambulance, and then they would drive out the gate and bring it to their house. Every dish, every blanket, every sheet, everything they had was stamped with USN. Dad wrote a letter to Mom’s dad and told him that they had gotten married. He was very mad at first, and then after praying came to visit them and gave them his blessing.
Dee and Cliff were born in 1948 and 1949 while they were stationed there. Dee was the “anniversary baby” because he was born three days before their first anniversary. They were at Key Port for two years and then were transferred up to Whidbey Island and had three years there, Dad got a bonus for being in the war, and they were able to buy two and a half acres with a house on it, which had two rooms and a bath. Then Dad was transferred to Kodiak, Alaska, and Mom followed a couple of months later. She sold the house and bought a trailer house that she had shipped up to Kodiak. There was a shipping strike going on so the trailer didn’t make it up to Kodiak for several months after Mom and us kids got there so Dad rented a room in a warehouse on the dock where the King Crabs were unloaded that was 8 feet by 10 feet in size. There was a kitchen and a bath, but we shared it with three other families that were in a similar predicament. The trailer house eventually made it and Dad got it set up and we moved in on Christmas Eve.
Mom and Dad did not go to church at all after they got married. Dad wasn’t brought up going to church and Mom just adapted to his life style. But an event happened in Kodiak that changed all that for our entire family. Dee was five years old and he walked to school every day. One day on his way to school there was some construction happening and Dee climbed up on a pile of dirt to get a better look. The vibration from the heavy equipment caused the pile of dirt to cave in and because the driver couldn’t see him slightly buried under the dirt a caterpillar operator ran over him. They dug him out and took him to the hospital and called Mom and Dad. The hospital people were pretty sure that Dee was going to die. Mom prayed very hard and made a bargain with God and told Him that if He would heal Dee they would be in church every Sunday. After all the x-rays were taken it turned out that all that was wrong was a severely broken leg. So true to her word Mom made sure that we were in church every Sunday along with Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, summer camps, and whatever else came along.
In 1954, while we were still in Alaska, the only girl in our family, Laura, was born. By the time she was six months old we were in Mexico, because Dad had been transferred to a ship, an aircraft carrier. Then the travels really started, because He was traveling on the carrier up and down the coast, and Mom was driving the car with five kids and a big dog following him, and as a result there were a lot of good-byes and homecomings. Mom’s job was to be at the port before the ship came in, get a Quonset hut, regular Navy housing, and then she would buy groceries and be on the dock when the ship tied up. Mom would drive with the dog in the passenger seat and all us kids would be in the back. Boxes would be piled on top in the car carrier. Jeff was born in San Diego on one of these trips down the West Coast as the youngest of the clan.
We moved thirty-three times in our Navy experience. Dad was in the Navy for twenty-one years, and Mom was married to him for fourteen of those years
Dad really missed his family while he was gone on a ship and everybody missed him. Because of our lifestyle, we realized how important the family was—just being together taking a walk, sitting around the table at a meal, and of course there was always talk of the farm when Dad retired. One of the best things the military life did was teach us all how important it is to be together. Whatever it took we would always be there when that ship came in.
The most wonderful time of our Navy experience was when we were stationed out on Midway Island, a little island halfway between Hawaii and Japan. The weather was awesome, the swimming was amazing, and the whole island was only six hundred and forty acres with half of that being run way or the airplanes. Dad was there for a year before we got there, and then we all were there for two years, and it was a marvelous time of being together. There were only about a dozen families on the island with about 15 kids. There were 3 teachers in the School, Mr Miller, Mrs. Miller and their son, Mr Miller. It was cool being there because Dad had fought in the Battle of Midway, a significant battle in World War II, and there were still signs of the battle in the bunkers that were along the shore. From Midway we moved to Alameda, California. We had one and a half years at Alameda before we retired from the Navy, and we retired to our dream, the farm. Dad had always talked to the boys about “when we get our farm, when we get our farm…” The first little farm we bought was in Myrtle Creek, Oregon, Mom called our Swiss Family Robinson experience. We were very, very,as always, poor, but Dad and Mom had grown up that way, so they knew how to cope with it and how to make do and get by. It was a good life for us kids, having lived in apartments in the city most of our lives, and we just pretty much lived off the land. We boys learned how to get up in the morning and go milk the cows, and Dad taught us how to fish and hunt, and we had hundreds of acres of timber land to hike on and ride the horses.
Our farm was a hundred fifty acres, half of which was timber right on the edge of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. The house on the farm was in bad shape when we moved there. It had been used as a barn for cattle and sheep, the house had deteriorated, people had stripped everything out of it that was moveable, and shot holes through all the windows. We moved into the house with no electricity or running water after shoveling out all the sheep manure, and building an outhouse.
At dinner we would all sit around the table, and pass the food around. Each person took one small helping, no matter how much was on the plate, and then we passed it again, after we finished what was on our plate. While we ate everybody was given a chance to talk for a few minutes about what they did that day. Nobody could opt out, each person had to come up with something that had happened, even Jeff as the youngest had a chance to talk about how he took the dog to the barn or something. It was important to Mom and Dad that each one of us got to say something. That tradition came from Dad who grew up as a stepchild, who was also the youngest, and as a result he rarely got to be a part of anything or say anything, so he tried hard at the dinner table to make sure that everybody got a chance to say something.
In Myrtle Creek Dad drove school bus to subsidize his small Navy retirement income, and we were the second to last house on the road, 13 miles from town, he would park the bus in our barn so he could just leave from there in the mornings to pick up kids. We lived there for five years, from 1960 to 1965. While we were there we ate digger squirrel, rabbit, and a variety of little birds, which we boys would shoot with Dad’s single shot 22 rifle. We had to clean our great kills before they came into the house. We would periodically shoot a deer out of season. Because Jeff was at the age that he really didn’t understand what that meant, we told him it was jack rabbit in case he told some other kids about it. While we lived in Myrtle Creek we attended an American Sunday School Union, Sunday School in an old school house way out of town about 4 miles from our house. Mom started a youth group there and a 4-H club which we were very involved in. In the summer all of us kids attended a Bible camp called Fir Point in southern Oregon. Mom used to say in interviews for Jonah Ministries that all five of her children came to know the Lord Jesus Christ at Bible camp. Mom also became a believer in Jesus at a Bible camp when she was a young girl.
Dad decided to sell the farm at Myrtle Creek and buy a farm we could make a living on without having to drive a school bus. Dad found the farm at Trout Lake through a United Farm Real-estate Catalog and fell in love with it on the first visit. Mt Adams Baptist Church with Pastor Collier was the perfect next step for each of us kids in our spiritual growth, and played a key role in our spiritual formation.
The farm in Trout Lake was 80 acres, and we bought the 70 adjoining acres from the Hilton place, giving us 150 acres. The most we ever had was 100 cows, which were registered Guernsey’s. The way we got started was our neighbors, Tommy and Christabell Anrig wanted to sell everything, and it was a good price, so we got their cows and all their equipment and just set it up in our barn. We took the hay wagon down with the tractor and loaded up all their lines and everything, and we hauled it up to our farm, and Dad and us boys installed it. We called our dairy “Duke’s Canaan Guernsey’s”. When we got to Trout Lake Mom started a 4-H dairy club, and had as many as 40 kids in the club at one time. Mom felt like we needed a place for us kids to show off our projects, and so she started the Trout Lake Fair. It became a very important day in the valley, celebrating an old-fashioned, hometown fair. It has been operating each summer as an extension of the Klickitat County Fair in Goldendale for about 55 years now.
We kids continued to go to summer camp each summer with most of us becoming camp counselors as we got older. Jeff and Beki actually met at camp, as counselors. Both Mom and Dad said on many occasions that the spouses that their kids married were the best. And from those marriages came twenty-four grandbabies in thirteen years. They were the major joy of Mom’s life.
Eventually Dad and Mom retired from the dairy, just keeping a small, wooded, twenty-acre section of the farm and putting a small mobile home on it. Jeff and Beki took over the dairy, and Dad and Mom moved out into what everyone called “the Woods”. The grandkids called it “the Little House in the Piney Woods”, and that’s where the famous Cousin Camp started. Mom wanted our families to stay close even though we moved away and separated, and she wanted so much for the cousins to know one another well. So in the summertime she would do Cousin Camp. She divided the grandkids into three groups by age and had three regular Bible camps.
The most important thing to Mom was that each of her grandkids would come to know their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Camp was a fun time with lots of activities, teaching and singing. Jesse, who was the oldest of the cousins would play the guitar, and everybody would sing. There would be a bonfire every night with skits. Cousin Camp was one of Mom’s greatest blessings in her life. There was a bond formed between Mom and her grandchildren at those camps that was truly amazing. One year they hiked about halfway up Mt. Adams, had a wonderful day playing in the snow, and then built a fire and cooked dinner. As the sun started to set, they all started singing. Jesse had packed his guitar, and they sang and talked of God until after dark.
Dad was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in 1988 and went through a number of surgeries, chemotherapy and all the rest of the stuff that goes with having cancer. He felt pretty good for a while and then on Thanksgiving day in 1990 we got the news that he had liver cancer. He decided he was not going to go through all that he had before and was just going to stay at home. Mom nursed him two months along with us kids helping out and we all had very meaningful times with him. Dee talked to Dad about his faith in Jesus and about two weeks before he died Dee baptized both Dad and Mom. In January of 1991 Dad died and we had our own funeral service. Monte and Jeff dug the grave at the cemetery in Trout Lake, Dee and Cliff built the casket using wood logged and cut from the farm, Mom dressed him in his favorite brown plaid flannel shirt, and all the boys carried Dad and put him in the casket. Each family member placed a carnation on Dad’s chest and said a few words, and then we closed up the casket and hauled him to the cemetery in his pickup.
After Dad died Mom continued to do Cousin Camp and invest much of her time and energy into her Grandkids. Also during this time that she was not responsible for a husband or directly for a family she decided that she needed to invest more of her life serving the Lord, and began to pray for God to open up a door for her to do something meaningful with her life. The combination of those two things resulted in her having a dream of starting a camp using the old Trout Lake School. The big question was where would the money come from to buy the School and start the camp. Then Mom got the idea of selling her twenty acres and using the money to buy the School. Many people thought she was crazy, but that only motivated her more to pursue this dream. She talked to Jeff and Beki about it, they got excited about the dream as well, and before long they sold the farm and bought the school in 1996. The name Jonah Ministries came about from discussions about bailing out on the dream because it was going to be too hard to accomplish, which Mom equated to Jonah running away from God’s assignment for him. They gave the School board $2,500 in Ernest money and then, the first week after they put money down, a man from Portland called Jeff and Beki and asked them if they wanted to sell any acreage, which they hadn’t even listed it yet. They made arrangements to meet for dinner, and this man drew out a map of what Jeff recognized as his and Beki’s farm ground. The man then offered cash to purchase the twenty acres that Jeff thought would be the hardest to sell. He offered the exact amount that was needed to buy the school. Mom thought it was great fun to go back to the School Board a week later and hand them the money for the School. The buildings and grounds needed a lot of work to make it suitable for a camp for kids so Mom, Jeff and Beki began to work hard on it using the money from the sale of the farm for expenses and to live on, recruiting as many people as possible to help on the project. Jonah Ministries started five years after Dad died, and the very first camp was a music camp. Western Baptist College (now known as Corban University) sent a team of four kids as counselors. Sarah Duke, now Sarah Hatfield, one of Mom’s grandkids who was a major participant in all of Mom’s Cousin Camps was one of them, and she directed the first Music Camp. Over the years many of the grandkids, trained in Cousin Camp by Mom, worked at Jonah as counselors. Mom sure got her dream and spent approximately the next 15 years working 14 hour days cooking, cleaning, planting flowers, painting, making curtains, holding the end of a tape measure for Jeff, putting plastic on windows, and working with kids.
Then Mom started getting old and tired and stepped back from most of her responsibilities at Jonah which was really hard for her to do and she spent much time praying for Jonah, Jeff and Beki, and her family.
Mom told of a dream she had a few years ago where she died and went to heaven, and she was asked the question, “What did you bring with you?” Her response was, “I brought these, and there was a big, long line of people, you know how it gets littler and littler and goes over the hill, and then you can’t see it anymore, this is what I brought”
She also described her family like the parable of the mustard seed that Jesus told. It began with Mom and Dad and after years there is the miracle of a family that is just awesome with kids, daughter-in-laws, a wonderful son-in-law, 24 grandkids, and 85 great grandkids. As Mom put it, “our family is so wonderful, it is almost scary.”
Thanks for sharing your Mom’s story. It is so motivating and encouraging!