Thursday, September 28, 2017

Finding Playboy Magazines in a Dormitory's Dumpster

In this blog I have written a couple of articles about finding things on campus:

1) Concordia College Freshman Beanie Caps, about finding beanies under the football stadium's bleachers. This is by far the most popular article in this blog -- it has received more than a quarter-million hits.

2) Finding and Redeeming Empty Bottles of Husker Pop, about finding empty pop bottles under the campus's bushes. I published this article yesterday.

Today -- prompted by yesterday's death of Hugh Hefner -- I am publishing this article about finding Playboy magazines on the campus of Concordia College, an educational institution that taught future Lutheran pastors and parochial-school teachers.

This event happened in about June 1964, the last year when my family lived on Faculty Lane. Later that summer, we moved out to North Columbia Avenue, farther from the campus. I was 11 years old.

Here is the cover of the issue dated February 1964.

Here is the cover of the issue dated May 1964.

Eleven-year-old Lutheran faculty-kid boys at Concordia College had few opportunities to look inside Playboy magazines in 1964. I never saw the magazine for sale in Seward, but I saw it in book stores in Lincoln. My family shopped in Lincoln for school clothes and for Christmas presents, so I saw the magazine in a book store there once or twice a year. I saw only the magazine covers, because each magazine was wrapped in plastic.

Playboy magazine was famous and rather unique in 1964. The first real competitor was Penthouse, which was founded in the United Kingdom in 1965 but did not go on sale in the USA until 1969.

A few Playboy magazines did occasionally get into the Lutheran schoolboy hands. Seward had a public school that was attended by immoral families, and those families had immoral fathers and immoral older brothers who occasionally bought Playboy magazines in Lincoln. Eventually some of those magazines were given to or stolen by immoral younger brothers. Because Seward was a small town where public-school and parochial-school boys knew each other, some of those Playboy magazines eventually fell into the hands of Lutheran schoolboys. That's how I imagine that much of the circulation of Playboy magazine among boys happened in Seward.

I was a close friend of John Garmatz, and I happened to meet him often when we were delivering newspapers in the mornings. On a few such occasions, he had a Playboy magazine and showed it to me. John and I were most interested in looking at, however, the magazine's Little Annie Fanny cartoons than at the naked women.

John and I shared a passion for Mad Magazine because it was full of funny cartoons. We both subscribed to Mad and bought and shared many of its cartoon books.

We were interested in looking at Playboy's naked women, but we were only around 11-13 years old, and those women were around 20 years old. I could not really imagine a plausible sexual fantasy with such old and large women. Whenever I ever enjoyed sexual fantasies, they were about more age-appropriate girls -- who likewise were about 11-13 years old.


One day in about 1964, one of my classmates invited me to go with him to look in the dumpsters behind the men's dormitory northeast of the football field. I don't remember the dormitory's name. I do remember my classmate's name, but I will keep it secret here.

This was a good day to look in the dumpsters, because the college's school year had just ended and practically all the students had just departed. Even before we looked in the dumpster, my schoolmate knew what we would find, because he had looked in previous years.

We found some Playboy magazines! My classmate and I divvied them up. I don't remember exactly how many were in my share, but maybe about four. I took them home and studied them during the following days. Then I threw them away, because I was terrified that my Mom would find them.

It was exciting to be able to study such forbidden material, but my sexual arousal was limited. For an eleven-year-old boy, the sight of a 20-year-old naked woman was monstrous. It was difficult for me to fantasize what I might do with such a large naked woman even if I had the opportunity.

I promised myself to return to the dumpster in the following years. However, since we had moved out to North Columbia, doing so was no longer so convenient. Keep in mind that there was only a few days when I could have found the Playboy magazines -- after the departing men cleaned out their dormitory rooms and before the dumpsters were emptied into the garbage trucks.


I don't have any memory of seeing Playboy or any other pornography during my Seward years. In those days and in that place, we grew up without seeing pornographic pictures.

There was a period, when I was in about seventh grade, when I would go to the college library's children section and read the books about puberty. Those books -- maybe three books -- would describe sexual intercourse briefly in a straight-forward manner, without illustrations. Reading those passages aroused me, and so I went back to the library and read those passages many times.

Also, St. John Elementary School had a subscription to National Geographic, which sometimes had articles illustrated with photographs of primitive tribes where the women went topless. When our class went down to the library for a period, we boys always would look at the current National Geographic, and on a few, rare  occasions we did find such photographs. I don't count that as pornography, however.


I have one other, small memory about Playboy during my Seward years. When I attended Concordia High School, one building's basement had a small cafeteria for the campus. There were some small tables there, and students from both the high school and the college would sit there and talk. This was before the campus had a student center.

Anyway, one day I came into this cafeteria, and I heard a college guy sitting at a table with a couple of college girls, and he was telling them about Playboy magazine. I was astonished to hear him tell them without any embarrassment that he read Playboy all the time. He explained that the magazine had a lot of interesting articles. Of course, these two Concordia College were outraged and scoffed at his interesting-articles justification. They accused him of getting the magazine just so he could look at pictures of naked women.

I understood the girls' reaction, but since I myself had been able to study a few Playboy magazines, I knew that he was right about the magazine having interesting articles too.

The Solar Eclipse on July 20, 1963

I wish I could have been in Seward during the eclipse on August 21, 2017.

When I was living in Seward, I experienced an eclipse that happened on July 20, 1963. At that time, I was ten years old and living on Faculty Lane.

The total eclipse passed through Canada, but some of the effect was seen in Nebraska. The following screen-shot, from the Time and Date website, shows the full eclipse passing through Ontario (upper-right) but effecting Lincoln (lower-left).

Eclipse on July 20, 1963, passing through Ontario
Below is another screen-shot from the same map.

We kids were warned that if we looked directly at the sun, then we would be blinded immediately. Therefore we were instructed to make pin-hole boxes to use to see merely an image of the eclipse.


We spent the time and effort to make such boxes, but they were useless for seeing the slight eclipse in Seward. Even before the eclipse began, we could not see the sun at all.

My memory of that day is rather vague. The eclipse effect was not much more that the effect of the sun passing behind clouds. I got bored and went inside to watch television or something like that, and so I missed the eclipse's culmination.

During the eclipse of August 2017, I was living in New Jersey, where the distance and effect was similar to the effect in Seward in 1963. Again, the effect was slight, and I got bored after about 15 minutes and went in side and missed the darkest moment.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Virtual Tour of Concordia's Campus

You can take a virtual tour of the campus on this webpage.

One of the videos shows the Music Center. That building now covers the space where our Sylwester family home stood on Faculty Lane.

One of the videos shows Weller Hall, and much of that video shows the theater. My Dad's office was in the basement, right under that theater.

Finding and Redeeming Empty Bottles of Husker Pop

Now I am an old man living in New Jersey. I often walk in a nearby park, and every time I am dismayed to see so many empty soda bottles discarded onto the park grass. Often the bottles are lying very close to the park's garbage receptacles. I become angry that people litter bottles onto our neighborhood park.

A few weeks ago I was walking and getting mad about this bottle litter, and I thought to myself that people in Seward, Nebraska, during my time there always had the good sense to throw their empty pop bottles into garbage cans.

When I lived in Seward, we called such bottles "pop bottles", because we caused the inside, fizzy drink "pop".

Anyway, as I was walking in my park and getting mad about this bottle litter, I suddenly remembered that we too in Seward had bottle litter. In fact, I used to find and pick up discarded bottles from the ground all the time, because I could redeem them for money at local stores.

As I remember -- maybe incorrectly -- I could redeem a bottle for two cents. Since I earned only 30¢ a day for delivering newspapers, I enjoyed a windfall if I found a couple of empty bottles and thus earned an extra 4¢.

The place where I found most of my bottles was on the Concordia campus. The bottles almost never were lying on the open ground. Rather, they were thrown under bushes. I learned to look under the bushes as I drive through the campus on my way home from my paper route to my home on Faculty Lane.

Yes, some of our nice Lutheran college students were litter bugs, but at least they had the minimal couth to try to hide their litter under bushes. In that regard, those students were better than the jerks in my local park.


While living in Seward, I practically never drank Pepsi or Coca Cola. When I had to stay home sick, my Mom would buy a bottle of 7-Up to serve me as a treat. The only dark-brown pop I remember drinking was root beer.

Mostly we drank fruit-flavored pop. My favorite was cherry-flavored pop. That is what I always would drink if ever I had a choice. I probably never bought a bottle. I would drink it only if it was available for free at a picnic or baseball-team party other such special event.


Seward had its own pop-bottling company, which was named Husker, in honor of the mascot of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. The company's bottling building was located near the start of my paper route, on Jackson Street, across the street from the water tower. I rode my bicycle past the building every morning, but it was closed at that early hour.

When I went to collect money from my customers, I rode past the building during the daytime, and the big front door was open and so then I could see inside. I have a vague memory that I walked a short distance inside the building a couple of times -- just out of curiosity. I had no business being inside there.

I did not redeem my found empty bottles at that building, because the workers there did not want to be bothered. I redeemed them at a grocery store.


I searched  the Internet looking for an old photograph of that Husker building, but did not find any. I did find the following article, which was published on November 23, 1982, and was titled Husker pop fizzles out.
SEWARD, Neb. -- A nearly century-long tradition of making Husker soda pop has fizzled out.

Dr. Paul Hoff, the Seward physician who owns Husker Beverage Works, said competition from national soft drink firms made it impossible to keep the one-man operation going.

He shut down Monday.

'Business wasn't too bad, but it wasn't good enough for the business to be viable,' Hoff said.

Husker soda pop, with a picture of a Nebraska Cornhusker football player on each bottle, had been bottled and sold in some form since the late 1800s.

With 12 flavors ranging from black cherry to cream soda, Husker Beverage eked out a small share of the local market over the years, selling nearly 1,000 cases of pop per week in its heyday and 200 to 250 cases most recently.

The market area included 32 towns within a 50-mile radius of Seward.

A case sold for $4.66 plus deposit. Tom Stewart, the plant's manager and only full-time worker, said the remaining stock will be sold for $5 per case.

Husker Beverage sold pop to stores and directly to the customers, mostly children who hankered for a thirst quencher on hot summer days.

Until the end, youngsters still paid a discount rate of 15 cents per bottle.
I left Seward in 1968, so this closing of the company happened about 14 years after I left.

On a discussion forum for people who collect antique bottles, I found also the following comment.
I finally ran across some information I had regarding Husker Beverages. Here goes!

The origins of Husker can be traced to the 1890's and a company named Seward Bottling Works founded by Fred Bick.

Around 1908 the business was sold to Jake Imig who bottled soda pop for many years in Seward. In 1940 Francis "Pop" Imig and Hook Miers took over the business and moved it to 629 Jackson Street and adopted the name Husker Beverage. In 1946, Pop Imig's younger brother, Henry, returned from the war and purchased Mr. Mier's interest.

About this time, Lloyd Cardwell of Seward was on his way to becoming an inductee in the Cornhusker Hall Of Fame. Lloyd wore jersey #24 when he played for the Huskers. He later went on to a successful pro career, playing for the Detroit Lions. Lloyd was the first player to be portrayed on the Husker label, which was designed by Percy Ost.

In future years, Husker Beverages would similarly honor #12 Bobby Reynolds, a 1950 All-American halfback from Grand Island; and #14 Jerry Tagge, the star quarterback from the 1970-71 national championship teams.
It's a good thing that some people collect antique bottles and expend much effort to gather and preserve such memorabilia and information.


On the Internet I found also some photographs of vintage Husker items. The first photograph is of a bottle of strawberry pop.

A bottle of Husker strawberry pop.
Next is a picture of my favorite cherry pop. What a beautiful color!
A bottle of Husker cherry pop.
The pop is still in this very old bottle, so it's like a vintage wine. I would open the bottle and drink the all the cherry pop out if it right now if I could!

Now it seems obvious that the company name Husker was related to the university football team, but I never made that connection when I was a boy in Seward -- even though the bottles were illustrated with a picture of a football player. I thought that the name "husker" came more directly from the mundane activity of husking corn cobs -- a common activity in southeast Nebraska. The word "Husker" was an old slang word for "Nebraskan".

I was so used to seeing Husker pop bottles that the picture of the football player did not register meaningfully in my brain. The relationship did not register until very recently, when I was doing the research for this article.

Three empty Husker pop bottles
For people who collect antique bottles, the above set of three empty Husker bottles is worth about $15.


My second-favorite flavor was lemon-lime, which was called B-1. I remember that name, but I have no idea of the name's origin. Here is a photo.
A bottle of Husker lemon-lime ("B-1") pop.
Below is a photo of a B-1 bottle's front and back sides. You can see on the photograph's caption that the bottle comes from Seward.
A bottle of Husker lemon-lime ("B-1") pop -- front and back.

When I rode my bicycle past the Husker building, I always saw stacks of bottle crates that looked like this ...

A wood crate for Husker pop bottles
...  and like this.
A wood crate for Husker pop bottles
People who collect antique bottles also collect such crates.


The first picture of a cherry pop bottle above was from a webpage about an auction of antique bottles. That webpage includes the following information (words capitalized as in the original):

Cripple Creek Auctions, Inc.


International Buyers – Please Note:

Import duties, taxes and charges are not included in the item price or shipping charges. These charges are the buyer's responsibility.

Please check with your country's customs office to determine what these additional costs will be prior to bidding/buying.

International Buyers, please read our shipping policies carefully before bidding/buying.

I am a Trading Assistant - I can sell items for you!


This lot contains a great looking FULL BOTTLE OF STRAWBERRY SODA that was put out by the HUSKER BEVERAGE CO.

This company started in the 1940's by a gentleman who lived in Seward, Nebraska. The owner of this company was an avid Nebraska Husker Fan and when he decided to start this company he decided he would put out a Strawberry flavored Pop and he would call it the HUSKER BEVERAGE COMPANY.

And, one of his favorite players was a player by the name of LLOYD CARDWELL. Lloyd Cardwell was an outstanding player for the Nebraska Cornhusekrs from 1934 - 1936. He shared the backfield with Nebraska All-American Sam Francis. Lloyd Cardwells Nickname was "Wild Hoss" and he is the only Nebraska Football Player who scored a touchdown the first time he touch the ball as a Cornhusker and the last time he touch the ball as a Cornhusker.

He was a fabulous player - but - Cardwell was often overshadowed by Sam Francis who came in second in the Heisman Ballot in 1936 - the first year that the Heisman Trophy was given out. He was edged out by Jay Berwanger of Chicago, the first Heisman Trophy Winner. Sam Francis was then the #1 player picked in the 1937 NFL Draft and Cardwell was a 4th round pick of the Detroit Lions and he had a very productive NFL Career.

Lloyd Cardwell wore jersey #24 and thus, on the first bottles that was made by the HUSKER BEVERAGE COMPANY, the owner of the company honored Cardwell by illustrating a picture of a Nebraska player wearing jersey number #24

The front of the bottle said, HUSKER - A CHAMPION IN FLAVOR.

It then had the football player and then a football in the background.

Later on, in the early 1950's the owner paid tribute to Bobby Reynolds by putting out a second bottle with the same player, but this time, the player was wearing a jersey with a number 12 - in honor of Bobby Reynolds.

Then again in the 1970's a third bottle was put out with the same graphics - except a player with a jersey number with #14 appeared on bottles - and this bottle was put out in honor of Jerry Tagge.

So, in the early 1970's the owner of Husker Beverage paid tribute to Jerry Tagge by putting out this third bottle.
That is a brief history of the three bottles that was put out by Husker Beverage.

And, the Full Pop Bottle of Strawberry Soda that is featured in this lot is the bottle with #12 in honor of BOBBY REYNOLDS.

These bottles were made until the company went out of business in the 1980's. The early bottles were dated on the bottom, and thus, you can tell how old the bottles were by looking on the bottom of the bottles.

This particular bottle was made in 1960.

Also, the pop bottle itself evolved over the years - and in the end the bottles were 10 oz. bottles that offered a refund for returning the bottle.

The early bottles were 7 oz. bottles. The bottle in this lot is the early bottle that was the 7 oz. Bottle with early Pop Cap.

The older bottles are still the most valuable.

In the 1990's a company took over the operation of Seward Bottle Company and started to put out bottles, but they were in the plastic bottles and newer glass bottles. The new items are not overly attractive to collectors, but the old items are fabulous items to collect.

The value of such antique bottles seems to have a range mostly of about $7 to $9. Unfortunately, I redeemed many dozens of such bottles for about 2¢ apiece.

Cold hands while delivering newspapers

One of my Seward acquaintances, Mark Stadsklev, recently posted on Facebook a photograph of a Jon-e Warmer that he won while working as a paperboy.

A Jon-E Warmer
Mark wrote:
About forty or fifty years ago I won this as a newspaper delivery boy.

Yup. The one speed bicycle, the 40# white bags over the shoulders and darn well better put that paper inside the screen door! No plastic bag thrown somewhere agin the cabin in the olden days. Ben Franklin had rules against us doin' dat.
I delivered the Lincoln Star newspaper, which gave prizes for selling new subscriptions. I remember winning only one prize, which was a pocket knife. The blade was very sharp, and I cut my finger by merely touching it.

I never had one of those warmers that Mark won. Seeing this picture recalled only a very vague memory of them. It's my understanding that you filled such a warmer with a special fluid, lit it briefly like a cigarette lighter, and then put the into your coat pocket. The warmer kept the pocket's inside warm for a long time, and so you could warm your hand by inserting it into the warm pocket.

I should have bought a couple of these warmers, because my hands got very cold when I delivered newspapers on winter mornings. The cold wind always seemed to blow against me, no matter which direction I was riding my bicycle. My only defense against the cold was to wear two pairs of mittens.

On some mornings I returned from my route crying because my fingers were so cold. I would come into the house and hold my hands under warm water from the bathroom sink's faucet. And then I would lie down on the floor next to a heat register for about 15 minutes. I think I must have been almost frostbitten.

In those circumstances, a couple of those warmers probably would have been worth the money I would have spent on them. I just never thought about buying them.

I suppose I should have chosen a warmer as a subscription-selling prize instead of a pocket knife. I don't remember using my pocket knife for anything at all. In that regard, Mark Stadsklev had more good sense than I did.

Fortunately, my Mom or Dad usually would get up and drive my on my delivery route when the weather was extremely cold. I still remember and am grateful for their doing that for me.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Watching the World Series During School

The recent World Series, which was decided on the seventh game, reminded me of two such World Series games that happened while I attended St John Elementary School. When both those games were being broadcast, our teacher turned on the television so that we could watch the final innings.

In those days, ordinary people could not record television shows, and so we male teachers and students had to watch the game when it was broadcast. The girls in the class were not interested in the game, but they had to watch anyway.


When I was in seventh grade, the 1964 World Series was played between the New York Yankees and the Saint Louis Cardinals. The Series was decided on the seventh game, which the Cardinals won by a score of 7 to 5. The final game took place on Thursday, October 15, 1964, in Saint Louis, Missouri. It was a day game (not a night game), as can be seen in these photographs of the game's ending.


The teacher who let us watch this game was either Rupert Giesselmann or Harold Zimbrick. I remember this occasion vividly because we students were not given a break from watching the game and eventually I had to pee so badly that I worried I might wet my pants.


When I was in fifth grade, the 1962 World Series was played between the New York Yankees and the San Francisco Giants. The final game took place on Tuesday, October 16, 1962, in San Francisco, California, and New York won by a score of 1 to 0.

That game must not have been the game that we watched, because Nebraska was two time zones ahead of Nebraska, and so we could have watched the final innings after school.

I think that we must have watched the fourth game, which took place in New York on Monday, October 8, 1962. (The fifth game was delayed because of a rain storm, and so we could have watched it after school.) The teacher who let us watch was Herbert Peter.

This video shows highlights of the 1962 World Series, and the fourth-game highlights begin at 18:04. You can see that it was a day game.

I don't remember much about those two baseball years. The year that I remember most was the 1961 season, because of the competition between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris to hit the most home runs. However, that year we had a female teacher, and there was no way she would have let her class watch any baseball game on television.

Anyway, I am rather sure that we did not have televisions in our classrooms in 1961. They were installed a few years later. (By the way, we eventually got televisions in our classrooms because of my father, Robert Sylwester, put them there for the student-teacher program that he managed.)


I write another blog about the movie Dirty Dancing, and there I have published an article about the Jewish baseball player Sandy Koufax, who was a role-model for us at St. John.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Seward Origins of My Mom's Religious Revolt

My mother, Ruth (née Maier) Sylwester died on May 12, 2016, at the age of 83. She enjoyed a long, happy life. She gave birth to and raised seven children, all of whom are still alive. She died peacefully, of natural causes.

Ruth Sylwester at about the age of 80
I am the first of her seven children, born in 1952. The seventh was born in 1961, so she gave birth to seven children in about nine years. She gave birth to three boys in a row, then to one girl, and then to three more boys in a row. (Mike, Steve, Tim, Tricia, Larry, Peter, Andy)

My Mom and Dad visited my family in New Jersey in 2008.
Here we are in the dressing room of a Manhattan fashion show
where my daughter Luka (on the left) appeared as a model.
She was an intelligent, attentive, loving, encouraging, tolerant, calm mother. She remained married to Robert Sylwester to the end.

Ruth Maier at about the age of 18.
She grew up as a "PK" -- a "preacher's kid". Her father served as the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Eugene, Oregon, for about a quarter century. He was the pastor at her marriage ceremony in that church. One of her brothers, Don, became a Lutheran pastor.

While attending high school, she served as the yearbook editor, she was inducted into the National Honor Society, and she was awarded a scholarship to attend the University of Oregon.

She dropped out of her first university semester to get married, when she was barely 19 years old. My Dad was 24 years old and was the one-person staff -- teacher, bus driver and janitor -- of a Lutheran elementary school in Vancouver, Washington.

Dad still was working at that school when I was born ten months later. Mom remained home as a housewife for the next two decades.

After her youngest child, Andy, began attending school, Mom resumed her college education and eventually earned two Masters Degrees -- in 1) Library Science.and 2) Secondary Education. Subsequently, she worked as a school librarian and finally as a bookstore owner. She read avidly and filled our home with books and periodicals.

She filled our home also with antiques and art. Our home was decorated beautifully. She well could have become an artist. For a couple years she wove artistic fabrics on a loom.


A key development in my Mom's intellectual life was her rejection of the Lutheran Church. In about 1970, a couple years after our family moved from Nebraska to Oregon, she stopped attending church services. The church that she stopped attending was the church she had attended as a child, where her father had served as pastor.

My Dad objected to her decision, and they argued about attending church practically every weekend for a couple of years. Sometimes there was yelling, and always there was at least angry tension. He argued for staying and trying to reform the Church. This weekly drama traumatized our family.

My Dad continued to attend church services without her. The children had to attend with him, but they too stopped attending church as soon as they could get away with it.

I myself was rather critical of my Mom's refusal to attend church. I thought that her marriage obligated her to deal with her religious change in a more compromising, gradual manner. Her refusal to attend church embarrassed her family, especially my Dad. In the weekly arguments at home, she often lost her temper and sometimes made anti-male comments, which upset me.

She emphasized her complaint that our Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (LCMS) adhered to a doctrine of forbidding women to serve in positions of authority. More generally, however, she had lost her belief in Christianity.

Gradually this argument between my parents dwindled. Dad continued to attend church, and Mom continued to stay home. All the children went through confirmation (Steve and I already had done so in Seward), and the youngest Andy was confirmed in about 1974. Perhaps that final confirmation marked the end of that family trouble.

After Mom rejected Christianity, she developed a personal religion, which featured reincarnation. She believed she had lived other lives in the past and would live other lives in the future. She believed in a spiritual world and in divine beings. She believed in spiritual mediums and sometimes visited fortune-tellers. Ironically, Mom became much more spiritual than Dad, who was quite a rationalist.

I respect Mom's rebellion from Christianity. My Mom made a difficult intellectual decision and upheld it in the face of disapproval. Her apostasy upset her retired-pastor father and other Lutheran relatives.

I myself have evolved far from Christian doctrine. I attend church only rarely, and then I usually attend a local Roman Catholic church. My religious evolution was not, however, affected significantly by my Mom's rebellion.

Now that my Mom has died and I reminisce about her life, I consider her religious rebellion to be an important turning-point in my perception of her personality. She became significantly more self-assertive, intellectually independent and argumentative.


After Mom died, I discussed her religious rebellion with my godmother Marion, who grew up with her, almost as a sister. Marion told me that already in adolescence my Mom resented her father's patriarchal attitudes. He had in his home library a book titled Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives and Women Preachers, which criticized uppity females. At some point Mom angrily stole that book from his library and eventually gave it to her daughter Tricia as a relic -- according to Marion.

I do not remember my Mom ever saying anything negative about Christianity while we lived in Seward. I suppose she made some snide remarks about the Lutheran Church's discrimination against women, but any such remarks did not impress me as serious. I did not perceive any portents that she would quit the church angrily a couple years later.

Now as I look back now, though, I think that her religious rebellion began, under the surface, already in Seward. I regret now that I did not question my Mom about this when she still was alive. Now I have to speculate a lot as I write this article.


We lived in Seward from 1959 to 1968 -- when I was age six to 15.

Our family had a photograph album that had many photographs of our Seward years, but the album has been lost. Until the album is found, I have practically no Seward photographs of our family to put into this blog.

The below photograph was taken at about the beginning of 1958. My Mom had recently turned 25 years old and already had four children. She is wearing a maternity dress for her fifth child, Larry, who was born in February 1958. About a year-and-a-half later, our family moved from Eugene to Seward.

Family of Robert and Ruth Sylwester in about 1958 in Eugene, Oregon.
(Left to right) Ruth, Tricia, Mike, Steve, Tim, Robert.
(Ruth was obviously pregnant with Larry.)
During that last year-and-a-half in Eugene, my Dad was studying for his doctorate at the University of Oregon (UO). We lived in a small apartment that the university owned and provided for married graduate students. Baby Larry slept in a dresser drawer.

Until my Dad became a graduate student, he had attended only Lutheran parochial schools for his entire life. He attended Lutheran elementary and high schools in Portland, Oregon, and then attended Concordia College in Seward, Nebraska. Then he taught at a Lutheran elementary school in Vancouver, Washington, for several years before enrolling in the UO doctoral program. When my Dad finished his doctoral work, he became eligible to fill a faculty position at Concordia College in Seward.

So, except for that couple of years as a UO graduate student, my Dad attended and taught at Lutheran schools. Although my Mom had grown up as a Lutheran preacher's kid, she attended only public schools, because Eugene did not have any Lutheran schools. My Mom's first experience with Lutheran schools happened after she married my Dad and became the wife of a a teacher at a Lutheran elementary school.

Since my Dad was the school's only staff member, there were no other staff members' wives who might have socialized as peers with my Mom. I suppose that she was isolated somewhat from the society of Christian education, even though she was married to a Christian educator.


Concordia College provided housing to its faculty members, but when our family arrived in 1959, there was no house available in Seward that was large enough for our seven-member family. Therefore, our family was assigned to live in a large house that was located in Middle Creek, several miles outside of Seward. Our house was surrounded by farmland. Our house stood next to a church and a one-room school that served the area's farmers.

We lived in Middle Creek for a year. I loved attending second grade in the one-room school so much that I felt sad to move away to Seward. I described our Middle Creek year in a previous article of this blog.

When we moved into our Middle Creek home, my Mom was 26 years old, the mother of five young children and pregnant with her sixth. (Peter was born in the middle of our year there.)

Our house in Middle Creek was infested with insects, especially boxelder bugs. I remember the day we moved into the house, when I was horrified by seeing many of them crawling around everywhere.

The house was infested by moths, and we had to put mothballs in all our clothes closets. The house was infested also with mice, so we set mousetraps in the kitchen, and every morning we threw a dead mouse or two into the garbage.

So, Mom suffered a bad start in our Nebraska years. Our Nebraska house was infested. Mom had no nearby Nebraska neighbors in Middle Creek and did not have the free time to travel into Seward to socialize with other Nebraska faculty wives there. Probably Mom's first Nebraska winter was cold, windy and snowy.


After we had lived for a year in Middle Creek, our family was assigned to our home in Seward, on Faculty Lane. There we were surrounded by other faculty families. Each family had many children who attended the nearby Lutheran elementary school. Mom socialized with the neighboring faculty wives. The children's extracurricular activities -- sports, plays, concerts, field trips, swimming lessons, etc. -- brought the parents together. During the summers, big picnics took place on the campus for all the faculty families.

In our last couple of years in Seward, many of the faculty married couples got together for volleyball games in the gymnasium, and Mom really enjoyed that social activity.

Mom enjoyed many happy times in Seward, but I think she always felt somewhat alienated. Her heart was back in Oregon. She did not want to participate actively in whatever clubs, activities and projects that were available for Concordia's or Seward's women. Her large family always gave her an excuse to avoid participating. She basically was an introvert, and her life in Seward reinforced her introversion. She stayed mostly within her immediate family.

The Seward Concordia experience probably socialized my Mom less than it socialized other faculty wives.


A hobby that Mom developed and enjoyed in our early Seward years was buying and restoring antique furniture. She bought the furniture mostly at farm-household auctions. Today we would call them "estate sales". The farm parents grew too old to operate the family farm, and the children did not want to take over the farm. The family sold the farm and home and all its stuff. The farm family hired a professional auctioneer to come to the farm and to auction everything away during a Saturday.

Mom began going to these auctions soon after we moved onto Faculty Lane. We now had a big house but little furniture. She began by buying basic furniture -- beds, dressers, tables, chairs. She soon learned how to improve the furniture's quality by stripping off the old paint or varnish, sandpapering the surfaces smooth and then brushing on new paint or varnish. I remember seeing her spend hours restoring furniture pieces for hours on our Faculty Lane driveway. She did this work outside because of the turpentine, sand papering, varnish, paint, etc.

She continued going to these auctions whenever she could. Sometimes another faculty wife would accompany her -- Betty Stelmachowicz became a rare close friend this way -- but Mom would go alone if necessary. Sometimes she traveled rather long distances. My brother Steve went along with her sometimes. I myself went to one auction, where I bought a television set for my bedroom.

The near solitude of these activities -- the traveling to the auctions, the selecting and bidding at the auctions, the restoring of the furniture, and the decorating of the home -- fit well with Mom's introverted personality. When she did these activities, she might be accompanied by one or two other persons or she might do them completely alone. She was happy doing them alone. Mom loved the artistry of these activities too -- making plain things beautiful.


Dad had much talent in the visual arts. As a child, he had taught himself origami, and he folded beautiful paper decorations for our home every Christmas. As an elementary-school teacher, he had learned many school crafts -- silk-screening, papier-mâché, and so forth. While we lived in Middle Creek, he painted a plain wood hutch as illustrating the song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Part of a family portrait. On the left side is a wooden hutch
that my Dad painted while we were living in Middle Creek, Nebraska.
Eventually Dad focused all his free time on writing and abandoned the visual arts, except for our origami decorations during the Christmas season.

Eventually Mom became our family's visual artist. Her main medium was auction purchases, and her gallery was our home's interior.

By the time we moved away from Seward, our home was full of antiques and art. Soon after we moved back to Eugene, all those antiques and artworks were destroyed in a warehouse fire. My Mom started over and eventually decorated our Eugene home just as beautifully.


Dad's Concordia office was in Weller Hall's basement, right next to the studios where the art classes were conducted. Dad became close friends with the chief art professor, Reinhold Marxhausen, and then with other art professors such as William Wolfram and Richard Wiegman.

In general, my parents socialized mostly with the the faculty members who were involved in the arts -- the visual arts, theater and music -- rather than, say, theology or history. For the purpose of this article, I will characterize the art-specialty faculty members as rather malcontent. Whenever their church art was criticized by Lutheran philistines, the art professors griped about the criticism. For example, I remember Marxhausen griping about criticism he had heard about some cloth banners he had made to decorate some church services. Also, the visual-art professors received outside income for their artworks and therefore could consider quitting their Concordia positions.

My parents' close social interactions with the art professors influenced my Mom. Their particular discontent about the Lutheran church rubbed off on her, especially since she herself had become active in visual arts.

Especially Reinhold Marxhausen inspired Mom's interest in the visual arts. He preached that we always are surrounded by beautiful things if we simply learn to recognize them. He preached that we can easily turn ordinary or found objects artistically into decorative objects. He decorated his own home with such objects, and he also gave a lot of public, slide-show lectures, demonstrating his ideas and found-object art.

Mom admired also his wife Dorris's jolly humor and social confidence. Dorris participated actively in Nebraska state politics. Mom admired Dorris for being a secular activist away from Concordia College.

During the summer of 1964, while our house was being moved from Faculty Lane to North Columbia Avenue, our Sylwester family lived in a dormitory across the street from the Marxhausen home. In this blog, I have written an earlier article about being summer neighbors of the Marxhausen family. This was a time when Mom got to know the Marxhausen family especially well and was influenced by their rather unconventional (for Concordia) lifestyle.


Our family subscribed to two newspapers -- The Omaha World-Herald and The Lincoln Star -- and to a large number of magazines -- Look, Life, Saturday Evening Post, Saturday Review, Readers Digest and so forth. In our early Seward years, Mom did not have time to read books, but she read newspapers and periodicals -- and all the subscriptions were purchased by her.

She also bought book sets for children. For example, our grocery store sold a multi-volume Golden Encyclopedia set -- one volume every month. In general, our family had much more reading material coming into our home than other families.


In a previous article, I wrote about Mom's parents and her oldest brother Bill serving as missionaries in Africa. Uncle Bill and his family returned from Africa to the USA in 1963 or 1964, while our family still was living on Faculty Lane. Uncle Bill's family stayed with us for about a week and then moved to Oklahoma City. We Sylwesters visited them in Oklahoma City for about a week.

Uncle Bill became very critical of the Lutheran Church while he was working as a medical missionary. As I understand, he felt that his doctor skills were not being used effectively and that his family was not supported adequately. So, when he returned to the USA, he spent much of his energy bad-mouthing the Lutheran Church. Eventually he quit the Church completely.

On one occasion, my godmother Marion visited us in Seward, and she and Mom drove together from Seward down to Oklahoma City to visit Uncle Bill and his family for a few days. On Sunday morning, that family did not go to church, but one of the children was watching a religious program on television. Uncle Bill angrily ordered the child to stop watching the program.

My godmother Marion told me that memory recently. She added that Bill was resentful because his father had forbidden him to attend social dances while he was in high school, because he was a pastor's son.

Anyway, I assume that my Mom was influenced significantly by her brother Bill's criticism of the Lutheran Church, of Christianity, and of missionary work in foreign countries. I think she was proud and interested that her parents served as missionaries, but she came to think that missionary work was generally arrogant and chauvinistic.


When our family's youngest child Andy began attending school, Mom began attending classes at Concordia College. This happened during our last two years in Seward, when Mom was about 34-36 years old. Mom's auction-buddy and neighbor Betty Stelmachowicz was attending college classes about the same time, Mom and Betty spent a lot of time talking with each other after classes.

One of the first classes that Mom took was an art class, and I think that subject interested her most. She learned how to mix oil-paint colors and to make mosaics. I think she realized early that she did not have the time, patience and discipline to become proficient in illustrative arts. Eventually she came to prefer collages, weaving, stamping and other such non-illustrative arts.

She also took courses in literature, history and sociology. In these courses she began to read books for the first time in about 15 years. I remember that in her literature course she read a William Faulkner novel.

I remember a particular incident involving her history course. She read about how Ivan the Terrible had used the Christian religion to justify a horrendous massacre of Russian aristocrats. She was seriously upset by the religious hypocrisy of that historical event.

I think that Mom did not take any Concordia classes about Christianity -- about theology, church history or any other religious focus. Instead, she seemed eager to study secular subjects.


Mom read Betty Friedan's book The Feminist Mystique while we lived in Seward. The book was published in 1963, but I think Mom read it a few years later.

The book proclaimed that many women found themselves feeling intellectually stunted in mid-life, after marrying young and then spending many years working only as housewives. Mom recognized herself as just such a woman.

The book inspired Mom to resume her education and to begin a career outside her home. The book caused Mom to much more critically re-examine her own life and the conventions that had influenced her younger decisions. In her own case, her decisions had been influenced strongly by the Lutheran Church.


The years 1967 and 1968 were socially volatile throughout the USA. People were re-thinking and challenging many social conventions -- in politics, racial relations, music, art, fashions and so forth.

During those two years, when Mom was attending Concordia College classes, a major controversy about doctrine was developing in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. I wrote about this in a previous article. The culmination of his controversy during those years was part of the overall social ferment. Some Lutherans were challenging the conventions, and some Lutherans were pushing back against those challenges.

I don't remember my Mom saying anything about this controversy, but I am sure that she sympathized reflexively with all the Lutheran teachers who were being attacked as heretics.

I don't remember Mom expressing any opinions about that controversy while we lived in Seward -- except to make some snide remarks about the Lutheran Church's discrimination against women. Mom did not express any criticisms of other Lutheran doctrines. In retrospect, I think that she did have strong opinions but that she refrained from voicing them in the presence of us children while we lived in Seward. She herself was losing her faith, but she did not want to cause us children to lose our faiths. (She never tried to turn any of her children against Christianity or whatever religious or philosophical beliefs they maintained. She thought each person should decide such beliefs for himself.)

While we lived in Seward, I never had any idea that Mom would quit the Church. Only after -- long after -- she did quit the Church have I considered that her loss of faith probably began already in Seward.


During our last two years in Seward, I attended Concordia High School. Although our family received a faculty discount, attending this parochial school cost money. Paying for a series of seven children to attend Concordia High School and then to attend Lutheran colleges would have been financially ruinous for our family.

My brother Steve remembers overhearing a conversation between my parents in Seward. Mom suggested to Dad that all we children should attend Seward's public high school instead of Concordia High School.

When Dad received an offer to become a professor at the University of Oregon, Mom was eager to move away from Seward Concordia as soon as possible. This was a big step up in Dad's academic career, and he would be earning much better money and benefits. Mom's parents and most of her siblings were living in Oregon. She looked forward to making a new beginning in her life.


Mom enjoyed many happy times in Nebraska. Although she was socially isolated, her solitude facilitated her artistic development. She did have a few good friends among the faculty families, and some of them influenced her well. When she returned to college in her mid-30s, Concordia College was a relatively comfortable place for her to begin. Seward was a place where a major intellectual development in her life began.

Most of all, she wanted to be a good wife and mother, and Seward was a good place to do so. The town was safe, and she let us kids roam around freely, as long as we showed up on time for dinner.

Providing a Christian education to her children was important to her during most -- perhaps all -- of the period when our family lived in Seward. If she indeed did begin to leave Christianity there, that happened only during the last couple years of the eleven years that we lived there.

The attending-church battle between my parents was waged openly for only a couple of years -- during about 1970-1972. Perhaps during that period Mom made some angry statements about Seward Concordia. I really don't remember that she did, but she did make a lot of angry statements during the weekly arguments.

After those battles ended, more than four decades passed. Mom did not bad-mouth Seward or Concordia College, at least that I ever heard about. On the contrary, she discussed that period of our lives positively. As I wrote at the beginning of this article, Mom was an intelligent and calm person. She looked back on that period with a correct perspective, which included an appreciation of that environment's many good qualities, which fostered her family's development and her own personal development.


My Dad's response:

My perspectives of Mom differ slightly from yours on occasion Mike, but this is your perspective, not mine.

For what it's worth, though, Mom's background led her to believe that movies and social dancing were wrong, so I got her to go to movies and to learn how to dance and that it was fine for us to go out to dinner and have a life independent of our family. She subsequently embraced all of these eagerly and found them to be yet another great joy in her life -- going to Salishan, to Ashland, to the theater, traveling to conferences with me, etc.

Relative to religious differences. We actually agreed far more than we disagreed. I thought that the LCMS had been on its way towards a positive theological moderation but got sidetracked by a rabid right -- but that it had values worth preserving. Mom's religious background had been more rigid than mine, so she disagreed. It had nothing worth saving. We had always considered our perspectives as more of an intellectual interaction, and in the end, both of us gave each other the right to our own opinion (something we had also given to each of our children).

Mom was her own self -- private, quiet, and unassuming for the most path. I think she saw me as more gregarious and outgoing. A good balance. We each gave each other a different perspective of life., and that provided the balance and a good marriage and parenting needs.

Two errors, Mike:

1. Mom read Betty Fiedan's The Feminine Mystique during our Seward years. It was a genuinely important book in her life. [This passage in the above article is now fixed.]

2. Mom returned to school librarianship after owning her bookstore for four years. During those final years in her professional career she moved from school to school to reorient libraries -- when teachers went on sabbaticals and things like that -- into beautiful new facilities.


My sister Tricia's response:

I was heavily influenced by Mom's decision to leave the church, and I am thankful for that. Mom was a great role model for me.


My brother Andy's response:

I was struck by two passages:

I myself was rather critical of my Mom's refusal to attend church. I thought that her marriage obligated her to deal with her religious change in a more compromising, gradual manner. Her refusal to attend church embarrassed her family, especially my Dad. In the weekly arguments at home, she often lost her temper and sometimes made anti-male comments, which upset me.

…I myself have evolved far from Christian doctrine. I attend church only rarely, and then I usually attend a local Roman Catholic church. My religious evolution was not, however, affected significantly by my Mom's rebellion.

Everyone who lived in that house was affected by this dispute. I don’t recall us ever talking about how it affected us, beyond the fact that it gave us each an argument to stop going to church. But I was taken aback a bit by Mike’s reminisce, because it is so polar opposite from mine.

First, I never felt embarrassed by Mom’s decision, nor was I ever critical. I felt embarrassed by having to walk down the center aisle when we arrived late, because it felt ‘showy’. This could all be explained by my age. Mike’s reactions could partly be due to his position in the family, and him being in high school.

My reaction to Mom’s complaints, about dominating men in particular, was to wonder what the hell was wrong with men. I paid attention to her, took her as a credible voice, and I reflexively took her side, perhaps because I was youngest, but it has been my impulse through life to favor the underdog. Mom’s complaints have always been with me, and I tried hard to understand what she was so angry about. I was a boy, and became a man, and was acutely aware that I was in the camp that angered her. But I understood it wasn’t everyone that made her mad, it was a certain kind of man. The type of man that demeaned and dismissed her. At many points in my life I’ve sworn to myself I wasn’t going to treat others like some have treated me, or other people I’ve seen mistreated.

As for my religious evolution, not once have I ever been a blind faither. I remember doing my paper route and wondering how God could send babies to Hell, or stupid people who just didn’t know what they were doing, to Hell. I remember when I first started dating Mary, and learned the importance of spirituality to her, that I was missing something, and felt I was ‘broken’ somehow. My thoughts about religion have meandered so far I can’t talk about the topic without nuance. I have come to a place I never could have imagined, where I know that Science can’t answer everything, and that there are aspects of our lives we can never know or understand, and must simply give in to our subconscious.

I don’t believe in any kind of ‘god’, but I recognize a real value to religion, in that it’s a way to commune with others and to connect with a part of ourselves that is an eternal mystery. I don’t resent any of my religious instruction; rather, I feel it gave me a base, a structure that helps me understand our culture, and allowed me to veer off into my own exploration.

There’s not a yes or no, right or wrong to how these things affected us. It’s just interesting to me that they’re so different.