Resettling in America

by Irene Gurganus

It was an extremely difficult time in my life due to the constant pain caused by the injury to the nerve.  My doctor changed the pain medication often to avoid my becoming addicted to it.  I returned to the hospital a number of times for additional treatments and had to lie in bed for long periods of time.  Of course things weren't getting done the way I wished and in addition to everything else, we had the camp to run during that summer.  George Pope only knew how to cook hamburgers and eggs.  My oldest daughter was 13 at the time, and because she got tired of eating her father's hamburgers and scrambled eggs, she got a cookbook and learned to cook.  Both of the girls had to learn to do a lot around the house. Dolores Campbell, who lived next to us until June of that year, aided us by cooking and taking care of our girls before they returned to the States.

In retrospect, I feel God was trying to teach me not to be a perfectionist.  I felt I had to prove myself by the things I did, to show God how much I loved him, which made me very proud.  I always strived for my house to be spotless, my meals flawless.  I would never leave dirty dishes in the sink or leave the house without everything being perfect, which often made us late.  I was living to please people.  The doctor told George that I would always have to wear a Thomas collar.  I didn't think they were very pretty, so I had different colored covers to put over them to match my outfits.  I still thought it looked ugly.  The doctor thought I would never improve so he advised us to go back to the States to the Campbell Clinic in Memphis, Tennessee. Surgery was considered to be too dangerous due to the risk of complete paralysis, so we felt compelled to pursue other options first.  This news was dreadful because we didn't feel like our work in Japan was completed.  But we also trusted that if the Lord wanted us to go back to the States, there must be a reason even if we didn't understand the purpose.

We decided that the girls and I would fly back alone with George remaining to tie up some loose ends.  Because George was working for the Fifth Air Force, I had a priority space on the plane, as there was no one who outranked him on that flight.  It was hard to sit upright for so long, but we were well taken of.  My sister and other members of my family met us upon arrival and we stayed in her home for a while.  Later I was able to go to Henderson, Tennessee, where George had landed a position as head of the Speech department at Freed-Hardeman College.  Henderson was only about two hours from Memphis where I was to be treated.  The Air Force had packed all our things and paid to have them sent to Henderson.  We found a little house to rent so that we would have somewhere to put the furniture when it arrived.  There were several families who were very helpful.  George Pope came soon and began teaching.

Life there was quite different, especially for our girls.  They had a different cultural orientation about what it meant to be a Christian.  Many things we felt were inappropriate for young girls from a Christian family to do were allowed by other parents.  They felt they were being treated differently from the other young people.  Later on, they thanked us for being as strict as we were, saying it showed how much we loved them.  Our oldest daughter had found the strict guidelines particularly hard.  There was a handsome young man of 13 who tried to spend a lot of time with her.  For a couple of years, he hung around our house a lot, but they behaved very well and there were no negative incidents.  

The Road to Recovery

There were two very important events that occurred in Henderson.  First, during the first year, someone told us about an osteopath in Jackson, about a 20-minute drive from Henderson, who had great success with problems similar to mine.  So after much prayer, I went to see him.  He said he thought he could help me but that it would take time.  He did some treatments similar to what a chiropractor would do. I went to him every weekday for two or three months and there was definitive improvement.  Gradually he cut the visits to four times weekly, then three, two and finally once a week.  Within a year I was back on my feet and doing fairly well.

My Dad's Final Days

My father came to visit us that summer.  He had decided to sell his business in Chicago and retire so he came to spend some time with us.  While he was there he took long walks, but began to complain of his legs feeling kind of rubbery.  He wasn't too concerned but he did mention it several times.  The first Sunday he was there, we went to church and he stayed home and took a walk.  That night as we got ready to go back to church, he asked if we weren't going to invite him.  For many, many years I had asked my father to go to church and for many, many years he had refused.  So I just assumed he was still going to say no.  While I was in Japan I had written him many letters about what we did and how I felt but he never answered them.  Anyway, he said he wanted to go to church and we gladly took him.  The next day, he said he was ready to study the Bible.  We were elated!  George began to study with him, but the condition in his legs became so severe by the end of the week that he felt he needed to go back to Chicago to see his doctor.

My sister had called and said there were some papers he needed to sign regarding the sale of his business, He planned to return home, sign the papers, get a checkup and return to continue his studies.  His doctor administered various kinds of tests, yet couldn't determine the cause of the problem, so they decided it was serious enough to perform exploratory surgery.  Dad was a bit reluctant because of his heart ailment.  He was admitted into the hospital on a Thursday and on Friday night he suddenly became paralyzed from the armpits down.  The doctors felt compelled to do exploratory surgery, yet at the same time, were concerned of his ability to survive the operation.  It was extremely difficult for me because he was ready to study the Bible, ready to learn.  Jesus said if you seek, you will find and if you knock, the door will be opened.  I just couldn't believe he was going to die without having the opportunity to study or that I wasn't going to have an opportunity to discuss it with him.  I called the hospital urgently asking to talk to my father, as he was being sent to surgery.  I persuaded them to let me talk to him for a minute and asked him if he was really serious about studying the Bible.  I was thrilled that he said yes, and told him that I felt sure that everything would be all right and that he would have the opportunity to study.  I also told him I would be there by the time he came out of the recovery room.

We drove to Memphis and I flew to Chicago from there.  A friend of mine met me with news that was not very good.  When I got to the hospital my sister informed me they had found a cancer the size of a grapefruit between his breastbone and spine.  Because of all the nerves connected to it they couldn't remove it all and it would grow back, probably within a few weeks leaving him paralyzed once again.

They hadn't told Dad everything, so he was very optimistic about being able to stand and walk again. He told me he would walk out of that room and come back to Tennessee and study.  Being in constant pain, it was hard for him to talk or even listen, but he could read.  His arms were weak so we fixed a frame over his bed to hold his Bible.  The paralysis spread and began to affect his nerves, deadening the pain, but he could no longer move.  I got up every morning at 5:00, went to the hospital and I stayed with him all day.  My sister was still working as a nurse and  didn't have much time off.

Meanwhile at home, my daughters and husband were struggling in my absence.  My husband's oldest brother had retired and moved to Henderson to help with the administrative work.  He and his wife took care of the girls.  I was torn and prayed to know where I was most needed.  One day I tried to lift my father up in bed and pulled my neck again, leaving me in tremendous pain.  I had to fly home to Henderson where I was met at the airport by an ambulance and taken immediately to the doctor's office in Jackson. He treated me for about a week and I began to heal.  I felt great frustration as I could neither help my own family nor my father.  During the next few months, however I would cook for my family, adeptly clean the house, and teach the girls what to do.  Then I would take a train to Chicago to stay with my father.  Each time I went to visit, we would have a little time to study but it was difficult because he had good days and bad.  When I wasn't there, others would come to study with him in my stead.

George and the girls came with me to Chicago for Thanksgiving.  When we walked into the room, my father said, "I know you are very eager for me to make a decision but it needs to be a deep conviction of mine, so you'll have to give me a little more time."  That was a disappointment but the fact that he was still studying gave me hope.  Before returning home, George had some good studies with him.  Soon thereafter, we moved him to a rest home because the hospital was so expensive.  The doctor didn't understand how he was still alive but I knew why - many prayed continually for him during that time.  We went back to see him at Christmas, fighting below zero (°F) temperatures and blankets of snow, determined to take advantage of every opportunity. 

When we walked into the room, my father said, "I have a Christmas present for you."  I asked what, but of course was hoping for a certain answer.  He said, "I'm really ready to become a disciple."  Ecstatic at the great news, we began to plan how he could be baptized.  The doctor told us, he would barely be able to breathe if he went out in the freezing weather.  The doctor also doubted he could survive immersion in water.  He thought we were being foolish and that we should just sprinkle him and not be concerned with the method.  Knowing it had to be my father's decision I explained the doctor's concerns.  He replied, "I've waited for a long, long time to know the truth.  I've been studying what I know is the truth. I need to follow exactly what Jesus would want me to do and what the Bible says.  I'm living on borrowed time anyway so if I die in the process, I'll go to heaven."  That was the decision I hoped he would make. 

The next day, we hired an ambulance and the nurses wrapped lots of towels and a wool blanket around him.  They put him on a fireman's stretcher so they could wheel him into the baptistry, stretcher and all.  For the first time in months, it was above freezing.  We believed that it was God's intervention and a good sign.  The ambulance drivers and nurses didn't fully understand, but knowing it was a very emotional occasion, they were very sensitive and considerate.  We took him to a church building about two miles away with just our family because of the seriousness of the situation.  George, his brother and nephews lifted the stretcher into the baptistry with only his head above water.  They took his confession, and then dipped his head under the water just for a second, thus totally immersing him.

Fraught with emotion, unsure if this would be his last breath, we had tried to prepare for any eventuality.  We continued to pray earnestly that God's will be done.  My father came up out of the water and he was fine.  My sister quickly took all the wet towels off, wrapped him in dry towels and put several more warm blankets around him.  They drove back to the home and wheeled him into his room where the nurses changed everything again, wrapping him in warm blankets and hot water bottles.  My father was feeling better than he had in a long time and was very happy.  All of us were very happy to be able to talk to him.  We spent a couple of very joyous days celebrating with him before returning to Tennessee.  I told him I'd be back in a couple of weeks to share in his joy.

A funny thing happened while my father was in the rest home.  He had a cantankerous roommate named Andy.  We tried to share God with him, too, but his heart was closed.  He didn't like our visiting and about seven o'clock he'd say, "Okay, you guys better go home because I'm going to get undressed."  And he would proceed to undress, so we'd have to leave.  From then on in my family, if someone wanted to go to bed we would say, "I'm going to pull an Andy on you", which meant we were just going to go to bed no matter who was there.

The Christians there taped sermons and took them to Dad.  A number of them would bring communion to him each Sunday and sing for him.  They visited him throughout the week and were really surprised to see the changes in him.  He had a bad temper and been bitter, but after his conversion, his temper was gone. He was very kind and considerate, and very happy.

About three weeks after his baptism, my sister called and said my father wasn't expected to live through the night.  I tried desperately to board a plane or a train, but because of a big snowstorm, nothing was running.  While I was still trying to find a way to get there, my sister called to tell me he was gone.  I was heartbroken because I wanted to see him, talk to him, be with him, but I still trusted that God knew what was best.

We left for Chicago as soon as we could for the funeral service.  The nurses told me that he said he had been living on will power because he really wanted to become a Christian.  He said he had made it and he was happy but he really didn't have any more fight in him. Upon his request, the nurse read the 23rd Psalm to him.  Then he turned over and went to sleep with a smile on his face.  On a snowy and cold day, quite a few people came to his funeral and witnessed the burial at the Beverly cemetery.  I was so grateful that he had become a Christian.

During that time my mother had gone to visit Dad a number of times.  When she saw the changes in him it really influenced her.  Soon afterward, she began having thyroid trouble.  The doctor thought she might even lose he eyesight.  We were really concerned about her living alone and were praying about how to help her.  My sister asked her to move in with her, but because she had four children, Mom decided to try to keep her apartment and keep working.

Life at Freed-Hardeman

Back in Henderson, George taught at the University, which was within walking distance of our home.  He drove, however, so he could come home for lunch.  The school had two parking lots, one in the front and one in the back.  Many times, he would take the car to school and park in the front and later, forgetting where he had parked, would search for the car in the back.  When he walked, he would call when he was ready to come home and I would go pick him up.  One day he called and said, "Irene, I'm really upset."  When I asked why he said, "I've been waiting for you for 20 minutes. I've gone from the back door to the front door, thinking you came to the wrong door.  I don't have much time and I've spent a lot of time waiting for you.  Would you please come pick me up?"  I said, "I can't pick you up" and when he asked why I said,  "Well, you have the car!"  That was my absent-minded professor husband.

During the time that we were at Freed-Hardeman my husband's nephew, Jim Gurganus, came to go to school from Chicago.  He loved to tease and had a great sense of humor equal to George Pope's.  Also, Judge Inomata's son, Yoshio Inomata, who had graduated from one of the best universities in Japan in music, came to take some Bible courses and learn English.  Later, he and Jim both went onto Harding and graduated from there.  He met a young lady from Missouri, fell in love and married; Yoshio did all the arranging of music for Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians ( and is working for a music publishing company in New York now.

Both of our daughters were baptized while we were living in Henderson, Tennessee. Lynette, who was deeply religious and dearly loved the Lord, was only ten years old when we returned from Japan.  She continually insisted she was ready to become a disciple.  We held her off as long as we felt we could, and she was finally immersed at the age of ten. 

Lynette had a ten-year old friend who had suffered with polio from age three and was still in an iron lung.  She could not move her hands at all and only her head protruded from the iron lung's tight seal.  She could however, write with a pencil in her mouth and used a special telephone.  Lynette would spend at least one afternoon a week entertaining her with various games, from which grew a deep, loving friendship.  About a year later, Lynette asked her one day, "You've never discussed becoming a disciple yourself; do you feel like you would go to heaven if you died right now?"  Even though she was in an iron lung and incapacitated, her mind was clear.  Lynette urged her to study and make that decision.  The doctors were very perturbed when she decided that she wanted to be baptized, but George and the preacher determined that she really was ready, and they were responsible to help her do it.  The tears flowed as they carefully removed her from the iron lung and baptized her.  After that, she was even able after that to stay out of the lung for two or three hours a day, and with help of the Christians, was able to graduate high school and college. 

We drove to Columbia, Missouri where Colis Campbell was working on his master's degree in Physical Education while preaching there. We stayed several weeks. During that time, we studied with Janetkay and she made her decision to become a Christian. I don't remember all the details, but in my daughtersEminds, they believe they became disciples.

At Freed-Hardeman College, the professors were not paid a sufficient salary on which to live, so they drove to various churches on Sunday to preach.  For three months we drove to Sharp, Kentucky, where George preached.  We had dinner with a different family each Sunday before returning home.  Our girls were still not used to a lot of things about the America.  They had a trouble recognizing mailboxes, and while on the road, wondered why people had to rest so much, not realizing that Rest Stop meant a public restroom, which hadn't existed in Japan. 

Dr. George Pope Gurganus (on to Penn State)

George decided that he needed to go to Penn State University the next summer to get his PhD degree.  His goal was to teach mission methods and principles because many churches were no longer eager to do foreign missions.  He felt this trend could change if people could be taught not to duplicate the mistakes of the past.  Dr. Benson of Harding University wanted him to teach at the Harding Graduate School in Memphis, but George Pope felt that he needed a doctorate to add to his credibility.  Dr. Oliver, George's former professor Syracuse had transferred to Penn State as the head of the Speech Department. Dr. Oliver offered to create a program for George which would allow him to earn a PhD in Cross Culture Communication.

Pope resigned from Freed-Hardeman and we moved to State College in Pennsylvania, using what little money we had saved to buy a small house for $11,000. He was given a partial scholarship, but also had to teach as a graduate assistant. The schedule was grueling and he didn't see how he could finish his degree in a reasonable amount of time.  Since he hadn't been in school for five year, he found the classes difficult.  We decided I would try to get a job to alleviate his burden. 

I had some experience working as a librarian, but didn't have a Library Science degree.  Dr. Oliver's wife was in charge of a section of the library so he told me to speak with her.  I thought, perhaps I could get a part time job typing up cards or something.  She was very interested in all of my experience, languages and cultural experience in Japan.  She gave me a professional library rating and hired me full time to be head of the Catalog section, with eight people whom I supervised.  I made a very good salary and enjoyed the work and the people.  That was a big financial help to us, although George continued to work as a graduate assistant.

An Unexpected Surprise

One day, I opened a letter received in the mail and couldn't believe my eyes.  It was from a lawyer in Chicago and stated that my great aunt on my father's side had passed away and left us some money.  The money would have gone to my father if he were still alive, but would now pass to my sister and me.  We didn't know exactly how much it would be, but we praised God, thanking him for looking out for us.  My mother had told me many years before that my great uncle had put us in his will because we were such good children when we would go visit him, but it had been so long that I had completely forgotten it.

We waited on pins and needles to see what was involved.  The first thing they sent us was a lot of stock.  I think we would have gotten $250,000 if we liquidated them.  We cashed in enough to buy a better house and George Pope went back to school full time.  We also asked my brother-in-law who was very ill in a sanitarium to come live with us.  Later we asked my mother to come live with us so we could take care of her.  We hired a lawyer to help us with finances and when word of my inheritance got out, we got a flock of letters from people wanting to name things after us if we'd give a certain amount of money, which really disappointed us.

One of our girls was in high school, one in junior high school.  The small congregation we attended had a youth program, which consisted of our daughters who were 12 and 15 and two boys the same ages.  They were involved in a lot of activities with other churches just as though they were part of a large group and the group began to grow.  It was often difficult for them because the activities at school, such as bonfires or football games conflicted with church activities.  They hated to miss the school activities, but we insisted they not compromise and it worked out in the end.

There was a wooded area behind our house and almost every day after George's classes, he would put on his khaki hunting outfit, and head into the woods with his 12-gauge shotgun looking for deer.  One day he took our little Renault and came home with a deer sticking out of the trunk.  He served us some deer burger meatloaf, but none of us could eat it because we kept thinking of that poor deer's face!  I decided I never wanted to see animals before they got to the meat market. He thoroughly enjoyed hunting as a respite from studying. 

When it came time for him to work on his dissertation, he decided to go to Japan to do the research.  He went to Japan in 1960 when our girls were 16 and 13 years old, doing research most of the summer.  After he finished most of his research, the girls and I came to Japan and visited for about two weeks.  It felt strange staying in a hotel, while Mori san and his wife lived in the preacher's house since it had only been three years since we had lived there, and still felt like home to us.

After he had finished his research, we flew to Hong Kong.  At that time, you could get clothing tailor made for practically nothing, so we purchased winter coats, beautiful suits and high quality dresses at great savings to us.  I flew back to Pennsylvania because I had only two weeks of vacation, while George took the girls on a trip as a special outing.  He had traveled so much by himself, he wanted to show them another part of the world.  They went to Indonesia, Bali and to Alice Springs, Australia.  He took them to the outback were they learned a lot about the Aborigines and had some very interesting experiences.

In Indonesia, they discovered they could trade things like their scarves and wrist watches for beautiful artifacts.  In Australia, they went into a restaurant one morning and asked for hot chocolate.  They waited for a long time, wondering what was taking so long.  Finally, the waitress came out with a chocolate bar in her hand and said,  "We haven't been able to figure out how to heat this or exactly how to serve it."  George inquired about their hot drinks was told, "We have coffee, tea and cocoa."  They had many strange experiences and remember them vividly.

Returning to Pennsylvania, there was still much to do for George to complete his program.  The summer before George Pope graduated, he was supposed to go on an archeological dig in Mexico, but just before it was time to go, he was struck with acute appendicitis and was rushed to the hospital for surgery at midnight.

George took a course called General Semantics, in which he was taught to question everything.  There was no such thing as a definite true and false statement or what they called "allness" statements.  In other words, since something was not always true, you couldn't say it was really true because there might be an exception, some occasion when something wouldn't work right and it would not be true.  He practiced these lessons on the whole family, such as "If a tree fell in the forest, how would you know it made noise if you weren't there?  If you're on the second floor of a house and the piano's on the first floor, how do you know it's still there?  He would say things like, "How do you know this picture is right side up?  Who decided which is right side up?"

We all got tickled and one day the girls turned all the pictures upside down.  When he came home and realized what they'd done, he didn't say anything about it.  They stayed that way about a week or so because he didn't say anything.  An elderly man and his wife visited us.  He was a preacher in a nearby town and he was about 65 or 70 years old.  When they saw all the pictures upside down, they didn't say anything!  We decided that people might think we were just a little bit nutty and offbeat so the girls finally asked if he had noticed anything and he said no.  They told him about the pictures and he said he knew all the time but was just teasing them.

Pioneering Missions at Harding

When Janetkay graduated from high school in 1962, George was completing his Ph.D., which he received that year.   As we were moving to Memphis, Tennessee where he was going to teach, George took another trip with Dale Larsen.  They went a number of places including Russia.  While he was gone, my brother-in-law, mother, the girls and I drove to Memphis to find a house.  I found one only two blocks from Harding Graduate School where he would begin his missions program.  Janetkay was going to York College in Nebraska.  Lynette was going to the Harding Academy, which was on the same campus as the Graduate School of Bible.

I thought it would be great if we could live close to the campus.  We needed a house large enough for our family, my brother-in-law and my mother.  Also Mori San was coming over from Japan to work on his Masters in Bible with his wife and daughter.  So I bought a seven-bedroom Dutch Colonial house near the campus.  I called George in Russia and although he thought that was an awfully big house, he decided to trust my judgement, without seeing it until he returned.  We lived there from 1962 to 1968, more than five years and it served us well during a time when we had a lot of people living with us and had a lot of activity in our home.

The church services at York College were very unique and among the most impacting I ever attended.  As you walked in the door, you received a piece of paper on which was written the order of the service.  Each Sunday's service order different.  One Sunday the sermon would be first; another the communion, and another singing.  Sometimes they would even begin with announcements.  The order of worship was not routine because they constantly changed it.  The theme of the service was chosen by the minister, who would inform the song leader and person leading communion.  They would then plan their songs and lesson to coordinate with the sermon.  It was so refreshing.  In traditional churches the services were almost always in the same order, same songs, and nothing was new other than the lesson.  In the discipling churches the services are also almost always in the same order as well.  I think this sameness somehow works through our sinful nature to "tune out" parts of the service.  We don't focus deeply during the singing because we sing by memory.  We go through the motions of the service because we know exactly what's going to happen next.  Maybe others are not like me, but it was very refreshing to attend a service at York College.

Janetkay loved attending York and was the head cheerleader her second year.  She spent a lot of time in the home of our dear friends, the Campbells.  She graduated in May of 1964.  Her graduation service was on a Friday night, but the graduation service at the Harding Graduate School was on the following Saturday morning.  Her father was supposed to march in that procession and of course wanted to attend his daughter's commencement.  Fortunately, since we owned a little Cessna plane, Jack Lewis and George Pope flew up to York on Friday, attended Janetkay's graduation program and flew back to Memphis the next morning, arriving about two minutes before the time of their march in the procession.  Since I was the Registrar and in charge of the ceremony, I was ready to bite my nails by the time they arrived. 

In the fall, Janetkay entered Harding University as a junior, following in her father's footsteps. Many of George's classmates were now teaching there.  She and David Jones had started to go steady in the summer and became very serious.  David had graduated from Harding Graduate School with his Masters in Old Testament and had gone back to Stephenville, Texas to be the Religious Campus Director for the church at Tarleton State University.  His father was a mortician and David lived there with his parents, but would travel to Searcy to see Janetkay as often as he could.  They were in love and he asked her to marry him, deciding it was too difficult to live apart.  Of course, her daddy and I had done that, and didn't get to see each other as often as they.  I think that it's harder to stay apart if you see each other often.  That may sound silly, but I believe it works that way.

Janetkay's Wedding

They really wanted to get married that summer, so we finally agreed.  She planned to continue her education at Tarleton State.  The wedding plans were made  and, after she finished school on June 22, she was married in Memphis at the White Station Church.  C.W. Bradley, who had been very much involved in our lives when she was a baby and he lived with us in Syracuse, was now preaching in Memphis at the White Haven church of Christ.  By the way, that's where Elvis Presley's half-sisters and his mother attended church.  When Elvis passed away, C.W. was asked to preach at his funeral.  My youngest daughter, Lynette, had had Elvis' sisters over for some parties.

The wedding was beautiful and Janetkay and David were very happy and anxious to get back to Stephenville to settle down after their honeymoon.  I don't really think Janetkay had ever gone to a funeral.  We always like to remember people when they were alive.  Most funerals are very sad and depressing, so rarely did we attend a funeral, choosing rather to visit the family before the funeral and do what we could to help them.  She became very upset when they were having Sunday dinner with David's parents, the phone would ring and his father would say, "Oh, oh ... I have a body.  I'm gonna have to go."  Janetkay wasn't used to hearing people being called "bodies". Ewell would ask Janetkay to arrange the flowers, which she loved to do.  She was and still is very tender hearted.

Because of her having gone to both York and Harding, which were schools run by the church of Christ, she had had a lot of Bible courses and these did not transfer to Tarleton State.  She worked part time for a florist and went to school part-time, so it took her three years to finish her degree.

Chapter 6


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Copyright (c) 2000 Tokyo Church of Christ. All rights reserved.
Revised: January 03, 2002 .