Life in the 80s

March 28, 2024 | News | Volume 28 Issue 06
Carla Klassen |
Fran Schiller

Fran Schiller, 87, grew up on a farm near Goshen, Indiana, the ninth of 10 children. She attended Goshen College, where she found her faith strengthened and her eyes opened to a new world beyond life on the farm.    


After teaching for a few years, she met her husband, Eric, a Canadian from Toronto, at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Together they spent time in the civil rights movement in Georgia and then served for three years in Tanzania with Mennonite Central Committee.    


They worked overseas two more times: Eric trained water engineers at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania while Fran taught at the multicultural school, and later they worked in Senegal in the area of solar water pumping.  


Currently, they live in Ottawa, where Fran attends Ottawa Mennonite Church.    


Q. What is your earliest memory of church?  


A. My earliest memory of church was us kids all squeezing in our Model A Ford to get to church on time.   


What is your best memory of church?    


My best memory was the beautiful Christmas program in which the entire congregation gathered to listen to us kids from Sunday School recite parts of the Christmas story—followed by a special reading and more singing, with an orange given to each child afterwards. It was my first time speaking in public. An important event!   


What is your most difficult memory of church?   


My most difficult memory was my favourite brother being “examined” by the whole congregation on why he wanted to attend a missionary training institute.   


Tell us about the people who influenced you the most.   


My mother and father and our little grandma influenced me the most. Also, the loving aunts and uncles and men and women at church who always greeted us kids with love and interest.   


Can you share a favourite book, passage, poem or song?   


My mom sometimes quoted the poem “The House by the Side of the Road” [by Sam Walter Foss]. I then memorized verse two of that poem and came to share its values: “Let me live in a house by the side of the road / Where the race of men go by, / The men who are good, the men who are bad, / As good and as bad as I. / I would not sit in the scorner’s seat, / Nor hurl the critic’s ban, / Let me live in a house by the side of the road, / And be a friend to man.”   


What do you wish young people knew about growing old?   


Young people do not understand old age because their bodies and minds are young, and they are full of energy and dreams of how their lives will be. They can’t comprehend what it is like to have less energy and to have to move slower and think slower.   


What is the hardest thing about getting old? What is best?   


Having to move slower and think slower and with less energy is the most difficult to accept, I think. But I did have what I call my great insight into growing old several years ago.    


Two things happened close together: I walked to my medical appointment in leisure because I had started out in time, but when I arrived at the office, the lady behind the counter got a pained look on her face and informed me that my appointment was the next day. I chuckled and replied, “Well at least I didn’t run to get here.”   


The next incident occurred when I drove fast, parked and raced through the foyer of our local theatre. The ticket man asked where I was going. I replied, “To the free movie.” He said, “It’s next week.” I chuckled and said, “Well at least, I didn’t miss it.” Then I went home and bashed out a short email to our two adult kids, saying that I just had this great insight into growing old. “Growing old,” I typed, “isn’t fun, but it’s funny!”   


What do you wish someone had told you about aging earlier in life?   


I had great examples all my life seeing people aging with grace and acceptance— my parents and grandmother, aunts and uncles, neighbours and people at church.   


When one reaches the horizon of transition, one is ready to listen to advice that change is coming and that preparation, good humour and faith can help to adjust these lifestyle changes one will need to make.    


But each of us has our bucket list and we carry on bravely, trusting that our body, mind and spirit will somehow find inner and outer reinforcements to carry us forward. Eric and I have been blessed to reach the age of 87 together.  


If you had one chance at a sermon, what would it be about?   


I would appreciate exploring the meanings and promises in 1 John 4:16b: “God is love; and he that dwellest in love dwellest in God, and God in him.”  

Fran Schiller

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