Saturday, March 22, 2008

Brenda Steunenberg Richards-The Graduate-Class of 1936-Honorary Diploma September 2004

By the 1920's Julian and Francis Steunenberg had packed up the old Model T Ford with five kids, left Idaho and Washington behind and made the long dusty trek to CA. In the picture to the left, my mother Brenda is the youngest one with her hand on the dog. They were in search of work, a new beginning and the promises of a rapidly developing Southern California. Not much remained for Julian in Idaho except for some sad memories, what with his father Frank Steunenberg having been brutally assassinated, Uncle AK Steunenberg's untimely death, the passing of his grandfather and family patriarch Bernardus Steunenberg (Julian's grandmother Cornelia Keppel Steunenberg has died many years before in 1876, Keokuk, Iowa) and Belle Steunenberg having already moved to CA to reside with other relatives. I do not know a lot about Belle's life in CA so if anyone can fill in some of the blanks I would sure appreciate it.

Little did Julian and Francis know the tough times that lay ahead as the country began the rapid fall into the depths of the depression. Francis, with help from Brenda when not in school, labored hard doing other peoples laundry and ironing in their home in Glendale, CA. With money in scarse supply, they would often barter and trade for services. Julian and youngest son Jule would hop the rails to Arizona to pick crops to earn a little bit of money. The older boys, Cal and Frank (Bud), had joined up with Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corp., sometimes known as "Roosevelt's Tree Army." Read about the CCC at: They earned $30 a month...yes a month..for very hard work but had room and board (sometimes a basic tent but usually plenty of food) and $25 of their earnings was required by the CCC to be sent home each month. The idea was to inject that money into local economies and it actually worked pretty well. The money to buy food and the essentials of life was in short supply and every little bit helped. Being a devout Adventist couple, and with Glendale having a thriving Adventist community, Julian and Francis did their best to keep the children enrolled in the local church affiliated schools. If you were a member of the church, there was a strong expectation that your children would attend the Adventist schools but a family had to be able to pay the extra cost. In the years during the depression, sometimes Julian and Francis could not afford it.

In 1935/36 my mother Brenda was entering her senior year at the Glendale Adventist Academy. When the school requested payment of the tuition, something she recalls as being in the neighborhood of $50, Francis and Julian just did not have the money. Fifty dollars was big money in those days and would go a long way in feeding the family and paying the rent. The Adventist Academy administration said that without payment Brenda would not be allowed to graduate. Well you can imagine the impact on a teenage girl when told she would not be able to graduate from high school with her classmates. It was a huge blow and something my mother has mentioned on numerous occasions throughout her life...having never quite gotten over it. She left school and never returned. There may have been other family that could have and should have helped but Julian and Francis were proud people and were unlikely to ask for or accept hand outs. I have never sensed my mother having any blame toward her parents as she knew how difficult times were during those years. I can probably say that she did feel a sense of disappointment toward the Adventist Academy and church for not being more helpful toward those struggling during that difficult time in our history.

In 2004, I contacted the Glendale Adventist Academy and the Southern Conference of Adventists to do a little research and to inquire regarding my mother's records and time at the school. I was happy to find a very helpful school principal in Mr. Glen Baker and asked what perhaps we could do to help rectify what had occurred in 1935/36. After a period of discussion and communication, I was pleased that the academy and Southern Conference granted my mother an honorary high school diploma and that I was able to present it to her. I did a video under the guise of recording some Steunenberg oral history (which we did do) but the true intent was presentation of the diploma seen in the picture at the top of this post. I must admit that it was a very emotional moment during which the tears began to flow. Thank you Principal Baker, Chairman of the Board Karl Kime (signatures on the diploma) and the Southern California Conference of Adventists for helping heal an old wound from over 70 years ago.
I think you can tell that Mom was pretty pleased.

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