December 2, 2010

Chrismon Tree in Salem Lutheran Church, Owosso, MI, 2010

Salem Lutheran Church, Owosso, MI, 2010

Back in 1957, a woman named Frances Kipps Spencer, of Danville, VA., was looking to decorate her church’s Christmas tree in a manner more reflective of its Christian faith. According to this website, she asked herself “How would Mary celebrate Jesus’ birthday?”

Mrs. Spencer’s answer to this question was the Chrismon.

Chrismons—the name is compounded from the words Christ and monogram—are beaded ornaments depicting the names, life, ministry and nature of Christ. Designed by Mrs. Spencer, the idea soon spread to other churches and she eventually published five books giving instructions on making the ornaments and explaining their meanings.

Mrs. Spencer was close in age to my grandmother Ruth, and I imagine the two would have gotten along very well.

In fact decades later, Ruth and all her lady friends got a hold of one of those Chrismon books and spent a year beading ornaments for their very own Salem Lutheran Church in Owosso, MI.

A couple months ago I talked to Carol Hanchett, a member of Salem, and she brought up the Chrismons.

“They’re all we have on our tree,” said Carol, of their congregation’s Christmas tree. “They’re ornaments made of beads and pearls. I would think your grandmother made a good share of them. She was talented in making things.”

Unfortunately, Carol also said the ornaments are getting old and some “are in distress.”

Last week I called Salem and spoke with secretary Esther Matthies. She was so nice to take a picture of their Christmas tree and send it.

Isn’t it beautiful?

And, yes, she agreed the ornaments are showing their age. The plan is that this coming summer, several Salem ladies are getting together and beading new ornaments.

Isn’t that super?

Francis Spencer and Ruth Larson would be pleased, I’m sure.

Further information:

Chrismon books, by Francis Kipp Spencer, are available through Ascension Lutheran Church, Danville, VA.; on Facebook; and through According to Esther, Salem has the book “Chrismons, Basic Series.”

Here’s another interesting site on Chrismon-like ornaments. It’s an instructional site that also gives historical background of Chrismons used by early Christians. I don’t know if the ornaments in this site are the original designs as copyrighted by Ascension Lutheran Church, but they’re very pretty nonetheless.


Happy Birthday Helen!

November 22, 2010

Today’s Helen Vert’z birthday and she is 102 years old.

Isn’t that simply amazing?!

For those of you who don’t know or remember, Helen and my grandmother Ruth were the greatest of friends. Long after these lovely ladies were able to get out and about, they continued to keep each other’s company with daily conversations on the telephone. Theirs was a true friendship that spanned half a lifetime.

One hundred and two years old—can you imagine?

You know how when you talk on the phone with an old person and you tell them who you are, there’s always a moment of silence and then this loud, “WHO?”

Well, I’ve gotta say, when I called Helen earlier this summer I did not get that at all. This amazing woman is sharp as a tack. When I told her my name and that I was Ruth Larson’s granddaughter, I got the briefest moment of silence and then “Oh, yes, Diahann! I know who you are!”

She then went on to tell me all about myself, my siblings, and my cousins; where we’re living and what we’re doing. Obviously, she and Ruth did a lot of talking over the years!

“Your Grandma and I have been friends since 1946,” Helen told me on the phone. “We met when she first joined Salem (church) and started coming to Ladies Aid. We were in Ladies Aid together all these years.”

Actually Helen and Ruth both came to Owosso’s Salem Lutheran Church in 1946. As the wife of a pastor, Helen came earlier that year when her husband, Rev. Kenneth Vertz, accepted a call to serve the congregation. Together they served until he retired shortly before his death in 1978.

And then Ruth’s husband George died in 1983.

Suddenly, through no choice of their own, a whole brigade of Salem women found themselves with time and no husbands. Elderly and widowed, yes. Elderly and without spirit? Certainly not.

“We had a lot of fun,” Helen told me. “We’d all get into Ruth (Klingbeil’s) car, and she would drive us everywhere. We’d go to church, then we’d go out to eat and then we’d come back and play pinochle. Some days we would drive for hours.” (In comments to my March 5 post, there’s a funny reference to the ladies. Check it out here.)

At 102, Helen is very likely the last of her brigade. Just recently she’s moved out of her home on N. Park St., and is now living in a senior assisted living center. I spoke with Esther, Salem’s church secretary, and she said today a group of Salem ladies are going out to give her a party.

Those Salem ladies. They’ll always find cause for a party:-)

Two things to wrap this up:

1. Does anyone have a picture of Helen and Ruth? Of all the ladies? I’d love to post it.

2. How about we all send Helen a birthday card? Think how fun it would be. Send her a card telling who you are, how you know Ruth (chances are she’ll already know, but tell her anyway), and, if you’d like, send a picture of yourself. Let me know if you need her address.