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Thursday, March 10, 2016

I Knew Rosie the Riveter . . . and She knew Jesus

We called her Susie, not Rosie, and the life she lived went far beyond helping America win a war. She fought the good fight and kept the faith.  And now she has won her final battle and heaven welcomed a faithful daughter on March 8, 2016.

Velma May “Susie” Smith entered this world on July 25, 1925. It was the Roaring Twenties and there might have been a little extra noise on that summer day when this remarkable lady bounced onto the stage of life. There were seven siblings in the family of Martin and Adeline Andrews which in those days likely wasn’t considered an unusually sized family. I don’t know a lot about her childhood except that Susie was a fragile child and because of problems with her spine, had back surgery at a young age. This surgical fusion of bones resulted in a difficult posture with which she struggled for the rest of her life. But if her body was bent, her spirit was beautifully formed.

Susie had many gifts. She excelled in art, notably painting; she had a remarkable memory, focused on the Scripture; she had a strong worth ethic, in a variety of jobs; and she was a comedian, at least to those of us who knew her well.

I came to know Susie in 2011 when our family moved to Massillon to minister to the congregation of the Massillon Wesleyan Methodist Church. Susie had long taken up residence on the end of the third pew on the piano side. She sat right behind me. And that is where I came to know and love her.

She was a colorful person, and I always enjoyed talking to her before and after church services. She wore zip-up print dresses and her hair was always coiffed in a spray of curls on top of her head. She was continually amused at my teen daughters’ colorful assortment of high-heeled shoes and many Sunday mornings would ask to see “what shoes you are wearing today.”

Susie had many Bible verses committed to memory, and she recited them every morning. Many times, during a group discussion in Wednesday Bible study, I’ve heard her comment on a certain Scripture being highlighted, “That’s one of my verses.” Often she would start quoting it at just the mention of the reference.

She kept me laughing with the little quips and assessments of life that she voiced from behind me in church.  Once during Sunday School class when we were talking about wicked King Ahab, she said in that little undertone of hers, “That King Ahab – he was a bad egg!” She was unflaggingly kind in her support of the pastor’s wife’s piano playing and singing, often commenting when I returned to my seat, “That was good.” And perhaps she took that a little far. Once when I came into church and walked down the aisle past her, I heard her singing softly, with a little twinkle in her eye, “Here she comes. . . Miss America!” Oh, Susie, I miss you on that plain, hard bench behind me in church!

Susie had an interesting life, though long before I knew her. She was a real “Rosie the Riveter.” During World War 2, she worked in a war plant which provided parts for Boeing bomber planes. She told me she actually drove rivets into the metal; I think she said they were B-29s. Imagine! And when we were once talking about the different jobs she had held in her lifetime, she remarked that she first saw the carnage from the Nazi death camps when she worked in a local drugstore where returning soldiers were getting their pictures developed.

Susie liked painting. There are two pictures in the sanctuary of our church which are gifts from her hand, literally: renderings of Christ kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane and Christ Standing at the Heart’s Door (she told us that she was always frustrated because she wasn’t done with the detail on the roses but the pastor at the time told her it was good enough; I don’t think she ever quite reconciled to that! Obviously, it was still bothering her years later every time she saw it in church.)

But though she painted with lavish color, her own life was simple and quiet. She never traveled outside the state of Ohio. She lived without frill, sleeping on a bed that she “got a good deal on” but that was terribly uncomfortable from the descriptions of others who were appalled when they saw it. She never complained. She didn’t have extravagant taste in her cooking either. Her Sunday dinner of choice was frozen tray dinners. She and I would often discuss which selection she was having on that day; some she liked and had tasted before. Rarely did I hear her say she didn’t like something.

For several years until she was no longer able, Susie operated the card ministry at MWMC. It was a delight to receive a birthday card from the church which meant that Susie had remembered your birthday and had taken the time to send out a greeting on the church’s behalf.

Susie was very close to her sister, Evelyn Mays. They were confidantes and prayer partners and friends up until the end, calling one another every day and sharing bits of life with each other. They usually spent holidays together. Though their four brothers were gone, these sisters held onto one another and tried their best to support their other sister, Pauline, who had long since been in a nursing facility.

But the most remarkable thing about Susie was her relationship with Jesus. She loved Him and talked to Him daily. He was her Friend in her lonely times and her comfort in her hours of pain which were many toward the end of her earthly life. Because she had been redeemed by His blood and kept by His power down through her life, she is with Him today. We know, as the Apostle reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:8, that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” She is there now, happy and free from the pain she suffered so long. One day, on that glorious day of Resurrection, she will have a new body, an upright, whole one in which she can spend eternity with the Savior she loved and the friends and family who loved her. I look forward to seeing her there. What a great day that will be! Until then, I will hold close in my heart all the lovely things about my sweet friend, Susie, and I don’t think that spot on the end of the third row will ever be right without her in it. Farewell, Susie. I’ll see you soon and we’ll laugh some more and thank Jesus for the reality of eternity in His presence.  Keep looking for me. . . 

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