So the harsh reality of my life is that I don’t know much of my family history. I’m on a journey to find as much out as possible. I firmly believe that in order to make tomorrow better we must learn from the past. I’ve collected some thoughts, facts, and other details below.
My mom’s parents lived on the southside of Chicago where they attended the Covenant Church. They vacationed and spend the weekends in Northern Indiana. At some point, he and my grandmother decided to move out of the city with the intentions of raising their family outside of the craziness of Chicago. Who could blame them? This was the era of Al Capone and Dean O’Banion.
They decided to move to North Central Indiana where they had previously spent vacations and weekends. The purpose of this move was to start and raise their family somewhere safer than Chicago. I’m not sure what a hard working couple living in Chicago saw in corn and bean fields, but my grandparents envisioned something beyond themselves for sure!
After they moved, it would be several years before they had their first child. During this time they attended The Covenant Church of Donaldson, IN. They led student ministries among other areas. They would drive around the surrounding area picking up teenagers to bring to church. They invested in the next generation before their own children were born. I’m amazed at adults who are willing to invest in the generations behind them. I love the next generation and believe in them more than I can express!
My grandfather, Ephraim Nelson, started an electrical business in Plymouth, Indiana. Through his electrical shop, he was even able to help the town of Plymouth install some of the lighting needs.
My grandparents attended and served in a church, invested in the next generation, started a successful business and eventually started their family. My Uncle Ken was born first. My mom, Karen, was their second child. She was born on March 26, 1948. Ken and Karen Nelson attended West School System in Marshall County. By the time my mom attended high school, West School System was closed and became part of Plymouth School Corporation. She rolled with the punches during that transition. Karen had endured many other transitions by that time in her life, therefore, this wasn’t that big of a deal.
My grandfather passed away from Leukemia when my mom was a toddler. My grandmother raised her two young children even though her own health issues took over her life. She died when my mom was six years old. My mom can still remember the day she died it’s actually her first vivid memory. My great aunt and uncle moved to raise my mom and uncle in Plymouth, IN.
My great Aunt Amy and Uncle Roy moved from Chicago to Crawfordsville to raise their own family. After the death of my grandparents, they moved to Plymouth, IN where Uncle Roy found a job and acclimated to a new community. They raised my mom and uncle like they were their own children. My great aunt and uncle even experienced their niece and nephew’s teenage years with all of the hormones and joys of puberty. Their experience was as parents, not as aunt and uncle because Ken and Karen were their children now. All this after they had already raised their own children. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. Uncle Roy Horner died when my mom was 16 years old.
Before my grandfather’s death, one of those teenage boys he invested in promised my grandfather that he would do his part in helping his family because of what my grandfather meant to him and how he influenced his own life. That investment would pay off in ways no one could even imagine or measure!
My mom graduated from Plymouth High School in 1966. She attended a business college in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. She returned to Plymouth, IN where she found work in the hospital as a medical transcriptionist. This is where she retired from.
She married my dad in 1971 they were divorced…. My mom’s Aunt Amy, who raised her and my uncle as their own, died when my older sister, Marie, was a year old. To recap my mom’s life: her biological parents died before she was six years old, her great aunt and uncle raise her, her uncle dies when she is 16, she married my dad who was going on his second marriage and the man and woman who raised her died shortly after her first daughter, Marie, is born. My older brother and I were born. While my mom was pregnant with my youngest sister she found out that my dad was having an affair. Thanksgiving 1981 was our last meal as a family.
When my dad left my mom and his three children, she was pregnant with my younger sister, Stephanie. My dad did his best to avoid supporting us. That’s a nice way to put it. My mom had to provide for four kids by working several jobs at a time. Growing up, my mom had some amazing friends Don and Evelyn Bottorff. They were around a lot. We would hang out with Don and Evelyn. Don took me to football and basketball games all the time while I was growing up. He had a small farm with chickens, turkeys, parakeets and lots of land! I would help him collect eggs, and in exchange, I was allowed to chase the birds for fun.
On a regular basis, Don would stop by the house to drop off milk, bread, eggs and other groceries. I never put two and two together that he did this even though we weren’t his responsibility. He had a family of his own to provide for. Eventually, my mom ended up working a second part-time job for him. Don and Evelyn would attend my grandparents’ days at my school since all of my biological grandparents were dead. I can’t even put into words what my relationship with Don means to me!
We spent every Christmas Eve with Don and Evelyn. Don came to visit me at college. He was there for me when I graduated high school and when I got married. I remember him talking to me shortly before I got married. The thought never crossed my mind why he was telling me I needed to be responsible for Heather and that I needed to provide for her and the family that God would give us. His investment and influence into my own life were crucial in who I am today. I know my life would be utterly different if it weren’t for Don!
The teenage guy who stopped by to see my grandfather shortly before he died was Don. Don kept his word and helped my grandfather’s family out until his dying day. Shortly after Heather and I moved to Florida with our son Shad, Don passed away. Financially speaking we couldn’t make it back for the funeral. A few weeks before Don’s death, I talked to him on the phone. My mom had told me he was sick, but honestly, I couldn’t tell while I talked to him. Shortly after our phone conversation, Don passed away. To this day, I regret not attending his funeral and thanking his family for Don’s investment in my life.
Here are some of the things I’ve come to realize while reflecting:
Investing in the next generation will never be a bad thing! No matter how old you are, there’s always “a next” generation to invest in. What would it look like if we each found our next generation to invest in and actually did it with excellence?
Our payment may not be seen in this generation. It may take decades to see a return on investment. My family’s heritage and trajectory will be completely different because my grandfather invested into a teenager decades ago. Don kept his word and invested into my life and my siblings’ lives as our “stand-in grandfather”. I am forever grateful. My sons will be as well.
You may not be the beneficiary of your investment. That’s a risk you have to be willing to take. We shouldn’t invest in other people for our own good anyways. If we follow Christ, we invest in other people’s lives because of Jesus’ influence on our own life. We can’t really love God and love others without doing so. This hit me the other day. My last name isn’t Nelson, it’s Ulrich. The Ulrich line will benefit because of Ephraim Nelson’s investment into his children and a teenage guy named Don Bottorff. Ephraim’s investment was passed on through his children and Don to myself and my siblings’ lives. My older brother and I will pass on our last name to our sons and daughters which will, in turn, be passed down to their children. My dad’s lack of influence and investment in our lives can almost be ignored because of how great my grandfather’s investment was.
Whose life or family line could you change based on your investment and influence? Would you be that selfless to invest a few hours a week into the next generation? Would you be willing to risk an investment that might not pay off until years down the road or even decades? What if your investment benefited someone you didn’t even intend to? Think about it. Whose life, family or community could benefit from your investment?