Vance Ferrell

(Also see 'The Story of My Life' PDF)

It seems like another person and a different culture, but it is the story of my early childhood. After discussing some of it with my sister (half-sister), Ann, this morning, it seems well to spend a few hours and put it on paper. Of all those mentioned below, only Ann, Troy, Mildred, and myself are still alive.

My sources of information are recollections given me over the years by my mother, father, grandmother, sister, her father, and my father's sister..

  My father was born on January 10, 1901, and raised on a farm near Gilman, Illinois. He was never able to obtain more than three grades of education, for his father needed him to work on the farm. Corn had to be raised and farm animals cared for. In spite of this, if you were to speak with him when he was grown, you would be certain he had a high school education. He was quite intelligent.

His family had come over from the Old Country. They were Germans, and the children were treated with harshness, bordering on cruelty. All of them that I met had a pronounced German accent, yet my father had almost none.

By this time, you might wonder what my fathers name was. I did not know until after he died. I knew Harold was not his original name. His sister, Aunt Betty, told me, in the late 1970s, that it was John Edward.

As John became a teenager, he began following the harvests. Following the harvests, in the central states, meant harvesting the crops farther south, and then working northward as the season progressed. For a time he worked in the fields with the harvesting equipment. But then one day, a thrashing machine tore off most of his right index finger. The doctor told him it would have to be amputated, but John said No. He would rather have a stub of a finger than none at all. For the rest of his life, that finger was three-quarters its proper length and would hardly move. So he was made cook for the harvesting crews. He would prepare the pancakes, bacon, and stews.

By this time, he was of age; it was the mid-1920s, and my father had nothing at home to keep him. So he decided to go west. Everyone had heard about the glories of California.

Sewing money into his clothes, he illegally hitched the freights westward. When others asked him for money, he would pull out his empty pockets and tell him he had none. Each night, he would rip out only enough money to tide him over for the next days meals. Arriving in San Francisco, he bought an orange and sat on the curb to eat it. Such conduct was fine in Gilman, but not in San Francisco! A policeman walked over and threatened to arrest him for vagrancy. When he showed that he had some money in his pocket, he let him go. Never again did my father sit on a curb anywhere.

Soon he answered an ad and was hired to drive a stage for Pacific Edison Power Co. at Huntington Lake, California. In the late 1940s, he drove Mom and me up there and it truly was a mountain paradise. A beautiful lake, surrounded by fir trees, in the Sierras. When he initially got that job, his supervisor looked at him and said, I don't like your name; I'm going to call you Harry. From that moment on, that was the name he went by.

He not only drove the stage which brought people up the torturous mountain trail to the lake, and back down again to the valley below; he also knew the best fishing holes on the lake.

One of the members of the board was Mr. Shell, the founder of Shell Oil. Whenever he came to the lake, they would get Harry to take him out to a good fishing spot on the lake. Mr. Shell always seemed quite friendly.

He told me that, nearly a decade later during the depression, he went to see Mr. Shell in his palatial headquarters in San Francisco, in the hope of getting a job. Somehow, that poorly dressed man managed to get into the presidents office! But Mr. Shell had no interest in an old friend, and he was not hired.

In the late 1920s, my father moved to the San Diego area.  

My mother was born on May 19, 1902, in Sparta, Wisconsin. Her name was Fern Thorp. She was four generations removed from Ethan Allen, and had an ancestor which came over on the Mayflower. Later, she moved with her parents to the Idaho-Montana area. While living there, a colporteur passed through one day, and stopped at their farmhouse and sold them a book. I was told it was Great Controversy. Grandmother Thorp was fascinated with it.

Those acquainted with my work know I have done whatever I could to help canvassers have the missionary books they needed at low cost, in order to place them in the homes of the people. We have printed hundreds of thousands of them and distributed them at just above printing house cost. Colporteurs do a godly work. I personally owe a lot to an unknown colporteur who came to my grandmothers house in 1911 or 1912.

When my mother was 12 years old, Elder Charles T. Everson decided to set up his tent in that area and preach an evangelistic series. Elizabeth Thorp went to the meetings and took Fern along. Shortly afterward, both were baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Oddly enough, of that entire, large family, those were the only two who remained in the church through the years which followed.

In her early 20s, Fern attended Bellingham Normal School in Washington State for a year, but was forced to drop out because she did not have enough money to feed herself properly. Fortunately, back then, one did not have to complete a teaching course in order to be hired.

She afterward obtained a teaching job in Goldendale, Washington (where, coincidentally, I would live for a time about 40 years later). At the end of the year, she left for home.

My grandmother was a powerhouse of energy and determination, as are most of my other female relatives and in-laws. She eventually decided to go out canvassing herself and, after moving to the Seattle-Tacoma area, she went on colporteur tours to various parts of western, central, and eastern Washington State.

Arriving back home one day, she found her husband, George, my grandfather, preparing to burn her religious books in the backyard. My grandfather was an avowed atheist. She said, George, if you ever try that again, I will leave you! He knew she would and never again opposed her in religious matters.

One day in her travels across the state, she stopped at a well-to-do farmhouse in the Yakima area. After giving her canvass, the farmer, upon learning her name, asked a few more questions and then told this story:

He had been at Goldendale when her daughter, Fern, taught there one year. He liked Fern and decided to marry her. But when he told her so, she said he would have to wait for an answer until she came back in the fall. He saw her off on the train, but she never returned. I was going to marry Fern, but she never came back, he said.

My mother told me that story years later, and added that she intentionally did not return in order to get rid of him. But then she added wistfully, But perhaps I made a mistake. He had inherited a large farm in the Yakima Valley by the time my grandmother met him.  

A young man from Montana, by the name of Troy Price, was completing a four-year hitch in the Navy, and met Fern in Bellingham, Washington. They married in 1924 or 1925 at Mount Vernon, a little south of Bellingham. Although introduced, at that time, to Adventism by Ferns mother, Elizabeth, he did not accept it.

On September 3, 1927, my sister (actually half-sister) was born. Mother named her Ameryllis (but, when she was grown, she changed it to Ann).

The young married couple spent a year or so in Montana, between Freud and Poplar, and nearly starved and froze to death. So, they decided to go to wonderful California. Even back then, people called it the golden state. In 1928, they moved to the San Diego area when Ann was six months old. Shortly thereafter, Troy was converted at an Adventist camp meeting, in Glendale, and was baptized.

Troy was trying to support the family by picking fruit, and Fern got a job at the county farm, north of El Cajon, a retirement home for the elderly. Eventually, Troy also hired on there as an employee.  

When Harry arrived in San Diego, he took what money he had and managed to buy a service station. At last, he felt he had really arrived! He was in business for himself and owned his own gas station. He was succeeding in life. But then he found that he had to work extremely long hours to keep the station open, and he could not afford to hire anyone to help him. The profit from filling tanks was negligible, and there were too many service stations competing for business. He told me the view from the station was miserable, mostly desert sand and scattered buildings.

So, as he later told me, he advertised for someone to buy his station. But no one wanted it, not at any price. Then he got an idea and placed a different ad in the newspaper, asking for someone who would buy in as a partner at a low price. Soon after, the ad was answered, and he had a partner.

Then, turning to his new partner, Harry said, Here it is, all yours. And he left.

About this time, Harry bought a motorcycle. He was single and could afford to live dangerously. Reminiscing about it years later, he told me it was dangerous taking curves on the sandy streets there. On one occasion, he slid on the sand and almost went under a streetcar. It very nearly cost him his life, but he kept riding the motorcycle.

Eventually he answered an ad and got a job at that same county farm.

It was about this time that the 1929 stock market crash occurred. Some inside information, from a financial instructional firm, came into my hands in the 1960s. The 1929 crash was purposely manipulated, but then got out of hand, taking down most of those who had driven down the price of the stocks in order to make a killing when they rebounded. But this time, unlike most panics, the stocks did not rebound. Multiplied millions of dollars were lost by people, large and small, all over America. The entire Western World was adversely affected for over a decade. Ultimately, nearly 40 percent of the nation became jobless.

Back home in central Illinois, the stock market crash ruined Harry's folks. Through thrift and hard work, His father had done well; so well that he mortgaged his Gilman farm in the 1920s, in order to buy another over near the Indiana border. When the crash came, he lost everything. His wife decided she did not want to live with a poor man, so she left him and moved to Florida. He died brokenhearted.

For years I have told people: Don't be like my grandfather; don't go into debt.

In 1930, my father noticed a woman at the county farm who attracted him. She was remarkably unpretentious and reminded him of his own mother. They were actually quite similar, hard workers with a strong independent spirit.

Harry later told Fern that he liked the fact that she would wash her face in the faucet in the yard and not worry about makeup, as did the other women who were too prim and proper to face their faces in public. Mother laughed years later, when she told me that. She was a very practical person.

When off-duty back at their home, Fern and Troy were quarreling quite regularly. In later years, Troy admitted he had a bad temper back then. Yet, if he had not said so, no one would have suspected it. All the years I have known him, he has been a kind, gentle man.

But then Fern was not the type to oppose. By this time Ann was three.

At this point, I will mention E.T. Smith: In the summer of 1958, having completed four years of college and three at the Seminary, I was headed west with my wife to take a position as a pastor on the West Coast. The sign said that the next turnoff was Beaumont, California. Beaumont! I said, this was where Beaumont Smith lived!

My mother had mentioned a Beaumont Smith when I was young; it was someone she knew when she had been in the San Diego area. She also said his name was E.T. Smith; somehow I remembered that also. Turning off the highway, I stopped at a pay phone and looked in the book. Sure enough, there it was: E.T. Smith. So we quickly drove to the street address.

A very old lady answered the door. She was Mrs. E.T. Smith. Her husband had died a year or so before, but she had left the phone number in his name.

When she learned who I was, she was astounded, saying: Your mother said she did not want to be married to a man who carried a Bible! And here you, her son, are a Seventh-day Adventist minister!

It was Troy who carried the Bible around, and by her own statement, that was part of the reason my mother left him later.

She got what she asked for, yet in later years she mellowed. The deep interest I showed in religious things, throughout my childhood, never seemed to bother her.

Gradually the friendship between Harry and Fern deepened. The fact that Fern was someone else's wife did not bother him; he had decided to make her his wife. But Troy knew nothing about it.

The quarreling at the Price home seemed only to intensify, and Fern threatened to leave him. But he replied that, if she did, he would get Ann.

The year was 1932. One day while Troy was away at work, Harry came over in a car (it may have been borrowed, since he had a motorcycle then) and they loaded all her and Ann's few belongings in it and headed off.

From what mother told me years later, there must have been a hill with no houses on it not far from that home. For, as the car got to the summit, Harry stopped the car. The two were quarreling. It appears that he was already beginning to question whether he wanted the responsibility of a family. Mother said she should have gone back right then, but she didn't.

When Troy came home that night, he was desolated, utterly crushed. Yet all the leads led nowhere. He had absolutely no idea where she had gone to.

Fern had suddenly quit her job, broken all contact with Adventists and local churches, and just disappeared. What Troy did not know was that she was living with Harry, one of the co-workers he associated with every day at the county farm.

Over in Lemon Grove (today part of La Mesa), there was a little rectangular house on Vasser Street. It was halfway up the hill on the right side. Someone had planned to build a subdivision there, but ran out of money when the depression came. Harry and Fern were now living in that house. Just across the street was another house, about the same vintage, with a goat farm off to one side.

One day, the doorbell rang and Fern hurried to the door, and then started back when she saw who was there. It was a lady from her church, who spent her time colporteuring all over the county. They had known each other well. Hoping the woman had not seen her inside, Fern watched as the woman stood there for a time and then left and went to the next house. It was a close call. Ferns concern that Ann not be found by Troy had become an obsession.

March 4, 1933, was the bottom of the Great Depression. The headlines proclaimed that Monday, March 6, the banks would not open. Unemployment was at its highest. San Diego county was as badly hit as the rest of America. A man living in that area checked around and, after careful inquiry, because such things were illegal back then, obtained the name of an abortion doctor.

From the best I can tell, it was near the end of that month that the young couple went to the physician to get an abortion. Later, when I was told the story, this is how it was related to me:

The doctor asked them why they wanted the abortion and the couple gave him the obvious answer: Employment was so uncertain, they could not afford to have a baby. He told them that it would probably be a beautiful baby, and they should have it anyway. But, no; they declined. They wanted the abortion. So he went ahead and performed it.

Either the embryo should have been destroyed, or, if it could have survived, should have been grossly deformed. At any rate, as my mother explained it when I was a teenager, I was that baby. She laughed when she told me; she thought it was funny. It is interesting how time can make near-tragedies (or miracles) seem funny.

On Sunday morning, December 3, 1933, a physician was called to the little house on Vasser Street, and delivered me. Ann was six by then, and had been sent across the street to stay with the neighbor during labor. The home I was born in is still there; now painted light green. I saw it this summer (1995).

The only times my mother got away from that imprisoning house, was when she went with Harry, riding on the back of his motorcycle! That was the first vehicle I ever rode on. My mother said I was riding it before I was born. She only went with him in the evening, when she could not be recognized in the darkness.

Yet the quarreling got worse. My father was utterly disgusted that I had been born and, my mother told me, would not look at me for the first two days. It is likely that he was the one who pushed for the abortion. Whether the physician was convicted he must not carry out the abortion or whether it miraculously did not succeed, we will never know this side of heaven.

God has a purpose for everyone's life, and I know I have to fulfill my purpose for being here. You must fulfill yours also.

But Harry did not like Ann either. She was not his child and, while she was young, he seemed to hate her. This only added to the troubles in the home. Fortunately, I was his; but, as I grew up, he generally ignored me.

Finally, my mother determined to leave Harry. She had left a man before and was not afraid to do it again. One day when he was at work, she packed basic necessities for my sister and I and herself and boarded a train for her mothers home in the Seattle area.

When Harry came home that night, he experience what Troy before him had experienced. The family was gone, and he had no idea where.

Up in Seattle, Ann was sent to an Adventist  school with Ferns younger sister, Bonnie. What might have happened next, one can only surmise. But Lynn got involved.

Of all Ferns brothers, one especially like devilry. One day, Lynn was driving a little too fast (perhaps because of some liquor inside) when he was pulled over by a policeman. Laughing, he pulled a gun and said, Climb in and Ill show you how fast I can drive! With that, he drove like a Jehu down the road. When they finally arrested him, he was jailed for several months.

Well, Lynn thought he would have some fun at mothers expense. So, while Fern was living in hiding at her mothers place, Lynn was sending letters to Harry, telling him where she was.

As have so many other husbands in this world, with this information in hand, Harry went after his wife. Quitting his job, he headed north. Arriving in San Francisco, he sold his motorcycle and bought a car. Then on he drove to Seattle to get Fern.

A few months before she died, mother told me that she just happened to be looking out the front window that day and saw him drive by, looking for the house. She knew he would turn around and be back within a few minutes to get her.

For a moment, she panicked. Then, on the last night I saw her alive (December 1972), she told me, I decided I would go back with him, for your and Ann's sake.

Loading everything up, they headed south. But it was 1934, and the depression was severe. Harry had quit his good job, and getting another would not be easy.

Arriving in San Francisco, Harry looked for work, and Fern changed her name. Now she was Lila. Harry now changed his middle name also, from Edward to Edwin.

Lila was frantic that Troy would somehow get Ann. But, in addition, Harry had creditors in San Diego county. Mother told me years later that he felt he had sufficiently paid that which he owed them, with the exception of some of the interest. This added to the reasons he wanted anonymity.

This same year, 1934, Troy filed for a divorce and obtained it. Troy had grounds to obtain custody of the daughter, but he had no idea where Ann was.

Arriving in San Francisco, Lila and Harry moved into a house on a hill. Later they moved to another house, probably on the same hill; this second one was just behind a two- or three-story apartment house.

Ann was put into a Lutheran day school at St. Paul's Church at Eddy and Gough Streets. She walked down to it each day. I believe this second house was on Sutter Street, a few blocks directly above that Lutheran church. In one school year, she had started the second grade in San Diego, transferred to a Seattle Adventist school, and then was re-entered into the Lutheran school in San Francisco.

In 1935, Lila made a mistake she would regret for years to come. It came about in this way: Soon after arriving in San Francisco, Harry had gotten a job working down on the waterfront wharves, loading and unloading freighters. One day in December 1934, as telephone poles were being unloaded, some rolled onto Harry, breaking his ankle.

Out of work and on relief, he could only hobble around the house on crutches, while Lila went out and did housework. This was the beginning of a pattern that continued throughout the rest of her life till she turned 65: Lila kept working.

But while she was gone during the day, Harry was at home taking out his resentment on little Ann. It was not a happy home.

Every week, Lila would walk to the welfare office for food bags. It was probably located a few blocks west in the Fillmore District. Ann, seven by this time, would tightly hold to her little brothers hand as they returned, for only mother could carry the food bags. The little tyke was only a little over a year old.

With the grinding poverty, and hardly enough to eat, Lila decided to write Troy and ask him to send a few dollars to buy a pair of shoes for Ann.

At last, Troy knew where Ann was! He immediately wrote back. Declaring that he was coming to get the girl, he asked that all her things be ready when he arrived. Terrified that Troy would get Ann, Lila immediately took her across the bay to Oakland on the ferry, and put her on a train headed eastward. Ann was eight and her little brother two. It was December 1935. They would not see each other again until he was 16.

When Troy arrived at the little house behind the apartment house, once again he was crushed. His daughter had been sent off, and he did not know where.

When the train pulled in at the Chicago station, Ethel Jennings met it. She and Ann stayed overnight at friends, and then went by train to Rio, Wisconsin, near Portage.

The following summer, Troy managed to locate Ann. Although Lila had known her for years, Ethel was actually related to Troy. Visiting them, he obtained legal custody, but decided to leave Ann in Ethel's care until he remarried.

Troy had been working as an orderly at a Seattle hospital, and, while there, met Mildred Healy, a very competent registered nurse. Later he was transferred to another hospital elsewhere in the city. Mildred had noticed that he carried out all assignments faithfully, something many orderlies did not do. She respected his integrity and was intrigued with his principled manners.

Months later, in the middle of the night, he had to bring a sick friend over to that same hospital for care. Having done so, he stopped by her work station and asked if she would like to go for a drive. That particular night she would be off-duty between 2 and 5 a.m., so she said okay. Down the road they parked under a street light, and sat in the car and ate lunch. Immediately, Troy opened the Bible, and gave her a study. She liked Gods Word and they become close friends.

Later she was baptized and, in November 1936, they were married. In the summer of 1937, they got Ann. She was 10 by that time.

In later years, Mildred put Troy through medical school at Loma Linda, and he became a physician.  

Back in San Francisco, Harry and Lila no longer needed to hide from Troy, or argue over the way he was treating Ann. This probably reduced tensions quite a bit. But Harry kept his changed name, Harold Edwin; and Lila kept hers, Lila Fern.

When his ankle healed, my father got a job at Armstrong's U-Drive, in back of the Richlieu Hotel on Van Ness Avenue. The hotel is still there; I saw it a few months ago.

At some point between 1935 and 1939, my family moved to 806 Webster Street. This was the home of my earliest memories. Everything already mentioned above happened before I was aware of what was going on. It was in 1939 that, for me, my life really began. From that point onward, I began remembering things.

In January 1939, my mother took me over to a  nearby park (Jefferson Park), hugged me, and sent me off. I looked back at her and she at me as I started off to my first day at that same Lutheran church school Ann had earlier attended for a short time. I had turned five only a few weeks earlier; she needed me in kindergarten so she could go out and do housecleaning for rich folk, and bring home enough money to help support the family.

That is my earliest dated memory. Oddly enough, the incident may also have saved my life.

Nearly a year ago I was reading, for the first time, a detailed account of the Korean War. At the time it occurred, I paid little attention to it; I was too busy doing other things. But now, for the first time, I noted that the war began on June 25, 1950. That rang a bell. I was 16 in the summer of 1950, and not eligible for the draft. When I turned 18, on December 3, 1951, I should have been drafted, sent over to the frontlines and, amid the bitter cold and back-and-forth fighting of the next three years, very likely been one of those who died.

Normally, I would have graduated from high school six months after turning 18, in June 1952. Having registered for the draft at 18, I would have been drafted that summer, as soon as I graduated, and been sent over to Korea.

But, many years earlier, my mother had been anxious to put me into kindergarten as soon as possible, so she could do housework through the day. It just so happened that, back then, in most San Francisco schools, a child could begin a grade in January as well as September. I started kindergarten three weeks after turning five. A year later, I started first grade, in January, at six.

Then, in January 1944, I began the first half of the fifth grade at a public school. But, in September, mother transferred me to a private school which only operated on a fall-to-fall calendar. The teacher, Mr. Truitt, had to decide whether to promote me half a year or put me back. He decided to promote me to sixth grade. Because of this, I only had half the fifth grade.

Because of this, while still 17, I graduated from high school, and that fall, three months before my 18th birthday, I was attending Pacific Union College as a theology student. This gave me a ministerial exemption. The war ended, two years later, on July 27, 1953, while I was still enrolled in college.

It was not until a few months ago that I realized the significance of this connecting link of events.

Reflecting back on these events, I wonder at how God protected my life during those early years. I also marvel at the fact that He moved on my heart to love Him, when so many around me seemed not to be aware of His existence. They were fine people, but they were so busy getting through life that they had little time for Him.

I know that neither of my parents will likely be in heaven, and I am saddened by the fact. It has been over twenty years since they passed away.

But, wherever we are in life, we must learn the lessons we can from the paths we have trod, and keep pressing forward in fullest faith in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ.  

Because my memories at the Webster Street house only extend from 1939 to 1941, when we moved away, I have few recollections there.

One of my earliest was trying to go to sleep in an oversized crib each night, which was at a far corner of the living room, the only room which had windows facing the street. Each night, the barroom lights from across the street, glared in through those windows. From that saloon, would boom out the music, Roll out the barrels, for well have a barrel of fun. It sounded hideous to me, and to escape I would pull the covers over my head till I fell asleep. How young children ever survive city living is a marvel.

Times were different back then. I recall looking out on the street, in the early morning, as mother prepared breakfast. There has hardly a car to be seen. Asking about it in later years, I was told that a city ordinance, at the time, required every car to be garaged each night. Since there were not many garages, you can imagine how few people back then had automobiles! Most everyone rode the street cars. The 1930s and the 1990s are a century apart.

Inflation was an unknown word back in those days. One day mother sent me to a little store called Mr. Greens delicatessen, around the corner on McAllister Street. She handed me six cents, and I brought back a large loaf of bread.

One day when I was older, I was playing on the  east side of Jefferson Park, by Golden Gate Avenue, and some ladies approached and asked the children if they would like to hear some stories. Along with several others, I walked with them directly across the street to, what had been an empty street-level store front, that had been outfitted with some small chairs. There the ladies told us children Bible stories. I shall never forget how very much I liked it. It seemed like such a pleasant place. Far different than most everything else in this place I called home.

Memories can be categorized by mobility. In the earlier ones I had to be with my mother, and could not be out on the street by myself. One of my very earliest memories was also at that park. My mother had taken me there and, while romping on the grass, I had moved farther and farther away.

The entire park was two blocks in size and on the side of a hill. At that time, it only had grass and no trees. I had wandered upward to the northwest corner, where few people went.

A man was sitting in the passenger side of the seat of a car by the curb. When I noticed him, he was about 30 feet from me. He had the door open and his legs were on the Laguna Street sidewalk, nearly at the corner of Eddy. There was no one else  within half a block of us. Holding his hand out, he was asking me to come to him so he could give me something nice.

I recall standing there for a split second, totally uncertain as to what I was supposed to do. I was almost too small to know. Then the thought came: Run to Mama! Off I ran as fast as my little legs could carry me downhill to where mother was, about half a block away. She had been sitting on the grass, occupied with talking to a lady. When I turned around, the car was gone.

Not till we reach heaven will we know all the dangers we have been protected from.  

In May 1941, we moved away from the Webster Street house, not long before the entire block was torn down to make room for an extension of the Acme Brewery (which, itself, was later torn down). All the while we lived there, we could smell beer when the wind blew from the bottling plant. Fortunately, the prevailing westerlies came from the other direction.

We moved to 1750 Page Street, which was in the Haight-Ashbury District. The word, Hippie, would not be invented for 24 years. This third-floor rental flat was only a block from the panhandle, and a few more from Golden Gate Park. I was fortunate to have all that park to play in.

From the best I can tell, it was 1941 or 1942 that a very special event happened. I was seven or eight years old at the time. Years later, when I was a teenager, my mother told me about it.

One Sunday, my father agreed to accompany my mother to a Protestant church on Waller Street. Such an occurrence was quite unusual. The next week, the pastor of that church (the Hamilton Methodist Church) dropped by our house and visited mother.

As she related it, he said, Why not leave the Adventists and come worship with us? That way you can unite your family. That was a tempting offer, and mother said she seriously considered it. Harry seemed willing to go to the Methodist Church, but not to the Adventist Church.

But that night, as she related it to me a decade later, she had a dream. Now, I do not recall my mother talking about dreams, and she was not the type to have religious dreams. Ann fully agrees with me. But, Mother said, That night I had a dream. An angel came to me and said, Don't leave the Adventists, for Vance's sake.

I was just young enough that, if she had completely broken with Adventism at that time, I would very likely not have remained with Advent beliefs and might never have discovered the Spirit of Prophecy.

Yet, because of that dream, I did. Over the past fifteen years, I have written thousands of pages of important warnings regarding dangers our people now face.

One afternoon in the summer of 1944, I noticed a girl from around the corner, on Cole Street, lugging home six good-sized books from the public library in the next block. I asked her what she did with them. Were they for her parents? She told me that six books were all the library would let her take home at a time. She would read them all and, she said, a week later would take them back and get six more. I was astounded. True, she was about two years older than me (I was ten at the time), but how could a person read so much? I was a poor reader at the time.

So I went to the library and took out one book and brought it home. My mother helped me with the first couple chapters. I still remember that I stumbled over the word, cupboard. That year I went from the fourth to eighth grade reading level. I know that because, before the school year was over, I borrowed a couple eighth grade books from the teacher, and found I could read them with ease.  From that time onward, my reading ability helped me in everything I set myself to do.

I would read and study everything I could find on history, science, or other subjects. It was good that I did, for each evening I was home alone. My father worked nights and slept days. So he was gone in the evenings. My mother had worked hard all day, wanted an opportunity each evening to visit friends, so she would leave.

I could easily have run the streets and gotten into trouble. But I am thankful I chose not to do so. Instead, when not running paper routes, I bought some aquarium tanks, stocked them with tropical fish, and spent my spare time going to aquarium stores, reading books, or playing with my pet white rat. Later, I was one of only three young people who were members of the San Francisco Aquarium Society. I attended regular meetings, but knew better than drink the coffee and rolls they offered during intermission.

Healthful living always seemed like a worthwhile thing, and I decided not to drink the coffee my mother urged me to drink. She said I could not get through life without coffee. But it seemed to me that if I needed a lift that much, I should go lay down.

Where did I get those principles from? It must be a combination of reading the Word of God and being impressed by the Holy Spirit. Yet without obedience to the Word, the Spirit cannot do as much for us as He would like. Surrender to God and obedience to Him brings a resolute determination to do right because it is right. Lacking that settled determination, a person will always fall.

By the time I was ten, I was going to church twice a week. I continued this from the fifth to eight grade. Every Sabbath I would bike the 27 blocks to the California Street Adventist Church, and every Sunday I would go to a Protestant church closer to home. I just enjoyed being with Christians. Sometimes my mother would go to church with me on Sabbath. But most of the time, I went by myself. She never tried to stop me from attending either service.

In late 1945, when I was eleven, an evangelistic effort was begun by Elder Chester Prout at that California Street Church. Back then, evangelistic meetings lasted a full six months, and this one was no exception. The meetings were held six nights a week, and, after my afternoon news routes, I pedaled hard the many blocks to get to each one.

The following spring, when they made a call to come forward for further studies in the back room, I and about four others did so. A couple months later, we were baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

My mother knew she had to keep me busy, so she could work in the afternoons, so when I was ten she got me a job delivering newspapers. I could easily have gotten out of it then or later. But I enjoyed the work. It was good having a duty, a job to do. Years later, as a professional educator, I read in a book that some young people want freedom, and some want responsibility. The first tend to become vagabonds; and the second, hard workers. It is something to think about as you prepare for adult life.

For seven years I had newspaper routes, and I am thankful I had them. They gave me flat feet, but also a determination to carry a job through to completion. One of the great crimes of our age is the theory that young people should not work until they are eighteen. By that time, many are no longer interested.

Because, for six years, I had shown myself responsible, in 1949 the newspaper company (the San Francisco News) offered me their best route in our area: St. Mary's Hospital. This required knocking on about 400 hospital doors each afternoon, talking with people, selling them newspapers, doing it within a few hours, and all the while keeping everyone happy with the service, including the hospital staff. That job taught me how to meet people and talk with them. I held it for two years until I started college.

I have often thought, since then, how much those paper routes and that sales job helped me in later years. Liking responsibility, enjoying work, and knowing how to meet people is a good preparation for life's responsibilities.

Since I was a year younger than others in my class, school was a little more difficult for me until I entered high school. It is always safe to assume you only have average abilities and that you will have to work very hard to succeed. By the 11th grade, I was at or near the top in every subject except math.

At Polytechnic High School, I was told that I would have to take a year of Spanish or Latin. Spanish seemed more practical, so I signed up for that. The first day we were given a list of words to learn, and I ignored it. The next day we were tested and I flunked the test. It was clear that every day there would be a test and, worst of all, all the material would be cumulative; what you learned today, you would use all year. One could only succeed by studying beforehand, not afterward. From that day forward, I got straight As in that class. The only other student who did so was a Mexican who never opened the book.

During those high school years, I would spend an hour each evening, from 9 to 10, reading a worthwhile book before going to sleep. I found it satisfying to do so. One book I went through was Uriah Smiths Daniel and Revelation. Another was the Great Controversy. No one told me I had to do this.

I feel sorry for those young people who have the rare privilege of growing up in a Christian home, yet strive to avoid religious opportunities and activities. If they only knew the miserable adult life they are thus preparing themselves for. Avoiding God and the study of His Word is what got my parents in trouble. Many spend their lives running from their Best Friend. Cannot we not learn from the experiences of others? Must we, ourselves, continually repeat their mistakes?

We never had one family worship in my home that I ever recall. But then I never heard either my mother or father say, I am sorry or please forgive me. I never heard my father say I love you to anyone. And I never heard my mother say, I love you to him. That was the way our home was.

I look back on it now, and know without a shade of doubt that it is the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy which gave me the affection, the principles, and the solidness of character I so much needed. Both my parents were well-meaning. Neither smoke nor got drunk. They were hard-working folk. Yet there was so much depth of happiness that they never experienced: happiness which is alone obtainable through a relationship with Jesus Christ and an obedient study of His Inspired Writings.

There was another experience which also helped. That is not always the best for a person, in developing a rounded personality. When there are siblings, they interact, compete, dominate, and yield. But when there is only one, he may grow up in too soft an environment.

But, from the age of 12 onward, I found it necessary to increasingly resist my parents concerns that I live a worldly life. As soon as I was baptized, deep convictions came to me that I must stop going to movies with my parents. Yet that was their primary family entertainment. Saying no was not easy. But, by the time I was 13, I was successfully doing it. Week after week, month after month, I was refusing motion picture attendance, coffee drinking, trying a glass of wine, going to dance halls and dancing, and attending theatrical plays. I later realized that the situation had trained me to resist duly constituted authority, when it deviated from Gods Word. That had a strong effect on my outlook when I grew up.

During my high school years, I only attended the Adventist Church (San Francisco Central, on California Street). I determined to do whatever I was asked, whether it be praying or preaching. I recall my first sermon was given at the Philippino Church. It was on Elisha and lessons from his life. The second was based on the consecration chapter in Steps to Christ. It is only by working that we learn how to work.

By that time, I was faithfully attending every prayer meeting as well. One evening, a young man in a leather coat was there. Surely he must be a church member, new to the area. He had said little and no one paid much attention to him. So, after the meeting, I spoke with him enthusiastically for about half an hour, and then offered to drive him home. It turned out he was a young soldier stationed for a time in the Presidio (at that time a federal military reserve). I was so happy in my faith, and enjoyed talking to others about it.

I was not permitted to drive through the gate, so we stopped just outside and spoke a little longer. But time passed, and it was not until about 11:30 that he finally waved good-bye and walked into the Presidio. I had told him of point after point of the Advent faith, and he eagerly listened and asked questions.

It turned out that that was the first time he had ever stepped foot in an Adventist church, and he knew nothing about us.

The next Sabbath, he attended church and asked the pastor (Elder Daniel E. Venden) for baptism. Following studies, he was taken into the church. I understand that he is retired and living in Montana. He has been a faithful believer all these years. His name was Dana Clow.

As you may know, nearly every General Conference Session, from 1918 to 1954, was held in San Francisco. Because of that happy fortuity, I attended portions of several of them (1941, 1950, and 1954). Grandmother Elizabeth Thorp would come stay with us and encourage mother to attend with me.

In one of the meetings at the July 1950 Session, I was deeply convicted with the thought that I should give my life to God and, if it be His will, become a minister. I mentioned it to grandmother as we walked back to the car, and she encouraged me with the thought that it was possible.

During my last year of high school, the conviction of my personal responsibility deepened even more strongly, so I laid plans to attend college.

Learning this, my mother tried to dissuade me from going into the ministry. She told me if I would attend the University of California at Berkeley, she would buy me a new car and pay my way through to a baccalaureate. She recommended optometry, but said I could take any course.

I was convicted that I should attend an Adventist College and take the ministerial course.

In preparation for it, I canvassed my last summer before going to college. My folks did not favor that either, and the conference seemed to have forgotten San Francisco that summer, but I had learned how to stick to a job and spent the summer at it. I spent the summer canvassing in a city which, because of the cold response of the people, even the professional colporteurs avoided.

The first day I determined to go out; I had absolutely no idea where to go and not much more about what to say if they opened the door long enough to let me in.

So I prayed and drove. Then I stopped to pray and drove. I turned this street and then that, across town. Although I did not know it at the time, interestingly enough I finally parked not far from the area where Ann used to live. Then I climbed a steep street and knocked at a three-story flat. No one was home on the first floor, and the lady shut the door at the second. But, when I rang the top floor bell, an older lady let me in.

She wasn't interested in the book (I had wanted to sell religious books, but the conference office had decided that only the one volume, Modern Medical Counselor, was to be sold), but she asked what church I attended. When I told her, she said she was interested. She had known some Adventists years before, and liked them.

The California Street church was about 12 blocks away, but I arranged for a family to pick her up each week. She was still attending all the while I was there, and thoroughly appreciating the services.

When the summer ended, I left San Francisco and went to college.

Do I have any regrets about my youth; things I did which I wish I had not done? Yes, I have three: the three night jobs I had. The first was delivering papers (the San Francisco Examiner) from 4 to 6 a.m. every morning for six months. There is no gain in tearing down your health. The other two are two night jobs I had while attending the Seminary: an all-night job, janitoring in the General Conference building, and a milk delivery job. If I could do it all over again, I would not have accepted night jobs.  

These are lessons from my childhood. It is my prayer that it may serve as a guide and warning to others. Everything in life is a desolation that is not centered in loving, praising, and obeying God.

One thing I know for a certainty: God protected me from death before my birth, and He has protected and guided me ever since. I love Him and intend to live out my days serving Him.

 Vance Ferrell