My friend, Frank Roth, joined Jesus in His Kingdom two weeks ago. I know this, because 2 Corinthians 4:13-14 tells us, It is written: “…With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” His wife, Ruth, wrote to me two days before his passing that his greatest joy was now eating ice cream three meals a day—a man after my own heart! I mourn his passing, but celebrate his life and his gain!
Frank was my history professor at Sheldon Jackson College, a Presbyterian College in Sitka, Alaska (where I earned my elementary education degree in 1991). My previous history teachers taught the subject because they really wanted to be a sports coach and I think they figured anyone could teach history. Boy! Were they wrong! I grew up with the mistaken notion that history was boring, a subject I could pass if I memorized facts. Frank made history come alive, made it tangible and relevant to my life, and made me want to continue to learn more.
But, more than being an excellent, inspiring professor, he and Ruth were excellent role models for life. They were strong believers who lived according to Ephesians 5:1-2, Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. They lived a Christ-filled life without annoying you with their preaching; they showed others by their example.
Sheldon Jackson (SJC) was full of strong believers: not only the full-time staff, but the Volunteers in Mission (VIMS) and visiting professors.
Edie & Chuck Bovee joined the staff at SJC following a long stint serving with the Billy Graham Crusade. Edie taught psychology and anthropology, and Chuck worked in Admissions. Edie was good at challenging your belief system and inspiring you to look more deeply for answers in the Bible.
Evelyn & Dave Bonner for many years were the only ebony-skinned residents of Sitka, and exposed many Alaskans to their Southern, strong Christian roots (especially those from villages for whom seeing a black person was an anomaly). Dr. Bonner was the librarian and also my Children’s Literature professor who pushed us continually. (I’d never read, organized, and reported on so many books in such a short period of time in my life!) Dave was the head groundsman, with a fabulous sense of humor and natty clothes sense. And, boy! Could they sing!
Frank & Ruth Roth came to SJC in 1964 with their five children after missionary work in several other communities in rural Alaska. In addition to Frank’s role as professor, Ruth was a registered nurse, working at the Public Health Hospital. Ruth also worked at the college clinic.
Bonnie & Max Cottrell moved to Sitka to work as VIMS at SJC a few short years before the college closed. Bonnie worked in Admissions and wherever else help was needed, and shared her broad smile and loving hug with everyone. Max is a skilled woodworker and volunteered as needed around campus, including with Dave on the grounds.
Dave & Cynthia Turcott taught aquatic sciences and music, respectively. They put together some rowdy games of Mexican Train dominoes over salmon dinners, too.
All of these wonderful people—and many more I haven’t mentioned—were strong Presbyterians. They filled the beautiful church in downtown Sitka—which was built by volunteers—with their love, their faith, their song, their outreach. This church was filled with so many amazing role models that I was drawn right into their midst. I was at a crossroads after my husband of 18 years suddenly divorced me, and my church family loved me strongly enough to embrace me and show me—through example—that there was a positive direction forward available to me.
Sadly, once Sheldon Jackson College closed in 2007, many of the families moved away, but many also stayed or returned years later. Our church regrouped and hung on, centered on local folks who were also strong believers.
Marty & Russ Braun were mainstays for many years in the church, with Marty leading Sunday School and Russ being a general handyman for anything that needed fixing in the church. Marty sang alto across from me in choir, with Russ’s booming bass coming from behind.
Lloyd & Barbara Hames owned the local grocery stores and provided strong support for many outreach activities. Barbara loved to entertain and invited the “church ladies” to her home several times a year for teas and other social events.
Ron & Pat Welsh were a loving, warm couple who could always be counted on to provide fellowship organization and support after services. Pat had moved to Sitka as a nurse at the Public Health Hospital to support the tuberculosis patients there after World War II.
I’ll miss Frank’s rumbling chuckle and seeing him walk all over Sitka with his hiking staff, but I like to think that he is sharing laughs with Ron, Lloyd, Evelyn and Dave B over a raucous game of Mexican Train dominoes. The Shack also inspires me to think that Jesus joined them at the table, and told them, “Well done, good and faithful servants!…Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21)
Who are some of the spiritual role models for your life?
Your friend in Christ,