Three of Union’s oldest alumni took different paths but shared common values of service and dedication
Well into her 90s, Ida Hanson Roberts (’38) continued delivering quarterlies to the members of her church who missed a service. “I have to take the message to the old people,” her son, Byron, recalls her saying. Now 103, the oldest alumnus of Union College still feels convicted to share her faith. When she finally agreed to move into assisted living at the age of 100, Ida did not spend time bemoaning her age or infirmity. Instead she brought pamphlets to fellow residents and shared with them the tenets of her Adventist beliefs.
“My faith in God is very important,” said Ida. “We have a lot of work to do in this world.”
Ida knows a thing or two about work, an education that reaches back more than nine decades. The second youngest of twelve siblings, Ida stayed behind to work the family farm in Iowa while, one by one, her older brothers left for medical school. As the number of able bodies diminished, the list of chores increased until she had time for nothing else. But she never complained.
“I did what needed to be done,” Ida said. “I never thought about not working. I never said ‘I can’t work.’”
Apart from the occasional watermelon seed spitting contest, there was no time for hobbies. Ida kept her head down and her hands busy. But when it was her time to go to college, Ida knew exactly where she wanted to go.
“Union College is a famous school,” she said. “Of course I wanted to be there.”
Ida joined the Union College freshman class in 1935 and began her pre-nursing degree. The following year she moved to Loma Linda to continue her education. It was there she met and married Gilbert Roberts. Because of a now-defunct rule that prohibited married women from receiving an education, Ida was forced to drop out of the nursing program. She gave birth to her only child, Byron, and embraced her role of caretaker and homemaker in Hood River, Ore.
“She wasn’t bitter about leaving school,” said Byron. “She was very content with her life.”
Contentment did not mean idleness, however. Ida never ceased working with her hands. Even now she does not use her age as an excuse. “Am I getting lazy or what?” she laughed. “I wish I could do more for everyone else. We have a lot to do.”
The spirit of Ida Roberts is representative of the spirit embodied by others among Union College’s oldest alumni. Those blessed to live 100 years or more possess indomitable faith and unflagging work ethics.
Editor’s note: Ida Roberts passed away April 15, not long after this story was written and only 13 days before her 104th birthday.
A soldier for Christ
Orason Brinker ’39 was convinced he would go to West Point. As a direct descendent of an officer in the Revolutionary War, getting in was a breeze, and getting through was sure to be one as well. Young Orason had no doubts. But then Dr. Everett Dick, famed Union College pioneer, visited Campion Academy from which Orason was soon to graduate.
“Dick came to get me in spring ’34,” said Brinker. “‘You’re going to come to Union College,’ he said. ‘We need you.’”
Dr. Dick had a special responsibility in mind when he invited Brinker to attend Union: championing the Medical Corps that would eventually become the Medical Cadet Corps. Brinker entered the freshman class in September 1934 as a student and cadet officer tasked with training new recruits under Dr. Dick, a former Marine.
“The men’s dorm ran like the military,” said Brinker. “Every male student had to join the medical corps.”
The militaristic expectations for a cadet at Union College were upheld both on and off the training ground, beginning with 6:00 a.m. reveille and ending with taps at 9:30 p.m. In addition to the regular curriculum, students learned Army organization, first aid and military strategy, among other specialized courses.
The purpose was to give potential draftees an alternative to armed combat. From his personal experience in World War I, Dr. Dick felt strongly about Adventists in the Army, and sought to provide every advantage to young men wishing to abstain from acts of violence.
“I don’t recommend that students join the Army,” said Brinker. “They have to teach their consciences to shut up.”
After he graduated from Union in 1939, Walla Walla University offered Brinker a position as head of their own branch of the Medical Cadet Corps. For the next twenty years he trained cadets and taught PE and mathematics, the latter of which he was department chair for 13 years. His relationship with Dr. Dick remained strong; Brinker continued to serve as his second-in-command at Camp Doss, a training camp for medical cadets.
“If I tell you to jump in the lake,” he said, recalling his post at Camp Doss, “you jump in the lake. You don’t stop to think.”
Brinker’s assessment of his long and storied career, including working as a fire chief, a first aid instructor and trainer, and the first college-level ski class teacher in the whole Pacific Northwest, is rooted in such discipline.
“We taught discipline for a reason,” said Brinker. “That reason was war. There is nothing good about war, but if the recruits didn’t have discipline, they wouldn’t have success.” Brinker credits his ability to teach discipline to others to the time he spent as a student at Union.
An education and a husband
In fall 1935 Ann Gruzensky Bauer ’40 traveled from Grassy Butte, N. D., to Lincoln, Neb., with $100 in her pocket and a suitcase on her arm. The money was just enough to cover tuition at Union College for the first year. It was all her father could spare. The family had never been wealthy, and now, gutted by the drought of the Great Depression, there was even less to go around. However, this was the firstborn child pursuing a good Adventist education. The choice was obvious.
“When you know that your parents have worked hard to provide an education, you value it,” said Ann, who studied pre-nursing for two years at Union College before transferring to Boulder, Colo., for her RN. “I kept my nose to the grindstone.”
An after school job in the college’s laundry room covered her second year of pre-nursing and when she transferred to Boulder she was debt free. The laundry room also provided the backdrop for a romance that would result in her marriage to Al Bauer ’40 on September 2, 1940, the day after she graduated as an RN from University of Colorado. Held by the same antiquated standard as Ida Roberts, this timing was no coincidence: Ann wanted both education and marriage.
Together they made a life in Fargo, N. D., only hours from the childhood home where her mother had once futilely defended the family garden against a plague of grasshoppers so vast that the sun was obscured by their voracious migration. It was in Fargo that her husband built a church for the community in the same way the men of her Grassy Butte community had raised a country church nearly a decade prior, all the families gathered in work and festivity for the holy blessing of a spiritual community.
“In my early years we worshipped in homes,” Ann recalled. “There was quite a celebration when that church was built.”
After nine years in the North Dakota conference, the family—now six members strong—moved to Michigan to continue building country churches. Though she no longer worked as a nurse, Ann never stopped being a caregiver.
“I didn’t mind that I couldn’t be out there in the hospital,” she said. “It was lots more fun taking care of everybody at home.”
Her husband has since passed away, but Ann is still matriarch of a family that seems only to increase in number. Two of her four siblings are still alive, plus four children, six grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren with another on the way. And perhaps most amazing of all, Ann Bauer, 101 years old, still lives by herself. She gardens, cooks, regularly meets with friends and family, and hosts dinner parties.
“I have someone who mows my lawn in the summer and plows my snow in the winter. I can do the rest myself,” Ann said. “I’ve slowed down a little, but I enjoy doing everything at my own pace.”
“I’ve had a good life,” she added. “God has been very good to me.”