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Blessed With a Special Heritage

Blessed With a Special Heritage

 Life Story

Blessed With a Special Heritage


I was alone, clutching my pretty new book. Fear gripped me, and tears rolled down my face. After all, I was just a little seven-year-old girl lost in a strange city, surrounded by tens of thousands of people!

RECENTLY, nearly 60 years later, vivid memories of that childhood experience came flooding back, triggered by a visit with my husband, Paul, to the beautiful Watchtower Educational Center at Patterson, New York. He had been invited there to attend the second class of a school for traveling overseers of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As we looked around the sunlit lobby, I noticed a large display captioned “CONVENTIONS.” Toward the center was an old black-and-white photograph of children excitedly waving their copies of my childhood book! I quickly read the caption with the picture: “1941​—In St. Louis, Missouri, when the morning session opened, 15,000 children​—between 5 and 18 years of age—​were assembled in the main arena directly in front of the platform. . . . Brother Rutherford announced the release of the new book Children.”

Each child was given a personal copy. The children then returned to where their parents were seated​—all except me. I was lost! A friendly usher picked me up and stood me on a tall contribution box and told me to look for someone I knew. Anxiously I scanned the crowd pouring down the wide stairway. All of a sudden, there was a face from home! “Uncle Bob! Uncle Bob!” I was found! Bob Rainer carried me up to where my anxious parents were waiting.

 Early Events That Shaped My Life

Looking at that display prompted a flood of memories​—events that shaped my life and led to our being at the lovely Patterson facility. My thoughts turned to events of more than a hundred years ago, things I had heard about especially from my grandparents and my parents.

In December 1894 a full-time minister of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, called on my paternal grandfather, Clayton J. Woodworth, at his home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. Clayton was newly married. He wrote a letter to the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, Charles Taze Russell, and it was published in the June 15, 1895, Watchtower. He explained:

“We are a young husband and wife who have been members of the nominal church for about ten years; but are now, we trust, stepping from its darkness into the light of the new day now dawning for the consecrated children of the Most High. . . . Long before we ever met each other it was our earnest wish that we might serve the Lord, if it chanced to be his will, as missionaries in the foreign field.”

Later, in 1903, Sebastian and Catherine Kresge, my maternal great-grandparents, happily listened to the Bible message brought by two Watch Tower representatives to the large farm on which they lived, in the beautiful Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Their daughters, Cora and Mary, also lived there with their husbands, Washington and Edmund Howell. The Watch Tower representatives, Carl Hammerle and Ray Ratcliffe, stayed with them a whole week, teaching them many things. All six of these family members listened, studied, and soon became zealous Bible Students.

In that very year, 1903, Cora and Washington Howell had a daughter named Catherine. How she eventually married my father, Clayton J. Woodworth, Jr., is an interesting and, I believe, meaningful story. It reveals the loving insight and parental concern of my grandfather Clayton J. Woodworth, Sr.

My Father Receives Loving Help

My father, Clayton junior, was born in Scranton in 1906, within 50 miles [80 km] or so of the Howell farm. In those early years, Grandpa Woodworth became well acquainted with the large Howell family, often enjoying their legendary hospitality. He was a great help to the congregation of Bible Students in that area. In time, Grandpa was called on to perform the marriages of the three Howell sons, and with his own son’s welfare in mind, he made a point of taking him along for each of these weddings.

Dad was not then actively engaged in the ministry of the Bible Students. True, he drove Grandpa to make his ministerial calls, but despite Grandpa’s encouragement, Dad did not take an active part himself. At that time, my father’s musical interests superseded all others, and he was moving toward a professional career.

 Catherine, the daughter of Cora and Washington Howell, had also become an accomplished musician, playing and teaching the piano. But just as a professional career was opening before her, she put that pursuit aside and began sharing in the full-time ministry. Grandpa could not have had in mind a better companion for his son​—at least from my point of view! Dad was baptized, and he married Mom six months later, in June 1931.

Grandpa was always proud of his son’s musical ability. He was so happy when Dad was asked to train the nucleus of the big convention orchestra for the 1946 international convention in Cleveland, Ohio. In the following years, Dad conducted the orchestra at a number of other conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Grandpa’s Trial and Prison Life

In the Patterson lobby, Paul and I also came across the exhibit with the picture seen on the next page. I immediately recognized the picture, since Grandpa sent me a copy of it well over 50 years ago. He is the one standing on the far right.

During the patriotic hysteria surrounding World War I, these eight Bible Students​—including Joseph F. Rutherford (seated in center), president of the Watch Tower Society—​were wrongfully imprisoned and held without bail. The charges against them centered on statements in the seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures, entitled The Finished Mystery. The statements were incorrectly perceived as discouraging the participation of the United States in World War I.

Over a period of many years, Charles Taze Russell had written the first six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, but he died before he could write the seventh. So his notes were given to Grandpa and another Bible Student, and they wrote the seventh volume. This was released in 1917, before the end of the war. At the trial, Grandpa and most of the others were sentenced to four concurrent terms of 20 years each.

The caption to the picture in the Patterson lobby explains: “Nine months after Rutherford and his associates were sentenced​—and with the war past—​on March 21, 1919, the appeals court ordered bail for all eight defendants, and  on March 26, they were released in Brooklyn on bail of $10,000 each. On May 5, 1920, J. F. Rutherford and the others were exonerated.”

After being sentenced, but before being sent to the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, the eight spent their first few days of incarceration in the Raymond Street jail in Brooklyn, New York. From there Grandpa wrote a description of being placed in a six-by-eight-foot [1.8 by 2.4 m] cell “in the midst of unspeakable filth and disorder.” He observed: “You have a pile of newspapers, and if inclined to think lightly of them at first, you soon come to realize that in these papers and in soap and a wash-rag, lies your one chance of cleanliness and self-respect.”

Yet, Grandpa kept his sense of humor, referring to the jail as “Hôtel de Raymondie,” noting, “I shall leave here the moment my board is up.” He also described his courtyard walks. Once when he stopped for a moment to have his hair combed, a pickpocket snatched his pocket watch, but as he wrote, “The chain broke and I saved it.” When I was visiting Brooklyn Bethel in 1958, Grant Suiter, then secretary-treasurer of the Watch Tower Society, called me into his office and gave me that watch. I still treasure it.

Effect Upon Father

When Grandpa was unjustly imprisoned in 1918, my father was only 12. Grandma closed their home and took him with her to live with her mother and her three sisters. Grandma’s maiden name was Arthur, and the family proudly claimed that one of their relatives, Chester Alan Arthur, was the 21st president of the United States.

After Grandpa Woodworth was given a long sentence for alleged crimes against the United States, the Arthurs clearly felt that he had disgraced their family name. It was an emotionally painful time for my father. Perhaps such treatment was a factor in his initial hesitancy toward sharing in the public ministry.

When Grandpa was released from prison, he moved his family into a big stucco house on Quincy Street in Scranton. As a child, I knew it​—and Grandma’s pretty china—​well. We called them her holy dishes because no one but Grandma was allowed to wash them. After Grandma died in 1943, Mom often entertained and used those beautiful dishes.

Busy in Kingdom Service

On another day at the Patterson campus, I came across a picture of Brother Rutherford speaking at the 1919 Cedar Point, Ohio, convention. There he urged all to share zealously in announcing God’s Kingdom and to use the new magazine released at that convention, The Golden Age. Grandpa was appointed its editor, and he contributed articles for it right up through the 1940’s, shortly before his death. In 1937 the magazine’s name was changed to Consolation and in 1946 to Awake!

Grandpa did his writing both at home in Scranton and at the Watch Tower headquarters about 150 miles [240 km] away in Brooklyn, spending two weeks at a time in each place. Dad says that he remembers Grandpa’s typewriter going at five o’clock many mornings. Yet, Grandpa also took seriously the responsibility to share in the public preaching activity. In fact, he designed a  man’s vest that had large inside pockets to hold Bible literature. My 94-year-old aunt, Naomi Howell, still has one. He also designed a book bag for women.

Once, following a lively Bible discussion, Grandpa’s service partner said: “C. J., you made one mistake.”

“What mistake?” Grandpa asked. He checked his vest. Both pockets were empty.

“You forgot to offer him a subscription to The Golden Age.” They had a good laugh over the editor’s forgetting to offer his magazine.

Memories of Growing Up

I remember sitting on Grandpa’s lap as a child, my small hand in his as he told me the “Finger Story.” Starting with “Tommy Thumb” and moving on to “Peter Pointer,” he told something special about each finger. Then he carefully wrapped all the fingers together as he gave the moral: “Together work they best, each one helping all the rest.”

After they were married, my parents moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and became close friends with Ed and Mary Hooper. Their families had been Bible Students since the turn of the century. My parents and Uncle Ed and Aunt Mary, as I called them, were inseparable. The Hoopers had lost their only child, a baby girl, so when I came along in 1934, I became their special “daughter.” Reared in such a spiritually rich environment, I made my dedication to God and was baptized before my eighth birthday.

Bible reading was part of my early years. The description of life in God’s new world at Isaiah 11:6-9 was one of my favorite scripture passages. My first effort to read the Bible through was in 1944, after receiving my personal copy of the American Standard Version, released in a special edition at the Buffalo, New York, convention. How thrilled I was to read this translation in which God’s name, Jehovah, had been restored to its proper place nearly 7,000 times in the “Old Testament”!

Weekends were happy times. My parents and the Hoopers took me along to witness in the rurals. We packed a lunch and picnicked by a stream. Then we went to someone’s farm for an outdoor Bible talk to which we had invited all the neighbors. Life was simple. We found our joy as families. A number of these early family friends later became traveling overseers, including Ed Hooper, Bob Rainer, and his two sons. Richard Rainer still does this work, accompanied by his wife, Linda.

Summers were especially happy times. I stayed at the Howell farm with my cousins. In 1949 my cousin Grace married Malcolm Allen. Little did I realize that years later I would marry his brother. My younger cousin Marion was a missionary in Uruguay. She married Howard Hilborn in 1966. Both of these cousins served with their husbands at Brooklyn headquarters for a number of years.

Grandpa and My Graduation

During my high school years, Grandpa was a ready correspondent. His letters included many old family photographs with detailed notes typed on the back, sharing family history. That is how I received my copy of the photograph of him and the others who were unjustly sent to prison.

By late 1951, Grandpa had lost his voice box to cancer. His quick wit was still intact, but his words had to be written on a little notepad he carried with him. My high-school class was to graduate midterm, in January 1952. Early in December, I mailed Grandpa a draft of my commencement speech. He made some editorial marks and then on the last page wrote two words that went straight to my heart: “Grandpa delighted.” He finished his earthly course at age 81, on December 18, 1951. * I still treasure that faded draft of my commencement speech with those two words on the final page.

Right after my graduation, I entered the pioneer  service, as Jehovah’s Witnesses call the full-time preaching work. In 1958, I attended the mammoth convention in New York City, where a peak of 253,922 persons from 123 countries filled Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds. There one day I met a delegate from Africa who wore an identification badge that read “Woodworth Mills.” Some 30 years earlier, he had been named after Grandpa!

Happy for My Heritage

When I was 14, my mother began to pioneer again. She died 40 years later, in 1988, still a pioneer! Dad shared in the pioneer work when he could. He passed away nine months before Mom. Those whom we studied with became dear friends for life. Some of their sons went to serve at headquarters in Brooklyn, and others entered the pioneer work.

To me 1959 was a very special year. That was when I was introduced to Paul Allen. He had been appointed a traveling overseer in 1946 when he graduated from the seventh class of Gilead, a school for training missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At the time of our meeting, neither of us knew that Paul’s next assignment would be Cleveland, Ohio, where I was pioneering. Dad loved him, and so did Mom. We were married in July 1963 on the Howell farm, surrounded by our families and with Ed Hooper presiding. It was a dream come true.

Paul had never owned a car. When we left Cleveland for his next assignment, all of our belongings fitted into my 1961 Volkswagen Bug. Often the friends dropped by on Mondays, the day we moved on to another congregation, to watch us load. It was like a circus performance to see the suitcases, briefcases, file box, typewriter, and so forth, disappear into that little car.

Together Paul and I have traveled countless miles, enjoying the ups and enduring the downs of present life​—everything done in the strength that only Jehovah can supply. The years have been happy ones, filled with love for Jehovah, for each other, and for friends old and new. The two months we spent in Patterson as Paul received training was the highlight of our life so far. Observing Jehovah’s earthly organization up close reaffirmed a conviction passed on to me as part of my precious spiritual heritage: This is indeed God’s organization. What a joy to be even a small part of it!


^ par. 44 See The Watchtower, February 15, 1952, page 128.

[Picture on page 25]

With Ed Hooper shortly before the 1941 St. Louis convention, where I received my personal copy of the “Children” book

[Picture on page 26]

Grandpa in 1948

[Picture on page 26]

At the Howell farm when my parents (in circle) were married

[Picture on page 27]

The eight Bible students who were wrongly imprisoned in 1918 (Grandpa standing at far right)

[Picture on page 29]

All of our worldly goods fitted into our Volkswagen

[Picture on page 29]

With my husband, Paul