Thursday, April 22, 2010

IN REMEMBRANCE - "Happy Birthday Mom!"

My mother passed away last November. I haven't written much about it all because I was so busy, sick, etc. with everything. I presented the eulogy the day of her funeral. I have posted it here in celebration of her birthday. She would have been 81 years old today.

Dorothy McMullin Reynders Eulogy
by Martha Reynders Blair
Funeral, Friday, December 4, 2009

If I could capture my mother in one word, which I really don’t think I can. But what did come to my mind, was that she was a teacher. My mother was a teacher at heart, taking every opportunity to educate herself and others. Case in point, the song “Danny Boy”, I have contemplated why “Danny Boy” was a request at her funeral. Maybe, just maybe, she was simply all about the song because she just plain liked the tune (which is Londonderry Air, by the way), but I believe she tried to find an illustration, a correlation, in everything in life. It was her thinking to educate, to teach in her everyday living. Maybe I’m making more of what may seem like a simple choice, but I’ve done some meditating and would like to share a few facts. As my mother would say, “The fruit don’t fall too far from the tree.” So hopefully I’m on the mark in my expression of why this meant something to her and what we can learn about it.

1. It is a reflection of her Scotch-Irish heritage. She was a McMullin. Her nickname in younger days was Dot Mac.

2. It is one of the prophets, Gordon B. Hinckley’s, favorite songs. He first heard “Danny Boy” as a missionary in England. The melancholy tune was even played at his funeral on the bagpipes. My mother is always about following the prophet and teaching others the importance of following the prophet.

3. Mother was all about the piano. She encouraged anyone and everyone to play. She made sure her four children took lessons. Later in life she took lessons and yes, even Coach from his previous learning experience as a child was good to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “The Happy Farmer” at a family home evening or two. Music was important and especially the piano.

4. Many, many, many years ago my mother asked Barry Burkey to play “Danny Boy” at her funeral. He was a young boy, a piano prodigy of sorts - please let me boast about you Barry. He remembers her asking and my mother remembers asking him, oh so very long ago. I’m so grateful he made a point to be available to honor that request in illustrating my mother’s love for music and her desire for everyone to have the joy of music in their life.

My mother’s father, my grandfather, Virgel Edgar McMullin was born in Galena, Kansas. He spent his younger days in Jefferson County, Missouri, but eventually moved to California. He married Rita Lewis and they had two sons, Lewis and William. Unfortunately, Rita died and my grandfather was left a widower. Eventually he met my grandmother, Cassie Stapp; she too was a transplant to California. She was born in Mineola, Texas and migrated to Arizona and then to California.

Cassie was a Mormon having learned about the Church from missionaries coming through her area in East Texas. She was baptized as a young girl. Even though she was lacking in formal education because of her hard working, cotton-picking background; she was the beginning of the gospel in our family line.

Cassie and Virgel were married and she, of course, took on the immediate rolls of wife and mother to two young boys. Within a few years they added twins, Doyle and Dorothy; born in Corona, California on April 22, 1929, making three boys and one girl as their completed family.

By her birth date you can see that my mother was a product of the Depression, but in spite of hard times, I believe my mother’s family was a tad better off than most; spiritually because they had the gospel of Jesus Christ and financially. For starters my grandmother was incredibly frugal and number two; my grandfather simply had a job. Steady work was a rarity, but in that era he worked for the Electric Pacific Railroad, known by many of the day as “the big red street cars.” He was employed by them for 30 years. It was a perk that their family could take advantage of in traveling around Southern California. But traveling was not immediate on the agenda according to my grandmother in having those twins, she said, “I didn’t leave the house for two years.”

They lived in Corona for a time. My grandfather had built a house there, but they decided to homestead in, of all places, Lucerne Valley. You might wonder at the selected property, homesteading in the desert, but my grandmother had asthma and the doctors she referred to at Loma Linda Hospital recommended a desert environment for her well-being. They’re family went back and forth from Lucerne Valley, staking their claim, living on their desert land part of the year and going to school in San Bernardino the other part.

Mom remembers riding on the back of big desert tortoises. She also remembers falling in a hole and crying. Everyone was concerned for her because they thought she was hurt, but the reality was that she had lost the stick of gum she had been chewing. She also remembers playing with her dolls and her parents looking on showing an expression of joy watching with pleasure of her childhood doings.

While they were in San Bernardino my mother and her twin brother gathered at a park with other twins in the area. They were different simply because they were a boy and girl, but also my mother was very fair with blue eyes and light hair. Her brother, Doyle, had dark eyes, olive skin, and dark auburn hair. At the time of the contest puberty was setting in for my mother and her height had shot up while her brother being behind in his adolescence by the genetics of just plain being a boy was very short in comparison to her. Consequently, they won the prize for the twins that looked the least alike.

Eventually my mother’s family moved to San Dimas. My mother had not been at her new school long as her junior high school experience was coming to a close. Even though she was new at the school she made friends quickly, was popular, and well liked. For the 8th grade graduation ceremonies one student would be selected by the vote of the student body to speak at the commencement. My mother won the popular vote and by all rights should have been the selected student. But the principal called my mother into his office and surprisingly informed her that she would not be speaking in spite of the voting results. The honor would go to the next student because he had attended the school longer and therefore would better represent the school at graduation. My mother (and you know she can be outspoken, especially in a situation where she thinks there has been a wrong). She said, “I’m glad I was brave enough to say, ‘I only graduate from 8th grade once too you know.’”

That seems very sad and unfair, but happily my mother was chosen to speak at her high school graduation ceremonies. This time the selection was made by the teachers at Bonita High School.

She had a life changing experience when she was 17. It is a story she has told time and time again, and couldn’t really tell it without getting emotional about it. The twins were now driving. They would take turns driving the family Model-T Ford on the weekends and holidays. July 4th came around and it was my mother’s turn to drive the car. Doyle asked her if he could drive instead, but she was stubborn and said “NO!” I mean it was her turn and all, but inside of her she felt something, “Let your brother drive,” said a still small voice. But she didn’t listen and took her scheduled turn. Twelve days later on July 16, 1946, Doyle McMullin was killed in a tragic car accident hitting a train. Unaware of an approaching train, because he was listening to music in the car; his view was also restricted by the orange groves on each side of the road. Was it any wonder that he didn’t see the train while reaching for a peach in the backseat of the car? It was a very sad time for their family and a situation that brought regret because my mother had a lifetime of 4th of July celebrations awaiting her. She always felt bad that she didn’t let Doyle drive.

After graduation from high school that following year; my mother moved on to Provo, Utah attending Brigham Young University. Her two older brothers commented to their father thinking it odd for a girl to pursue higher education, but Virgel made it perfectly clear, that he had always wanted to send someone to college in the family and she was the only one available to pursue such a course. Her two older brothers were serving with the US Navy in WWII. So off Dorothy went for four years and graduated with a bachelors of science degree in education, specifically physical education in 1951.

It is during her schooling that she ends up meeting my father. My dad’s sister mentioned to my mother’s brother that she had a brother serving in the Navy and wondered if he knew anyone that could write him. My mother’s brother volunteered her and so it was through letters that their courtship began.

My mother grew up in a home where her father had not been a member of the Church for many years, but eventually he did take on the name of Christ and was baptized. My father too was not a member, but he quickly read the Book of Mormon and knew it to be true. He joined the Church and they were soon married on June 1951.

Not long after my dad was deployed off to the Korean War. My mother took a job at Roosevelt High School in Roosevelt, Utah as a physical education teacher. She also taught typing. I might add here that my mother was an outstanding typist and she used her skill and talent in many endeavors at home and elsewhere. It was something she could do very well and was happy to contribute in many settings of service throughout her life.

My mother taught school for a year and my dad was gone for a year. When he returned they were sealed in the Mesa Arizona Temple and took a long trip that summer heading up to Michigan to meet his family. They eventually returned and settled in Ontario, California. They eventually had four children. You know us as Martha, Mark, Beth, and Adam. She was a resident of Lancaster for approximately 55 years, living in their current home for the last 50.

My mother was an outstanding athlete. My dad too was an athlete. One of the reasons he was attracted to my mother was because she could actually beat him in tennis and other competitions. He was amazed by that. Tennis and sports were something they very much shared together. Whether it was watching it on TV, encouraging their children in athletic pursuits, or participating themselves, they enjoyed that time together.

I have one particularly fond memory of going to El Dorado Park in the summer. The tennis courts are laid out parallel to the playground. My parents were part of a group trying to have a date night playing tennis doubles. While the kids occupied their time on the playground they got some needed exercise and camaraderie with their friends and no doubt instruction from my parents in how to play the game.

I said my mom was an athlete and very, very competitive. She was always ready to win the game. I remember having my turn at jacks and getting a little way into the game, but when it came to my mother’s turn she’d immediately wipe me out 1 through 10 and I never had another chance to play.

I thought I was ahead of the game when it came to basketball because I would practice shooting out in the front yard day after day readying myself, but every once in awhile she join me for a one-on-one competition. Half her game was shouting jibes and talking smack to intimidate you and she always loved flaunting her hook shot. What could I say, “She always beat me.” But if you ever did get the upper hand or had a brief moment of brilliant agility. She was always impressed and would say so.

One story I would like to tell, that no doubt stands out in the family Hall of Fame. One of those moments that will forever go down in the annals of Reynders/McMullin family history. I was sitting with a friend watching my mom participate in a volleyball tournament at the Palmdale Stake Center. In spite of the disbelief of many, Church ball is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. A time to get together with others, learning sportsmanship, and developing skills, while participating in physical activity and competition. My mom knew that and I could see that she didn’t always step to the forefront or try to be overbearing even though I well knew she liked to win. She had team play on her mind and the joy of participation, but unfortunately one of the refs made a bad call. Dare I say, it could have been a Dunn boy? What do you think Pres. Dunn? [President Dunn was presiding at the funeral. His response as I alluded to him was, “Not that day.”] Anyway, she wasn’t happy about the call. She made one comment to the ref as she rebuffed the decision, but she didn’t elaborate. It was side out and the ball went to the other team. The ball was short lived in play and it was again back to my mother’s ward team and it just so happens that in that rotation it was my mother’s turn to serve. As she scooped up the ball, she turned toward me. I could see this look on her face as she headed to her place in the back of the court. All fun and games were now out the window. She wasn’t going to lose the game over a bad call. I leaned over to my friend and with my hand cupped to my mouth I whispered, “Uh, oh, look out!” My mother stepped back into position to serve. The other team crouched in readiness. She slammed the ball over the net. There was no time to react. The other team quickly chased the ball and threw it back. She stepped up to the backline and slammed the ball again. In spite of the other teams positioned readiness there was no returning the ball in play. It was early in the game. The opposing team’s futile attempts were no match to the plummeting ball that continued to be fired at them. They finally stopped and watched. Everyone was quiet as the ball became rhythmic as it was hit, retrieved, and hit again. Finally, the game was over. I know my description may sound a bit over the top, but it was very much the way I saw it. You could say, “Well of all the nerve! She should have let everyone play.” Maybe, but I was impressed by her tenacity, a perseverance under pressure. That was very much her, not only in volleyball and sports, but everyday living. Putting her all into it was the way to win the game and live her life.

Has anyone ever beat her in ping-pong at the Institute? I want to know. I will write your name in her memory book. My sister said my mom had it figured out. She didn’t play you if you were any kind of competition. One thing I know, in family competition, she was always the winner.

I told you my mother was always teaching. She could not only help you improve your game, but she also taught her children the gospel of Jesus Christ. One particular teaching moment for me happened in our living room while we were folding clothes together. My mother had lots of books and I had come across one on her shelf that caught my eye. I didn’t have the maturity to read such a book. I had always prayed and now my view had been distorted having read words that brought doubt and troubled me. It made me think that somehow God didn’t hear my prayers. I felt like I was talking to myself and no one was listening. I had been bothered for several days, but didn’t know what to say or do about my disturbed feelings. As we folded clothes and visited, I told my mother about my reading. I had a darkness in me and felt lost. My mother stood up from where she was sitting and with a profound witness from the Spirit said, “You should never think that God does not hear or answer your prayers.” She pointed her finger at me and repeated, “Don’t ever think that.” It wasn’t a shaking finger of anger, but one of power as she confidently and assuredly testified that God hears and answers our individual prayers. The darkness dispelled and I have never doubted since. I knew that God was listening to me. I add my testimony to her confident words, that God does hear and answer our prayers.

Dorothy served in oh so many ways. For 10 years she served along side Wilda Andrejick as the homemaking counselor in the stake Relief Society presidency. She served as the gospel doctrine teacher for many years. She also served as what was once called the Sunday School Coordinator which was essentially organizing church for children on Sunday. Today our Sunday children services are called Primary. She taught many classes to children and youth. She served in Cub Scouting and early on after moving to Lancaster served briefly as what we call, the YW president. She learned more and more about music as she served as the music leader in Primary and her very last years she continued to go into the Nursery singing songs with the very littlest of saints.

She also served in the community and with organizations. I remember her at a school carnival working at a booth. She was dressed up like a witch and had a snagged-tooth smile. I remember her cooking sugary snow cone syrup on the stove, pouring it into big gallon jars. She’d load them up into a wagon and I would take them to the snack bar at the Park View baseball fields where my brothers played ball and my dad coached. And like me, she cared for aging parents. She no doubt rendered service in ways I may never know, but I do know she served at home, in church, and in the community.

You’d classify my mom as a “stay-at-home mom”, resourceful and frugal in many ways, but once we we’re all in school she added to her busy day teaching preschool at Lane Park in Quartz Hill and then The Children’s Corner in Lancaster.

Three and four year olds were truly her favorite age to teach. But Brother Robert Norman, our first full-time Institute director here in the Antelope Valley, presented her with the option of being his secretary at the new Institute building. After her hiring, Brother Norman was transferred and she served as secretary for Brother David Perry and Brother Stan Packer. She worked for CES, the Church Education System, for 20 years helping her children financially with missions and college while preparing for retirement.

After retirement my mother and father served a mission together proselytizing in the Illinois Peoria Mission and then later giving tours in Nauvoo and participating in other missionary activities in that area.

Dorothy declined over the years eventually being diagnosed with diabetes and congestive heart failure. In recent years she fought infections in her toes and foot because of complications from diabetes. Growing old was hard and discouraging for both her and my father.

My mother is survived by her husband of 58 years, William Reynders. He is currently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She has four children and three-in-laws or “outlaws“ as she jokingly referred to them; myself, Martha and husband Houston Blair of Lancaster, CA; Mark and JoLinda Reynders of Clovis, California; Beth and David Lockhart of Hope Mills, North Carolina; and Adam Reynders of Holladay, Utah. She has 21 grandchildren, 2 of whom have preceded her in death, leaving 19; 9 great-grandchildren, and 3 on the way for 2010.

These last few months were very hard for Dorothy. She had to reach down deep and anchor her faith. She wondered, she cried, “Why is this happening to me!?”

The scriptures state to be humble as a little child. (Matthew 18:4) As time went on, she found that humility. I said before my mother always wanted to be a winner. She was blessed with many great talents and abilities, but she understood better than she ever had, to “look to God and live”. (Alma 37:47) Christ is the true winner. Christ is our strength in weakness. I know her body became very weak, but she was strong in Christ. Philippians 4:13 reads, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me.”

My mother ultimately had what RS General President, Julie Beck describes as a “mother heart’. I quote, “She knows that the influence of righteous, conscientious, persistent, daily mothering is far more lasting, far more powerful, far more influential than any earthly position or institution invented by man. She has the vision . . . There is no limit to what a woman with a mother heart can accomplish. Righteous women have changed the course of history and will continue to do so, and their influence will spread and grow exponentially throughout the eternities.” Unquote.

My mother showed she had a mother heart by making every opportunity a teaching moment. She was a teacher who truly had a “mother heart”. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

What an experience my mother endured in life and death. Getting old was not easy for her. She didn't want to go. Even in her state of suffering there was a contentment and joy in seeing her family, in knowing of their doings, and being apart of their lives. She eventually accepted the fact that she was going to die and then wondered why it had to take so long. She may have gone the way of all the earth, but still there is the resurection, still there is the Christ, still there is victory.

"Death is conquered; man is free.
Christ has won the VICTORY!"
Cecil Frances Alexander


  1. I had a dream about Grandma yesterday and I woke up and told Adam that I wished I had the eulogy you gave. What perfect timing. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for posting that Martha...I was there but it was nice to read your words again. I had to write and present my mom's Eulogy, it was quite a task and I have a new appreciation for anyone who has to do this, but I also know it is a great blessing too! Loved your mom so much!