A Grandfather I Never Knew
This won't be of interest to anyone but me and my immediate family. (Or future historians who want more data on my roots, you know... because I'll be famous and all.) This was written by my dad.
John Foreman at 100 – September 19, 1914
By Frank Foreman on September 19, 2014
John was born on September 19, 1914 in Bellaire, Ohio. Europe had just fallen into Armageddon. In the first six weeks of the Great War France had already suffered a quarter of a million casualties. The Austrian army had been beaten back by little Serbia and was not doing well. But the German war machine had run through Belgium and was pushing deep into France. It had also pushed back the initial Russian army thrust into east Prussia. They were winning victories at every turn.
John’s father, Joe, had immigrated to Ohio a decade before to escape this horror. His grandfather had fought in five German wars. Most of Europe knew that a big war was only a matter time. Joe must have felt some vindication now that the reality of his rationale for his most difficult decision to immigrate had come to pass. For America the war seemed like insanity. It was caused by Emperors, Czars, and Kaisers being stupid. Probably more Americans supported the German side than the French. But like Joe, Americans wanted nothing to do with this insanity caused by nobility’s petty squabbles and ambitions.
John was the baby of this German speaking family. The older brother and sister, Steve and Victoria, were born in Germany. But he and his brother Frank were born in this immigrant heavy, coal mining town. Joe had mined coal in Germany. He heard that it was better in America because the miners didn’t have to crawl on their hands and knees. It was a great country!
But John’s mother, Francis, didn’t like America. And she did not want to be pregnant again. Her health wasn’t good. After John was born she had to have surgery on the veins in her legs. She lived with pain in her legs and was a semi-invalid after John’s birth for the rest of her life. Also she had no love for Joe. She was a proud German and from a higher class than Joe. She had wanted to be a nun in the Catholic Church. But she had made the bad decision in making a death bed vow to marry Joe when her older sister died in childbirth. She always regretted it. What happened to her sister’s child is somewhat of a mystery. But he did not live them when they moved to America. After the war, in 1919 she would leave Joe to return to her homeland with the children. But she would find Germany totally destitute and return to Joe in humiliation. That would be John’s only visit overseas. He was five years old and talked little of it.
John was raised in this rather cold and tense atmosphere. His father loved children and stayed out on the porch after returning from the mines to play with them. Francis kept a spotless house and the children mostly stayed outside. John was devoted to both of his parents. Jeanne believes that he always felt somewhat guilty about destroying his mother’s health by being born.
His mother may have wanted to be nun, but his father was an atheist. The family never attended church. As a child Joe had spent some years in a Catholic orphanage in Germany. He was angered by the clergy’s hypocrisy and lack of love. He said that many of the orphans were bastard children of the priests and nuns. All of his long life, he never wanted anything to do with the Christian God. He said that his god was “Nature”.
In elementary school, Johnny met Jenny Dydek and had his first and only crush. It lasted over 55 years. As the 1920’s song was paraphrased, “Jenny and Johnny were lovers. Nobody knew how they loved.” But they loved each other exclusively until he died in 1977. There was never another lover for either of them. John enjoyed Jenny’s warm happy Polish home a lot better than his own and spent a lot of time there. The cold, “superior” Teutonic race attempted to destroy the warm, rustic Slavic races in the Great War and then more so in the Second World War. John found that he preferred the warmth of Jenny’s Slavic family to the cold war of his German household.
John always had a hunger for accomplishment and God. He liked Jenny’s Catholic Church. He was a natural leader and loved deeply. I believe that he learned how to love from Jenny and her household. He wanted to please and impress her and her family. He was also a great athlete. He excelled in Track and Football. Ohio State University offered him a football scholarship in 1933. But the Great Depression was in full effect and he wanted Jenny and adventure more than a college degree. I think that he later regretted it. He certainly pushed his sons to get their college degrees.
So after High School, John followed many unemployed young men in the Great Depression. He later fondly called it “Goin’ on the Hobo”. He hopped freight trains and looked for jobs from Ohio, through Chicago, into Wyoming, and all the way to California. If you’ve read the book or seen the movie “Grapes of Wrath”, just picture one of the 18 year old men in California with the Oakies. That was John for a few months. The goal was to work and save enough money to come back and marry Jenny. It didn’t happen. He said that he just “peed in the Pacific Ocean”, got adventure out of his system, and returned to Jenny. He did get a job in the coal mines and managed to make some money. So they were married and six months later, Jeanne was born. Five more children followed over the next 16 years.
John was ambitious. Within a decade he worked himself up to foreman of coal mine. During the Second World War this duty kept him out of the army. His father must have been happy about this. John had mixed feelings about not going to war. Jennie’s younger brothers both joined the army air corps and served for over 20 years. John was very proud of his brother-in-laws. John was also able to help his father qualify for social security. Joe just needed a few more months of work to qualify. So foreman John Foreman hired his ailing elderly father back into the mines for those few months. I believe that Joe never forgot this kindness.
Being the foreman of the coal mine in Bellaire in the 1940’s was a high status position. John was able to build one of nicer houses in the town for his growing family. They were happy. They were close to Jenny’s extended family and friends with John’s siblings. Things cooled a bit though when John decided to join the Christian Church. I believe that many children of atheists have a hunger for God. This seems to have been one of the defining characteristics of John. Despite his father’s unbelief, John knew that there was a God and that he wanted to find Him. He found a little bit of God in warm Catholic atmosphere of Jenny’s family. He wanted more. And he would make his own choice.
When the older girls completed Catholic catechism, a priest visited John. He told him that they were building a Catholic school in Bellaire. All the church families would have to pay tuition whether they sent their kids there or not. John couldn’t afford it and was angered by the demand. He started looking at other churches to find one that would work for him. The Methodist church demanded that he sign a vow not to drink alcohol. Although he would later become a complete abstainer, he didn’t like a church demanding it. He found some old football friends in the Christian Church and made his decision. It is hard for us to appreciate the attitudes of religious intolerance during those times. When John decided that he could find more of God in the Church of Christ than in the Catholic Church, it was a huge decision. It was especially awkward for Jenny. It would cool things a bit with some of her more religious extended family.
But it was much harder on Jennie when the coal mines were tapped out and closed. John couldn’t find any jobs in the area. He heard from his brother and Jennie’s parents that there was work in the steel mills and oil refineries in Northwest Indiana. So in 1951 Jennie left her large nice house in a semi-rural area, packed up her five kids and moved to Hammond, Indiana. It left a huge vacuum in Bellaire. Charlotte talked with a cousin in Bellaire 50 years later. The Foreman house was a warm welcoming place for all the teen-ager friends and cousins. 50 years later this cousin remembered the void that left when the Foremans left.
Jenny was pregnant with her sixth and final child; me. In Indiana she had to figure out how to fit all six kids into the two bedroom urban house on Lake Avenue. The teen-age girls, Jeanne and Charlotte, got the second bedroom. John modified the pantry to sleep 9 year old Jack and 7 year old Eileen. Baby Chris slept with them. When baby Frank was born, he slept in the dresser drawer, like Sweet Pea in Popeye.
But John spent the next decade improving and adding to the house. The back porch was transformed into a larger kitchen. The basement and attic were improved enough to house mattresses for the boys to sleep on. They lived in that house for 18 years and finished raising their children.
North Hammond (Robertsdale) and Whiting were a little enclave of white eastern European immigrants on the southern tip of Lake Michigan and surrounded by heavy industry. In the time before environmental controls, this beautiful marshland had been heavily polluted by 50 years of oil refineries, steel mills, soap plants, etc. etc. etc. The southern end of Lake Michigan was dead. Algae, dead fish, broken glass, oil, and tar littered the sand dune beaches. The smaller lakes and canals surrounding Whiting were open sewers with feces floating on the surface. The joke was that you tell which way the wind blew by the smell. The north wind brought the smell of dead fish off the lake. The east wind brought the sour smell of natural gas from Standard Oil. The south wind brought the oily smell of Inland Steel. But worst was the prevailing west wind. The strong sulfur smell from the Amazo Corn plant was overwhelming at times. Converting grain into corn oil and starch was a smelly business. It sometimes combined with the Lever Brothers detergent plant with its strong soapy smell.
On the other side of these miles of industrial complexes and polluted lakes were the heavily African-American urban areas of south Chicago, Hammond, and Gary. The vast majority of Robertsdale and Whiting were Roman Catholics. John joined a benighted minority of Protestants that harbored very intolerant attitudes toward both Catholics and negroes. John’s prejudices against blacks were much more cultural than personal. He had worked with blacks in the coal mines and in the factories and respected them. I don’t remember him communicating to me any impressions that they were inferior or bad; just kind of scary. The million blacks in south Chicago were always very intimidating. All our schools in Whiting and Robertsdale were completely white. But whatever attitudes that I received from my parents didn’t prevent me from adopting two African-American babies.
During this time John was always busy. He became an elder in the Church of Christ and became very close with its members. The Protestant churches were small and close knit. The Catholic churches were huge and powerful. The Foreman kids grew up feeling very much a minority. We could date Catholic kids. But if things got serious, we would need to convert before any marriage plans could be made. It could be risky to get too close. My brother Chris had his heart broken when the parents of his first love refused to consent to an engagement. My closest school friends were Jews or Protestants. Our scout troop was mostly non-Catholic.
When his boys got old enough, John became a scout master. He tried very hard to connect with his sons through scouting activities. They reminded him of his rural Ohio roots and helped him escape from industrial Indiana. All three sons became Eagle scouts. John achieved the highest award for adults at the time; the Silver Beaver. He was very proud of it.
He also joined the Free Masons. In the minimum amount of time he reached the highest 32nd level. He was a joiner and a leader. But he might have been hoping that the secrets of the Masons would help him see God more clearly. If so, he was disappointed. Later he came to think of it as a cult and wouldn’t talk about it. When he got really close to God, he would throw away his Masonic ring. He said that when he raised his hands to praise the Lord, it would burn his finger. However, he did find more of God in the Church of Christ. Most Sunday afternoons, he would be taking communion and praying with those too sick to attend church. He took his elder’s duties very seriously.
Despite their religious differences, John and Jennie always maintained their relationships with their extended families. But during their time in Indiana, they were beginning to grow their own extended family. And they loved it. Jeanne and Charlotte both gave them four grandchildren during this time. Jack and Eileen married and moved out. Chris started college. I was the only one at home when they left Lake Avenue and moved out west.
However, overall his time in Indiana was frustrating. The peak of John’s vocational achievement was as a foreman in the coal mines. In Indiana he was laid off from his better-paying industrial jobs during the frequent recessions of the 1950’s and could never get any seniority. Jennie had to take a job as a school janitor to help support the family. I believe that he was ashamed that he was not able to support the family on his own. He had to take a job as a school janitor also. Again it was a humiliating step down.
So when Jeanne’s husband, Don, became the manager of a Reynolds’s Aluminum plant in Longview, Washington and offered him a job in 1968, he jumped at it. It was only a maintenance job, but it was a new factory and he would have as much seniority as most anyone. He would happily work there for the rest of his life.
It only took one visit to the great Northwest for John to fall in love with the fresh air, huge trees, towering mountains, and green, green, green! After the asphalt jungle and pollution of Indiana, this seemed like paradise. Even the stinky sulfur smell of the pulp mills didn’t bother him. Whenever we were returning from a visit to Bellaire and got close to home in Indiana, we would begin to smell the pollution. John would take a big deep breath and ask us: “Do you smell that? That’s the smell of jobs.” To a child of the depression, jobs trumped environment. In those years, “environment” was a very foreign concept.
John and Jennie started over in a new home. This time Jennie picked the house. For 18 years she had crammed her six kids into a two bedroom house. Now, just as her youngest was going away to college, they bought a huge four bedroom house. It was beautiful. A doctor had built it and Jennie loved it. It was way too big, but they turned into ministry. First they rented out the extra rooms to foreign exchange students form Saudi Arabia and Iran. Then a series of needy single or elderly women lived in the home at little or no rent. Twenty-five years later, it was one of the last things that Jennie would release as she sank into the forgetfulness of Alzheimer’s.
But John only lived in the house for eight years. When they arrived they joined Jeanne at the local Christian Church. It was different from the church in Whiting. It was more liberal and less blue collar. John had a hard time fitting in at first. But then the winds of the Charismatic movement swept in and John’s hunger for God became ravaging.
In 1970, a church friend invited him to a Full Gospel Business Men Fellowship International (FGBMFI) meeting in Vancouver. For the first time in his life, John saw men excited about God. They talked about the reality of God in a restaurant! The talked about Him changing their lives, guiding them in their businesses, and healing their bodies. For many years John had prayed for the sick. Now he heard about people actually being healed. Then he saw them being healed! And he saw people “speaking in tongues” and dancing for joy in the Spirit. This was what John had thirsted for all of his life. He jumped into the roaring River of the Spirit with both feet. Jennie grabbed his hand and jumped in right next to him. At that first meeting John was speaking in tongues and dancing in the Spirit. Jenny soon followed.
The Charismatic Revival of the 1960’s and 70’s was a new phenomenon. Powerful Spiritual revivals had swept across American from its inception and long before its birth. These revivals affected many denominations in their wake. People moved by the Spirit energized their churches. But if their energy was not in keeping with their denomination’s beliefs or styles, they were often asked to leave. They moved to other churches or started new ones. This was especially true in the revivals that followed the first Pentecostal revival in 1900. “Tongue-speakers” were routinely kicked out and filled the new Pentecostal denominations. But in the Charismatic Renewal this changed. Father Bennett got “baptized in the Holy Spirit”, but stayed in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. Father Fuller spoke in tongues, but stayed in his Catholic church. Lutherans, Methodists, and Baptists were swept up into the movement, but they wouldn’t leave their churches. The more fundamentalist denominations still kicked out the Pentecostals. Southern Baptists, Nazarenes, and the Church of Christ wouldn’t tolerate them. But John and Jennie remained in the Christian Church and were generally respected. Some thought them too fanatical. But, despite his tongue talking, John became the lead elder and his pastors respected him.
Beyond the church walls, the hippies and druggies got turned on to Jesus. It was on the cover a “Time” magazine! The Jesus People movement and Christian rock music swept over the American churches. Suits and ties and stained glass were carried away in the vast wave. Organs and hymns were out. Guitars and choruses were in. And John and Jennie loved it all. They embraced the young long-hairs and their stories of deliverance from “drugs, sex, and Rock and Roll”. Although, Rock and Roll was soon “baptized” and became “Christian Contemporary Music”. I see this revival as God’s response to the cultural revolution of the 1960’s that unhinged America from its moral moorings.
Within weeks of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, John and Jennie joined a home Bible study in Portland. They quickly assimilated all these new doctrines. John had read the Bible for many years. He had always wondered at the parts that spoke of the power and reality and miracles of God. I believe that he yearned for their reality. Now he devoured these parts. Within a few weeks they had started a Bible study and prayer meeting in their big new house. A few months later he started a chapter of the FGBMFI at the Roy’s Chuck Wagon restaurant in Longview.
John was a leader who attracted followers. Within a few months 70-80 Christians and seekers were crammed into his living room every Saturday evening from 7 pm until well past midnight. Many hands were laid on them. They were prayed over, healed, and spoke in tongues. Many lives were permanently changed as prayer requests were visibly answered. These eventually included all of his children, their spouses, and many of his grandchildren.
John was anything but a businessman. He was blue collar through and through. But the FGBMFI didn’t seem to mind. He was leader and he was a man on fire. Their Friday evening meetings had guest speakers from all over and usually drew between 100-200 people into the banqueting hall of the smorgasbord. Again, healings, baptisms in the Holy Spirit, and miracles were expected. Expectations were almost always met!
This intense excitement continued for several years. John was a religious fanatic and proud of it. Every year he and Jenny flew out to the FGBMFI convention. They heard speakers and testimonies of amazing spiritual revivals throughout the world. Most were true. Most of the speakers were good and communicated the true gospel. But I believe that there were quite a few tares among the wheat. And there was much more heat than light. Nevertheless, the light was brilliant and blessed many.
Among the tares was the “Faith” doctrine. It redefines faith in a loving heavenly father into an act of human will that is the key to God’s treasures. If we know the key, we can “name it and claim it” and live in perpetual “prosperity”. This doctrine is often begotten in the church when the gifts of the Spirit are prized over the fruit of Spirit. When visible signs of God’s presence are more prized, than the slowly ripening movements of the hearts of men toward “goodness, righteousness, and truth”, the “wolves in sheep clothing” find easy prey. I believe that, along with many sheep, there were also a few wolves speaking at those FGBMFI conventions. American business men like the Prosperity Teaching. That God agrees with their ambitions to be rich and powerful can become an enticing heresy. It was common among Charismatic teachers. When taken to an extreme, it could be very hurtful and a great distraction from the heart of gospel.
John was increasingly influenced by this “winds of doctrine”. But, I believe, that they never moved him off his course of seeking God more deeply. He loved people and always wanted to help them. But he was strong-willed. He read about how fasting brings spiritual power. So he fasted for 40 days! It did seem to focus his spiritual energies. His ministry became incredibly powerful and respected. He would receive phone calls in the middle of the night from people needing prayer. He would drive for hours to pray for them. It was good, but he could be over-powering.
Perhaps, the pinnacle of John’s ministry happened at work. The Reynolds plant made thick aluminum cables for the high tension electrical lines. One co-worker had the boring job of guiding these cables onto huge spools for shipment. He had to make sure that the cable was tightly wound. But his glove got stuck between the strands and pulled him onto the spool backwards. The slow-moving spool then continued to turn and wrapped the cable around his arm and chest suffocating him. He was probably without breath for 10-15 minutes before he was discovered. The hospital was called and men gathered around. John pushed to the front and finished cutting the cable to get him out of the spool. When he was laid on the floor, John could see that his ribs were broken and he was dead. John had seen dead, crushed men in the coal mines. With the broken ribs, he knew that he couldn’t give CPR. So he just prayed: “Lord, give this man back his life.” And He did!
The man kicked and started breathing. He was taken to the hospital, where the initial reports were very pessimistic. He might live, but he would have permanent brain damage. Within a week he was fully recovered and went back to work in a couple months. Dad gave this testimony and it was written up in an article in the FGBMFI magazine: “Voice”. Interestingly, the man never became a Christian and hated his co-workers talking about the accident. Signs sometimes don’t lead to fruit.
But John’s boldness and zeal never wavered. At times, it went over the top. I remember being very uncomfortable as he and I prayed over my brother Jack to receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. It went on and on and on. John was commanding his son to speak in tongues. “Just say: ‘ba ba ba’ and it will start.” Finally, Jack babbled something just to get his father off his back. John and Jenny celebrated as Jack got up and ran out the door. I scratched my head and wondered.
I remember him following Jeanne’s son-in-law, Denny, around her house, begging him to just say the sinner’s prayer. If he did, he would escape hell. It didn’t work on this one. It probably turned him off and drove him farther away. But John’s burden to see God’s Kingdom advanced was burning in him. He saw the need was urgent. And his patience was not great. But as his Pastor said at his Memorial Service: “Some didn’t like how John did things. But, I think that God liked how John did things better than how we don’t do things.” His zeal was sometimes not leavened with the greatest of wisdom. But as Jack said at his memorial service: “It’s hard to not like someone who is constantly telling you how much he loves you.”
After five or six years at this pace, I believe that the wave was beginning to ebb. At 62 years old John was looking forward toward retirement. He wanted to be able to become a full time minister. It was not to be. Early in 1977 he began to have a hard time swallowing. Part of the “Faith” doctrine that he increasingly embraced taught that all disease is of Satan. Satan has no power over us. Any symptoms of disease should be rebuked and ignored. John rebuked and ignored for six months; until the cancer could spread from his esophagus to his liver. By then it was too late. It was beyond surgery. His decline was very rapid. In October 1977 at age 63 he finally got his heart’s desire: he got to see His God.
It was very difficult on his family. All loved and respected John. To a varying extent they had embraced his “Faith” teaching. It was difficult to comprehend God taking their Father after only seven years of incredible ministry. 37 years later, Don still says that the first thing that he wants to ask God in heaven is why he took John too soon. It is always risky to attempt to discern the meaning behind God’s actions. Eileen feels as if God was sparing John from the waves of perversity that would flood our society in the decades to come. Taken to its extreme, the “Faith” doctrine can be very cruel and unloving toward the poor and hurting. And John was never one to take anything half way. My feeling is that maybe, if John had continued in this path, it would have compromised his loving ministry. God had mercy and gave him an early retirement.
John was an archetype of what came to be called “the Greatest Generation”. He was born in the bloody beginning of history’s bloodiest century. He came of age in the Great Depression and acquired all of the values that deprivation bestows. He missed the seminal passage of so many of his generation’s men. He mined coal rather than fighting Germans or Japanese. But his courage was typical of his generation. What was most untypical was his lifelong hunger to know God. He loved his family greatly. But somehow from his earliest years, he never met anyone that he didn’t want the best for. He was a man without enemies. He made it his lifelong goal to help all who crossed his path to reach their maximum potential. To the very last John wanted only the best for all that he met and loved. In the end he came to know that the best for all men was to know God that he so loved. He had found that Pearl of Great Price. He wanted to share its beauty with all the he ever met.