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Grace Elizabeth (Kreider) Stoner

Grace Elizabeth Kreider was born December 17, l909, on her father's farm bordering the south edge of Campbelltown, Pa. Not much is known about her early childhood there. Her brother Herbert recalls clearly their father, Henry K. Kreider, was a gentle, warm-hearted man who loved his children dearly---maybe the more so because he had been orphaned early in life and had not experienced a father's love. Grace's older sister, Mary, recalls that even as a young girl Grace showed a keen interest in health care. It was Grace who pushed her parents to have both of them vaccinated for smallpox---even before the law required it. Furthermore, Mary claims that Grace, about 8 years old at the time, was the one who prodded their parents to take them to the dentist.

Grace started elementary school at Campbelltown when she was five, and continued there through grade 8. She "skipped" one grade, possibly third grade. Consequently, she graduated from high school at age l6. She spent her first two years of high school at Hershey High School, traveling there by trolley.

While attending Hershey High, Grace answered God's call and committed her life to Christ. Within months she followed Him in believer's baptism and joined the Palmyra Brethren in Christ Church where her father was bishop. When she began wearing the head covering that was traditional for Brethren in Christ women, the girl at school who had been her best friend no longer wanted to associate with her. No doubt that was a trial to Grace's faith at the time; but her faith would have to endure some more difficult tests in the years to come.

Whether or not that social ostracism at Hershey High had anything to do with it, she spent her last two years of high school as a boarding student at Messiah Bible College in Grantham, Pa. She was one of four graduates who delivered orations at commencement. It is believed that she had the highest grades of the 21 graduates in l926.

Another one of the four orators that day was Joseph Andrew Stoner, who was the man she would eventually marry. Born October 3l, l907, Joe was over two years older than Grace. He was in her college class because Grace had advanced one year and Joe had stayed out of school a year after 8th grade. (Joe had helped on the family farm while his father visited Brethren in Christ missions in Africa). Following her graduation, Grace stayed at home three years to help her parents on the family farm at Campbelltown.

In 1929 she began nurses' training at Harrisburg Hospital, which would lead to her R.N. degree. On May 20, 1932, she graduated first in her class of 28. Among several prizes she received was a check for one hundred dollars, "being the first prize for general excellence and excellence in nursing during (her) entire course of training in the Harrisburg Hospital Training School for Nurses." Grace's letter to her sister Mary in California reveals her modesty in response to the honors:

"You will no doubt want a report of my commencement. I am sending you a clipping. I don't see why my picture was printed. (Do not expose it)... I suppose you will ask how I felt when I got my prizes and if I knew about it on ahead. Well, I felt rather queer and shaky. I didn't know about them, but had heard some supposition that I was getting the first one. So that one didn't surprise me so greatly, but the second one did. I didn't think it quite right to get both. I have received much praise from man through this but I value much more the praise of the Lord. Oh, I want to be an empty vessel for the Master's use. I did not deserve these any more than the other girls but someone had to get them and the girls seemed satisfied that I got them. I am an odd and "different" member of the class anyway. In both cases the average next to mine was almost as much. Miss Young's was 88 and mine was 90 in the general average. This doesn't make life any easier for me. More will be expected of me now and anyhow I can't do anything but be myself and the Lord has helped me thus far so I am trusting Him for the future.

Miss Yingst says she will be greatly disappointed with me if I don't continue my education and become a teacher or supervisor. When I mentioned going to California she wanted me to go to the University of California! Imagine! I told her I couldn't afford it and her aspirations were too high for me. She gave me a long talk.

I appreciate her interest in me but know that she will be quite disgusted with me when wedding bells ring. It would be easier for me to slip out of my profession if I had not gotten these prizes. Thus they become a burden to me."

Joseph A. Stoner, encouraged by his sister, Martha Bechtel, had begun a correspondence with Grace (the two had been classmates from l924-l926 at Messiah).on October 27, 1928, that lead to visits and a lengthy courtship which would then lead to their marriage.

Grace definitely thought Joe was a very special and desirable man. At one point she even broke off the courtship because she felt that she just wasn't good enough for Joe. He thought she was using an excuse to end it, and really didn't care for him. The courtship was only renewed when, prodded by his sisters, he took the initiative. But again he mistook something that she said for a lack of interest and almost "walked out". This time Grace "humbled" herself and let him understand that she really was interested in him.

Judging from Grace's letters to Mary, it wasn't easy for Grace to give up her maidenhood, of which she was very proud. Evidently, she made Joe wait several weeks for an answer after he proposed. It appears she had some doubts whether they were truly in love, whether her cooking would be good enough, and whether it really was the Lord's will. When she agreed to his proposal on April 20, 1932, she felt a tremendous sense of relief and peace, which reassured her that it was the right decision.

Their engagement came exactly one month before her graduation from Harrisburg Hospital Nursing School. The night before graduation, Joe gave her a Gruen watch engraved on the back: J.A.S. to G.E.K. 4-20-32. It was worn and greatly treasured by Grace for many years.

After graduation Grace worked at the Harrisburg Hospital, because, as she wrote her sister Mary, no other hospital would employ her until she had taken and passed her state boards. Grace?s mother had a hysterectomy in October, l932, and Grace helped her father care for her after she came home from the hospital.

The United States was in the throes of the Great Depression in 1932, and Grace was happy to secure a position as an operating room nurse at Hershey Industrial School Hospital. A letter accepting her for employment is dated October 4, 1932, but she likely did not begin working there until early l933. Her state board nursing exam was scheduled to be held only on November 26, 1932. Since it was a small hospital, she did general nursing when no surgery was scheduled. Grace and Joe were married in her parents' relatively new home in Campbelltown on October 11, l934, about two and one half years after their engagement. Her father performed the ceremony assisted by Joe's father. After the l0 A.M. ceremony, a hearty wedding breakfast was served.

Following a honeymoon trip that included Niagara Falls and Watkins' Glen, N.Y., the couple returned to their separate family homes: Joe to the Germany Road west of East Berlin and Grace to Campbelltown. This separation after marriage was a custom at that time, and also may have been due to the economic hardships of the depression. Grace continued working at the Hershey Industrial School Hospital.

Joe and Grace set up housekeeping in the spring of 1935, in the big farmhouse on the farm adjoining the Victory School. Joe had purchased this farm from his father with his father's help in financing it. Joe recognized that moving to the Adams County farm would be a "comedown" for Grace as she would again have no electricity. Grace wrote to Mary in l932, "I'm sure that love will overlook a lot but I do wish it had electricity. Ha!" Electricity came to the farm three or four years later, but the telephone did not arrive on Germany Road until much later.

They had little time to become accustomed to living together before a baby girl, Mary Ann, came to bless their home on October 1, 1935. Two years later Ronald was born, the first of nine consecutive boys. Sorrow and heartache followed the arrival of their third child, named Joseph, as he died just one day after birth, due to a heart defect. As medical practice dictated in those days, Grace had to stay in the Seidle Memorial Hospital in Mechanicsburg for thirteen days and so was unable to attend the burial of little Joseph. Grace's faith in God really helped her get through those difficult days, as she related in her letter to Mary who was then a missionary serving in Southern Rhodesia.

It is highly doubtful that Grace, at that time, ever anticipated bearing seven more sons in the next eleven years. Nonetheless, Samuel was born in 1940, followed by John in 1942, Robert in 1944, Jesse in 1945, Marlin in 1946, Benjamin in 1948 and Gerald in 1950.When the family numbered nine souls early in 1948, Joe bought a new eight-passenger Chrysler to transport the family. Grace never really enjoyed driving very much and she really didn't like to drive that big car; but necessity often required it. And she is not known to have ever had an accident.

The family regularly made two trips on Sunday to the Grantham Brethren in Christ Church where Joe and Grace were members and Joe was a deacon. They attended Morning Hour Sunday School in the Victory Schoolhouse, and then drove to Grantham for the 10:30 worship service. Many Sundays they also attended Sunday evening service at Grantham.

Grace missed church more often than she would have liked during her first twenty years of marriage. So many babies to care for, as well as frequent illness among the older children, often forced her to stay at home. Most of the children had their share of common childhood diseases like chicken pox, whooping cough, measles, and mumps.

Ronald well remembers his mother's loving care during those times of misery, and wonders now if the untimely death of baby Joseph might have made her especially concerned about the health of her children. Ben recalls that "she really nursed us when we were sick. She'd shake the thermometer with her little finger straight out like she was taught in nurse's training. The bed table was set up and I remember Mother coming up the stairs to the bedroom with lunch." Mary Ann adds, "When pre-schooler Marlin was in the hospital in traction for weeks, Mother donned her nurse's uniform and cap and went in as a special duty nurse. That was the only way she could be with him in the hospital in those days." In a real sense, Grace was also a mother to many of the neighbor children and youth. Jim Baumgartner, who lived next door with his grandmother and aunt, credits Joe and Grace with helping him get his life turned around when he was a teenager. After a little neighbor girl died in a tragic accident, it was Grace's loving support that helped the l2 year old sister cope in the days that followed.

Grace had a great capacity for work. Cooking for such a large family was a formidable task and might have daunted a lesser woman. Her meals were tasty, well-balanced nutritionally and always ample. Rare indeed, was a meal without left-overs. Ben says simply, "She liked things fancy, but time did not permit." She varied the menu whenever possible. When an occasional peddler stopped with fresh fish on ice, Grace usually bought some that were less expensive. Shad roe was probably cheap but was always considered a real treat. Canned Pacific salmon at other times provided a taste of the sea.

For some reason that is not clear to her children, (possibly it was simply her self-effacing nature), Grace always felt she was not a good cook. Nonetheless, she loved to entertain guests. Her children recall with pleasure the many Sunday dinners shared with guests. Sometimes it would be students from Messiah College, possibly a "Gospel Team" that had given a program at Morning Hour Sunday School. Other times it might be relatives or visiting ministers or missionaries. Almost all Sunday school visitors from any distance would be invited to share the bounty of Grace's table. Not only they, but also the tramps who asked for food, never left the Stoner place hungry. If transients came between meal times, Grace would interrupt whatever she was doing and fix them a large plate full of food.

Grace had the gift of hospitality, and her gracious generosity was not because of ulterior motives. She probably had no idea how her children were being impacted by all those interesting Sunday guests. Yet the writer cannot escape the thought that these visitors, especially the college students, somehow inspired her children to pursue higher education without ever being pushed by their parents. Going to college after finishing high school seemed like the natural thing to do; so all went to college and all nine graduated, some magna cum laude. Five of the nine did post-graduate work. Such was not the norm for farm children of that generation.

Grace was an early riser---usually up, dressed, and starting her work about 6:00 a.m. When she had the opportunity, she liked to catch a nap during the day. Then she commonly worked late into the evening, sometimes long after Joe had gone to bed.

She was an economical homemaker and shopper, always conscious of price and quality. She dressed her family well on a limited budget. During the Depression and war years, she often ordered from the Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs. In the 1950s and 60s, she rarely missed the bargain days in Hanover, and had a knack for finding usable things on sale.

Grace harvested vegetables from her garden, canning and freezing them as well as fruit which she bought. At butchering time there was meat to be canned or preserved. Always there were clothes to be washed, ironed, or mended, lunches to be packed, chickens to be plucked, soap to be made, pies to be baked, children to be disciplined, and a myriad of other tasks to be done. She also made time to regularly correspond with her sister Mary in Africa.

A devout Christian, Grace prayed regularly and earnestly. She believed in and practiced a self-sacrificial lifestyle. Her priorities were clear: God came first, her husband second, then her children, followed by others, with herself last. Each morning Joe and she led the family in worship. When Joe was occasionally away from home, she would lead. There was fervency in her prayers---they never seemed repetitious or matter-of-fact. Grace often retreated to her bedroom to pray alone when the house was quiet. The writer vividly recalls going into the house unexpectedly and hearing her ardently praying for her children by name.

As she worked around the house, her children would hear her singing. She had a pleasant soprano voice and knew many hymns by memory. (In later years when her memory was failing and she had trouble remembering her children's names, she could still sing the old hymns in a voice exceptionally clear for an octogenarian). Some favorite hymns were "Come, Ye Disconsolate," "The Mercy-Seat," and "Blessed Assurance." Grace also enjoyed listening to the religious radio station programs as she worked.

The Brethren in Christ Church and its doctrines and ordinances were always positively upheld in Grace's life. Critical or negative talk about the church was eschewed. Occasionally she would comment on things she viewed as flaws in the faith and practice of other churches, but never in an overly critical manner.

Grace endeavored to give her farm family the benefits of cultural experiences whenever she could. The Stoner family regularly attended concerts by the Messiah College Choral Society and the Grantham Oratorio Society. Some of the boys no doubt found the words of the oratorios too hard to understand and the programs too long for their attention span. But in later years, the memory of the good music remained long after the tiresome sitting was forgotten. And the music/lecture series that brought famous names like Roland Hayes and the von Trappe Family Singers to Grantham is remembered with delight.

Grace enjoyed reading and usually found time to read even in her busiest weeks. The Bible, the daily newspaper, the Evangelical Visitor and Reader's Digest were standard fare. Other magazines she often read were National Geographic, Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies' Home Journal, and The Saturday Evening Post. Articles on health care, gardening, and raising children were sure to catch her eye. Many of the books she read were religious or religious fiction. Walking in the woods and pasture fields was a favorite pastime for Grace. She loved to be out-of-doors and enjoyed gardening, but had little time to devote to it. Flowers were often a special delight, and she could identify a great many by name. In a letter to his brother Ronald, Marlin commented about their mother?s enjoyment of floral beauty:

"Mother's most important means of artistic expression was the creation of floral arrangements for Sunday worship services at Morning Hour Chapel. Throughout the week, Mother would be noting in her mind which flowers would be at their peak by Sunday. Early Sunday morning when everything was covered with dew, she would put on her rubbers and set forth on her collection of beauty. Mother's eyes were open for all kinds of blossoms, not only garden flowers. In spring she would create great displays by using blooms of various trees---apple, pear, sweet cherry or Japanese cherry. Throughout the seasons of the year when lush greens were sometimes in limited supply, she would use clippings from boxwood bushes and yew shrubs to fill out floral arrangements. In winter, Mother felt a great satisfaction in creating works of art from the gifts of nature."

Grace enjoyed travel and would have traveled more if she had not suffered so much discomfort from motion sickness. Her longest trip, both in distance and in time away from home, was to California in l959. She and Joe flew to Los Angeles where Ronald met them by car. After touring California for a week (with a day trip to Mexico), the three departed from San Francisco for a two-week sightseeing trip to Pa. They visited Yosemite National Park, Salt Lake City, Yellowstone National Park, Mt. Rushmore, the South Dakota Badlands, Brown County, Kansas (where Joe was born and lived as a small child), Hannibal, Missouri and Rockford, Illinois (to visit Richard Wolf, a young man who had grown up near their East Berlin farm). Grace rode as the front-seat passenger, greatly enjoying the trip and never getting terribly carsick. It was one of the few real vacations of her married life.

Grace suffered from a variety of health problems during her life---from tonsillitis and a tonsillectomy in her youth to a fall in 1990 while in nursing care at Messiah Village that broke a hip, wrist, and collarbone resulting in complications from her diabetes, high blood pressure, and stomach ulcer. Some of her earlier surgeries were a varicotomy, gall bladder removal, hysterectomy, and mastectomy. Because of these and Joe's relatively good health, she wasn't prepared for the possibility that Joe might die before her. Thus, when Joe was stricken by a malignant brain tumor in 1982, it was a terrific shock. As his condition deteriorated, it seemed that her spirits sagged and she never recovered her vitality after his death in 1983. A few months after Joe's death, Grace moved to an apartment at Messiah Village, Mechanicsburg, Pa. They had originally planned to move together to a cottage at the Village.

Grace had always been an engaging conversationalist. She liked people and could talk intelligently about events and ideas, and had a wonderful sense of humor. But after Joe's illness, the interest was gone. She soon ceased making phone calls, or writing. It was as if the light had gone out in her life.

In July, 1993, not long after one of her numerous hospitalizations, Grace developed an infection which led to her death on July 23 at Messiah Village. Her sister Mary was at her bedside when she breathed her last. Mary said death came peacefully. Grace was buried in the Grantham Cemetery beside her beloved husband, Joe.

Grace leaves an enduring legacy ---memories from a life well-lived, and the values she taught to her children, their neighbor playmates, and her grandchildren: faith in God, care for others (especially the less fortunate), treating others with respect, and willingness to work and sacrifice.

Henry and Katie's Children | Ethan's Children | | John's Children | Herbert's Children | Grace's Children | Anna's Children | Photo Album