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1926 Johannes 2024

Johannes Meyer

October 26, 1926 — April 7, 2024

Greenville, SC

My father, Johannes Meyer, called Hans, was born on October 26th, 1926 in Bolkenhain, a then-German, now Polish small town. His father was the town gardener and forester, his mother was a housewife. He was not ordained to spend the last years of his life in South Carolina. It
was expected that he, after finishing middle school, would become a craftsman like his father. The first wink of fate was his teacher, who recognized his potential and managed to persuade his parents to send him to the high school in a nearby town. On one of our many pleasant evenings together sitting in the village green here at RGV with a glass of wine, he told me he was greeted by his classmates throwing stones at him. At that time, a gardener‘s child was not supposed to be going to high school. Higher education was the privilege of the children of doctors, lawyers, and the like.


It was the wife of the town doctor, whose son was in my father's class and who knew my grandmother, who held her protective hand over him. His classmate became a lifelong friend and our „Onkel Gottfried“. But the next wink of fate was not a good one: the 2nd World War started. After
being sent to a few military training camps, between which he could continue his schooling, in 1944 my father was sent to the Western Front. He was injured and allowed a vacation, which he spent with an uncle. The uncle suggested he should not return – but he had seen what happened to deserters, saw them hanging from lamp posts. „I didn't want to end like that, “ he told me, so he
returned to his regiment.


In March 1945 he was taken prisoner by Canadians and later handed over to the French. He spent 3 years in a mine in Normandy, the first year as a miner and (after self-inflicted injuries) the next 2 years in the administration, mainly as an interpreter, as he had learned French very quickly.


During that time he noted that Arab and African French soldiers were treated with more hostility by the locals than he, the Caucasian German enemy, was. When he was released at the beginning of 1948, 21 years old, he met up with his parents and 7-year-old younger brother in a small town in the northwest of Germany, near the Dutch border. This was where his family had been settled
after they were expelled from their home in the East of Germany by the Russians. My father told me his family was living in miserable quarters
assigned to them, and his first task was to organize better living conditions for them. Next, he had to find a place to take the necessary courses to get a high- school diploma.


Dad managed both, and in October 1949 he started studying chemistry at the University of Mainz. He told me that during his years in Mainz, he went
(illegally, at the time) over to France, to a university there, to work on reconciliation between French and German students. In the summer of 1951, he took part in an international work camp in Normandy, France, organized by the World Council of churches. As my father explained to me, he had wanted to get to know France as a free person and no longer a prisoner. It was at this work camp that he met a young American
woman who had grown up in Turkey, but at the time was teaching in Syria – my mother! They both spoke Fench together at first, and it later on was their „secret language“ when we kids were not meant to understand their conversation. After the camp they traveled to Paris together – the family story goes that Dad proudly showed her the lights of Paris at night from the Montmartre – and my mother's remark was: the lights of Allepo were much more impressive.


After that summer my mother returned for one more year to Syria before starting a master's program at Syracuse College in 1952. Dad spent a year more in Mainz, but also in 1952 he was given a scholarship and went to Goshen College, Indiana, where he earned a bachelor's degree. Goshen was run by the Mennonites who were very involved then, and still are, in peace and reconciliation work.


For Valentine's Day in 1953, he hitchhiked from Goshen, Indiana, to Syracuse NY, and asked my mother to marry him. Her answer is known.
After their marriage, my parents started their life together teaching at a school for Turkish girls, run by the United Church Board for World Ministries, in
Istanbul, Turkey. I imagine the situation for him: teaching (a profession he yet had no experience in) in English (not his native language) in a completely new country, and at the same time building a new marital relationship – there was a lot of adjusting and flexibility required! He managed the situation well, it seems. He stayed on in Turkey, continued teaching, and was married to my mother. 2 years later they moved to Tarsus, the city of St. Paul, where the Board had a school for boys. They lived and taught in Tarsus from 1955 until 1971, during which time my brothers Christoph, Markus, and Armin, and I were born. My father not only taught, but he took on any duty required of him: head of the science department, treasurer, buildings and grounds manager, for one year acting principle, a position he didn't enjoy. In Tarsus, he offered a social service club. With students, they built a school in a village, a well in another village, and with a book mobile visited different village schools at a time when books were rare in villages.
In 1971 we moved to Istanbul so our children could be sent to the German school there. My parents again taught in the girls' school and my father again took over positions in the administration. He was also active in the parish council of the German protestant church.


In 1988, after the last of us children had graduated from high school and gone off to Germany for higher education my parents returned to Tarsus. The smaller city appealed to them (in Istanbul they had been living in Europe and working in Asia!) and Dad preferred teaching science to boys.

By 1993 my parents had retired but continued to live in Tarsus. My father dreamt of traveling more, but unfortunately mother started developing
Alzheimer‘s and he instead started his second career as a caregiver to his mother. He was greatly relieved when in 2004 my brother Armin and his wife Naseem offered to come and live with them in Greer, SC. Later on, Mother was moved into the memory unit at Rolling Green Village and Dad visited her daily. He soon realized how pleasant it was to be here and in 2012 he decided to move into his own apartment at RGV. Knowing their mother was well cared for he was able to take several trips to Europe and Turkey. In 2016 our whole family, except for my mother, celebrated his 90th birthday in Madrid, Spain, where my brother Markus and his family were living at the time.


Over the past 2 years, my father has been slowly declining and had to move into assisted living and later health care. A week ago Sunday he took his last breath here on earth, with Armin and his daughter Mimi by his side. At first glance, my father was not a particularly warmhearted person. An old friend tells me she was afraid of him as a child. But as a former student put it: He had a warm heart beyond his serious image.


He had a very strong sense of duty: to us as a family (I remember he would have our car checked in a garage and recheck it himself before we set out on our yearly trip to Germany), to the schools he worked in, and their students, and to Turkey.


He was not a person for rash decisions. He was a planning person, anticipating what might happen. I remember in the 70ties when nuclear energy was seen as the solution to our energy needs, he, the physicist, asked: how are we going to dispose of the radioactive waste? - a question not yet solved. He was a generous person, giving his time, energy, and money to others. Materialistic values did not mean much to him. He told me once that he didn't understand why a teacher should earn much more than a simple worker. They both had the same basic needs. A teacher perhaps had to buy a few more books.


Now he has left us with his last belongings and warm memories. His convictions and his values live on in us and in the many lives that he has
touched. We are grateful for his long fulfilled life and the loving care he received here at Rolling Green Village.

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