Friday, January 28, 2011

Remembering January 28, 1986

For my mother's generation, it was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. For my generation, it was the Space Shuttle. Everyone knows where they were when they found out that the space shuttle had exploded. I know exactly where I was: second floor, West Campus Main Building, typing class, right before lunch. I was a sophomore at Pekin Community High School.

Jason Christensen sat right in front of me in typing class (we were seated alphabetically....and consequently, I spent a large portion of my K-12 career seated in the near vicinity to Jason Christensen!) Jason was a bit of a class clown.....he doesn't remember this (because I mentioned it to him at our 20 year reunion), but he used to make Russian dictator trading cards. There was a stint there in the mid-80s when the Russian rulers were dropping dead nearly every other month. He worked quite hard on these cards, and he would show them to me in typing class....but I digress. Because Jason was a bit of a joke-ster, I didn't believe him when he told me of the disaster. I honestly don't think I believed it until I heard from someone else....probably at lunch.

Remember, the entire US was watching as the first civilian, a teacher, was on board the shuttle. Christa McAullife was to teach the first ever lessons to US school children from space. Kids were assembled all over the country to watch the launch. It was a high profile launch...considering it had been delayed so many times...and that added to the magnitude of the disaster.

I remember coming home that day after school and my neighbor, Krystal, was sobbing. I turned on the TV and watched it again and again and again. Later that night President Reagan spoke to the nation. I'm not sure why, but I remember that.

I was born after the first American walked on the moon (but *just* after). I grew up with United States superiority in the space race...which was only amplified by the Cold War and our desire to do everything better than the Russians.

I remember on February 1, 2003 that I called my old friend Melissa when the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster was eerily close to the anniversary of the Challenger. For what ever reason, this disaster didn't seem to be nearly as traumatic for the American populous. It was like re-living the event for me.

I truly regret that I never saw a shuttle launch. I really do. I'm deeply enamoured by space, the final frontier. I did a report in third grade on Robert Goddard. Don't know who he is? Look him up. I cry every time I watch the movies: Apollo 13 and October Sky. It's a deeply emotional thing for me for some reason....probably in part because the Challenger disaster was such a deeply emotional event.

I'm hopeful that we don't abandon innovation in space exploration. Life is so complex, and we have limited resources and so many human problems to manage. However, since the beginning of time, it's always been all about space. Whether you believe in the Big Bang Theory, Evolution of something in-between....matter...from space...organized to create this really awesome planet that we know reside upon. Some of the greatest challenges and seemingly impossible feats have generated unbelievable outcomes and progress in science and industry. As we are in the twilight of the space shuttle program, I hope....deeply....that we are looking for the next big thing in space exploration. I hope that 25 years from now I tell my grand kids about that day in 1986 as one that was an important step in the progressional development of aerospace technology...not the beginning of the end of it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A truly great man...

About 10 years ago, Gerald Ericksen served in the bishopric in my ward (Salt Lake 12th Ward). He was in charge of activities, and I was the activities chair, so we worked very closely together. My church association with him endeared me to him forever, and I don't think I've ever met a better man than him. Honestly. He is truly an amazing person.

One time when I was feeling like we weren't making any progress in our efforts, he called me out of the blue to tell me that we were doing exactly what we'd been asked to do and that we could do no more than that. He would do that...he'd just randomly call me with ideas and questions. My little job in the church and his oversight of it was something he took very seriously.

As I learned more about his life, my respect for him grew. I have attached his obituary (below) so you can see how wonderful he was for yourself! He told me about his recollection of Pearl Harbor Day. He was in the cafeteria at Yale. When he hear the news, he told me that he went to the Dean of the Divinity School and withdrew from the University. There was no question in his mind that he would be needed by his country, and he returned almost immediately out West. He then applied for a position as chaplain in the US Army. This process was most rigorous. He related to me the dissertation that he had to write to even be considered for the position. He then went to Fort Douglas (by the University of Utah) to defend his dissertation. He told me how intensive the process was and how the committee really put him through the ringer. He was accepted as one of the only LDS chaplains in the US Army (if not the only one...I would have to go back and look at the records.)

He told me about his time in Saipan. My two great Uncles served near him on the island of Tinian. There is a short history about his experiences that is typed and is available in the 12th Ward Library. I need to go get a copy. He told me that he personally wrote a letter to the family of every soldier who died. That touched my heart deeply. If you knew Brother Ericksen, you would know that these letters must have included the most sincerest of sentiments and most heartfelt words of love.

I remember when one of his adult children passed away. We had a ward council meeting that morning, and it was announced to the council. Brother Ericksen was at that meeting. There were several of us on the council who openly wept. We had never met his child, but for me, the though of such a loss....for a man that I cared deeply for...struck me at my very soul. It was a seemingly irrational reaction considering the circumstances, but I suppose that I can say that I loved Brother Ericksen, and I was hurting because I knew that he hurt.

I'm so grateful that I got to know this man. I haven't been in that ward for over 8 years, by I asked my friend Sara Merrill to keep me apprised of his situation. I wanted to know when he passed because I think if I listen very carefully that I can hear concourses of angels welcoming him and applauding when he gets to see his dear wife again. I look forward to a day where we are all hanging out on the other side of the veil swapping life stories. I would love to hear more detail about his WWII experiences. I would love to introduce him to my uncles (who fortunately have not yet passed). I look forward to that experience....someday. I hope you take the time to read about his life. He was truly a great man.
Gerald Leland Ericksen "Together again" Gerald Leland Ericksen, our loving and ever-cheerful father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, died peacefully January 9, 2011, at 96 years of age. He was born March 17, 1914, in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, to Erick Henry and Annie Christina Monsen Ericksen, the youngest of nine children.

His father died when Jerry was 14 years old, just before the Great Depression hit. He and his widowed mother struggled through the depression together. Jerry never made excuses or felt his life was hard, but faced each day with optimism and smiled as he moved forward.

Jerry never met a stranger and was a born leader, serving as the president of his high school, Snow College, and in many leadership positions throughout his long and productive life. He graduated from BYU and then started graduate work at the Yale Divinity School in the fall of 1941. His education was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II and he served as an Army Chaplain in the Pacific theater, including extensive service on the island of Saipan. He was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service.
After the war he was recruited into the life insurance business by Sterling W. Sill. He was the General Manager of the Utah Office of the New York Life Insurance Company for 20 years.

Jerry married the love of his life, Erna Mary Sconberg, July 8, 1942, in San Francisco, California, while he was in training on an army base. They had met two years earlier at the Grand Canyon, where he was a bell hop and played trombone in the band, and she was a waitress. Their marriage was solemnized the following year in the Salt Lake Temple.

Jerry's professional work took them to New York, California, and then back to Utah. They had been married for 66 years when Erna died March 13, 2009. He always treated her like a queen, and called her his "livin'doll." Their love and consideration for each other was an inspiration to their family, and to all who knew them.

Jerry loved the Savior and served in many capacities in the LDS Church, including as a missionary in the Southern States Mission from 1935 to 1937, and as president of the Salt Lake Emigration Stake.

Upon his retirement from New York Life he and Erna presided over the Connecticut Hartford Mission from 1979 to 1982. They loved New England and their missionaries, and treasured those relationships the rest of their lives.

At age 83 Jerry was called into a bishopric for the first time in his life, and served for six years. In all of his assignments his smile, sense of humor, organized approach, and love for people made him effective in his work, and loved by those who knew him.

Jerry was preceded in death by his parents and siblings, his wife, daughter Mimi Ericksen, and son Robert Ericksen, who died three days before Jerry's passing. He is survived by three of his children: Karen (David) Fuhriman, David (Irene) Ericksen, and Eric (Kathy) Ericksen, as well as 14 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held Saturday, January 15, 2011, at 1:30 p.m. at the Federal Heights Ward chapel located at 1300 East Fairfax Road. Friends may call Friday, January 14, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Larkin Mortuary at 260 East South Temple, as well as at the ward prior to the service, from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. Interment will be at the Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park, 3401 South Highland Drive. The family wishes to thank the VA Nursing Home for their care of our father, as well as Frankie Loftus and Dr. Jane McPherson of Utah Hospice Specialists.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The things children fear....

Tonight I watched the Nightline special on the "memorial" meeting that took place in Tuscon tonight. (I watch Nightline almost every night.)

Dan Harris did a segment with school children who had written letters to Gabrielle Giffords. Kids are so cool. They tell you exactly what they are thinking. A young boy said that he was afraid the the shooter might know where his classroom was (implying that he might be able to hurt people in his class). Dan, of course, reassured the young boy that the shooter could not hurt anyone else.

It reminded me so much of my experience with Dominique almost four years ago when we discussed the Virginia Tech shooting. I received my Masters in Political Science from Virginia Tech in their On-line Masters Program. I'd been to campus a few times, and I decided to walk at graduation and take the whole family with me for this important occasion. Graduation happened less than 3 weeks after the 2007 shootings.

In April 2007, Dom would have been 9 and in the 4th grade.

We talked about the shooting, and we all wore our Hokie colors on the Friday after the shooting; I put that family picture in my graduation announcements.
(And my walls are gross and ugly here with no paint on them yet.)

Anyway....several days after the incident, Dom came home from our neighbor's house and she said, "Lisa said that the guy who killed all those people killed himself." She was noticeably relieved. I said, "Were you worried about going to campus, Dom?" She said that she was worried that the killer was still at Virginia Tech, and she was nervous to go to the graduation because of that. It struck me then that we need to give our kids "all" of the information...not just parts. I was surprised that she thought that!

It reminded me of the segment tonight on Nightline when a young boy feared that the killer in the Tuscon shootings could still somehow hurt him.

I'm always surprised at the information that kids cling to and what they fear. I felt badly that Dominique thought I would put her in harm's way. We talked for a long time as a family about the VT shootings, and we made a special point to pay our respects to the fallen when we went to campus.

Here is Dom signing the memorial board. She wrote, "I'm so, so sorry." Simple and heartfelt.

Here is the whole gang looking at the tributes to the 32 Hokies who died. That make-shift memorial has now become a permanent one.

Here is me and Domi after my graduation. She wanted to "wear the hat." We are by Lane Stadium.

There were 12 students in the International Studies/Poli-Sci Department who were slain. At the department graduation, they all received their degrees posthumously. It was the saddest thing I have ever been to. I cried and cried and cried and cried. It was so hard to be "happy" on that day...and I was because of my huge accomplishment, but it was tempered by the tragedy.

My kiddos learned a lot of lessons from the trip to campus. Some had to do with the tragedy. I'm also hopeful that they remember that the reason we took them all out there to see me graduate was to show them what a college graduation was like to inspire them to achieve that for themselves.
This is our dorky family looking every which way but at the camera! I love very single one of them, though!