(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· Victor H. Frazey (1900-1971)
It’s Christmas Day, 1951, in Hutchinson, Kansas, at the Reno County court house, in the jail on the fifth floor. A strand of colorful Christmas tree bulbs outline the frame of one window, while the scent of freshly cut pine branches and the aroma of cinnamon cookies, offer a reason to remember . . . or forget.
Vera Gambee Frazey, wife of Sheriff Vic Frazey, has prepared a turkey dinner with trimmings for 25 people—19 of them county prisoners.
Sitting at the guest table with Vera, 45, and Vic, 51, is Vic’s sister, Florence Frazey, 66. She lives in Nickerson, Kansas. Vera’s father, Clinton Gambee, 71, and his wife—Vera’s step-mother— Minnie Spung Gambee, 66, are visiting from Sterling, Kansas. Clinton’s sister, Bessie Gambee, 66, calls Chicago, Illinois, her home.
“Vic,” asked Florence, “will Vera ever sit down?”
“You heard her,” said Vic, “start eating. She wants us to enjoy a hot meal.”
“Turkey with potatoes and gravy is my favorite,” said Clinton.
Bess took a bite of cranberries and said, “Delicious!”
“Speaking of hot, if it wasn’t for Vera, we’d still be boiling water to wash dishes,” continued Vic. “When she took over as the cook, the county commissioners agreed to permit the jail to have its own water heater. Before that, the piped water from the basement arrived here cold.”
“Victor is the baby in the family,” announced Florence.
Vic rolled his eyes.
“We all thought James was the last of eight children. He was born in 1890,” continued Florence. “But ten years later, baby Victor surprised everyone. Mother was 44, Father, 57.
Click to see photo of Vic Frazey
“Look at you now,” said Florence to her brother, “when we girls changed your diapers, we never dreamed you’d be the Reno County sheriff.”
Vera sat down, joining her guests as they complimented her on the satisfying holiday meal.
“I stayed in Nickerson and Manitou Springs while Laura served as a missionary in China,” said Florence. “Jim gave three years of service in YMCA work in France and Belgium after the Great War.
Click to see Laura Frazey photo “Laura was born in 1879 in Chautauqua County, Kansas. She was the third child,” continued Florence. “After graduating from Nickerson College in 1905 and teaching in Reno County for a few years, she prepared for missionary work at Union Missionary Training School, in Brooklyn, New York.
“In late 1908, Laura departed Nickerson and set sail from San Francisco to Foochow, China. She became a missionary school teacher at Kutien, China, working at a girl’s boarding school, sponsored by the Methodist Episcopal Church.
“In 1898, our sister Mary Magdeline died after a brief illness when she was ten years old ,” Florence recalled.
“I was eight years old when Laura left for China the first time,” said Vic. “Thanks to Laura, in school I always had a topic for my reports and essays, including stamps from around the world and photographs of China. She would serve in Kutien for five-year cycles then return home for a year-long furlough.”
“Over the years, Laura sent me some dresses,” recalled Florence, “my favorite was a silk crepe. Letters would take anywhere from a month to seven weeks to arrive.”
“With the revolutions and war, was Laura safe while she was over there?” asked Minnie.
“She had faith that she was in god’s care,” said Florence. “Laura wasn’t afraid. She was always optimistic that there would be peace, but the fighting closed their school on numerous occasions because of bandits and war. The missionaries were eventually sent home because the new government was anti-foreign and anti-Christian, and gradually believed every missionary was a spy.”
“Sometimes the missionaries were called ‘foreign devils’,” said Vic, “but Laura was an angel. I let her down. She asked us to write her more often than we did. When Laura was overseas, she was starved for the pleasure of American letters.”
“We got busy with our own lives,” said Vera, “but I don’t know how she did it, being away from home for years at a time.”
“Mother and Father missed her so much,” said Florence. “I’m just glad Laura retired so she could be home with them for their last year or so. She returned to Nickerson in 1928. John died in 1929 at age 86, Harriett a year later at age 72.
Click to see photo of Laura Frazey with two Bible Women friends (enclosed in letter dated October 29, 1917.)
“With our parents gone, Laura came out of retirement and returned to China in 1931,” said Florence. “A year later she was ill with appendicitis while at Kutien, days from a city doctor. She was taken down mountain paths and by boat to the nearest hospital in Foochow, but it took two days.
“By the time she reached the hospital and had surgery, her appendix had ruptured and peritonitis had set in. She died September 20, 1932, and was buried in China. She was 52.
“Laura had a beautiful spirit with love for others, especially her family. She was devoted to her work and sacrificed her life for the Chinese.”
While eating corn and carrots, one prisoner said to another: “Twenty years ago I would have felt really bad about spending Christmas in jail. Now, I don’t mind too much.
“My youngest boy, 20, isn’t much interested in a home Christmas with me, and my wife divorced me twenty years ago.
“Since that bad luck hit me, I’ve gone from bad to worse.”
The other prisoner, 60 or so years old, eating a cinnamon cookie, replied: “I haven’t spent a holiday with my family for many years. They live in Detroit.
“I can’t even remember where I was last Christmas.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.
alex potter says
Wonderful portrait of family memories and celebrations!
Jim Potter says
Thanks, Alex. Stories are everywhere, especially family stories.
Marilyn Bolton says
Interesting to read! I’m glad you had or found a picture of Laura. She projects strength—a woman who could probably handle just about anything!
Jim Potter says
Remarkable determination, faith, & strength.