Billy Graham Center

Collection 303- Erma Horton Stevens Walker. T1 Transcript

This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Erma Horton Stevens Walker (CN 303, T1) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. Foreign terms which are not commonly understood appear in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted to phonetically replicate English dialects but have instead entered the standard English word the speaker was expressing.

Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.

... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.

.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.

( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.

[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.


This transcript, by Noel Collins was completed in October 2008.


WALKER: I can hold this, can't I?

ERICKSEN: This is an interview with Erma Horton Stevens Walker by Paul Ericksen for the missionary sources collection of Wheaton College. This interview took place at the offices of the Billy Graham Center Archives in Wheaton, Illinois on May 4, 1985 at 10 AM.

[pause, tape turned off and back on]

ERICKSEN: Well, Mrs. Walker, I...I'd like to start just by talking a little bit about your early growing up years. I notice that you were born in Brooklyn, New York. How long did you live in New York?

WALKER: I was there just a couple of years. My father was transferred from Brooklyn to Chicago as agent for a book company to open up the Midwest to sell books.

ERICKSEN: So, you don' you remember anything?

WALKER: I remember the train. And of course, I...we lived in a high rise apartment, it was very high for me a little baby. But, I do remember even at two and two and a half years old, I would wash out my little clothes, my doll's clothes and hang them out over the little balcony that was way, way up in the air to me. I remember that so specifically that we lived up there in this high rise apartment. Then when we transferred, the train ride which was to me a fascinating thing, I couldn't get over the bulges and the bumps and everybody going around, going in at night when we were retiring. That was something I...that was too...too exciting for me. I didn't sleep much that night but I do remember that. We moved to Chicago, we lived near...somewhere near the University of Chicago and.... Going back to New York, I remember Mother used to say that she would the baby carriage I would...the Midway Penzance, which I think is in New York and that is a memory that I have of my early childhood. And then I...we lived in...somewhere near the University of Chicago. At that time, I never went there, but I just remember the fact that we lived there. Always an apartment, we always lived in apartments. Grandma there lived with us for a time.

ERICKSEN: That was your mother's mother or your father's mother?

WALKER: [interrupts] Yes, my mother's mother. My brother, Steve, who came to Wheaton and graduated, I believe, in ‘33, was a baby. I must've been probably just a little girl because I was playing with a hook, with a button hook and I was playing...playing with it and it caught my little brother in his eye. I don't understand how that happened but I think I was the one who did it. [laughs]

ERICKSEN: How long did you live down by the University?

WALKER: We...I really don't recall. We moved up to Lunt Avenue then [?] and then we lived near the Count...the Women's Club on Lunt Avenue which was not too far from the beach. And every Saturday in the summertime, I would take my two little brothers and go down to the beach with them. I don't know how Mother ever allowed me to have such authority over those two little fellas ‘cause my little brother could hardly tottle. But, we'd take them down to the beach and I'd watch them as...and the lake [Lake Michigan] was beautiful and it was soft, rolling waves. I remember that so definitely. Then, we always went, several times in the summertime, to the Lincoln Park Zoo. And that was always a very exciting time to me. I don't know what that has to do with my life, but those memories are very sweet. We lived in a two story duplex with a lawn between. I was the tomboy of the area, I'd climb all the trees, get caught up in the branches and cry for Mother to come and help me. My brothers would help me, get me down. At that time, I guess Mother decided that I needed to have some dancing lessons to try to curb my boyish behavior. And so it was taught write next door so I took fancy dancing from Ms. Alma Rose who was the most beautiful dancer herself and I...I thought this was the life. I learned toe dancing and fancy dancing and had, was in recitals and co...and had beautiful costumes and I thought this was the life. And I thought that I was going to be a fancy dancer. To me, this was something that was so beautiful. It wasn't long before I realized that life was not a dance and a song because it wasn't too long before there was tragedy. The three generations I was raised...I was a third generation of a family that was raised in a false cult.

ERICKSEN: Which was?

WALKER: Christian Science.

ERICKSEN: And, you refer to this tragedy, what...?

WALKER: Well, I was.... First of all, let me say that without realizing what was happening, I was...I was gently but very carefully indoctrinated in the basic doctrines of Christian Science. And I knew that God was not a loving, heavenly father. He was a force, the great "I AM” in the world, a power but He was not a personal God. I did not believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, He was a way-shower and I was to follow in His footsteps. I didn't believe in the Holy Spirit. It was Christian Science, Christian Science was the comforter of which Jesus spoke and that was the Holy Spirit to me. The...the cross of Christ was not the blood of cross, it was the bloody cross. And I heard my mother speak of that and I just cringe to think of the cross as being a...anything more than just a bloody cross. I didn't believe that I was a sinner. I was taught by the time I was a wee child that I was a perfect child of God. And I don't know how I could have believed it but I was so brainwashed that I really did. I believe that I was a perfect child of God and therefore, I was not a sinner. And, I marvel that I could have so believed it but I went through all of my years until I was at Wheaton, believing that I was a perfect child of God. I was so strong that friends couldn't persuade me. I was...they decided on my faith and they argued with me. My friends who never came to Wheaton College but who were Christians who went to local churches here and no one could ever make a difference in my faith. All that I heard was...made no response in my heart. And I just continued as a Christian Scientist for many years. But the winter of ‘23, when I was eleven years old, was very traumatic. There was an epidemic, which you probably know nothing about, of diptheria in this whole area, and there were hundreds of cases of children that came down.... In fact, it was so serious that they...that the schools had inoculations throughout the whole county. And, we all had inoculations. Now, Harold, my youngest brother, was declared to be a carrier. And the doctor came home to our home, came to our home, and said, "This child will never come down with diptheria, he's a carrier.” And so, when, just a short time later, about a week later, he came in from shoveling snow (he was...he was eight years old at that time) with a sore throat and a little headache, mother didn't think anything of it. She just put him to bed and gave him some gruel which was the family solution for everything that we had because we never had medicine. But, he got progressively worse. But, still, until Wednesday she didn't really become concerned, not knowing of course, what it was since the doctor had told her he would never come down with diptheria. And mother had found [?], we just never were sick. Then she began calling a [Christian Science] practitioner, the practitioner came in the next day on Thursday, I believe. And when she saw Harold, she said, "I'm sorry, I have to leave immediately.” She was...she knew.... He was very sick at that time, see, we knew nothing about sickness. So, my father, went to Chicago, he was...that morning, he always went to Chicago, but he called in a Mr. Fetzer [?] who was an outstanding practitioner in the Chicago area and told him to please work on the case. I don't know if you understand Christian science. You have practitioners that work mentally, it is not prayer but it is their substitute for prayer. And I don't [unclear] eternal God that we worship. And daddy came home at noon time, mother called him. Daddy came home at noon time and Harold was very definitely not...having very big trouble breathing. And so, we had to call in a doctor and he said...I heard them say "I'm afraid it's too late” but they scurried around the kitchen to try to get some hot water so that they could have inhalations. And, when, shortly after I heard mother, that agonized cry, "He's gone.” And death was something that we had never faced or even believed there was any such thing as death. And I looked through the...through the door and I saw him white and silent and it was probably one of those things that I was just unable to accept that there was any such thing as death.

ERICKSEN: referred to the practitioners. Was it quite a step to call a doctor?

WALKER: Yes, yes, it was very...very traumatic. But, we had no other recourse, one practitioner had left us, the other practitioner...daddy had been calling him, I believe, during the week, mother felt we ought to have a closer practitioner. But, this time he went and as I recall, he was not in his office and that's when daddy came home. But, a number of months later, we saw an article in the paper that a Mr. Fetzer [?] had committed suicide in front of a railroad train. We always wondered if that was the same man. The name was so unusual. But, that was 20...20...23...1923. But, for weeks, I wanted to awaken from that awful dream, that there was such a thing as death. See, I'd been taught that all is life and there is no death, [unclear] is deathless.

ERICKSEN: Excuse me, what...what did Christian Science then...what happened when somebody died?

WALKER: Well, they...the lady that came to mother, said that his life was just like a little flower, there was a...there's a beautiful fence between life and death and the little flower had just turned over and started growing on the other side. That was the only comfort that there was. I went to (the first and the last time after his death) I went to Sunday School class because we were very faithful at this large Christian Science church here. We always sat up in the balcony with the children, so that they wouldn't disturb downstairs. And I went to the Sunday School class, there was a man teacher and when I...when I told him my little brother had died, "Oh”, he said, "He didn't die...he didn't die.” And I just burst into tears because I saw that he had died and there was death facing me. But, there was no comfort, no explanation except that he didn't die. Never pointed me to the Lord Jesus because they do not accept Him as their Savior. And never went back and I've never gone back again. But, you see, my teaching was so strong that although I'd faced death with Harold, I still couldn't divorce myself from the religion that I had been raised in. And instead of blaming Christian Science, I blamed God, that's the sad part. And of course, then the skepticism, for weeks, I just cried myself to sleep. And no one could console me, Mother tried to but no one could console me because I had been taught there was no life to [unclear], life too [unclear], no substance in matter and man is deathless. How could a little child of eleven years old face something that was so contrary to what I had been taught? Indoctrinated with for so many years. When I was young, I was very sensitive and it was very difficult.

ERICKSEN: What did did your parents respond to your brother's death? Did it shake them up?

WALKER: Father said, "I will never go in another church again.” And he never did go inside another Christian Science church. Mother also, I never remember her going back. We never went back so that we were like a churchless family for a long, long time.

ERICKSEN: I think we'll probably come back to that again but when did you...when did you finally move up to Wheaton?

WALKER: We were in Wheaton at that time.


WALKER: We came to Wheaton around the year ‘22 or ‘23 we came to Wheaton. And this was ‘23.

ERICKSEN: And what brought you out here?

WALKER: Very interesting. Father was in a company in Chicago and they wanted to move...he wanted to have his family out of apartments because we'd always lived in apartments. And, we had a real nice home [unclear] on the second floor and we enjoyed it, loved it. But, father thought we ought to be out in...more outside the city in the country. He didn't mind traveling on the Elgin [train line] or on the Steam train, I forget what it is. So, we came out to look and we found a place out on the prairie on Harrison Avenue, there was one house, little house is still there. And there was no anything in front of us, no houses at all all around.

ERICKSEN: Where on Harrison was this?

WALKER: Harrison...206, right between Cross and Scott. We were the only house, that was in ‘22 and the folks there at his office said, "You know, Wheaton is a lovely, lovely Christian town, you ought to go there. They have a good Christian college.” Well, you know, Christian, we were Christian Scientists so it didn't seem too out of the way that we...he should be interested. And so he went and made contacts and we went out there and found this house the first time we went out there. And it was providential, God had His hand in our going Wheaton, I know. That the first thing we heard about Wheaton was "Oh, that fanatical place, that Wheaton College, that's fanatical”. That's the only one I remember that....

ERICKSEN: Who did you hear that from?

WALKER: Oh, from everybody that we talked to about Wheaton. At that time, Wheaton didn't have a very good reputation. Not that it wasn't a good school but because it was so solid and sound and so Biblically true to the Word, they were really preaching the Gospel and they were probably witnessing to the townspeople.

ERICKSEN: So, this was the impression of people in Wheaton?

WALKER: Oh yes, oh yes. I think Wheaton has become acceptable as a great school now. But, then, when I came to Wheaton they probably didn't have more than several hundred. When I was in, when I came as a freshman in college, I was a...there was only about four hundred here at school, it might have been four [hundred] twenty but it was just around four hundred. So, it was a small school.

ERICKSEN: What do you recall about your high school years? Anything that stands out?

WALKER: Oh, there's a lot of things that stand out. But, I don't think that they're particularly relevant. I had very good friends that were Christians, Virginia Stough, who has now gone to be with the Lord, Leona Llewellyn, who... her aunt taught in the Baptist church which is now gone. I don't know where it is but it's not on the corner where I expected to find it, right near the Christian Science church. And then, her aunt was the teacher of Girl Scouts. And she...I can remember taking my lessons to her in the First Baptist church. She was a very dear person...Leona was a friend of mine in high school, she was a Christian, I'm sure. And then there was Ethel Ruth Jorgenson, Ruth Parks Jorgenson. They were all friends of mine. They were all Christians. But, for some reason or other no one ever talked to me about being saved, about my need of salvation.

ERICKSEN: Is there anything in particular that you saw in these gals that...?

WALKER: They were just nice girls.

ERICKSEN: ...struck you as different?

WALKER: They were just nice girls and I remember Virginia Stough wanted to have a little school. We were in high school together and she wanted to have a little school. Her purpose may have been to give the Gospel. And so we had a little school down in lower Blanchard Hall just below the Tower, one of those rooms just below the Tower. There weren't any more than four or five of us there. There was a school and I don't really know what the purpose of it was and I don't remember her ever giving the Gospel. But, it was just one of those fun things that we did. And it may have been that she did give the Gospel but if she did, I was not hearing in that time. Rolf Jacobsen, I think he came to Wheaton...Mary Ellen Jacobsen...Mary Ellen married Rolf Jacobsen. Rolf was a Christian in high school, I never knew it. He was one of the school clowns. Rolf, you could always expect a joke or something funny out of Rolf. He married a very...Mary Ellen...and then she died and he married...I had it and now I've forgotten out in the West Coast [of the United States] and I don't remember if Rolf is still living or not. But, I never heard the Gospel from them. They thought...they of course thought that I was probably a Christian. And it's hard for young people to go around and evangelize, they and their peers.

ERICKSEN: Were there any of your friends during your high school years who did talk to you about their faith?

WALKER: No one. Never did I ever remember anyone ever speaking to me. I was in...I was a very shy, retiring person. So, mother pushed me into writing and I wrote for the high school paper. And then, she...because I was so quiet, she...she pushed me into...encouraged me to, to go into drama. And so I was the fairy queen in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream and I was in a number of plays which were really very important in helping me to come out of the shell in which I was in. Doctor Massey [?] came...oh, I should say that there was tragedy in our home and we really had gotten ahead of ourselves there.... Even the death of Harold didn't turn us to God because we really didn't know the way, we didn't know how to go God. And we were...I would say as a family we were bitter and antagonistic, at the time, to anything that was Christian because we, of course, thought of ourselves as being Christians. It was dead of winter at that time and father was dismissed from his position when he heard of what had happened. Our Harold was the only death in our city, and I believe, over [unclear] in our county. And of course, we had no medical help whatsoever, the help actually came too late.

ERICKSEN: You say that your father was dismissed from his position, in his work?


ERICKSEN: And how did what happened to your brother effect...?

WALKER: Well, it was because of that. They heard that, so to speak, they had let him die without medical help. And, of course, that was very difficult and quite a blow.

ERICKSEN: I see. And of course, the folks who employed him weren't Christian Scientists so...?

WALKER: That's right, that's right.


WALKER: I know nothing about their doctrinal position but this is what happened. So, father spent a lot of his time looking for work that Winter and it was really very difficult for our family. There was a tragedy, father lived through it and no one has ever known what happened to father. I just thank the Lord that he lived through it and he is...I have the assurance that he has come to know the Lord as his Savior.

ERICKSEN: Now, you say, are you referring...when you say there was a tragedy, you're referring to your brother's death?

WALKER: No, that was the first tragedy. Then there was another near tragedy which I...that happened...that the Lord spared him and let him live to find the Lord as his Savior. But, even that tragedy didn't bring us to the Lord. We didn't know the way. No one really had told us the way. But, during those early years when I was about eleven, that summer, I believe it was, the dear Mrs. Sutherland [?], who lived right across the street. We actually were surrounded by some very outstanding Christians. The Mortinsons [?] lived right across the street from us, on the corner was the dean or the director of the Christian grade school that was right...this is before your time, right?...across the street from Wheaton College where DeWitt, right across from the DeWitt Art Center which is no longer there. And he was on the other side. Then on the right hand side, another couple that, I believe, were connected with Moody [probably a reference to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago]. But, we were there amidst the dearest of Christians and only dear Mrs. Sutherland [?], whose husband was connected with, I believe, an Arkansas bible school, I'm not sure.... But, Doctor Sutherland [?] was her husband. She was dying of cancer. They, you saw the home built [sic], a beautiful little...a beautiful Spanish home right across the street from us. I don't know if it's still there or not, I haven't seen it. She would gather the children in the neighborhood, Miriam and Marion and several other girls near us and I was invited. And she'd let us make fudge in her kitchen, I tell you, we made fudge and we made taffy and I'm sure we made a mess of the kitchen. But, it was all for the sake of the Gospel and what we didn't know was that afterwards she'd call us in Sunday after Sunday and she'd tell us stories about the Lord and to this day, I remember some of those stories. And yet, when I left, walked across the street and over to our home, I would say, "I really don't need a Savior. It wasn't necessary for Him to die for me because I'm a perfect child of God.” And with that, I dismissed it. You see, my teaching was so strong that even the stories...and, as I say, I remember those stories of people crying out to God and being saved. But, just, it simply just didn't touch me. Well, then came the Depression [the Great Depression in the United States] in ‘29. Father was still having trouble with work and had it not been for the stores in Wheaton that graciously gave people the privilege to buy and pay later, I don't know what we would have done. Then, the churches gave food baskets and these were very gracious provisions for us during that Winter. Many people, during the Depression, when the Depression hit, the crash came in ‘29. Many people in Wheaton committed suicide. Homes that I had been in, (I was selling Christmas cards at that time as a way to come to Wheaton). And I was in homes, beautiful homes, where, in the paper, that person committed suicide and another person committed suicide. It was really a very very bad Winter for many Wheaton people. But, it was the loving kindness of the Methodist church people that sent us a basket and I don't know how they got our name, but they sent us a basket, baskets of food. And so we were, in a sense, drawn to that church, it was their Christian love. And when Doctor [unclear] Rossi [?], who was an outstanding Methodist evangelist, came to have meetings and we were invited, mother went the first night. But, she came home horrified, she said, "[unclear], that nice girl confessed that she was a sinner! Isn't that terrible?” But she said it was an interesting meeting and so the next night she took Steve [Erma's brother] and I. Well, he told some fantastic stories, I really don't remember the Gospel. But, he told some fantastic stories and I was greatly moved and I burst in to tears. Mother held on to me and she said, "Don't go forward, don't make a decision. Think it through and go later.” And, I just resisted, I'm sure, the Holy Spirit that time. I have often said that when I get to heaven, I'm going to ask at the gate, "When did I accept the Lord as my Savior? Because I really don't know.” I...but I do not...there was no change in my life, in my inner being as there was later when I came to know the Lord. But I joined a "swear off” club and Virginia Stough [?] and Leona Llewellyn and Ethel and these other girls who were real Christians began the "swear off” club because they were going to swear off.... I don't know that they...they ever danced but I was raised to dance from a little child. And mother even when I was in high school, gave me dancing lessons. We had to swear off movies and dancing and card-playing. And, of course, since the time I was little there was nothing wrong with cards. In fact, we played in our home. "Five hundred”, isn't that a game that you play? I haven't thought of it for a long time. But, these were things that were just...there was no sin in them, there was nothing wrong but we were going to swear them off. [Laughs] So, one after another, these things that were just a part of my life were put aside. Then, of course, I...I was treated go to a number of colleges. Beloit [College] was one which my grandfather was part of the go to this college. But, I decided to come Wheaton. And when I wrote out my application, I said I had joined the church. We all joined the church so I don't...

ERICKSEN: [interrupts] The Methodist church?

WALKER: Uh-huh. After the...the meetings. But I don't believe any one of us were saved. Steve [Walker's brother] says he thinks he was saved at that time but there was no change in his life. And he loved dancing and he loved the movies, just as I did. So, I never saw any change. But, when I came to Wheaton, everyone thought I was a Christian. I don't think anyone would have suspected I wasn't because I dressed like a Christian, I acted like a Christian, I talked like a Christian and I would say that I looked like a Christian there at Wheaton. So that no one ever talked to me about the Gospel. I could...I guess I went through about a thousand chapels and I could sort of close those out. But there were a number of chapels that I remember to this day, I loved Dr. [Oliver J.] Buswell's [Buswell was president of the college.] messages on Psalms, they were always beautiful. And, there were some message that I've never forgotten was on John 1 and John 14 [sic], "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, we beheld His glory, the glory of His only begotten, of His son, full of grace and truth” [John 1:14] and how this preacher tied it in with "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” [John 1:1], the same as in the beginning with God. And how he tied that in, I can remember it, and the impression, the powerful impression of that...that message and that word. It's probably the only thing that I remember from all the chapels that I heard from Wheaton. But, there was...I had Romans and Hebrews, which I believe was my second year at Wheaton. I don't....

ERICKSEN: Remember who taught that?

WALKER: Yes, Ms. Spaulding. She would...talked one day about Jesus being the Christ. And I was antagonistic inside. I hate to say this but Bill was in that Walker, whom God brought into my life and we were married a good many years later. But, we had a group of some of the outstanding [unclear because laughing] and I wonder if any of them were Christians now. But, we would have a group program in which we would study each different sections of the passage and then would share them. I marvel that I did that but I did because I really didn't like to study the Word. But, we always got good grades, at least we didn't fail, we passed. And when she came out with that, "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”, I couldn't stand it. I raised my hand, I said, "[unclear] I understand that Jesus is the human concept, Christ is the divine idea.” Well, I guess she thought it was time to talk with this little sophomore and so she called me into her office. And she's the only one that explained the Gospel, that was President Buswell's sister. She was the only one that explained the Gospel and she ex...great, she explained it a great...drew it out for me, a great plateau on the side with a chasm between and another plateau on the other side. And then she put a cross between the two, she said, "that's the only way that you can get across from Earth to Heaven, by the way of the cross, Jesus Christ.” She asked me questions and I answered all the questions right but inside, I did not accept it. During this time, someone was praying for me, Catherine Walker, a missionary now in Taiwan.

ERICKSEN: Your relative?

WALKER: No, no relative. But, there became...when I...when she came to Wheaton as a freshman, I was a sophomore, she put me on a prayer list. I was on the wrong list, she thought I was a Christian but she prayed for at least two years and during that time, I can remember Merold Westphal, a Christian who had... (who is still I believe alive and in the Lord's work), but he was in our class. I was at the student prayer meeting, I never failed any of the services, prayer meeting was always there, always went to all the services on Sunday, I loved church, didn't know the Lord. And he prayed about oh, how he loved the Lord Jesus and what a wonderful Savior his was and how He died on the cross, He shed His blood on the cross of Calvary and He died for me. And when he prayed, it was as though I saw the cross and I saw Jesus on it and I saw the blood spilt and I was moved. But, I didn't accept the Lord then. Then, Don Hillis...I don't know if you've ever heard of Don Hillis, Reverend Don Hillis? He had the student...

ERICKSEN: Dick's brother?

WALKER: Yes, Dick...a twin. They had...he had a student...student church in the old Masonic building which probably isn't there now.

ERICKSEN: I think it still is, down on Wesley [located at 120 West Wesley Street]?


ERICKSEN: Downtown?

WALKER: And he had a church there, it was just full of young people. Then he had a...I went there. Then, he moved up or maybe this was the first place they were...was up in the old County Clerk's building...not the big red one but the one that was further down, it was upstairs. May have been the judges offices. But, anyway, there was a room up there where we had church. And one night, Catherine was there, Catherine Walker [?] was there and I remember I made a transaction with the Lord that night. And I immediately got up and gave a testimony saying, "I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed in the Lord and I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” That was a turning point in my life, I...[unclear] invited, my brother and I, we decided to invite our parents to come to church and they did.

ERICKSEN: To that church?

WALKER: Mmhmm, mmhmm [indicating "yes”], it was up there in the old city hall, the old city hall, right there on Wesley, farther down. And we, I saw my mother raise her hand one time so I always thought that she had been saved at that time. I'm not really sure and of course, I began praying with Catherine Walker, she asked me to pray with her though I didn't know that she had prayed for me all those years. And so we prayed together for my family, for my brother, for my mother and my father. And Steve, who was the president...the editor of the Tower [Wheaton College yearbook] and he...he dedicated the Tower. He said that he couldn't have gotten through this without Lord Jesus as his Savior and I always felt that he had been saved at that time, during the time in his junior year. Father...when I was in the mission field, Father wrote me and he said, "Erma, daughter, there was a...a difference in your life and I recognized that there was after you accepted the Lord.” And he said, "I wanted that same thing.” And he said, "I found a tract in between the salt and pepper shaker in a downtown restaurant, it was [unclear].” He said, "That's the same thing that my fanatical daughter's talking about.” And he accepted the Lord as the result of a tract.

ERICKSEN: Now, this was in your sophomore year still?

WALKER: No, in my senior. It was in that...I was saved in the latter part of my junior year.

ERICKSEN: Okay, and then these other events occurred in your senior year...your father...?

WALKER: I really don't know when but I was on the mission field. That was about five or six years later....

ERICKSEN: [interrupts] So....

WALKER: No, it was more than that.

ERICKSEN: So, going back to the church, Don Hillis's church, what kind of a church was it?

WALKER: Oh, it was just a student...the student church. It was was informal but then it was formal compared to some of the churches today. As I remember, there wasn't much singing, I mean solos or anything like that. But they just had good Gospel singing and he was always was...he always preached the Gospel message and it finally got through.

ERICKSEN: How did other churches in the...Evangelical churches in the community feel about the church?

WALKER: I really don't know. It didn't make any difference to me, I had found something that was living...alive. I don't know what the churches are today. There was a dear pastor, a Doctor Durand [?] and I noticed that Harry Durand [?] is on the...I came to school but Ha...Harry Durand [?] may have been his son but I believe that Harry Durand [?] was a good Gospel pastor at the Methodist church. Then there was another pastor that came afterwards that definitely was a very social worker and was not a Christian. He gave lots of character studies but I never heard...I never remember hearing the Gospel.

ERICKSEN: When you first came to Wheaton, you'd heard from people that Wheaton was a fanatical place, did what you hear match with what you experienced as you first came to Wheaton?

WALKER: Well, I had really no connection at all with Wheaton. I was just eleven years old and I lived apart from Wheaton, I never went to any of their services. I heard it was fanatical so I stayed away. And my fam...I should say my family stayed away because I would never do anything except what my family did. And I just...we just lived our own life...after the tragedy with Harold, we just never went to church...a long time.

ERICKSEN: So, when you finally got to Wheaton, what did you make of it?

WALKER: Wheaton? Oh, I just loved it. I wasn't ever really happy with the way that none...none [sic] of them lived in high school. And I was a very lonely person. I just spent my time in my studies and I loved writing and I would...that was a real outlet for me...and then drama. But, I was a quiet, lonely type of a person. But when I went to Wheaton College, and dear Crystal Bowl [?]...they were mentioned last night. Crystal Bowl's mother was a very outgoing person and she had a little of the first little parties that I went to down in her basement with quite a number of freshman girls. And she had a...bluebird, a little name to the party [sic]. And it was something that was really new to me. I really responded. We had in the Methodist church a dear deaconess who gathered us little girls together and she had made candles in a little room maybe half the size of this in the church. And we would talk and we would pray but I remember one time we just shouldn't wear too many jewels and there she had rings on her fingers and everything, I mean really big rings. I remember one of the little girls asked her, "Well, why do you wear those?” But whether she was a Christian I don't know, but she was a dear person and she made an impact on my life in the Methodist church, in the early years, in high school.

ERICKSEN: What did your folks think about you going to Wheaton?

WALKER: Well, they were, of course, agreed [sic]. But when I came to the Lord as my Savior, I brother called me "fanatical sis” and that's been...that was my name for a long, long time, "fanatical sis”. But when I came to Wheaton and I was saved in my junior year, I immediately started praying for my family, not only with Catherine Walker but also myself. I prayed for my whole family, that they would be saved. And I can remember the first time in the cafeteria that I...I decided I was going to say a blessing and I thought everybody was looking at me. And I said, "I”m just going to start saying blessing”. I don't think anyone told me but I just felt we ought to be thankful for our food so I prayed. And that was the beginning of praying as I ate...blessing on my food. And then I decided I was going to pray for my family, every time I asked God to bless my food, I was going to pray for my family and for their salvation. And I would do it at school and I did it at home and when I did it at home and my brother was at the table, he'd say, "Oh, there's fanatical sis, preachin' a sermon to herself.”

ERICKSEN: So, this was praying out loud this wasn't...?

WALKER: Oh no, they wouldn't let me pray out loud.

ERICKSEN: Oh, this was just silent?

WALKER: [unclear] But I prayed, he didn't know...I don't think I've told him to this day that I was praying for him. I prayed for my family all the time I was at home that the Lord would save their souls. And God did. He saved them, Mother's with the Lord in heaven and Father, he also, came to be with us after Mother passed on and he lived till he was ninety-two, six months, eleven days and he went very quickly and easily, both of them did.

ERICKSEN: What was Wheaton like during the Depression? You mentioned that...?

WALKER: [interrupts] You see, ‘29. I don't I mentioned there were...during the crash, there were many, there were many....

ERICKSEN: I was thinking more of the College.
WALKER: Well, I really didn't know. There was a precious missionary that died...was it...that was really a fantastic...I don't remember the name. She was massacred in...may have been South America, Mrs. Tully [?]. And that was...that word went all over Wheaton. And I remember the impression she had died for her faith. I don't remember the year. But, I had very little to do with the College until my folks decided it would be good to go to Wheaton. And then when I went there, I loved it except for the teaching about Jesus being the Christ. That to me was a great offense.

ERICKSEN: Do you recall any of the...I mean after the Crash [of 1929], just the economic hardship, did that effect the College at all?

WALKER: I really don't know. I know it effected our family, as I told you it effected our family. It was very difficult, very difficult years. That's what I got out and started to sell Christmas cards and I was such a shy, timid person. Mother would take me to an area and I...she'd wait for me and I'd get out of the car. Now, a little house, I had the courage to go up and knock on the door but when it came to a big house, sometimes I'd go around the block because I was so afraid to knock at a big house. But I made enough money to be able to go to school and then I became postmistress at Wheaton College, can't remember which year but I became postmistress. I know it wasn't my senior year, it may have been my junior year.

ERICKSEN: How did you find you were able to interact with the students when you lived off-campus?

WALKER: I had no problem, I probably missed a lot. But, I was on campus most fo the time and I went up there to study. I had no problem at all. I had some real good friends, all of my friends were Christians, they didn't know that I wasn't a Christian.

ERICKSEN: You seem to have done a good job of smokin' [fooling] everybody.

WALKER: [laughs] I didn't mean to. I thought I was myself. You see I wouldn't equate not being a Christian with a Christian Scientist.

ERICKSEN: I noticed on your application that you indicated that Jesus was referred to it earlier, your "way-shower”.



WALKER: Really?


WALKER: I put that on my relation [?] [unclear]. Why'd they accept me? [laughs]

ERICKSEN: Well...I...did it seem like anyone suspected that any of the things you said indicated you were Christian Scientist?

WALKER: No, I never mentioned it. I never mentioned it. My favorite teacher was Ms. Wheeler.

ERICKSEN: Who taught...?

WALKER: Writing. I don't' know if she taught English, but she taught writing. And I would write stories and she would say, "There's really no consequence to this story, it's well-written but it's not of great consequence.” But, when I came to know the Lord as my Savior, she asked for a personal story. I sat down at my typewriter in my home, I remember the morning that I did it, I just wrote it all fast, what God had done in my life. And on that story, she said, "Erma, there are no fast buttons on this story.” That's when I touched reality, the Lord had touched me and I had come to Him. And that was the first story of my conversion.

ERICKSEN: What do you recall of President Buswell?

WALKER: Well, he was just a happy, vibrant person. And I...I enjoyed his messages on the Psalms, everyday. Some people groaned but I enjoyed his messages on the Psalms, they were beautiful. Mostly just beautiful messages, I never recall the Gospel.

ERICKSEN: Any other favorite faculty? You mentioned Ms. Spaulding and Ms. Wheeler.

WALKER: Well, Ms. Spaulding wasn't too much of a favorite [laughs] because.... Ms. Wheeler was very special to me. I was in Professor Mole's [?] class and Tiffany's class and Mixter's class.

ERICKSEN: You don't have to mention the professors but were there any classes that you just hated?

WALKER: No. I just wasn't the kind of person that hated things. The only thing that I got stirred up about was the Gospel. [laughs] No, I enjoyed everything I did.

ERICKSEN: What about your involvement in the different societies, the Oratorical Society and the Debate?

WALKER: Oh, I had fun with all of them. And traveled with Lois Mengel, with...she's now married, I heard from her recently and also from Dick Seume's wife, Mary Troutman. We traveled together and debated. We went over as far as Michigan.

ERICKSEN: Do you remember the sorts of issues you debated on?

WALKER: Yes, disarmament. Let's see...the World War Debt, there was a special name for that...reparations? That was.... That was good for me, very good for me. In fact, Mother wanted me to be in speech so I was a speech major and that's why I was in the Oratorical Society. Oh yes, I had my orations, labored over them. But they were all good for me, enjoyed all that.

ERICKSEN: What were the...?

WALKER: [interrupts] Oh, Ms. Cobb was the other one that was my favorite.

ERICKSEN: And she taught?

WALKER: Speech. And I probably was the first... [burps] excuse me... The first...see, I was a Speech major. And I was probably the first...maybe the first recital that had backdrops and I had someone who was an artist in the school who arranged a beautiful, white backdrop over all of Pierce chapel. It's really...and that was a neat thing. And I gave "An Evening with Van Dyke” and it was written up in the downtown paper. Someone was on the paper who was with me in high school and so he came out and he wrote it up. But, after that, they had some very elaborate backdrops, but I was the first.

ERICKSEN: What gave you the idea to that?

WALKER: Well, I don't know.


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Last Revised: 7/25/07
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© 2016 Wheaton College. All rights reserved. This transcript may be reused with the following publication credit: Used by permission of the Billy Graham Center Archives, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.2007