This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Ruth Margaret Mellis (CN 363, T2) 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 was made by Noel Collins Pfeifer and was completed in August 2009.
SHUSTER: You were talking.... This is a continuation of the interview with Ms. Ruth Mellis on June 20th, 1987. You were talking about Doctor Buswell as a teacher and some of your memories of him.
MELLIS: Yes, he was really, not...not only a good t...well, he was a good teacher because he made you think. [chuckles]
SHUSTER: How did he do that?
MELLIS: And he made you dig into God’s Word.
SHUSTER: But how did he make you do that?
MELLIS: How’d he do it? Well, I guess it was just kinda from the questions he.... For instance, with this fellow who said, “Scofield says so and so”, “What does God’s word say?” It’s not what somebody else says about it, what does God’s word say? And then you’d dive in and find out for yourself which is...which is what we really need with Bible teaching, isn’t it? But not only they...but Doctor Dow, Introduction to Philosophy, I remember when she.... I often thought of this and how good it was to say to the young people, she was saying, “I walk down the street and I saw, see all these beautiful things in the windows...in the....” Bitrina is the Greek word for it, the show....
SHUSTER: The show window?
MELLIS: Show windows, yes. “...in the show windows and they’re all mine, I enjoy them, I don’t have to take them home.” What a...what an attitude, a wonderful attitude. And then Effie Jane Wheeler, her English classes. I remember I started, oh, we were just in a smattering of Chaucer, I forget what the name of the course was, Chaucer was included in it. And I thought, “Oh, her voice, I love to hear her read it, talk about it, I want to take Chaucer.” So I went to Doctor Dyrness [Enoch C. Dyrness] and was insisting that I add Chaucer to language and he said, “But you have as many as...hours as you’re supposed to be carrying.” And I was rather insistent and he finally gave in. I followed through for about one week or two weeks and I saw that he was right, that all my studies were going to suffer. I couldn’t...I wasn’t going to do justice to any of them. I went back and told him I had been wrong and he let me drop it. But she really made you love what she was teaching.
SHUSTER: How did she do that?
MELLIS: I don’t know, she just did.
SHUSTER: Did you have a...any kind of relationship with any of your teachers outside the classroom?
MELLIS: With Effie Jane I did. She...Pearl Lowenstein, a converted Jew was from Russia, was living in the house where I was and she was having Pearl out to her church to speak.
SHUSTER: Ms. Wheeler was having her out?
MELLIS: Ms. Wheeler was having her out and she invited me to go along with her. Well, I couldn’t go that day. It was one of the first decisions I had made to put things...the Lord’s will first. I don’t remember what else there was, I wanted to go there more than I wanted to do anything else. But the Lord wanted me to do something else and I had to say no to going. But, as usual, when you obey Him, He multiplies the blessings. And I...I went over there and I guess I took her again to Open Gate which was right across the street from where we were living at the time, for dinner one night. And then I was invited when I came back to town one time, I was out there with her and with this Chinese doctor friend of ours that had been here in school, went out to her home. And I think if I’m not mistaken, she took me out to see Naomi Kim one time, at the place where she was doctoring, too. I forget where it is now, not to far from here. And we kept up corres...Effie Jane and I kept up correspondence until her death.
SHUSTER: What was the spiritual life like on campus when you were...?
MELLIS: I thought it was great. We had Tuesday night prayer meetings which were wonderful.
SHUSTER: For the entire student body?
SHUSTER: For the entire student body?
MELLIS: Anybody who wanted to come. Not that...the entire student body didn’t come, no. It was voluntary, voluntary thing. No, not everybody by any means but a lot came and it was a very worthwhile time.
SHUSTER: Where was it held? [?]
MELLIS: [unclear] I’m trying to remember.
SHUSTER: Pierce Chapel?
MELLIS: Seems to me it was in a basement someplace. Was there a basement there? I haven’t the faintest notion but I was at them many, many...all of them. And then of course, we had the...the missionary...what was the...?
SHUSTER: Missionary Fellowship?
MELLIS: Yeah, but what was the name of it? I’ve forgotten that, in fact I was vice president of that one year.
SHUSTER: Student Missionary Project?
MELLIS: Student Missionary Union I think it was called. Yeah, I was vice president for the year that...was it Carl Anderson that was president or was it the one down in Dallas that was president? I don’t remember which one of them was president that year. And that was a very good fellowship, an excellent one. And then we had a group that went out to the...in my letters I think I have correspondence about that...they went out to the girls’ home out here...the wayward girls. What’s the...?
SHUSTER: Was that in Wheaton?
SHUSTER: Was that in Wheaton?
MELLIS: No, it’s out of...it’s outside of Wheaton. We had...but we had regular meetings out there, we had regular girls that we visited and had contact with out there. And then we went to the poor farm which was over in Dupage County...Dupage County Poor Farm. We went weekly there to hold a service, a group of us, we walked out there in those days. But, the other one we had togo on...to the girls home, we had to go on the train, I remember. That wasn’t West Chicago. Geneva, we went to Geneva for that. So, we were involved in.... And then, then, I guess the last year I was here, I guess, we had the Scripture Distribution Society [unclear].... I remember at that time and we got all the materials ready and we took them out to the...to games and wherever there was going to be a crowd of people. And so it was great. And when I was here in summer school, I came back for summer school a couple of times, we had some real...some real good times too. We had some street meetings with [?] downtown, we had street meetings with him. Something else I thought of that was so good. Oh, during...during summer school, I remember we had, he was one Don...Don, Don, Don...twins, was a pastor down at the Evangelical Free church during that summer...Don Hillis was here that summer. And we had early morning prayer meetings before classes, that...that was up in Blanchard Hall, I remember we used to meet in one fo the classrooms in Blanchard Hall, early morning. And I remember somebody who was leaving at the end said, “If you’re here without having had your own time with the Lord first, you oughtn’t be here.”
SHUSTER: What...you mentioned going out to the poor farm, what was the service out there like?
MELLIS: I think, if I remember right, we did have a service to which some of them came in, but primarily we went around and visited them.
SHUSTER: What do you remember about that? [?]
MELLIS: Just that it was a wonderful opportunity to witness but I don’t seem to remember any special decisions that they made.
SHUSTER: How did people react?
MELLIS: Oh, they were usually very glad to have us. I’m trying to remember whether we took treats out to them. I don’t think we did except for at holiday times. I think we did then but I don’t think we did at other times. That’s fifty...that’s more than 56 years ago and my memory’s not very long.
SHUSTER: What about your trips out to the girls’ school? Do you remember much about them?
MELLIS: That was very much on a one-to-one basis and you were not supposed to ask them about...why they were there or talk about a lot of things. But in visiting with them, we got a chance to sow the seed, in various ways. You had to be very careful, you weren’t allowed...this was good training, too, for Greece because boy, I had to be careful what I could do in Greece. And still do, to a certain extent, but not at least...not at all like when I was in Greece before. So, the Lord gives you a lot of good training in the various things there.
SHUSTER: Do you remember much about anything to do with the two girls who visited you?
MELLIS: I was just looking through some letters this week and I noticed a letter from one of them. And...a letter from one who was still here at Wheaton who was visiting there who was telling me about the problems the girls were having. Some of them accepted the Lord definitely but they were really having some battles. But I...I can’t remember the details, I don’t even remember what I saw in that letter...the letters I was reading this week. They.... I know some of them came to the Lord and they were difficult cases and....
SHUSTER: What did you talk about [unclear]
MELLIS: Of course, I...I...our motive for being out there was talking to them about the Lord as much as we did. But, primarily you had to do just what you had to in Greece, you...you cover up what you’re out there for because after all, it was a government institution. You didn’t have the freedom to just go in and preach to them so you went and talked to them and let the Lord lead the...a chance to present any element of the Gospel. And I think we were allowed to give them, if I remember right we were allowed to give them New Testaments, Gospels. Whether they allowed us to give tracts, I don’t remember. Because I would carry tracts every place but I’m not sure whether I was allowed to bring them in.
SHUSTER: What was the social life like at Wheaton when you were there?
MELLIS: It all centered, pretty much centered around the literary societies. I belonged to the “Phils” [Philalethean society]
SHUSTER: Which was the...?
MELLIS: Philalethean was the right name. And it was interesting, I liked it. But I remember then, even as now, I feel the same way about so much entertainment. Too much is planned, I mean you go and there’s a planned program and I loved the planning of them, to do it and I did plan it. But I remember thinking then, “I wish we could have more participation.” I, for social life I like more participation, games that kind of thing, do...where you’re more involved rather than just sitting. And I think it’s one of the curses of America is you sit in front of a...of course, they’re trying to put the games on the television at least, to make people think a little bit but they sit and just get entertained. Or they go to games and they get entertained instead of participating. And even then it bothered me. I thought we should have had worked it out some way in our societies to do it, but it just...it didn’t work that way.
SHUSTER: Was there much dating on campus?
MELLIS: Oh, lots of it. Walking mostly, going out for walks, yes. [chuckles] That could be very interesting, it was very interesting. I was not doing a lot of dating but I got it all...let’s see...was that the first year...yeah, it started in the first year I guess, when I was going with this man in whose home we were living actually and he was working in Chicago...he was not in Wheaton. I was going with him and we knew a couple in Chicago and we were supposed to meeting up for...for dinner. Was that on a Sunday? Yeah, we were going in for dinner, for church in the morning and dinner and then we were supposedly coming back out in the afternoon. At the same time, I had started dating another fellow who was here at the college and I made a date with him for the evening service because we were supposed to be back and we missed the train and we did not get back. And here, the other one was waiting here at the college and everybody knew who he was waiting for too. And I...well, that was the beginning of the end but we already had a date for the dorm party. And we couldn’t, either one of us, very well change it. He was one of the two boys at the girls dorm, two boys worked at the girls dorm. So, I was one of the two girls being invited over for that and everybody knew who was invited. So, we went through with that date but that was a difficult one after having stood him up at the other one. I didn’t...I didn’t quite know how to break it and he didn’t know how to break it so we stood it out. But I kept going with the other guy and became very close to...well, I did give him word, as the Greeks would say. First you give your word and then later you get engaged, according to Greeks because engagement in Greece is a regular ceremony. It really is something rather serious. I gave my word but then I took it back and well, the poor guy, he taught me a verse from the Bible that I didn’t know before and well, it slipped him out [?]. Anyway, something about the difficulty of not knowing, not getting things settled. But we didn’t finally break things up until about a half a year after I had left Wheaton. He was a fine Christian, a lot better Christian than I was but it never would have worked and I am so thankful to the Lord He kept me...that He kept me single. The work I had to do in Greece I never could have done. Most of what I was doing over there, if I had had a family or even a husband, because so many times I had to be out in villages and out with people who especially needed me. So, I was very thankful that that and the other did not materialize finally. It hurt me to say no finally because I did it...I appreciated him and I...I knew...I thought I knew how he felt. I don’t think I ever really loved him, I loved...loved in his attention and I realized that...I....and my mother told me afterwards, she did not interfere and told me after I made the decision, she said that she saw that this was true and it was a good thing we didn’t go ahead. We were so different, he was thinking about a seven year itch about moving and I was doing things before I’d even thought about it and that’s no combination especially this way. If it’d been the opposite way, it might’ve worked but I certainly wasn’t the one who was supposed to be the head.
SHUSTER: It sounds like from what you’re saying that everybody knew who was dating everybody at Wheaton kind of a small town...everybody knew everybody....
MELLIS: [interrupts] Well, there were only 600 students at that time, I think. And I think that included...yeah, that included the....
SHUSTER: Grad students?
SHUSTER: The grad students?
MELLIS: I think it included Grad and [Wheaton Christian] Academy because it was all right here on campus, you know. And people did know pretty well, yes, they did know who you were dating...oh and how. I...when I went with this guy that I was going to church with, I went to the Washington banquet with him and I remember afterwards, the next step is first year and the next year I remember I was rooming with a gal who had been in love with him and who finally married him actually. And I remember then, she said, “I was looking at you and I was so...I was so jealous of you over there.” She was without a date that night. I said, “Well, I was with him but I was looking at somebody else that...with...and jealous of her because she was with somebody I’d rather have been with but I’d rather have been invited by the other one.” Yes, there was a...it was a smaller place. It was lovely. But it was wonderful preparation.
SHUSTER: Looking back from your years as a missionary, what things at Wheaton became particularly helpful to you?
MELLIS: Mrs. [Katherine Chase] Shapleigh’s statement about your fellow missionaries was one that I’ve never forgotten that I passed on to many people. President [James Oliver] Buswell, well, all of the teachers actually, the Bible teachers emphasis on what does God’s Word teach and keeping your eyes on that and not on what people say about it which was very important. Well, and just a lot of things at Wheaton, how to get along with other people with...in living. I didn’t live in the dorm but I lived at...at the Spaulding’s house. Mrs. Spaulding and Ms. Spaulding had eight girls upstairs and that was a real experience...that was my second year. My sister was my roommate that year. She was just starting and I was finishing...my, yeah, my senior year and her freshman. And the first year I had lived with Pearl Lowenstein and Emily [Clause] Mixter and...and Dorothy [Rood?] Erickson who was my roommate and has remained a friend through the years. And because of having been close to Emily I guess that’s one of the reasons I probably went to the Black Hills that summer with the Mixters. In fact, I rode out with the Mixters and then I rode back with them and they came to visit with our home on the way back. In St. Louis, they stopped over.
SHUSTER: Was there anything, once again, from your experience that might have been helpful to have that you didn’t get at Wheaton? Something that might have been included in the curriculum or in training here that would have been helpful to you?
MELLIS: I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of that and I...I don’t think so. I was...I was majoring in teaching and we...got some good...with that I got some good practice teaching which was helpful. Of course I had had some teaching anyway. I’d been teaching before I came but I still got some more. But...well, I never thought that they...that there was a lack and I’m thankful for everything I got.
SHUSTER: Let me ask you too, of course, the years that you were at Wheaton were also the years that the Great Depression started, the stock market crashed. Did you notice any effect that this had on Wheaton or the students and faculty who had not [unclear]?
MELLIS: I suppose...I think I went to work that year. I worked...I worked in a few homes.
SHUSTER: As a maid or as a...?
MELLIS: [interrupts] Yeah. Now, I’m not sure though whether I began that because of the Depression. I think I did that the first year. I’m trying to think whether it was first or second year? I don’t really remember. The Depression hit my father pretty hard.
SHUSTER: What did he do?
MELLIS: He was a builder at that time. But, dad was...I didn’t know this until years later. He was so dedicated to what he was giving people, he would not give less. And so he was giving out of his capital during that time, during the Depression time. Boy, it’s getting stormy isn’t it?
SHUSTER: I can give you a ride home if you want.
MELLIS: What do I hear, though?
SHUSTER: It’s the train, it’s the Northwestern [line]. [?]
MELLIS: Oh, it’s the train. I wondered if it was...whether it was hail. Dad was...dad did not cut down his giving to anything during that time. And I’m not sure I was working because things were a little more difficult or whether.... Of course, I had been on my own teaching that year I was home and I had intended to work in order to come. But dad had decided to send me so that I didn’t have to work very much.
SHUSTER: At the college itself, did they have to make any changes because of the national depression or...?
MELLIS: If they did, I wasn’t conscious of it.
SHUSTER: Of course, those years, ‘29-‘31, were also years that Chicago became well know as hangout for gangsters and Al Capone and the....
MELLIS: [interrupts] I remember that. Yeah.
SHUSTER: [continues] ...bootlegging. Did that impinge any way upon Wheaton?
MELLIS: One of the projects we had, one of those two years, I forget which group it was but one of our Christian active groups. We got in touch with somebody from YMCA who was a real Christian, I think from out here and he said if we would take their camp literature on the south side, we could distribute tracts and everything at the same time. So, we found that this was a real good way to get to the south side...south side of Chicago. And...and so we took the literature and went out on Sundays, I think or Saturdays. We went in teams of two, I went with a young guy...Gene somebody I remember. And as we went, we came across this little chapel sort of thing and as usual, I was curious and wanted to know what it was. Gene didn’t tell me that he had been there before until afterwards and so we were going to find out about it. And we went over and talked to two of the women that were sitting in front of it. Well, if we wanted to know more, we’d have to make an appointment with the.... But, this was Christ King of the Carpenter and this time he had come as a...I think a barber, I’m not sure.
SHUSTER: This is like a storefront church?
MELLIS: No, no, there was a little chapel built...chapel built, not a storefront I don’t think it was anyway, didn’t impress me as that. No, it looked like a church. But this one I think had come as a barber, he was born in Italy. But he was here now at this church. Well, we just had to know more about this. So, we made the appointment to come to see him. I think it was here Friday afternoon, we were to meet him. And, I don’t even remember if Gene came in with me. I think he did. I...I don’t seem to remember him though. It seems to me I was sitting there alone. When I came and knocked at that door, a little...little front door opened and this lady wanted to know and I gave her the name and that I had an appointment. Okay, she let me in just to this little anteroom. Then she went past this little curtain...hanging, disappeared and she would be back. And there I sat, waiting. I don’t think Gene did come with me, I think that I was pretty much alone. And afterwards, I found out that Gene had been around there before and he knew something about it and he didn’t even tell me. At any ra.... I mean, he didn’t know all there was to know about it, he just...he had investigated there a little bit himself.
SHUSTER: Was it like a cult or something?
MELLIS: Very much a cult. I...then I...when she came back. I never did have a poker face anyway, she said, “You don’t like it, do you?” And she took me in and she said he would...he would come. Once she went in I saw that there was a stairway leading up and sort of an incense smell. Then...but then she took me in on that same level to another room and then all of a sudden this guy appeared. And I declare, I don’t know where he appeared from, I wondered if there was a mirror or something...arrangement of something. All of a sudden, he was there. Well, was I interested in joining the cult and so forth. I think when he heard I was from Wheaton College, he knew right then I wasn’t really interested and so I got no place and I wasn’t finding out very much. When I got back, yes, this was my first year because Dorothy [Rood?] Erickson [?] was my roommate and she was from Chicago, north Chicago on the lake shore. She said, “Ruth Mellis, you mean to tell me you went in to that place that was locked in south Chicago, do you have any sense at all?” I even told her I was going. She had a fit. I thought, well, after all I went to try to get the Gospel to people. And we had given out tracts and I was even going to give them out there. I don’t know if I did, I probably did try to give them, too. And, at any rate, about a year after I graduated, that was two years after this event because that was during my first year, she sent me this Chicago paper with the headlines “The love cult” that had been exposed. This guy was...these gals that were around there were made to drink his bath water and all kinds of stuff and one of them got fed up on it and revealed all this and it got out on the front pages of the Chicago.... This was the place I was...locked up in, this woman locked the door and locked me in
there. Dorothy knew what she was talking about and I....
SHUSTER: So, what did this man say when you met him? He just asked you if you wanted to join the cult?
MELLIS: Oh, I don’t remember our discussion but I remember feeling that he was looking for converts and I wasn’t ready to be a convert. I was there to try to convert him if I could. So, I don’t even remember what the discussion was. But I remember what a dangerous situation it was to be in South Chicago and that you really need to be careful and that I hadn’t been as careful as I should have been that time.
SHUSTER: Well, maybe this would be a good point to break. When we talk again on Monday, you can talk about your mission work in Ethiopia and Greece and Mexico.
SHUSTER: Thank you for everything so far, it’s been fascinating.
MELLIS: Thanks for your interest and I’m so glad we’re going to be able to talk about....