Lifestyle

Federal Way octogenarian keeps Indiana in her heart

Elizabeth Dillard-Heron (seated in center with the blue showing on her pants) was honored at the 2009 I Celebrate You event. - Mirror file photo
Elizabeth Dillard-Heron (seated in center with the blue showing on her pants) was honored at the 2009 I Celebrate You event.
— image credit: Mirror file photo

Every year has the potential to leave its indelible marks on history. But some, more than others, have changed our way of life for better or worse. One such year is 1948.

That year, the Ford F-Series truck was introduced. The average salary was $2,950 per year. Gasoline was 16 cents a gallon. It’s the year Mahatma Gandhi was murdered.

The Summer Olympics were held in London. Prince Charles was born. Bing Crosby’s “Faraway Places” was burning up the music chart, and Oscar’s best movie was “Hamlet.”

But buried beneath the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown, or among the flotsam and jetsam of things we so desperately want to forget, there is a most powerful story that’s longing to be told.

This story wasn’t noteworthy enough to make it to Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post. And you wouldn’t find it inside the pages of The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, or Miami Herald.

In commemorating that fateful day 64 years ago, Federal Way resident Elizabeth Dillard-Heron, 86, recently reflected on the bittersweet memories with her only child, Calvin Dillard. The lovable woman’s memory is a lot sweeter than bitter, though, as she continuously gives thanks for every good deed that’s ever done to her.

Tired from the struggles of Oxford, Miss., Dillard-Heron’s mother, Beatrice Isom, and her seven children boarded a Greyhound bus headed to greener pastures in Oberlin, Ohio. The elation was short-lived just before they reached their destination.

On Sept. 18, 1948, while traveling through Indiana, Dillard-Heron’s infant sister, Joyce Isom, had difficulty breathing. Soon the family summoned the bus driver who veered off route in search of medical help for the child.

None of the passengers complained about the driver going off course. Just before he drove up to the hospital in Angola, alas, the baby died in her mother’s arms. The Sept. 20, 1948, headline emblazoned on the front page of the Toledo Blade read: “Infant Dies of Diphtheria After Bus Trip.”

The driver wept and could hardly be consoled when he found out that the child had expired, said Dillard-Heron. Lots of generous college students were on the bus and voluntarily collected money for the family.

Since Dillard-Heron was the eldest sibling, she decided to stay behind while her mother and younger siblings went on to their final destination. She was tasked with making funeral arrangements. And for a country girl stranded in a new city, that was quite daunting.

The hospital staff welcomed her with open arms, giving her lodging inside the nurses’ quarters, and fed her the choicest food. They took care of all the medical and funeral expenses. A local church donated a burial spot for the child’s remains on its premises.

Dillard-Heron’s biggest regret is that she has not gone back to Angola to say a formal thank you to the kind folks of that city, but hopes to do so soon. She said that not a day goes by without her thinking about the kindness that was shown to her by total strangers.

As a result of that outpouring of love, it would appear as though the affable mentor has been on a lifelong mission to brighten other people’s lives. She found her calling working as a dedicated administrator for 40 years at Oberlin College.

When students of all ethnic stripes were at their wit’s end, they already knew that they could call on Dillard-Heron at any time. They found her counsel was heartfelt and wisdom-filled. She was the mother or aunty away from home.

What struck me most while Dillard-Heron related her story was how people added value from their lives to hers in a traumatic period of her life. It was a time when segregation was the order of the day in various states throughout the country.

A hard-fought campaign was under way between Harry S. Truman and Thomas Dewey, with the election less than two months away. Yet nobody cared whether a young woman and her family were Democrat or Republican.

They cried and laughed together. They showed the family that pain and joy were emotions much bigger than politics and skin color.

Dillard-Heron was among the first recipients of the “I Celebrate You” award in 2009, shortly after she moved here from Ohio to reside with her son.

The 2010 Census listed the population of Angola, Ind., at 8,612. But its impact has touched the world. The motto, “Proud of our past, planning for our future,” speaks volumes for its residents.

Perhaps the benevolent bus driver, doctors, nurses, pastors, and others that aided Dillard-Heron 64 years ago have long been dead. But a heartfelt thank you never goes out of style.

Thank you for nurturing our angel, Liz, in the power of unconditional love.

 

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