Pat Vine died a couple of days ago. Her funeral service will be Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at the First Presbyterian Church of Alton, Illinois. I am writing this so her lifelong partner, Betsy Simms, will know how Pat was respected and how Pat-and-Betsy will always be a linked phrase describing an important unit in my life and the lives of many. At the same time they fastidiously referred to themselves in an un-hyphenated way as Pat Vine and Betsy Simms, inferring, I think, a level of care and concern for being considered as different persons. Anyone who has had more than five minutes contact with Pat and Betsy knows they are two independent women, but inseparable in my mind for all that.
Pat was the daughter and only child of Agnes and Ben Vine. They lived on Twelfth Street in Alton in a historic house they carefully maintained. By this we know that the Vines had respect for history and traditions although Pat's life was not strictly traditional. That, I think, is important to understand. Alton was once grander than anyone remembers. It was mentioned in Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” as the city with the most millionaires in the country at the time. Major industries belched smoke and emitted glass milk bottles, cardboard boxes, leather, electricity, petroleum and chemicals, and steel. Alton receded and was absorbed into “Greater Saint Louis” and the industrial strip rusted down. The town did its best to retain its architectural heritage, and the Vines helped. Several stately houses owe their survival to Vine funding. For years after Ben died Agnes persisted in this.
Meanwhile, Pat departed from Alton to become educated and independent in my home town at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois where she met Betsy Sims. As far as I know they never lived separately after that. They became teachers, under the tutelage of Vic Shepherd, a family friend of ours. I think their time in Mac must have overlapped with that of Carolyn Ryberg Kingshill, a music graduate and fellow missionary in Thailand. “Small world” coincidences abound. Pat and Betsy spent their careers as high school teachers in Chicago’s western suburbs, a three or four hour GM&O train ride from Alton. In Lombard and La Grange Pat and Betsy were colleagues with my closest cousin, Pat York Alstrin and her husband Jim. I connected with them in 1987 when I became pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Alton. That’s when I met Pat-and-Betsy, as well as the indomitable Agnes. For a year I was only aware that Pat-and-Betsy came and went. But after a fire destroyed our historic church building Agnes and her daughters emerged as specific personalities and generous donors to the rebuilding project, filling in with big gifts for a new furnace and elevator, not covered by insurance. As Agnes’ health issues began to multiply my association with Agnes, Pat-and-Betsy became closer and more frequent. As Agnes put it, “Gravity is getting the best of me”. Gravity won. The historic house on 12th street was sold and Pat and Betsy build a house just a short walk down Godfrey Road from our house, from which we were departing to move back to Thailand.
For several years Pat-and-Betsy provided annual donations for charity work outside the budget that I undertook as a missionary. I know I was not alone as a grateful recipient. I repeat here, this was immensely important on several levels because it was strategic and timely. But I am grateful for much more than funds. Pat-and-Betsy were responsive when Pramote and I embarked on a lifetime partnership and encountered anti-gay turbulence that might have sunk our little ship. They were among the first to affirm us. A few years later Pat-and-Betsy drove their cumbersome mobile cabin from Eagle River, Wisconsin to Indianola, Iowa to celebrate our marriage, becoming two-thirds of the out of town guests. I think of Pat-and-Betsy gratefully and fondly as “there for us” when it mattered. In 2012 they invited Pramote and me to have supper in their snug house in Godfrey. We laughed and ate and parted one last time with hugs. (Pat is on the left in the picture above).
On July 22 I would love to be “there for them” when it matters. It pains me that this is not possible. I will have to leave it to others to hug Betsy and smother her in support as best they can. I will cherish the memory of our last supper together.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.