Eller Chronicles Aug 1988-p2


( part I of this story )


When Jay Eller finished his first year of post graduate studies at the U. of W. in Seattle, he was twenty-seven years old. He had been paying school tuition for seven years. He had had no earned income the summer of his brother Dan's death, nor the summer that he had been at the University of Chicago. Eller had been engaged to Geraldine Crill for most of two years.

Eller decided that it was time for him to shift from outgo to income-from a sponge soaking up everything to a contributor to life. He had signed a contract to teach science in Wenatchee High School.

The wedding date was set for June 20, 1926 at Emmett, Idaho. The place was to be the new Church of the Brethren, where no previous weddings had ever been held. Jay finished his year of being a fellowship instructor at U. of W. and Geraldine finished her year of being a fifth grade teacher at Wardwell School. The services followed the same plan as that of Geraldine's parents. The ceremony followed the close of the Sunday sermon, in front of the entire congregation and the gathering of numerous relatives from all over Southwestern Idaho.

The wedding dinner for this large contingent of Crills and Yants was held in the farming area known as the "Bench." Uncle Cyrus and Aunt Ella Wolfe's farm had a large grassy lawn, space enough to set up long tables; rocking chairs for the elderly and running space for the toddlers; taking pictures, teasing and giving advice to the newlyweds.

As the afternoon wore on, it was evident that most of the male relatives were huddled together in the back yard, holding a pow-wow of some sort. Knowing her relatives as she did, Grenadine could easily guess what the motives of this conference were. Kidnapping the groom might be the least of them. The best man took the bride's maid to the car, started the engine and pulled into the driveway as if taking her home. He slid the car past the newlyweds, and the Ellers popped into the back seat as the car was gaining speed.

These country roads were laid out in a grid pattern; east and west, north and south, making blocks approximately one mile square. Instead of heading directly toward town the driver started away from town intending to throw any followers off before going around the block to turn back towards the highway.

About half way down the east-running road was a car stopped across the road and a group of people standing about it. If the would-be pranksters were smart enough to create a road block at that corner, then all they had to do was to have followed the car and set up a block at the west end.


They would have the escapees bottled up tightly with a cork at both ends and no outlet open between. The best man swirled the car around fast, stepped on the gas, hoping to out run the pursuers and pass the north corner before the other Crills arrived.

Geraldine turned around to look out the back window to see if the pursuers were following, just as the car at high speed crossed a culvert in the road. That bounced her against the roof, where her face hit a strut.

There were no cars waiting at the north end of the block so the driver turned west to follow a little used trail down the west side of the Payette River. The next morning the bride had a black eye that would have done credit to a KOed prize fighter. That black eye was the cause of much teasing from the relatives for years, especially when it was confirmed that not a soul had left the Wolfe farm to follow the car.

Since the Ellers had spent Sunday evening fleeing when no one was chasing them- -on Monday evening the gang of male relatives spent hours hunting the Ellers when they had no known reason for hiding. The huddle in the back yard at the Wolfe's was a plan to respect Mother Felthouse's Sunday, but they would drive from forty to fifty miles to get the couple on Monday. Rollie and Pearl Crill would have the pair available by inviting them home for supper on Monday evening "as easy done as said."

The first slip was that Ellers did not stay at Crills to spend the evening. They had tickets to a Chautauque program in town. The second twist of fate was that Brother Reuel and Cousin Harvey Wolfe both unknowingly each undid the other's efforts in keeping track of the couple: Reuel took off in Dad's car in the wrong direction. No problem- -the Ellers just set out to walk to town, Harvey, coming from town, saw the couple getting away so he took them in his car to keep track of them.

In the meantime the crowd had arrived, but there were no newlyweds to "shivaree." Chasing all over the valley looking for the Ellers took hours of time and did nothing to solve the mystery of what had become of the two. Much past going home time, Harvey was finally able to deliver the couple, he had been "tailing" all evening. Then the "hulla-baloo" began.

Rollie and Pearl Crill "just happened" to have ice cream and cake for all of them, which Geraldine and Jay served to everyone. The big plan was, however, to throw Jay Eller into an irrigation ditch. That was considered to be a "shoo-in." Wasn't the guy a college graduate and a preacher softie? Wasn't there a dozen or so men to do it? The one thing the group had mistakenly failed to consider was that Jay Eller was also a farm-raised boy. He had played some football and basketball in college. He likely out-weighed any one of them by fifty pounds. They found him too heavy to carry. They decided to spreadeagle him and all help carry. It was one against many. But, the many were disorganized. It took only one to lose their grip on his leg for Eller to flex it and then straighten it with a jerk to send a whole line of them tumbling. The family dog excited by the melee got into the act. It was hard to retain one's grip on a fighting man and a biting dog at the same time.


Eller was finally wrestled to the bridge and thrown in. But--he did not go in. He recovered his balance and was still on the bridge. Harry Crill decided that he could slip close enough to give Eller a shove that would push him into the water. Harry never realized that Jay was just waiting for someone to try that. When one man did, Eller simply tackled him, taking him into the water, too.

The fun was over, but a new idea was a-borning. This fellow was no "lily-livered city-slicker" or "patsy prim" preacher that they had assumed. As they talked among themselves afterwards expressions were to be heard "strong as an ox," "I'd hate to meet him alone in the dark," et al. Jay Eller had been bonded into the family as an equal. In fact many came up to him saying, "if anyone else tries anything on you, I am on your side." So they headed for the long drive home, many hours later than intended; wet, torn clothes and some had aches that stayed with them for a week...but they had a strong new advocate in the family.


When Eller met Principal Wellington Pegg, he admitted that he had looked up "geology" in an encyclopedia to be certain of what it was. Eller had not studied geology before. Mr. Pegg's reply was, "Do you think I would want a teacher on my staff that couldn't stay two weeks ahead of a class of high school students?"

So Eller and the class studied geology together. They found it such an enriching experience. One had only "to lift his eyes unto the hills" to see the science of geology all about him. The class made many field trips to get a "hands on" experience. The group ranged from the Ginkgo Forest on the south, to the Grand Coulee on the north (there was no dam there then) to the uplift mountains on the west and the glacier planed, flattened, hills on the east.

When the Rock Island Dam was built it became an open text book for the physics classes. Jay often told these classes that the day would come when the Columbia River would be dammed all along its course, to create electrical power. Most of them hooted at the idea. Eller would add "maybe not in my lifetime, but in yours." Years went by and these students meeting Eller on the street, would tease him about being such a poor prophet. He was still alive and well and the Columbia was already almost a series of ponds, the water backing up from one dam to the other.

In most schools, staying after school was a no-no! Most students avoided it at all costs. At W.H.S. it came to be a standard operating procedure for some of the students of physics, under Eller. There it often became necessary to send the scholars away, in order for him to lock up and leave.


The group tended to try all kinds of experiments and "lab' procedures not outlined in the text. One year the gang cut goldfish out of tin to award to winners, mostly for dubious accomplishments. One year, one of the boys got a home movie camera as a Christmas present. It soon showed up in the after-school gang. The group never wrote a script but shot many kinds of scenes and various light adjustments. At last the decision was made to get organized and go professional. Instead of a script, the decision was made for a title, and general theme. Each actor was on his own. The title was "How to Drive a Teacher Crazy."

When the film began to roll, every student did some forbidden thing: chalk flew, spit balls became ammunition, et al, etc., et al. Finally the camera followed Eller as he went to the window, threw up the sash and prepared to end it all by jumping from three stories up. Then the camera man went outside and zoomed up the building to the man who was about to jump.

This wasn't on camera, but the crew and teacher went around the building to a basement window, where Eller was in it, prepared to leap. Which he did landing all sprawled out on his face. This was only a jump from a foot or so to the ground.

When World War II was over, the lad with the camera came back to his Wenatchee home. He reported that he had taken that film with him into the service. The men's off duty hours often found then despondent, critical, crabby, some sick, making them hard to live with themselves or others. Then he would get out the film "How to Drive a Teacher Crazy." The men laughed till they cried and were "rolling in the aisles." They demanded to see it over and over again.

The report to Eller, when the film owner got home, was that this form of cheering-up-the-boys, was so popular, that the film was patched and spliced beyond running. It finally had to be dumped in some army post garbage can.

Sixty years later the secretary, who worked in the principals office below the physics lab, reported that she thought for awhile that Eller must have a herd of buffaloes in his room.

Another confession that came back after the war, showed up as a hand scar. The man said that he got it in Eller's physics room at W.H.S. Eller could not recall such an incident. The story then came out. Eller had told them that light was a blend of all the colors together, and the man said that he did not believe it. He and some cronies decided to slip back into the lab some time when it was vacant and put the color wheel to the test. He reported that they had no trouble getting into the room and locating the color wheel parts. It was no great trick to slip the color wheel on the spindle and turn the crank to set it rotating. The problem they ran into was that they had put the color wheel on backwards. As it began to spin fast enough to blend all the colors sure enough it was white-but-since the wheel was on wrong, the speed was fast running the

color disc off instead of on. Any minute now it would go spinning off into space and make ruination of itself and anything it might hit. To keep that from giving them away, he reached out and grabbed it. It cut like any rotating wheel would. He considered himself lucky that it was a cardboard disc and not of steel. Had it been he would have lost a finger. Even so he still had a scar.


Today's hoopla concerning compulsory testing is "Much Ado About Nothing." It has been the law of the land for scores and scores of years. Just new diseases tested.

Ever since the days of "Typhoid Mary" and Robert Louis Stevenson's "T.B.", the particular "Right to Privacy" re health concerns has been subordinate to the "Public Rights for Protection."

There are many places where testing is a prerequisite to employment, i.e. Public food handlers, nurses, school teachers and others.

When Jay Eller's first chest x-ray results came back from the "lab" it had this note attached: "Lungs all clear. Congenital absence of one rib."

The faculty had lots of fun over that. "The preacher on the staff was living evidence of the 'Book of Genesis."' Geraldine was happy to know that Eller had the right wife. The missing rib was a short one.


Not having school busses, the students went in a number of private cars, usually driven by parents, only occasionally by a student. One trip took the class into the Grand Coulee area. They came back at dusk through Waterville, where the class stopped to eat.

The one student driven car had very dim lights. it would be nearly dark when the group reached Pine Canyon. In those days that grade was twisty, steep, narrow and tricky. Eller had told that student to stay in the middle of the caravan. Cars ahead of him would outline the turns coming up for him. The cars behind would hopefully throw enough light on the road to show where the edges were. When the students left the cafe, this driver and his cronies jumped into his car fast and pushed the pedal to the floor, before the leading cars were ready to take off.

The thing that probably saved his life was that the sheriff of Douglas County happened to be sitting on his front porch, resting, when the carload of students went by. The sheriff took out after the car and stopped it before it reached Pine Canyon Road. When Eller and the others came along, the driver was arguing and shouting at the sheriff who was trying to be calm and collected. He was getting no respect for the law. Eller did not have to "please the public." He used only six words. "Shut up! Sit in my car," which the boy did immediately. The law and the educator worked out the situation and penalty. A carload of boys had been saved from their own foolishness.

- 93-


The physics classroom was on the third floor front. Traffic and traffic patterns could be easily seen. One day two car drivers broke the physic's law that "two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time." Two cars crashed with a bang when they attempted to defy the law. Students all rushed to the windows to see what was the matter. After some time seeing the events as they occured, Eller said, "Back to your seats. I'm going to give you a written test."

The response was negative. "No fair, you didn't tell us we were to have a test today!" The teacher's reply was, "I did not know I was going to give you a test, but now I am. Get out your pencils and paper."

Eller began to write the questions on the board. "How many cars were involved in this accident? What were the colors of the cars? Which cars were going which way? How many passengers in each car?" and on and on in that line. Then he called "Time." To avoid changed answers as they were read aloud, the papers were exchanged and then the papers were read. All students had an advantageous position-three stories up. They all viewed the same scene at the same time. Clear unobstructed view on a clear day. Yet there were almost as many different answers as there were pupils.

Eller had taught them one graphic lesson. Be observant of the world about you. Do not believe that just because you were there means that you saw everything properly.


The fruit of a teacher's labor is an educated student. The teacher is judged by how his students measure up to life. When Jay Eller finally got his Masters degree in the early 40's, since the new "Wenatchee Junior College" did not have a campus, but met in high school rooms, it was easy for Eller to teach physics in both sectors. When the college moved to the Well's House campus Eller went along as science teacher. He added engineering and surveying to his load.

Then the U. of W. invited him to their faculty. Eller declined the offer. That being unusual the Professor asked him, "Why? Do you mind telling us why you stay in Wenatchee?"

Eller's reply was, "No, I don't mind at all. When I was a teaching fellow here, the U's student body was smaller than now. Even then the physics classes here were so large that the physics professor didn't know any of the students. Roll Call was taken by counting the empty seats. One big lecture could not answer the questions or fill their needs. The students were getting their physics, if they got it at all, from us- the 'lab' assistants. I want to teach students not lecture physics to a mass."

The inquirer said, "Eller, I guess that you are right. One thing I know, students coming out of your classes will be much better educated than those from the U."


The U. must have believed it too. Over the years when physics students could not seem "to make it" in physics at the U., their counselors would advise them "to drop out of the U., move to Wenatchee and take some classes under Eller." Some did that.

State University of Pullman must have met some Eller students also. The W.S.U. catalogue listed a physics class that one of the Wenatchee men wanted to take. The application was returned marked "never offered for lack of enough interest." The Wenatchee man needed the subject offered, so he asked to be allowed to work the class personally, with only minimum of faculty supervision. W.S.U. didn't reply to that. Eller asked his wife to phone, during school hours to ask about it. Geraldine could only hear one end of the conversation, when the professor said he would have to talk to the head of the Physics Department about it. Though the head of the department's words were not heard, it definitely seemed the answers were all negative. Then she heard the professor say, "I will remind you, Doctor, that this man is one of Eller's students." The whole idea seemed to change at once, for the reply given to Geraldine was "tell him we will be glad to enroll him in a personal course of self study as soon as he comes to Pullman."


The draftees in the Navy were given an examination at the beginning of their Naval career to determine their classification. Through the months it evidently became apparent that men from a certain area were ranking high in their science tests. The order was finally sent to the examiners "not to take the time and trouble of testing men whose records showed that they had taken their physics courses at Wenatchee Valley College. Pass them!"

It wasn't long after that the Navy tried to hire Wenatchee College's physics teacher. Their plan was to start Eller as a captain, with rapid promotions. Pay was good at that rating. An early retirement and its pension would be assured. Eller declined that offer also.

A young man left W.H.S. to enroll at Stanford U. in California. Eller met the lad's father on the street one day and asked about the son.. The father's reply was that his boy was unhappy there. To Eller's query as to what the problem was, the answer was "the physics classes."

That came as a surprise to Eller, because the man had been a good student in high school. The answer was that "the boy had learned at W.H.S. all the professor at Stanford was teaching." The classes were boring and a waste of time.

Eller told the father to write to his son and tell him to "challenge the course."

"What's that?"

"Have him to go to the dean or department head and ask to be given the final exams in this course now. If he can pass those' tests, he should be given credit for the course, and the grade he makes in the examinations. Then he should be allowed to go on to the next higher classes."


It was done, with a higher grade at the beginning of the year, than many of the class made at the end of the year. The man spent the rest of his life in the science field in California.

A little earlier the University of California at Berkeley had made inquiries of Eller to move there. All of these came under the same form as the U. of W.--too big, too many students, too impersonal. Jay Eller wanted to teach students not merely a subject.

After Eller retired, a man came out to his home to call on him. The man's first sentence was, "I came to thank you for flunking me twice in first semester physics." Jay, of course, remembered the man, and that he had taken the same course three times; but "why would you want to thank me," Eller asked.

The reply was "I have just retired from my life job-all in the physics field. If you had let me slip by, with just a vague idea, and not really have learned the true basics, I never could have had the work I've done all my adult life. Thank you."

Yes, Eller did know his students and gave them personal attention. A foreign student who was a good student, turned in a test paper one day with the question "Does heat go up the chimney by radiation or convection?" unanswered. Jay "kept him after class" and said, "don't you remember, we studied radiation an convection in our heat chapter? Don't you remember that?" The answer was, sure I know that--but I don't know what a 'chimney, is!"

While a teaching fellow at the U. of W. in 1125-26, Eller had a foreign student that had problems with English and spelling. Some teachers had been grading him down on these failings. Eller insisted that if his English was adequate to show that he really understood the scientific thesis of the course, he should be given credit.

Unless there are two men with the same name, the same age and the same country, one of the European Allied Generals who served so heroically on the eastern front in W.W. II, might not have very good English but he had "plenty of smarts-" He had been in Eller's laboratory section at the U. of W. 1925-1926.

After the war, one of the W.V.C. students who had shown little interest in doing much of the assigned work in physics class got a "flunk" from Eller. That fall when he tried to enroll at the U. of W. that class was a prerequisite for what he wanted to take, That ended that! "Sorry!" Later the Prof. called the student back. "I see that your credits are from W.V.C. in Wenatchee. Did you have Eller for your teacher?" When the answer was positive, the Prof. said, "If you have been in Eller's classes for a year, and flunked, you likely know more physics than many students from other schools who passed. I'll enroll you without the required course 'credits'."

Eller used to check with employers as to how his students could be helped. After all this was a new world out there, and he had his physics in the mid 1120's.


Boeing's answer was "don't change a thing! The laws of the universe have not changed. You teach basic science. If the employees come to us knowing 'how' and 'why' things happen as they do, thoroughly grounded in science, we can soon show them what we want. They can learn our system as they go."

Eller talked to one of the engineers for the company that put the first telecommunication satellite in space, "Echo I", about what he should teach budding scientists. "Teach them the basic laws of the world's operation. Every failure we have ever had has not been due to some new 'thingamajig.' It has been because some one slipped up on the fundamental laws of the universe."

Eller did some off campus teaching from time to time. One assignment was on the local TV station. Of course he had to leave his own class. The students were expected to attend unsupervised at W.V.C. One day in the middle of the lesson one of the college boys rose up and began sliding toward the exit. The TV professor stopped right there, pointing his finger directly at the screen, he commanded, ".....go back to your seat! I'll see you after class."

That really "boondogled" the campus class!! How could Eller know that one of them had decided to skip, and who it was? It is not supposed Eller ever told them, and the man may have not either. Eller had prearranged that to happen when he finished a certain sentence. Science and college professors were not supposed to be dry, dead and without humor.

Before the college had a campus, Eller used to give lectures to the R.N.'s at the Deaconess Hospital. Later on campus, he taught X-ray science to L.P.N.'s. The one class that he approached with the most fear and trembling was a class at the Alcoa plant. These were graduate engineers. They had contact with their science every day on the job. But Eller went.

One day in class he told them if "this and this" interacted with "that and that", "such and such" would happen. Almost to a man, they disagreed with Eller. He refused to alter his opinion even in the face of their disagreement. Near the end of the next lesson, one of the men said, "Eller, I think we should tell you this. The other men do not plan for you to know it. I think you should. Do you remember in the last class you told us something, and that we all said that you were wrong? After you left the plant, we decided that we had the time, the materials and the know how to build a model and prove you wrong. We built the model. It worked. It proved that we were wrong and you were right. The boys said not to tell you this--but I think you should know."

After the war, peace brought many foreign students. Eller became the advisor to the students from foreign lands: India, Poland, Yugoslavia, Algiers, Iran, Norway, Lebanon, Canada, Thailand, Germany.

Had Eller ever traveled abroad, it is doubtful if he would have the time to do the sightseeing of historic places. He would much prefer to renew acquaintances with former students.


Time finally came around to 1967. Eller had taught forty years in Washington schools. He was retired. He was out but not down. College classes never have a substitute teacher, the assumption being, if not the fact, that the students are adult and can carry on without a teacher present. Eller did sign up for a substitute teacher on call. He was called for all types of classes--from math to Junior High girls' home economics.

In these classes he encountered many of the children of his former students. They laughed at the same jokes that he had told their parents. Eller was also known to many through his Y.M.C.A. work with them when their fathers were away at war. Some days he substituted in the lower elementary classes. At times he wondered if he had spent his life in the wrong end of the educational system. These young were so much more open in giving and receiving. Their experiences were not nearly so blase' as they would be ten years into the future.

Eller was appointed to serve on Wenatchee School District No. 246's Title 1 Advisory Committee. This had largely to do with government funds provided for the upgrading of the education of the valley's migrant children. When Eller got to one meeting, the teachers were all hyped up about a new "encode/decode method for teaching reading." It was marvelous to see the reading improvement among the migrant children whose schooling was often neglected. Eller soon said, "As an old man, not up on this marvel, will some one explain it to me?" Some one did. It was very clear and plain to an old college professor. "Oh, yes," he said, "'Phonics' worked wonders, until most public schools considered it 'old hat' and wiped it out for something new." Eller had lived long enough to see a full cycle--an old method under a new name--come back again. The nation is now faced with thousands of adults who cannot read well enough to hold jobs. The public school had substituted a 'glittery' method of reading instead of a system tried and true. The old method had to sneak into the schools under a fancier name, if it was so good for migrants why not for locals?

As Eller was connected with the best of the past, he was in touch with the future. During W.W.II there was a Wenatchee lad on a naval vessel in the Pacific. It was operating under a "gag order." It could receive any incoming messages it chose. Under no circumstances was it to reveal its presence by sending out any message.

One August day in 1945, the incoming air was crackling with excitement. Something big, unusual and important had happened over Japan. The near hysteria seemed to have some connection to an A bomb. Bombs were common on every front. What did calling it "A bomb" have to do with the flurry? A bomb is a bomb, isn't it?


The air waves were filled with nothing else. The top brass considered breaking their orders to ask for an explanation. Word came up to the captain that there was a man in the crew that seemed to know what they were talking about. He was heard to say, "Dr. Eller said that it would be possible to release the awesome power of the atom's energy. Scientists were working on how to do it." The captain's orders were, "Send him to me at once." After the man had explained atomic energy to his captain he was put on the intercom all day to explain it to all the crew.

Lest one gets the impression that U. of W. ranked all students taught by Eller as upper classmen, one should look into the U. of W. Philosophy Department. Several semesters at W.V.C. Eller taught a philosophy class. He used the "Five Great Philosophies of Life" as his text. i.e. "Pantheism," "Deism," "Stoicism," "Hedonism." "The Compulsion of the Ideal."

After some time the "U" informed W.V.C. that they would not credit such classes. The reason? "They were too practical." That brought loud jeers from Wenatchee students! "Practical! What did the U think they were spending their money and time for?" Of course "Practical learning."

Eller decided at least it wasn't "practical" to spend a quarter of the student' time, and his, if the U. would not give the student credit for the time spent, and the grade earned.

While Eller was still at the high school a fieldman for one of the Brethren Colleges came to the school to interview prospective seniors, with Wellington Pegg's permission. As they met, Mr. Pegg told the man that "Wenatchee had a man on the faculty from the Brethren College at McPherson." Pegg said that "the man's name was Eller." The fieldman replied "that there had been an Eller starting in the Academy the year he graduated. It could not be the same man." The men met that day in the hall, and it was the same man.

The fieldman came out to the Eller's house that evening to tell the story, and as he said, "to thank the powers that be, that at the time, he had kept his mouth shut."

The story was that he had seen Jay on the campus that first fall. He said to himself that "surely the college president and his fieldman must bear some responsibility in urging some people to attend college. This kid should never have been signed up. It was certainly obvious that it was morally wrong to take his time and money. He was going to be able to do nothing with what little he would learn at McPherson College! The kid was a dry land farmer. That is all he would be able to do. Why waste his and others time putting him through school." The man told the Ellers that he had come to the Eller home "to eat his words.,, He said, "the only thing I can salvage out of this is, 'I never found time to go to the President's office and tell him what I thought."'

The one lesson it taught was that it counts for little as to where we come from. The important thing is what one does as he is "going."



In 1924 Jay Eller had asked to be sent to China as a teacher for the Church of the Brethren, when he graduated from college in 1925. The Mission Board was faced with a financial recession, making that impossible.

Before Eller left the McPherson campus the college church asked Eller to let them elect him to the ministry. The church then had three rankings in the ministry. First was the licensing, as a trial period, usually a year or more; second was ordination for life. The McPherson, Kansas congregation ordained Jay Eller to the Church of the Brethren ministry on May 3, 1925.

Eller preached his first sermon in his father's Armourdale Mission" in Kansas City. Then he and his father went to Annual Conference in Winona Lake, Indiana. George Eller was a member of the church's "Standing Committee," roughly equivalent to the country's Congress. Jay Eller served the Standing Committee as errand boy--equivalent to congressional "page." Down through the years, Eller would eventually serve several times as Washington State's Standing Committeeman to his church's Annual Conference.

The third position of the Brethren ministry was that of an "elder." This office is outlined in Exodus and Numbers and repeated in Acts. The eldership was first inaugurated for Moses, "to help him bear the burdens of the leader of the people." The Church of the Brethren criteria for eldership was directly from the Scriptures: "A man of experience, wisdom, gravity, firmness and fortitude." Under the pastoral care of C. Ernest Davis, the Wenatchee VAlley congregation advanced Jay Eller to the third degree of the church's ministry--the Eldership.

During the forty years that Jay Eller taught in the Wenatchee public schools, he served some congregations in the area as their preacher for twenty years. He first preached for a group that met in the "Lone Star" school house on the Stemilt, under the auspices of "The American Sunday School Union." For some years he met with the Palisades S.S. Union at the school house.

Eller was the minister for some time at the Waterville Federated Church, also for the Presbyterians at their Orondo group. He served for a number of years as the preacher for the Christian Church group at Malaga and for the Congregational Church at Peshastin. He got them united with the Methodists with enough income to pay a full time pastor.

In the years when the Wenatchee Protestant churches had only one staff member, Eller filled most of the pulpits in town during vacations, illness or other necessary absences of their ministers.

In Churches of the Brethren, only an ordained elder could serve as moderator. Eller was Elder-in-charge across the Washington District: N. Spokane, Mt. Hope, Plain, Sunnyside, Tacoma and at Wenatchee Valley for seventeen years.


Eller served as Wenatchee Valley's Brethren pastor when the Great Depression so depressed apple prices that the valley growers often did not get cash from apples sold outside of the valley. Instead they were billed for transportation costs. The following season they had no money to even buy spray. Unsprayed trees were a threat to the valley. The U.S. government condemned the unsprayed orchards. Bulldozers were equipped with headlights and hundreds and hundreds of prime orchards were pushed out day and night.

Most of the Brethren members were apple growers. Since they could not sell their apples, they had nothing to give to the church. Less than five years before, the Wenatchee Valley congregation had borrowed money from the Sun LIfe Insurance Company of Canada to finish the building they had started at the corner of Okanogan and Peachy Sts.

About two dozen Brethren families then allowed the mortgage to be put on their homes as collateral for the church building. The depression deepened until the treasurer had no money to treasure.

The "Sun Life" gave the congregation a moratorium if they paid at least the interest. The pastor's salary was so far in arrears that he had more I.O.U.'s than cash. He resigned to look for other work. Eller agreed to preach for the Wenatchee Valley Brethren for whatever was left after paying utilities, interest on the mortgage and payments on the salary owed to the former pastor. The least he ever got was $0.25.

District of Washington

Church of the Brethren

For twenty-five years Jay Eller held some district office, from Editor of the District News, distributed to all the members in the state, to chairman of the District board. There were several years that Orville Booth, Children's Work Director, Ross Heminger for Youth and Jay Eller for District Board were not seen in their own church on Sunday. They traveled among all the congregations on their weekends to aid, encourage and counsel all the Brethren congregations in the state. The state had no district secretary.

The District of Washington held its first "summer assembly," a camping program, on Lake Chelan in 1925. One was held annually after that in different parts of the state. It often drew from 300 to 400 Brethren. Jay Eller served in all these camps, excepting the first two. A quarter of a century ago the Brethren in Washington bought and developed acreage near Cle Elum. There they built "Camp Koinonia" now rated by a builder qualified to know, as a one million dollar property.

The Winter of our Discontent

The summer of 1930 the chairman of the Washington District of the Brethren Church called the Ellers to ask them to take the pastorate of the Seattle Church. The man knew that Eller had not finished his Master's degree at the U. of W. The proposal was that the church would pay them half-time salary and Eller would go to the U. the other half.


Wenatchee High School got Merle Travis to take the physics classes. Eller was granted a year's leave of absence.

The Seattle Church did not have a parsonage. Ellers had to pay rent on a duplex, just across the street from the Seattle Zoo. The wolves howled at night, the elephant trumpeted by day. The fog horns moaned, and bombs burst. It was thirteen blocks from the church and miles from the U. of W. science buildings.

As the progressed, it was apparent that in these depression years the church could not pay even half a salary. Eller's rent was due nevertheless. Tuition, street car fate to get to school, pastoral calls on church members miles away were costly too. Some people were using their gas stoves to commit suicide.

Young son Eldon was so allergic, that it seemed as if Geraldine and the two boys would have to return to Wenatchee's climate to cure him. We could not financially support two households.

The Seattle baker's union was on strike. At least one night or more out of each month the sound of a bomb exploding in some bakery shattered the night. There was a bakery fronting on Greenwood avenue that backed up to Ellers garage on 59th Street. A complaint was filed with the Health and Sanitation Department regarding rats. The inspector came to the Eller's back yard to talk, While standing there in conversation, a big brown rat ran past, with a fresh doughnut in his mouth.

Once again Eller was so far behind his class work that he dropped out without getting full credits.

The Ellers not only had real wolves at their door by the mythical wolf would have taken over the apartment if it had not been for a bridgebuilder in the congregation. W. Mseltzer had a job in spite of the depression. He worked for a Gary, Indiana company that contracted to span rivers and bays. He had just finished a bridge over San Francisco Bay. He was now employed to help build the "Aurora Bridge" in Seattle. The good man had a habit of leaving a ten dollar bill in the pastor's palm when he shook hands before leaving. Geraidine's cousin Susan Baker came up from Oregon to help. Ellers had a much beloved daughter born in March.

September 1931 the Wenatchee Valley looked very appealing. True enough, before the year was out Eller with the other teachers, would teach Wenatchee students for no pay at all. Wenatchee School District 246 had been paying their teachers with warrants (I.O.U.'s) instead of cash. if one could find a buyer these could be sold, at a discount of course. The time finally came when the district had reached the legal limit they could go into indebtness. They had no choice but to close the schools before norman closing time.

The state set the quota of how many days had to be taught for the students to receive full credit. If the schools were closed early it would be the student who would be cheated. The teachers voted to finish out the school year for them without pay. And it was so!


The Eller children set a record that was never broken before or since. They are likely the only people that ever attended the Wenatchee Valley Brethren Church--barefooted in the summer time.

A Y'S Man

Jay Eller first met the Y.M.C.A. in 1919 when he went to MCpherson College in Kansas. It was a life long love affair. From the camp of the Y.M.C.A. in Colorado, until he was taken to the Wenatchee hospital when he died, Eller was a Y man.

Eller's first experience with the Wenatchee "Y" was with the W.H.S. swim team, who did their training in the "Y" pool. The summer after his first year of teaching Jay was employed by the Everett "Y" as a member of "Camp Wahitub's" summer program. The Ellers were in the camp from its summer opening, until its closing for school. A different set a campers came to Lake Champlain every ten days. When the Eller's first child decided to arrive early, before his parents return to Wenatchee, Geraldine and Vernard stayed at the Everett Hospital. Jay helped run the "blackberry" camp. This was arranged especially for the cities, less privileged boys. The "Y" furnished crates and picking buckets to the campers who spent part of the day picking wild blackberries. These the "Y" sold in town to pay the boys' camping fees.

to be continued

( Part III of this story )


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