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Ethel Herr . . . an Amazing Woman, Author, Friend.

Ethel Herr . . . an Amazing Woman, Author, Friend.

Over the weekend, I read on author Robin Gunn’s Facebook that Ethel Herr is now on hospice.  I asked Robin if I could use her comments here as so many of you know and love Ethel.  She has been a part of Mount Hermon Writers Conferences for years, longer than anyone else I know.  She has fought cancer for the past years, and her doctor has seen the hand of God in her life because she lived it before him.  Robin says it so well . . .

Yesterday I received a call from the daughter of my dearly loved writing mentor. “We’ve called in hospice,” she said. “The cancer has spread and now her liver is failing. It won’t be long.”

I closed my eyes and tried to imagine a world without the vibrant, constant presence of my unsung heroine and longtime friend, Ethel Herr. It could not be. It should not be.

Ethel was the one who initiated our relationship at a writer’s conference decades ago. She didn’t know that her warm greeting would spark an undying affection in my novice heart. I’m sure she never expected that I would politely track her down before the conference was over and nervously beg to be included in the critique group that met in her home. How gracious she was to let me come to visit the closed group and share what I’d been writing.

“It’s a novel for teens,” I explained to the five experienced writers who viewed me at that first gathering with what I interpreted to be masked scowls. “The girls in the youth group are helping me write it. But it’s not going well. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Ethel asked me to read the first three pages. I did. She gave a quick scan of the other faces in the circle and said to me, “You definitely have some work to do. Let’s do it together. Come the first Wednesday of every month. We work from nine to three. Be prompt and bring a sack lunch.”

For the next six years I arranged for a babysitter and drove an hour each way in order to “put my feet beneath the table” as Ethel called it. Her Parts of Speech Critique Group rejoiced with me when my daughter was born. They rejoiced even more when the first Christy Miller book was published. Then the work began in earnest as they lovingly helped me shape the rest of the series, carefully critiquing each chapter.

During those years I know that Ethel put aside her own writing many times so that I might receive the extra attention my current chapter needed that month. Much of her energy was spent as a full time caregiver for both her mother and her grandmother who lived with Ethel and her husband at that time. Her three children were grown and married. She spoke of them with such affection that I felt I knew her son and daughters without having met them. She loved all things Dutch and every spring the gathering table was adorned with a bouquet of tulips cut from her backyard.

When our family moved to Portland my visits with Ethel became scattered but always sacred. Her love of history was kept alive every spring when she came to Multnomah Bible College to present the Ethel Herr award to a history graduate for outstanding achievement. Her gift for mentoring writers was exercised heartily each year at Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference.  She was always ready to stop, listen and linger.

I think Ethel viewed people as forests; magnificent forests with all kinds of fascinating things growing and running about. Conversations to her were the paths through those forests. Along every path lay eternal truth just waiting to be discovered. She was never timid to enter any forest no matter how overgrown, shadowed or foreboding it seemed. She believed in the nuggets of deep value hidden in every forest and her tenacious spirit would not stop until she found that treasure and held it up in the light. The sense of wonder at the discovery was always mutual.

When Ethel’s daughter gave me the update yesterday I suddenly felt lost. How could there be a world without Ethel?  But then I could see her Ethel’s face. I could easily imagine my forever friend lingering on this side of heaven with a childlike expression of anticipation for what awaits her when she enters the presence of our Glorious Redeemer. She will be the treasure that his nail-pierced hand plucks from the shadowy overgrowth of this fallen planet. He will bathe her in His radiant light. The wonder of it all will be revealed.  And at last she will fully be where her heart has always been; in the palm of His hand.

But oh, how she will be missed.

Right before Ethel’s daughter hung up yesterday she said to me, “I don’t know if my mom ever told you, but my daughter loves your books. Especially the Christy Miller series.”

I could barely swallow her closing words. What an exquisite elixir of joy and pain when a full circle is completed in such a way as this.

Ethel’s daughter, Martha, said the doctor told Ethel she could do anything she wanted from this point on.  She informed him she wanted to eat lots of cookies and ice cream.  Sounds just like her, doesn’t it?

Lissa Halls Johnson is collecting comments from writers who have been inspired by Ethel over the years. She’ll be sending the compilation on to the family.  So if you wanted to add those here, I’ll be sending this link to her so she can pull comments from it for that purpose.

I’m sure the family would appreciate prayer as they travel these next days together.


View Comments (9)
  • Sweet Ethel: calm, quiet, earnest, and sincere. What a lovely person, what a joy to be around. She’s a treasure and I will miss her greatly at Mount Hermon. She has fought a good, hard battle and I also know that her joy will be profound when she enters Heaven. God loves her, as so many of us do. Ethel, you will be missed here, but I’ll see you “up there.” Love & hugs, B.J. Taylor

  • During all the years of being on writers’ faculty with Ethel, her constant, sweet spirit has been a sort of glue that has kept the peace, and kept us knowing that we were covered by her prayers. I’ve seen her angry, yes, but only if an injustice was done to a conferee or faculty member. Her constant faith has carried her through this illness and given hope to many along the way. Thank you, Ethel, for your example of joy, faith and steady, undying love through the years.

  • I first met Ethel when she critiqued an article for me at the Mount Hermon Writers’ Conference. Her feedback was warm, affirming, and gracious. Her warm blue eyes focused on me as we spoke, and I sensed a kind and loving heart.
    Several years later I “happened” to sit next to Ethel during lunch at the Castro Valley writers’ conference. I was facilitating a writers’ critique group, but was hungry for input from writers more experienced than I. As we chatted, I mentioned that if there was ever an opening in Ethel’s critique group, I’d love to be part of it. I submitted something for the group’s consideration and they invited me to join them.
    Since that time I’ve had the joy of learning to know Ethel much better. As she has shared her heart and her deep and abiding faith in Jesus, we have had the privilege of walking with her through her battle with cancer. I’ve seen her honor her Savior even while going through the pain, the agony, of her body becoming progressively weaker. Ethel has been able to share her journey without self-pity, without accusing God, but being very real about the difficulties she faced, the confusion over treatment options, and her trust that in all this, God is still God and she will trust Him.
    I love Ethel; I love the courage and strength and vulnerability with which she has fought the good fight. I love her faith and resting in Jesus. I love her sharing when it hurts. She is a role model and mentor for me and I will always treasure our friendship.

  • Dear, sweet, talented, beautiful, dedicated, SUPER DUPER ETHEL! What a wonderful friend, educator, encourager, and EXAMPLE you have been to MULTITUDES . . . including ME. Your bright smile lights up any room . . . and EVERY HEART. No words can tell the influence you’ve had on my life. Both as a FRIEND, and as a writing MENTOR. How much I learned from you! In the early days, your gentle, but FIRM critiques were PRICELESS to my writing career. Your constant, “LIVING FAITH” serves as a shining example of exactly HOW God means FAITH IN HIM should and CAN be applied–to every minute of every day. It’s been no secret to you how much I have loved you through the years.

    And RESPECT! OH, MY GOODNESS, ETHEL! Taller than the tallest trees! Higher than the rockets fly! Swifter and broader and grander than the eagles soar! Do you know that I recommend YOUR WRITING BOOK every time I get a chance? I feel it is STILL THE BEST all-around writing book on the market. Filled (actually STUFFED!) with a TON of practical information written in easy-to-understand language. THE BEST!!

    This day I once again send you my love. And to your family, especialy that SUPER DUPER HUSBAND of yours. WHAT A GUY! WHAT A GUY! You two are a GRAND TEAM — pulling together — holding hands in a circle with God.

    I’ll add you to my church’s prayer list, so know that a TON OF LUTHERANS in SPOKANE, WASHINGTON will be praying, praying, praying . . . for YOU, dear Ethel.

    Looooooooove you TO BITS, FOREVER! . . . from CHRISTINE TANGVALD

    How blessed I am by God to have you for a friend.

  • I met Ethel at my first Mount Hermon Conference, in 1995. After taking one of her beginners workshops and walking away thinking she was the most knowledgeable woman I had ever heard speak, I bought her book An Introduction to Christian Writing. When I asked her to sign it at the autograph party, she checked my name tag to make sure she was spelling my name correctly. That triggered a discussion about my hard-to-spell maiden name, and we soon discovered that she had been my dad’s babysitter one summer. That night began our friendship.

    Since then she has prayed for and with me, encouraged me, and become one of my most precious mentors. Through her beautiful example, I learned how to critique with honesty and grace, speak the truth in love, be passionate about God, take time out of a busy day to just be there for someone, and make Christ the center of my writing pursuits. Most of all, she taught me to trust more fully in God and his perfect plan.

    I will miss everything about my friendship with Ethel. I will miss her wisdom-and-love-filled e-mails. I will miss her lingering hugs at writers conferences and hearing her soothing voice, “Oh, I love you, my dear.”

    At the 2011 MH Conference, on an afternoon when I felt tired and was considering skipping a workshop session, I attended one of Ethel’s poetry workshops instead. I don’t write poetry, but I just wanted to sit and listen to her speak. That hour revived my spirit and inspired my creativity.

    I can’t imagine not having Ethel in my life, but I know much more amazing things await her, and can already picture her radiant smile as she meets her Savior.

    I love you, Ethel! I can’t wait to see you again in heaven!

  • Sweet, loving, kind, honest, prayer warrior, Ethel. How you changed this greenhorn writer’s life in 1993. My first year at Mt. Hermon I was afraid to even speak. You prayed with me and for me. Any time I think of you, prayer is the first word that I think of.
    I can’t imagine Mt. Hermon without you.
    I bought your, Introduction to Christian Writing, book that first year and have
    recommended it to every new writer I have met ever since.
    What a blessing and a joy you are dear lady.
    You and your family are in my prayers.
    I think the Lord has given you the rare and beautiful gift of humility. You can’t possibly know how many lives He has touched through you and your obedience to the Lord you love so intimately.
    With a grateful heart and the deepest respect I thank you for lessons well taught, honest critiques in love that were necessary for this writer to grow, and hands and hearts united in prayer to glorify the King of Kings.
    Rest peacefully in the arms of your Beloved.

  • My Tribute to Ethel (by Wanda Viola)
    (I was able to share this with her last Friday before she died.)

    I met with Tom Shedd, the music director at Valley Church, Cupertino, in about 1988 to show him my new songs for a musical on the life of Peter. “You really should go see Ethel Herr,” he said. “She could help you develop these.” So off I went to find Ethel, though it was six months before she called me back to invite me to join her POS (Parts of Speech) writer’s group. Little did I know when I joined the circle around her table what a huge gift she would be to me!

    For about twenty years I have joined Ethel and other writers of books, articles, plays, songs, and poetry to critique and encourage each other’s work. Before I arrived, many books poured out of that group. When I was there, Barbara Larson wrote funny plays that gave us many laughs, Sherry Cox wrote of her walk with God through difficulties, Ruth Ruhl told of her MK childhood in China, Patsy Oda described her courtship and marriage, Bi Kjos wrote several books and numerous articles about Christianity and the New Age, Marjorie Wilser wrote historical articles, Nancy Hird wrote for children, Laurie Nemec wrote a book about plants and science fiction, and Katherine Fok described of her childhood in Hong Kong. Later, we gained new writers: Mimi Moseley with her book for mother-in-laws, Lisa Bogart with her wonderful knitting stories, Carol Nicolet Loewen’s articles about her grieving her husband’s death and new life, and Jane Baker with her humor and amazing book about Nellie Cashman, a miner. We laughed and cried around her table as we each shared our hearts, learned to write better, and grew in the love of Christ. Everyone’s suggestions were kind and helpful, building and encouraging, inspired by Ethel’s example, teaching each of us how to write for the Lord with excellence, truth, and transparency. If I were to write about all our adventures, I’d end up with a book!

    The first set of songs I brought to the group was from Who is This Man? Boy, did I have a lot to learn from Ethel—not convoluting or contriving rhymes. Then I had to stay on the topic—not go off on rabbit trails. (I had countless bunnies hopping around my pages!) I had many (too many) words. I learned to cut and splice, slash and dice (Sherry Cox is the expert!). As I brought my songs, Barbara Larson was inspired to write the script. A play was born!

    When I wrote stories and devotionals, I had to replace my long sermons with “Show, don’t tell”—a famous exhortation from Ethel. She wanted us to engage the reader, not lecture him. I wonder if Ethel ever thought I could I could leave the podium to sit by a fire and tell a story. But I’ve been learning from her patient mentoring and gentleness!

    When I brought a few songs about God’s healing in my life to POS (Parts of Speech), little did we imagine that someday it would become His Healing Love THE COLLECTION—six healing music CDs! Ethel and the group patiently worked with me on each song for several years. They taught me so much. But it wasn’t only the writing lessons I learned from. It was the love. They valued my thoughts and feelings. They took time to listen to my unraveling and meandering journey to help me find the words to convey the difficulties through the complex maze to wholeness. The agony in my heart gained a voice to speak not only of the pain and evil, but the hope and love of Jesus Christ who could take my broken heart and put it back together again. I found comfort in my tears and encouragement to continue to pursue God’s call.

    We’d always start the day with a devotional from Ethel. Usually it would be a Psalm. Often she would also include snatches from a devotional or a selection of art. She stretched our imaginations and gently nudged us to walk in deeper faith and see the face of Jesus more clearly. We also prayed for each other.

    What a story teller! We learned so much as we listened to each chapter unfold of the stories of Pieter-Lucas in Ethel’s trilogy of The Seekers, placing us right in the middle of the tempestuous religious changes in the sixteenth century going on in Holland. Later we got to hear of Juliana von Stolberg, a Countess from Germany in Dr. Oma, a book for young women. Then Ethel opened up her her new projects—her Christmas devotionals written to be a companion to Timothy Bott’s gorgeous calligraphy of the Messiah.

    Then Ethel met Ellen, a thoughtful cultural Jew. In Ellen, Ethel gained the closest of friends. Together they wrote Turning Boxes into Dance Floors, conversations between a Christian and a Jew. We listened and responded to Ethel and Ellen as they shared about their discussions—for instance, about the Holocaust. We reflected and grew by their thoughtful dialogues showing different perspectives. It was delightful to see Ethel so engaged and growing up throughout their thousands of e-mails and talks.

    Ethel exemplified sanctification. She faced the pain in her past and gave it, piece by piece to the Lord, demonstrating transformation, transparency, and forgiveness. During her journey through cancer, she shared her deepest struggles through her surgeries, treatments, and changing body, seeing God as her faithful provider and constant companion. She found her peace in Him. I trust that her writing of devotionals through this difficult time will help others through their dark days in the future.

    * * *

    Dear Ethel, how can we thank you for faithfully serving the Lord and us throughout your life? We have gained so much more than we can write in words! You love us and believe that God has a destiny for us to convey to others in words who He is and what He has so graciously done in us. This will continue to inspire us throughout our lives.

    As you draw closer to heaven, while you don’t wish to leave your family and friends (I am but one of hundreds that love you), you anticipate seeing His glory (you wrote a book about glory, too!). I, for one, envy you. I wish I could dance with you into heaven now. Someday I will. We’ll walk hand in hand amidst the angels and visit the Old and New Testament prophets and saints and see all our old friends again. What a joy to always be in the light of His presence forever!

    Dear Ethel, I will miss you so much. Your heart of love has touched me deeply. You are the spiritual mother and writing mentor I needed. You’ve given us all abundant gifts and served us faithfully. You’ve taken our hands and placed them in the hands of Jesus. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. We will always remember you with fondness…and see you soon.

    * * *
    Now, Lord, Ethel is bathed in Your love and Your glory!

  • 1976. I had just had my first article published, when someone at church gave me a flyer for a the Mt. Hermon Writers Conference and urged me to attend. Me attend a writer’s conference? I was just a harried mother of 6!!! Attending that conference was one of the bravest things I ever did. One of the first faculty members I met was Ethel Herr. She was so sweet and gracious and helpful to a terrified newbie. A couple years later Iater I was blessed to be on the Faculty and she was the same loving, generous mentor to new faculty. Over the years I always knew sweet Ethel was there to help and pray. In May,Jan Roger and I were blessed to have dinner with Ethel and her beloved husband. What a sweet time of fellowship. My husband had just been diagnosed with cancer…she was so sweet (that word keeps coming up) and said she would be praying for him and I was comforted knowing that to this prayer warrior those were not empty words. I cried a lot yesterday and then I pictured Ethel and King David strolling though Heaven’s tulip fields writing new Psalms. And I knew our dear, sweet, blue-eyed friend was right where she should be and The Lord was truly showing her his glory.

  • Just read today of Ethel’s passing into His glory. I first met Ethel at Biola’s first writers conference in 1984. She was a constant encourager as I attempted gathering words for publication, both in print and via email. A special memory was when my wife and I joined Ethel and Walt for an impromptu dinner in their Sunnyvale home as we made our way from the Bay area back to southern California. About six years ago our home group journeyed through her book, Lord, Show Me Your Glory. I will miss her.

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