31 Years

It has been a contemplative week for Certain Man’s Wife.

31 years
ago on Thursday, there was a tragic accident in the life of our extended
family.  CMW has mentioned before on this blog that her Daddy’s brother, Jesse,
is married to her Sweet Mama’s sister, Gladys.  On that Sunday afternoon in
April, a young girl came around the corner on the wrong side of the road and hit
their volkswagen head on.  Their two sons, Robert, 18, and Joseph, 13, were
killed instantly.

It is funny to me how now, 31 years later, we are finally talking about it
on my mother’s side of the family.  The wreck happened a short distance from our
Wert Grandparents, and in a strange way, it was a blessing that, for most of our
families, we didn’t have to pass the spot in our daily travels.  My family has
been writing about that day.  It started with a posting that was a photo blog of
Robert and Joseph:

Late on the anniversary of their Homegoing,  their mother (and my Sweet
Mama’s) youngest brother posted this to the Wertlink Family Forum:  It was the
first I had heard some of these details, and it affected many of us the same
From Uncle Lloyd Wert:
__,_Things were so cheerful and happy just before the
accident.  Jesse’s had been at the 25th wedding anniversary for Raymond and
Wilma Kauffman and were now back at our home.  We all had been chatting in the
kitchen before they left.  Robert was eager to get back for the evening meeting
at Church if I recall and was pushing to get on the road.  Pop went out with
them to the car to see them off and everyone else stayed in.  Within 5 minutes
of them leaving, we began to hear sirens. Mama immediately started to worry when
the fire trucks and ambulances started arriving towards Cocolamus.  She wanted
us to make sure it wasn’t them. Pop and Mike and Phil drove to the road across
the dam since the road was blocked to the usual Cocolamus route.  As we came in
sight of the dam and looked across the water, Pop said, “That is their car”
which we could see was missing most of the front end.  Fear gripped both of us
as we saw how badly the car was mangled.  We kept driving to the road beyond
Cocolamus and as we attempted to turn left and get to the accident scene, a fire
police stopped us.  When Pop said, “That is my daughter and family in that
accident” and they allowed us through and we stopped just before the accident
and the boys stayed in the car as Pop and I went up to the accident scene.  I
found Jesse sitting on the bank nearby and said “Jesse, how are you?” and he
replied, “Things look really bad.  It doesn’t look good at all.”  He seemed in a
state of shock.  I saw the boys in the front of the car but did not go near, Pop
did. He reached in and touched both of them.  We were told that Gladys had just
left in the ambulance.  We did not know her condition.  I found Naomi and she
was being cared for by several of the ambulance crew and they were working on
her arm.  She was talking a lot out of anxiety and I’m sure fear and shock.  She
introduced me saying, “This is my Uncle Lloyd.”  I talked with her but I don’t
remember what all was said except that she apparently had some insight into
things as she suddenly blurted out, “I don’t think my brothers are alive.”  This
was the day before Naomi turned 11 years old.  When someone asked her age she
said, “I will be 11 tomorrow.”  Pop and I eventually drove back home with the
awful news for Mama and I held her for several minutes, both of us crying.  I
was in a state of disbelief and denial.  I kept saying to Pop that perhaps they
were still alive and he forcefully told me, “Lloyd, they are gone.”   Mike and
Phil were very quiet in the back seat and they both remember this as a most
momentous and somber time in their young lives.  (Mike was almost ten and Phil
was almost seven)  I remember calling people, a most difficult assignment.  I
got through to Paul who had been married to Erma for less than two years.  I now
assume that he was the only one I found at home because I remember talking with
Paul and no one else to convey what had happened.  He said he would be driving
right up and I kept telling him to be careful and not speed.  He must have given
the word to others and I believe others called back later.  Then someone stopped
by to say that one of us had to go back to the accident scene and pick up some
personal items before they towed the car.  As I received the items, they were
placing Joseph and Robert in the back of a carpeted station wagon.  As they
placed Robert, his right arm came across Joseph’ shoulder as if he was
comforting him.  I sobbed the whole way home.  For at least six months and
probably a year, I frequently awoke in the middle of the night with grief and
flashbacks of that scene and of that night. I was 36 years old and surely needed
counseling at that time which I never recognized until I look back on it.  Then
I think of what Jesse and Gladys and family had to face and work through.  And
to this day, this profound loss brings me to tears when I think about it.  I
guess we need to remember that heaven has no room for tears or sorrow or death
and that Robert and Joseph have a peace and comfort we will never know until we
are there with them.    Uncle Lloyd
There were lots of tears —
but a sense of being comforted somehow.  And then more memories began to come
From  the boy’s older sister,
Shirley Miller:
Thank-you so much,
Uncle Lloyd, for taking the time to write out that “first hand” account.  Some
of those details I have never heard.  Even though it made me weep to read it, it
also blessed me, if you can understand what I mean.  One thing I don’t know how
to explain is the “marvelous grace of God” and how it “held and carried” us
during that time, but it was very real.  And family is very precious during a
time of grief like that.  I still remember the comfort received from so many
that really cared.  God has been so good to us.  We don’t deserve His goodness
and yet He is gracious with us anyway.  I hardly know what words to use to say
what I’m feeling….my heart is full.  It has been a day of remembering and

Dear Uncle
        I also wept when I read your account.  Daniel and I were in
Plain City.  Uncle Jesse’s son, Jonathan, was boarding with our family for a few
months in preparation for going to Europe with a singing group from Rosedale
Bible Institute, and we were enjoying him immensely.  We were in church at
United Bethel when Mark, Jr. called and asked for Daniel.  He went out to take
the phone call, came back in and got Jonathan and took him out and told him.  At
that point, it seemed as if they were unsure if Uncle Jesse would survive.  He
came back in and got me, told me the news, and I gathered up our children and
headed out to the back.  I don’t remember what I said or how I said it, but I
must not have said it quietly, because, suddenly, there were people at the back
door of the church with us, trying to comfort and sort things out.  There were
no cell phones in those days, and we needed to wait for news, so Jonathan didn’t
immediately leave.  We came home to our house on the little hill, and waited for
the phone calls to go through.  I remember needing music, and putting on
Rosedale Chorale’s album that Shirley and David had sung in — “Oh, Jesus, Grant
Me Hope and Comfort.”  How desperately we needed it then.
 Jonathan gave up his plans to go to Europe.  He left shortly for Delaware.  We started to
put plans together for the same.  The Monday before, a half-starved, desperately
ill baby girl had been placed into our home as a foster child, and when we asked
permission to take her out of state, it was refused.  “We will just place her in
another foster home.  You can take Joseph and Salena, but Christina may not
go.”  We looked at the beautiful little girlie who had started to gain weight
and respond to us and knew that we would never let that happen.  “What in the
world can we do?”  Then Homer and Lena Beachy, substitute grandparents for our
foster babies came and said, “We will take care of the children.  We will come
to your home, and do anything that needs doing.  You GO!”  The State was okay
with that solution, and so we left and drove all night one night, got to the
church in time for the funeral,  spent the rest of the day and left again that
evening to return to Ohio.  Miriam Jantzi rode with us, and one or two others. 
It was such a sad, sad time.  The loss was inestimable.  

From the boys’ brother, Jonathan
Well, thanks to all for sharing your
memories–it has helped to talk about things–even 31 years later.  (Maybe we
did all need counseling)  I was out at Rosedale, staying at Dan and MaryAnn’s,
but I had only been there one week when the accident happened. i think that may
have been the last time I was at church at United Bethel Church in Plain
City.  I saw Dan Yutzy go out, and then he came and got me, and when I got the
news, it seemed all so unreal.  MaryAnn’s recollection of the time is very
accurate, and I flew home to DE the next morning, and then Dawn came with 3
other students from Rosedale in my VW bug as well–David Byler, Doris Schlabach,
and Lois Yoder(my cousin).  I never thought about the fact that a lot of people
missed a lot of school at the time–I guess it never crossed my mind. After the
funeral, I decided to stay home from Europe, where I was scheduled to go with a
choir in June.  I think it was the right thing to do, because at the time we
were not sure how Mama and Papa and Naomi were going to do, but I never have
made it to Europe.  But things happen for the best, and I believe it was part of
God’s plan.
Another brother, David Yoder:
I too want to thank you, Uncle Lloyd others for taking time to
recount the memories of the night Robert and Joseph were killed. As I read
through the accounts I couldn’t help but weep and recall the kindness of so many
people over that time. God bless you


From Aunt Orpha
I will share a few
memories of that eve. Marie and I had gone up home for a short visit before
Jesse’s left, and we were talking a bit when the ambulances started screaming,
Marie and I started for home and Marie thought we should go to Cocolamus to see
if we could be of any help.  I know sometimes they don’t want people crowding
around, so we went on home.  We told Lloyd and he suggested maybe it was
Jesse’s.  “No” I said, “they are long gone”.  But Lloyd said “Still till they
would  call the ambulances it could be them”. So I tried to call Papa and Mama
but their line was busy, so I called Aunt Gladys and she said it was Jesse’s and
the boys were dead.  I started sobbing out loud till I said, “but they were
ready to go” . Lloyd and I got ready and went up to the hospital.  When we got
there they were wheeling Gladys out from somewhere and they were working on
Naomi.  But they were very concerned about Jesse.  The fluid was filling up his
lungs and they said there isn’t much they can do for that.  They said they were
sending him to Hershey but when the fluid starts up across the lungs there
really isn’t much to do. So they called the ambulance and they left Jesse talk a
little to Gladys. But the police interfered and started questioning. About  that
time, the word went out to the churches all around the country, and till Jesse
got to Hershey he was better.  I really felt it was the prayers of God’s people
that saved Jesse’s life.  When we were leaving the ICU, one of the nurses
followed us an said
different it was from the usual reactions to an experience like that.  She said
it seemed like a presence was there.
      The evening before the
funeral, I was alone outside the ICU unit waiting to go in to see Gladys, and I
told GOD “somebody goofed, If they had gone a minute or two earlier, or a minute
or two later they would never have met on that curve”.  I pulled my Living New
Testament out of my pocket book and it fell open to Col 2:10 “AND HE IS THE
HIGHEST RULER OVER EVERY OTHER POWER”.  so that quieted the turmoil in my mind.
Though we can’t understand it, it was under His control.
     Lloyd and I didn’t get
to the funeral, He went to Hershey to be with Jesse and I went to Gladys . .
      As I think back, I have
memories of our family being drawn together.  But we would ask that  it would
not be an experience like that to bond us together.  Naomi was discharged before
Gladys and was here a week or two.  It was a privileged to have her with us
during that time.    Orpha

CMW’s brother, Mark Yoder, Jr.

It’s amazing how details of major events can
actually become confused in our minds over the years.  In my memory, I had
gotten Dad’s permission to stay home the night of the accident.  That was quite
unusual for Dad to give his blessing to stay away from a Sunday night service,
but for some reason he had agreed to it this time.  In my memory, I was home
reading when Uncle Lloyd called and said that there was an accident and Robert
and Joseph were killed.  Uncle Lloyd was so overcome with emotion and tears that
he handed the phone to Grandpa, who confirmed that the boys were indeed gone.  I
kept saying over and over “Are you sure?  Are you absolutely sure?”  I simply
could not believe it and didn’t want to believe it.  And I didn’t want to start
calling people and then find out there was a mistake. If I recall right, I
called Greenwood and asked for Dad and shared the sketchy information that I
had.  Things were unknown at that point as to how things would end up for the
others in the accident.  I do remember having that “surreal” feeling, that this
was a dream and that I’d wake up and it wouldn’t be true.  If only it could have
been a dream!

Another thing i remember is that was the week I was mowing
a lot of rye for haylege and spent a lot of time out in the field on the tractor
doing hay.   To this day when the farmers begin mowing hay in the Spring, I
think of Robert and Joseph and often wonder how life would have been different
without “the accident.” – Mark Yoder, Jr.” 

From Aunt Freda Zehr: 
I was thinking as I read all
of the posts about that dreadful time in our
lives, and especially in Gladys
and Jesse’s, lives,
how that thirty-one years have passed and this is the
first, at least that I
have known
about, that we are all able to talk and
to share our feelings about it.
I think this is the right time, I think that
it has been long enough that
we can all look back and see Gods hand in it
all. Not that one can ever look
back without pain and hurt and questions and
wonderings, but that
as time goes by one can see how God used it to
strengthen many peoples faith.

Reading everyone’s report, I realize thatI had forgotten many
things–for instance that Lloyd G was with Jesse during the
funeral and Orpha was with Gladys. This whole discussion has felt
like putting the pieces of a puzzle together for me. And now just
reading Orpha’s story of how the nurses said the reaction was different,
starts to adds more pieces of the puzzle–the puzzle of what good could ever
come of two wonderful boys losing their life at such a young age.
But it only starts, I am sure that puzzle will only be finished when
we all get to Heaven. For myself it has been healing and good to have shared these stories,
as painful as they are. love and prayers, Freda

And then, Uncle Jesse’s note
put a special touch to the discussion:

Thank you so much,
Uncle Lloyd, for taking time to write out your memories of that sad moment in
time. Your comments are healing, even while the tears come. Freda tells of her
response, and I know that all of us remember the news of Allen and Ruth Ann’s
accident which took the precious life of Jennifer
. (Buckeyegirlie’s
edit:  Another Aunt and Uncle, Allen and Ruth Ann Shirk, had an accident in
1969, also close to my grandparent’s house, and their oldest child, 6 week old
Jennifer, was killed.)
  I have wondered  why both accidents took
place so close to home?? Grandpa and Grandma Wert were ‘towers’ of strength
during those times of grief and sadness! That meant so much to us. Gladys and I
were looking at pictures and thinking back—–You spoke of counseling, Lloyd,
and I wonder how that would have helped us as a family, had it been available?
Gladys has spoken numerous times about not being at the funeral of Robert and
Joseph—would that have made a major difference for us? I believe it would have
been helpful for her. I believe mothers are affected differently than any other
person involved.
Even though it has been long since those events
affected us as a family, it means so much to know that we are remembered! You
all are very special to us! Lots of love,

In a world of loss and broken dreams and disappointment — sometimes with the people we love, sometimes with the people who love us, and sometimes, even, God, I think of the perspective 31 years gives us.  As a parent, I must say that the example that Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys have left for us has given me courage and hope and deepened my faith in a God who knows our tomorrows but cries with us today.

And the incredible reality of having someone we love safely home is still the greatest comfort of all.


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6 responses to “31 Years

  1. I wasn’t planning on tears this afternoon….how well I remember that time also….being at Rosedale…a fast trip home in a crowded red car (I think Willis G.’s, who I hardly knew at all) for the funeral of two precious young men. It was a very quiet ride as I recall, all of us in shock.  I knew Robert of course from school and just remember him as a person of spotless character…kind, funny..I can actually remember his laugh to this day and see his smile-y eyes. 

  2. I wasn’t planning on tears today either…I’m already stuffed up with this cold!  I’ll never ever forget that day…sitting in the Sunday evening service that Mark Jr. stayed home from …hearing John Mishler (Curtsellie’s dad!) announce the tragic news…it wasn’t the first of friends of mine to die an untimely (to me) death, but it surely didn’t make it any easier…I still grieve when I ponder it….but I do see how God has worked His grace in wonderous ways over the years, and I am encouraged and blessed so much by it.

  3. Very sobering, what a loss for the family and friends. I echo Suzyquekau’s encouraging words.

  4. Not only have you posted the tragic deaths of two beloved family members but also in reading the posts it shows how your family found strength in God and their faith to get through the hard times and how supportive they were for each other.  Of course we wish these things would never happen but just think right now they’re in heaven boisterously greeting your other family members as they enter and catching up.  God Bless!

  5. Hello , Hope you haev a great week now. GOD BLESS YOU ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. I just found this post this morning when I should have been getting ready for school, but…. I had to read the whole thing. I don’t even know these people, but it tears my heart up just imagining it. I think it’s neat that your extended family can share these memories with each other all these years later.

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