It wasn’t until Pat Smith figuratively warmed up to God that He literally warmed up to her, blanketing her with an assurance that everything was going to be OK. Pat, a member at American Baptist East, was 38 years old in 1968 when
she made multiple daily visits to Deaconess Hospital. She went to see 25-year-old brother Jay Allen, a diesel mechanic who had been involved in an explosion at Brandeis Machinery & Supply Company on US 41 North. In addition to suffering second- and third-degree burns over 75 percent of his body, he had a depressed brain concussion and an arm broken in two places.
“Once you smell burned flesh, you never forget it,” Pat said. “He had 19 skin grafts.” The difficulty of dealing with a loved one experiencing horrific pain drew Pat frequently into the hospital’s chapel. “I’d spend two and three times a day in the chapel praying to God,” she said. “I’d pray, ‘God, if my brother will be OK and it is your will, please let him live. But if he won’t be a person that can live a normal life, then God, please don’t let him live. Let it be your will.”
Usually Pat was accompanied by Jay’s wife, Jean, in the final visit to his room each night. One of those nights neither one of them will ever forget. “Five or seven doctors came into Jay’s room and said he wouldn’t live. And I had been talking with God all this time,” said Pat. “I was standing beside his bed and it was so cold in there. They had him in cold storage.
They kept him totally wet all the time, no clothes on, just all wet. I had on a sweater and a wool dress and I was freezing in there.
“All of a sudden, the room got real, real warm and I said to Jay, “Honey, you’re going to live and you’re going to be OK.”
Pat wondered if Jean, who had been standing on the other side of the bed, had experienced the warmth. “As we left his room, Jean started crying. That was the first time I’d seen her cry,” Pat said. “I asked her if she felt it and she said ‘Yes.’ It was right then and there that I became a real, true Christian.”
Pat didn’t attend church very much while growing up on a farm in Grandview, Ind., with her maternal grandparents. “My grandfather spent a lot of time at church when he was younger, but almost every Sunday we had company from Evansville,” said Pat, 86. “Anytime I did go, it was with Grandma (Dolly) Robinson.” Pat’s most influential male role model was undoubtedly her Grandpa (Doyle). He retired the day Pat was born and he constantly cared for Pat and her two younger sisters, Cora May and the late Carol, who died of leukemia at age 55. Pat said she feels his presence quite often.
“One day last week I was kind of down and I talked to Grandpa all morning,” said Pat, who plays the organ regularly on Sundays at ABE. “I’ll be just sitting here in my chair and I feel that someone is in the room with me. And it’s so strong that I even look up sometimes to see if someone is there. Maybe God has sent an angel to look over me.” Pat attended her first three years of high school in Chrisney before going to live with her grandmother and graduating from Rockport High School in 1948. Upon graduation, she went to work as a secretary at Reliable Office Machine Company in downtown Evansville. She has had her share of heartaches in life.
“I have a deep faith that with the things that I’ve been through that I would never have made it without God. He has watched over me like you would not believe,” she said. She was heartbroken teenager when her favorite uncle, Harold, went off to fight in Italy during World War II and was killed in action. “I always believed in God, but I was mad at Him, very mad,” Pat said. “My aunt in Louisville sat and talked to me quite a bit about that.” Pat said she always wanted to have two kids, but had trouble getting pregnant. After taking treatments, she finally gave birth to daughter Donna in July 1951. “Then we (Pat and husband Bernie) wanted to have another baby right away,” she said. But instead, she had four miscarriages.
“I was very unhappy about losing four babies and Dr. (Edgar) Engel told me, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but you’ll never be able to have another child.’ Then behold, I got pregnant with Kathy. Dr. Engel didn’t think it would happen, but he had always told me, ‘Pat, there’s a power above me.’ ” About two months before her due date in 1956, Pat told the doctor, ‘If everything goes OK, I’ll see you at your office. If not, I’ll see you in the emergency room.”
Everything went quite well. As Pat put it, “Kathy (ABE member Kathy Burgdorf) was perfect.” “I wanted two children and I got two children. Now that was God. He let me do that. I’ve always considered Donna and Kathy my gifts from Heaven.” When Kathy entered first grade, Pat began a 30-year career at the Atlas Van Lines national office in Evansville. She started in the filing department before moving into working with rates and tariffs. It was this experience with rates and tariffs that set the stage for her final 10 years at Atlas, immersing herself in responsibilities as the rate administrator for specialized transportation.
“I loved that job,” Pat said. “It was very, very interesting and I made friends all over the country. There are still a lot of people who ask about me and I’ve been gone from Atlas since 1992. “In fact, when I had my heart surgery four years ago, an agent in Oregon who I used to deal with called me in my room at the hospital. Can you imagine that?” Her job was complicated. In addition to talking with Atlas agents and drivers throughout the nation, she dealt with various companies’ CEOs and governmental agencies in Indianapolis and Washington, D.C. She had to know Interstate Commerce Commission regulations inside out. The job was so encompassing, it took somebody five years to study under Pat in order to take over the job upon her retirement. During the years Pat and Bernie were raising Donna and Kathy, the family spent a lot of time attending sporting events at North High School.
Bernie loved going to University of Evansville basketball games, put Indiana University on a pedestal and was a diehard Chicago Cubs fan. “We had such a good time. My dad was so much fun,” said Kathy. “He showed me how to have fun and mother taught me right from wrong. It was one way or another, nothing in between.” But at age 55, Bernie suffered a heart attack and went into a depression, spending three straight months in the hospital at one point. The time he spent in the military service during the latter part of World War II had taken its toll on him and he battled post-traumatic stress disorder. He died in 2004 after 56 years of marriage. “I feel so sorry for our military guys coming back from wars now,” Pat said. “I wish I could talk to the families of the guys coming back and let them know what they’re in for, what’s going on right under their nose and they don’t even know it. They need to know that these things can happen and will.”
In addition to the organ, Pat has an extensive musical background. Her earliest experience was learning to play the guitar by studying an instruction book. Her cousin, Mary Esther Therber took piano lessons, but Pat ended up with better expertise by learning the sheet music that was often left behind ather house. Eventually, she took violin lessons, learned how to play the clarinet and percussion instruments and won the school’s music in her senior year at Rockport. She didn’t sit down at the organ until she was 55 and took lessons for seven years.
Pat beams when talking about her grandchildren (Benjamin, Eric, Ruth and Nathan) and her great grandchildren (Chloe, August, Lex and Zachary). She regrets that her health prohibits her from doing the things she loved to do, like knitting Afghans, doing cross-stitching, quilting and making clothing and coats for her daughters. She uses a walker and has had problems falling in recent months. Since Bernie’s death, there has been back surgery, hip replacement, carpal tunnel, carotid artery surgery and open-heart surgery. “I’m really blessed,” she said. “When Bernie was sick, I asked God to please keep me healthy and get me through all of that. And God did that. He helped me all along. He always has.”
And as for brother Jay, the object of Pat’s fervent prayers so many years ago, he’s gone on to live a normal life. “Mudhead,” as Pat affectionately used to call him, is comfortable, and warm, living at the old family farm in Grandview. He talks, by telephone, with his prayerful sister every morning.
6300 Washington Ave.
Evansville, IN 47715