Lena & Jacob Willems, 50th Anniversary February 1959
The marriage of my grandparents, Jacob and Lena Willems, lasted until Grandma’s death on August 1, 1963. They lived long enough to see their 50th anniversary celebrated by their children, grandchildren and even a few great-grandchildren. It was a big crowd in the Dinuba Mennonite Brethren church basement that February day in 1959. There were friends from the big Dinuba and Reedley Mennonite Brethren Churches; there were siblings and cousins and second cousins. It was a huge family.
Two family portraits were taken that day.[i] One shows Grandma and Grandpa seated with all thirteen of their living children as well as twelve of their spouses. Sitting at the end of the table is the oldest grandchild, Betty Lou, the daughter of Henry, the son who died when he was in his mid-twenties. Behind Betty Lou is her husband, whose name I have forgotten. A total of twenty-seven people surround Grandma and Grandpa.
In the other portrait, Grandma and Grandpa stand with grandchildren and great-grandchildren—twenty-eight grandchildren as well as two great-grandchildren. In both portraits Grandpa looks off the side. As usual, he doesn’t smile.
I am the one standing in the back row holding a baby, my daughter Beni. My other daughter, Renee, is held by my cousin Larry. Missing from this photo are my sister, Nita, and cousins Philip Willems, Madelyn Willems, Joe Willems and Les Davis.
There is a photo where Grandpa smiles. It’s a portrait of Grandma and Grandpa standing together in front of a big banner with the number “50” traced in ferns. In it both Grandma and Grandpa smile as they look into the camera. Grandpa’s smile is small, an almost-smile, as if he’s been surprised into it.
Grandma and Grandpa were very happy that day, I think. They were proud to have all the crowd of children and grandchildren around them. It must have been gratifying, too, to have their lives celebrated by the church, their friends and extended family.
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[i] Arnold Thiessen, Helen’s husband is the only missing spouse.