Coming Full Circle: A Phoebe Connection Across Generations
By Donna Schudel, Community Relations & Grants Specialist,Marketing and Community Relations, Phoebe Ministries. This article is reprinted with permission from the Spring/Summer 2021 Phoebe Ministries’ magazine, The Messenger. Photos courtesy of Phoebe Ministries.
When Lowell Hawk was 5 years old, his family hosted the Rev. and Mrs. Sipple for dinner at their Northampton, Pa., home. “He was a tall, thin, stately man. He and his wife were missionaries serving in Sendai, Japan. I had never met a missionary before!” says Lowell. “It was exciting to a 5 year old.” He had heard his mother, Anna Hawk, speak passionately about the missionary life and how it had once been her dream.
It wasn’t until last year, when Lowell and his wife, Shirley, moved into the Terrace at UCC-related Phoebe Allentown and read Phoebe’s history book that he realized Rev. Sipple was one of his mother’s deaconess instructors. Anna Abigail (Fink) Hawk, Lowell’s mother, was known as the “last living deaconess” — one of the legendary young women who devoted their lives to nursing sick and disadvantaged persons at Phoebe Ministries, and helped to create the rich history of its organization.
In September 1915, at the age of 20, Anna Hawk entered the Phoebe Deaconess training school, along with five other young women. Anna explained the process in a 1979 interview for a Phoebe newsletter. “We received training in religious education and practical nursing for two-and-a-half years,” she explained. “Then, we were to continue by serving at the Allentown General Hospital to do four months of internship as practical nurses. One month, we worked in the male ward, one month in the female ward, one month in the children’s ward, and one month in the obstetrical ward.”
The implementation of a deaconess training school was inspired by the Rev. Dr. Abraham B. Koplin, recognized as the founder of the Phoebe Home, now known as the Phoebe Allentown Health Care Center. Koplin attended the 1899 meeting of the General Synod of the Reformed Church — a UCC predecessor body — and heard about the importance of deaconess work in the church.
“A deaconess is a Christian woman, a member of the church, who devotes herself to the service of the Lord in ministering to the sick and needy and spiritually distressed,” declared that General Synod. Koplin began to pursue a place for deaconess work in his congregation. Within four years, his dream of a training school was realized. The Phoebe Deaconess and Old Folks Home was created — housed in a three-story brick farmhouse that originally stood adjacent to the historic center structure of the Phoebe Allentown Health Care Center building.
A young Anna Fink was introduced to the deaconess training course offered at Phoebe while attending a missionary conference. “My greatest desire in life was to become a missionary,” said Anna. After graduating from the program in 1918, Anna was sent to homes in the community to help the sick with nursing care, light housework, and preparing meals. The influenza pandemic was under way during her first year of service.
“We were called constantly. So many, many people. There was no room in the hospitals; we had to take care of them in their homes,” said Anna. Fortunately, she and her fellow deaconesses did not contract the flu, but she remembered this time as a “terrible experience.”
Over 100 years later, Anna’s son, Lowell, would live during the COVID-19 pandemic, an experience very similar to his mother’s. “My mom always spoke fondly about her years as a deaconess, but she also shared the sad feelings she had during the flu pandemic,” says Lowell. It was during the pandemic that Anna met Clarence, Lowell’s father. As the deaconess program came to an end, Anna shifted her focus to Christian education. Clarence and Anna were married shortly thereafter.
Lowell was born in 1933, the youngest of five boys. “My mom was always involved with Phoebe,” says Lowell. She and her sister, Mildred, served on the Phoebe Women’s Auxiliary for many years. Both spent the last years of their lives living at Phoebe. “It was like coming back home, where my first great desire took place as a deaconess,” said Anna after she moved to Phoebe in 1978. Lowell visited his mom frequently at Phoebe, along with his Aunt Mildred and Aunt Anna, all of whom lived at the Allentown Health Care Center. “Later, my brother Willard also lived at Phoebe, and my cousin Winifred lived down the hill in the Phoebe Apartments,” remembers Lowell.
When looking for a lifestyle change, it was no surprise that Lowell and Shirley chose independent living at Phoebe Allentown’s Terrace. “We have so many friends who live here. It’s like a reunion every day,” says Lowell. After moving to Phoebe in November of 2020, Lowell was also reunited with his mother’s Phoebe history through a plaque he and his brother Ernest had given to Phoebe in 1980 to commemorate her service as a deaconess. Prior to Lowell’s move to Phoebe, Anna Hawk’s plaque was still hanging at the top of the stairway in the lobby of the historic Allentown Health Care Center. “I was excited to see my mother’s plaque again,” Lowell says. “Now I have it in my apartment.”
Lowell would go on to become a science teacher, following in his mother’s educational footsteps. After 22 years, he retired as the chairperson of the science department of the East Penn School District, and enjoyed a successful second career with New York Life as an insurance and investments salesperson. Shirley worked as a dedicated nurse for 64 year, retiring in August 2020.
“I remained intrigued by my mother’s stories of Rev. Sipple and his time in Japan,” says Lowell. In 1955, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, and served in South Korea. As soon as he was able to get some leave time, he visited Sendai, Japan. “Rev. Sipple was no longer there, but I was able to meet other missionaries who worked alongside him,” says Lowell.
Stories of Anna Hawk’s early service as a Phoebe Deaconess remain alive and well in Lowell’s memory. He and Shirley, now creating their own Phoebe story, are grateful to be part of the Terrace community and to reconnect with their family chapter of Phoebe’s history.
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