NMC Blog

Your Story: Ron Pawling

Ron Pawling

If Ron Pawling had a calling card, it could read "Time Traveler." It is said that teachers touch the future, and Ron has been a teacher his entire adult life.

Born in Berks County, he moved with his parents and three sisters to Lancaster County in 1954 when his father got a job in Ephrata. They brought with them their Dutch accent, which benefitted him later in life! As a teenager, he would attend church meetings with his friends. It was there that he met his future wife, Nancy. Searching for a church of their own, they began checking out the Sunday evening services at Neffsville Mennonite Church, where they were eventually married in 1966. Several months after the wedding, Pastor John Martin asked Ron if he would be willing to teach a children’s Sunday School class. He agreed to do that, and has kept "agreeing" ever since!

Teaching Sunday School was a natural extension of his profession, as a 6th grade school teacher. It was during his fourth year at Millersville State College (now University) that his student teaching superviser noticed his Dutch accent: "You'll do alright as long as you stay in Lancaster County!" Warwick School District apparently had no problem with his accent. After his student-teaching experience at Brunnerville, they hired him to teach the 6th grade. During his time there, he taught Neffsville congregants, including Dwight Rohrer, Carolyn (Burkholder) North, Gwen (Landis) Hostetter, and Doug Gehman. He chuckles as he recalls Doug: "Who, through the week would call me 'Mr. Pawling,' and on Sunday morning, he'd call me 'Ron'!" Ron retired from Warwick in 2001 after 36 years of teaching.

Upon retirement, feeling "too young to sit in a rocking chair for the rest of my life," he took a position at Water Street Rescue Mission as a bookkeeper. It was there that he met people from all walks of life. Some of the residents at Water Street Rescue Mission (WSRM) were lawyers or pastors. "I think it's important to be open to the possibility that things might not be exactly the way you think they are" he cautions about homelessness. Still, some are at the Mission because of bad decisions. Ron recalled one person who had a Radio Shack charge account where it clearly stated that unpaid balances were subject to 199.6% interest. "That is outrageous!" You can easily imagine how quickly the bills mounted. Others, as noted, have been at the highest professional levels but find themselves destitute through circumstances beyond their control. In fact, the entire spectrum of humanity can be found at a mission. Arty was one of them. Ron met him as a co-worker at WSRM.

Arty was always a cheerful, pleasant presence in the office: "Someone you enjoyed being around." After several years at WSRM Arty became ill, and within a week died of cirrhosis of the liver. At the funeral, Ron learned of Arty's life before coming to the Mission. He had lived in a cardboard box under the Brooklyn Bridge, and was known to be a rough, mean character. You disturbed his box at your own peril. One morning, waking up from his sleep on a park bench, he found something on the ground next to him - a train ticket to Lancaster which departed the next morning. Deciding he had nothing to lose, he boarded the train, and eventually found his way to WSRM. It was at the mission where he met Jesus, and his life and character were transformed, forming him into the joyful man Ron knew. "One of the neat parts about working at Water Street was to see the tremendous changes in people's lives," Ron remembers.

Ron offered another person's story as an example of the twists and turns that life can throw at a person, landing them at the mission.

Kay* had a varied life. In her own words, "I have been a mom, grandma, wife, ex-wife, bartender, family therapist, pastor, reporter, editor, and caseworker..." She had also spent time working in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, and Israel. She was a consultant for IBM. She had met Yassar Arafat, Ronald Reagan, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe, and Herb Brooks. By all acounts, she had a life full of rich experiences. Still, a series of personal tragedies found her in the hospital with a severe health problem, no job, and no insurance. While she was in the hospital, all of her possessions were stolen. They were able to recover her van and one laundry basket of clothes. She left the hospital homeless, broke, and broken. Looking back on that summer of horrible experiences, she called it the worst and best summer of her life thus far. It was a summer of tragedies that could happen to anyone, even you! It was also the best summer ever because it brought her to WSRM. The most important thing she learned that summer was "I can trust God with my life and all of my heart...and there is a richness in poverty." Kay was working as the desk lady at the mission, and was looking forward to moving into her own apartment later in the year.

After 13 years at the mission, and many more stories, Ron again retired, but he is still not ready for the rocking chair. He continues to volunteer for Love INC, the Literacy Council of Lancaster, and enjoys the ongoing relationships he has forged through his time at Water Street Rescue Mission. He continues to teach as well. The Ambassadors Sunday School class benefits from his depth of Biblical knowledge and, I'm sure, his sly, dry humor. I've found that to be true at the Men's Prayer Group (Thursday mornings, Journey House, 6 AM) where a comment or observation will be made with a quiet smile and a twinkle in his eye.

Over 50 years of teaching prove that Ron is indeed a time traveler. He has touched future generations numerous times at Warwick School District, Water Street Rescue Mission, LoveINC, Neffsville Mennonite Church, and the Literacy Council. If you are one of those who benefitted from a teacher's dedication, say thank you to them, and then join Ron and touch the future of those in your orbits. The rocking chair can wait!

* - pseudonym used


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