This story, about a woman I worked with at IBM, comes in two waves. We’ll begin with the life history she shared with me many years ago and then talk about the more recent events in her life.
Ivette Sudmalis Lakes was born in Latvia prior to World War II. As young girls, she and her sister were fascinated watching the fighter planes dog-fighting in the skies above their home. Their mother would have to run out and drag them inside – the little girls had no idea of the danger of stray bullets.
Ivette’s family struggled to get by during the years of Hitler’s advances but never considered leaving their homeland until the end was in sight. That’s when they realized their beloved country would be swallowed up by Russia. Evidently, they feared Russian domination more than the Nazis. Thus, they decided to flee.
Adolf and Elizabeth Sudmalis gathered up their daughetrs, Ivette and Irene, in the middle of the night and headed toward the railroad station. Somewhere along the way, Ivette fell and broke her arm. Adolf explained to his daughter that they didn’t have time to find a doctor; more importantly, regardless of how much her arm hurt, she could not cry out in pain no matter what they encountered during their journey.
The family crept into an empty box car and traveled unnoticed through the night. Ivette, with her terribly painful arm, kept silent and they made the trip without being discovered by the soldiers who were constantly checking for people traveling without permission.
Eventually the Submalis family arrived at a place where they could find safe passage to North America. While they had hoped to come to the United States, their safe passage took them to Canada – not bad for a ‘second’ choice.
At this point, I’m going to let Roger and Ivette Lakes tell the rest. The following is a letter they wrote to tell their friends and relatives their story.
Faith, Hope & Love
Ivette’s family (her father, Adolph, mother, Elizabeth, and sister, Irene) came to the United States in 1950, after being forced from their homeland (Latvia) in 1944. They applied for emigration to America. But, after five long years of waiting, they were chosen for emigration only to Venezuela. Then, just a short time before leaving for Venezuela, they were miraculously selected by the First Baptist Church in Franklin, Ohio – the church that Roger’s parents and their eight children had been attending for several years.
Roger had never had a serious date until after he graduated from high school in 1951. He had seen this beautiful, blue-eyed blond in church and had remarked that she looked like a movie star – someone unapproachable by anyone like him. Somehow he finally got the courage to speak to her and their romance blossomed quickly after that. He had experienced “puppy love” before that, but she was the first girl with whom he was truly and completely in love. They talked of their futures together and hoped to marry one day.
Then, in the latter part of 1952, they were both heart-broken when Ivette’s mother insisted that they stop seeing each other. She wanted more for both of her daughters than getting married, until they had completed their education. Shortly after this her family moved from Franklin to Cincinnati and Roger went to Chicago to attend Moody Bible Institute as a voice major. They eventually lost contact with each other. With their lives on different paths, they had no contact for the next 56 (fifty-six) years.
Roger’s wife of thirty years passed away January 31, 2007, and he had resigned himself to a single life. But God had other unbelievably wonderful plans.
Roger was aware that many years ago his mother and Ivette had exchanged Christmas cards, but his mother hadn’t said much to him about that. He also wasn’t aware until December 15, 2007, that, after his mother passed away in 1999, his sister, Barb, and Ivette had continued exchanging Christmas cards. On that December day, Barb showed him a card she had recently received from Ivette. He took the return address (which he still carries in his billfold) and was able to get her telephone number from an Internet search (thank God for the Internet!). He called Ivette on January 12 and they talked that evening and every evening after that until February 5th (several conversations lasting more than 9 hours!). They ended every phone conversation praying together that they might know God’s will for their lives. During those conversations they set their wedding date, not having seen each other for 56 years. They first met February 5th, when he came through Marietta, GA, on his way to Florida, and he finally was reunited with his teen sweetheart. They became Husband and Wife before 70 close friends and family on May 17, 2008. GOD IS SO GOOD!
When Ivette first told me about her childhood in Latvia, she was afraid she was boring me! I explained to her that stories such as hers are the kind we never hear… but need to hear in order to better understand war.
When it comes to war, all the chronicals are about the armies and political leaders – not about the innocent civilians who must cope with the surrounding chaos.
I’m so glad Ivette shared her stories with me… and thrilled that she has finally connected to the love of her life.
In the past week or so I’ve tried to keep my posts centered on the Christmas season. Since I believe the true meaning of Christmas is the love God has for us all, I think this story fits in nicely.
Still looking for that perfect gift for the teacher or some other casual friends? Consider giving a pig, goat, turkey or chickens to a needy family in a developing nation in their honor. Check out God’s Global Barnyard listed in the links on the right of this screen.