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RG 30/288 - Herbert and Josephine Van Meter

Herbert Van MeterHerbert Ensign Van Meter (1915-1982)

Herbert Ensign Van Meter was born 29 July 1915 in Clinton, Iowa, to Thomas Earl and Maud Van Meter. Thomas Van Meter graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1906, and Maud Van Meter graduated from Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1905. Young Herb grew up in a Christian, middle class environment. After graduating from the Moline High School in Moline, Illinois, Herb Van Meter entered Oberlin in 1933. At that point young Van Meter began his long and distinguished association with Oberlin College, stretching over five decades. As an undergraduate he studied political science with professors Karl Geiser, Oscar Jaszi, and J.D. Lewis. Van Meter's contributions to student organizations included: serving as president of his class in 1935, president of Student Council, editor of the 1937 Hi-O-Hi, secretary/treasurer of the YMCA, and as a member of his class track and football teams. After receiving his A.B. degree from Oberlin College in 1937, Herbert Van Meter accepted a three-year term as a Shansi Representative in China.

As a Shansi Representative, Van Meter taught English in the Ming Hsien (Oberlin-Shansi Memorial) Middle School on its campus in Taiku, Shansi Province. He joined two other representatives, wife-to-be Josephine Hamilton (S. Mus. B. 1935, A.B. 1939), and John Hamlin (A.B. 1936). However, even before he had departed from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, Japanese armies had invaded north China. As a consequence of the Sino-Japanese War, the American consulate advised Mr. Van Meter and his fellow Shansi reps to evacuate Taiku for Wuhan, a city in central China. For a short time the three reps taught in Hua Chung College in Wuhan. In September 1937, Ming Hsien students and faculty departed Taiku on a 1,300 mile trek to the south and west, in an attempt to escape Japanese control. Mr. Van Meter was not content in Wuhan and felt compelled to rejoin his former students and colleagues of Ming Hsien in December in Sanchow, Honan, a Yellow River city. In the following years the school relocated many times before reaching its final destination in Chin-t’ang, Szechwan Province. As a refugee with Ming Hsien, Mr. Van Meter became very important to the school. Along with Mark Wu (A.B. Yenching 1932, 1939-40 OC graduate student), he was responsible for planning next moves, always traveling ahead of the school to locate suitable premises for the next stop. Mr. Van Meter’s contributions to Ming Hsien were extraordinary; he helped to strengthen a relationship between the students and faculty of Ming Hsien and Oberlin. This friendship withstood the long period of severed relations between China and the United States.

The China years influenced Van Meter’s decision to enroll, for a second degree, in the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology (1940-41). While completing his B.D. studies at Yale University, he also married Josephine Hamilton on 20 March 1943. Van Meter, following his ordination, was commissioned a Protestant naval chaplain of the 26th Regiment, Fifth Marine Division; he served at Iwo Jima. In February 1945, the 26th went ashore on D-Day and held the line, without rest until they secured the Pacific island. A year later, after their landing on Iwo Jima, the 26th was de-activated. For his service the US awarded Van Meter the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and the Bronze Star for outstanding courage and heroism. (For an account of Herbert Van Meter’s war experiences, see the narration in “Padre in Hell,” by his fellow war chaplain Roland B. Gittelshohn, Leatherneck, December 1985, V.68, No. 12, pp. 44-47.)

At the end of World War II, the Ming Hsien association and OSMA asked the Van Meters to return to China. In this second tour of duty they were to serve as senior representatives from Oberlin, and as administrative assistants to the Chinese principal. The Van Meters stayed at the school, still located in Szechwan, from 1947-49. However, once the Chinese Communist armies freed this province in 1949, the Van Meters realized that no place existed for Americans there and returned home; before receiving their exit permits, however, Mr. Van Meter was investigated as a spy. Ultimately, the Chinese decided to allow them, Herb and Josephine, to leave China. They returned to the United States in 1951.

At that time, Herbert Van Meter began his 31-year career as minister to congregations and leader in denominational affairs in the United Church of Christ (UCC). Over the period of three decades Herbert Van Meter would serve six UCC settings. His first ministerial term spanned 12 years, as minister of the First Congregational Church in Kent, Ohio (1951-63). The popular Van Meter was a driving force in the growth of the church, and he was very much heralded by residents. He also served as the moderator and trustee of the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ. In 1963, Mr. Van Meter became minister of the Congregational Church in San Mateo, California. After four years he returned to the East as general secretary for interpretation and personnel for the United Church Board for World Ministries in New York City. His services with this organization, as both a corporate member and the vice president, ended in 1971 when he became Minster of the Bethany United Church of Christ in Montpelier, Vermont. After nine years in Montpelier, Rev. Van Meter served one year, 1980-81, as interim associate conference minister for the Rocky Mountain Conference, UCC in Denver, Colorado. In 1982, Rev. Van Meter became minister of the First Congregational Church in Windsor, Vermont, a position he held until the time of his death.

Herbert Van Meter was an international representative of the United Church of Christ. Service included visits to the Centenary of Protestant Witness in Taiwan in 1965 and to the Centennial Celebration of the denomination’s Central India Mission in Raipur in 1965. Further, Van Meter was a delegate of the UCC to the World Council of Churches Assembly in Sweden and to the National Council of Churches Assembly in Detroit in 1968. Finally, he served as a trustee of the Tuberculosis Association of Portage County, Ohio, and a director of the Health and Welfare Board in Kent, Ohio.

Throughout his life Herbert Van Meter remained an active member of Oberlin’s extended family. He was a trustee of OSMA from 1963 to the time of his death. He served as Alumni Association President from 1961-63 and was class president from 1957-62.

Herbert and Josephine Van Meter had two children, Gretchen Van Meter Lawton (OC A.B. 1971), born on February 25, 1949, and Thomas Hamilton Van Meter, born on June 22, 1951.

In 1980, the Van Meter's returned one last time to China, for joyous reunions with old colleagues, former students, and friends. Herbert died suddenly of a massive coronary April 2, 1982, in Windsor, Vermont.

Professional Positions of Herbert Van Meter:

1937-40 Oberlin Shansi Representative, China
1943-46 Chaplain (Lt. Cdr.), U.S. Navy
1946-51 Assistant to President and Advisor to Shansi Representatives, Ming Hsien Schools, China
1951-63 Minister, First Congregational Church, Kent, Ohio
1963-67 Minister, First Congregational Church, San Mateo, California
1967-71 Secretary for interpretation and personnel of the United Church Board for World Ministries, New York City
1971-80 Senior Minister, Bethany United Church of Christ, Montpelier, Vermont
1980-81 Member of the Staff, Rocky Mountain Conference United Church of Christ, Denver, Colorado
1981-82 Minister, First Congregational Church, Windsor, Vermont

Josephine Van MeterJosephine “Jo” Fisk (Hamilton) Van Meter (1913-1996)

Josephine “Jo” Fisk Hamilton was born 12 April 1913 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, to Ralph Q. and Ada May (Black) Hamilton. Josephine received two degrees from Oberlin, the first an S. Mus. B. in 1935 and then an A.B. in 1939. As an undergraduate at Oberlin, her involvement in many student organizations included: the Y.W.C.A (president), the Musical Union, the Oberlin Peace and Public Affairs Societies, Conservatory Woman’s Board, Executive Board of Women’s League, class secretary and treasurer, and House president. In 1935, OSMA awarded Josephine Van Meter a Teaching Fellowship to Ming Hsien in Taiku, China.

Josephine Van Meter planned to spend three years at Ming Hsien teaching English and music. After two years of service, following the outbreak of violence associated with the Sino-Japanese War, she returned to the United States in 1938. She spent the next year in Oberlin completing requirements for her A.B. in 1939. Subsequently, from 1939-43, she served as Assistant Secretary and then as Music Director with the Y.W.C.A in Washington, D.C. After marrying Herbert Van Meter in 1943, the couple moved to San Diego, California, where Herb Van Meter served as a chaplain in the Marine Corps. In San Diego, Josephine Van Meter worked with young adults at the local Y.W.C.A. After her husband was sent to the Pacific theater, she returned to Oberlin serving as Executive Secretary of OSMA from 1944-46.

In 1946, after Herbert Van Meter returned from WWII, Ming Hsien College asked the couple to return to China and serve as faculty at the college. Josephine Van Meter taught English and music until the Communist threat forced her and her husband to leave China. The Van Meters returned to the states in 1951, and Mrs. Van Meter spent the next sixteen years raising their two children.

In 1967, upon returning to work and school, Josephine Van Meter completed an A.M. degree in English literature at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio. She took a position as Consultant in Music and the Arts in Bureau of Research and Program Resources, at the National Board of Y.W.C.A in New York City. She retired from this position in 1971.

Josephine Van Meter remained active with the Oberlin Community throughout her life. Among her activities was service on the Alumni Board from 1970-73; Class President, 1970-75, Class Vice President in 1980; Steering Committee member for Washington D.C. from 41-42, Northern California, 1964-67 and Vermont, 1972. She was an OSMA Trustee from 1968-78.

After her husband’s death in 1982, in Windsor, Vermont, Josephine Van Meter returned to Montpelier and remained there until she moved to Wake Robin in Shelburne in 1993. Josephine Van Meter died there following a brief illness on September 23, 1996, at the age of 83.

Sources Consulted
Herbert and Josephine Van Meter’s Alumni Files and “Memorial Minute” by Ellsworth C. Carlson ‘39 from the Summer 1982 Oberlin Alumni Magazine.
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