Wednesday, January 29, 2020

52 Ancestors - SO FAR AWAY: Velma's Great Korean Escape

When people ask if we are going to sell our home in Chesapeake and retire to our vacation home at Smith Mountain Lake permanently, I respond with an emphatic NO. My daughter’s family is here. My SISTER is here. I cannot imagine being far from either of them. My sister and I are not close in age, but we are every bit as emotionally close as our grandaunts Violetta and Velma. You can’t say one name without saying the other.

Violetta and Velma loved one another deeply and enjoyed being together. They especially loved traveling. In 1939 they traveled together to the New York World’s Fair.
New York World's Fair 1939
Postcard belonging to Violetta Davis Ryan
They were on a motor trip to New Orleans when they received word of their brother’s death in 1951.

Violetta traveled to Hawaii just a few short years after it became the 50th state. 
Violetta's trip to Hawaii 1953
Honolulu Passenger and Crew List 1953
from FamilySearch
In 1954, Velma arrived in New York aboard a ship from Rotterdam.
Velma's trip home from Europe 1954
New York Passenger List 1954
from Ancestry
It is no surprise that Velma always imagined that the two of them would travel the world together. That is why it is so puzzling that in the late 1950s-ealry 1960s Velma took a job teaching in Korea for the Department of Defense Dependents Schools. DoDDS serves the children of military stationed overseas with the purpose of ensuring that American children get an American education.

Velma was widowed young, so there was nothing keeping her in Harrisonburg except the love for her sister. So why did she leave?

The only theory my cousin and I can devise is that Velma HATED Violetta’s business partner with a passion. We know Violetta rented a building to John for his piano and guitar business (I am withholding his full name to protect the privacy of his family who, frankly, do not deserve protection but so be it). Somehow Violetta became entwined with John’s wife and child as well. Wherever Violetta went, they were sure to follow. Violetta often arrived at my grandmother’s house with John’s wife and son in tow, much to everyone’s dismay.

Nobody liked them. NOBODY. NO. BO. DY. They were leaches. Violetta, a well-educated, well-respected woman, was somehow sucked into being a benefactor to this low-life family that always reminded me of the Snopes clan in William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha trilogy. (“They were just Snopeses like colonies of rats and termites are just rats and termites.”)

What hold they had over Violetta is a mystery. She was too smart and too good for them. Why couldn’t she see them for the money-grubbing users they were? Had I been Velma, I might have gone to Korea too.

 Actually, she seemed to enjoy teaching and serving as principal for the DoDDS.
Velma DoDDS Korea 1959 or later
Velma with students of the DoDDS Korea
Some of these photos may have been taken when she was principal. The classroom looks typically American. The artwork displayed neatly on the bulletin boards and stapled artfully above the blackboard reminds me of every classroom I ever sat in during my own school days.
DoDDS in Korea

A unit on the Vikings would not be complete without drawings of ships.

DoDDS in Korea

Snowflake snowmen? The perfect activity for a lesson on um, er, uh, weather? Geometry? Whatever, you have to admire the kid who put the snowman in a hammock.

DoDDS in Korea

Playground equipment at the DoDD School looked exactly like what I enjoyed at recess in Virginia in the 1950s and 60s.

DoDDS in Korea

DoDDS in Korea
That is probably Velma cut off in the dark coat.
Velma’s job in Korea made traveling to Japan and India easy.

Velma's trip to Indian
Velma is in the hat, 6th from the right
Velma's trip to Indian
What an adventure!
Velma is sitting in the middle
Ill health eventually brought Velma home. She lived in one of Violetta’s apartments where Violetta took care of her in her final days.

Love wins.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved. 


  1. Wow fascinating (as most of your stories are!) Makes you wonder why Violetta put up with that family (charity, compassion, mercy?). What a tale of the 2 sisters. I'm glad in the end they were together.


  2. Yep, she left because of those awful ridiculous people. Its sickening, really.

  3. Too bad the "Snopses" came between the sisters, but what a great adventure Velma had! Thanks for sharing.