We have much wisdom to gain by learning to understand other people’s cultures and permitting ourselves to accept that there is more than one version of reality. — Louis Menand, Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
During National Library Week, April 24 to 29, The YWCA Gettysburg and the Adams County Library System are collaborating to provide “human books” for checkout, allowing participants to learn firsthand about other cultures and experiences.
The project is inspired by the nonprofit Human Library Organization, located in Copenhagen, which has challenged people to “unjudge someone” since its formation in 2002.
The model inspired the YWCA’s Acting CEO Nancy Lilley, along with Sara Edminston and Bob Brown from the Adams County Library System, to offer a similar sort of experience locally.
Participants in the series participated in small groups during 30-minute sessions with the living authors. In these stories, our reporters share their experiences at the sessions.
The nine living authors who participated include Athar Rafiq: From Diplomacy to Refugee—it has been a Journey; Rukhsana Rahman: So where are you from: and other such questions; Kay Hollabaugh: The Race to the Blueberry Patch; Brigid Goss: Two years in China: Tales from the Middle Kingdom; Carla Christopher: The One-Stop Diversity Shop: Story of a black, Jewish, Lesbian Lutheran Pastor-activist; Judith Leslie, My Eyes Were Opened; Joe and Maria Levenstein: You Shall be Holy: Two paths to Jewish spirituality; Lavetta Thomas: TLC for the Soldiers of WWII and Jenine Weaver: And Now it Feels Like Home.
When people mention “the Greatest Generation,” they’re usually referring to the men who rid the world forcibly of Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese military government. Often forgotten is the role played by women.
Levato Jacobs Thomas (“everybody called me Vetti,” she said) arrived with a spread of photos, postcards, and other things to look at. I came armed with a few questions, but I didn’t need them; she had plenty of stories and I just listened.
“My father died at age 27, in a stone quarry accident. I was three years old. My mother took up with a man who worked as a concrete mixer. He always said he poured the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We moved from one section to the next until we got to Pittsburgh. He poured the last 10 miles and then we moved back to Adams County. I graduated from East Berlin High School.
“We had no money. We were never hungry because Mom could grow food and can things. I never felt poor. One day a lady from York Hospital came and described a program that you paid $400 and they fed you and housed you and after three years you’re a registered nurse. I knew what I wanted to do; I told my mom I’m going to be a nurse, then a teacher.
“I had to work at the tomato factory in Hanover. Then the bean factory. Then the apple butter factory. And I finally had $411 saved up and started at York Hospital. Then in 1943 I joined the Cadet Nurse Corps and was transferred to the brand-new McGuire Army Hospital in Richmond.
“The patients were all soldiers who had been wounded in Europe. We had orthopedic patients, amputations, and patients who were too sick to be moved.
“We weren’t allowed to date the patients. We could date the doctors, but most of them were married.
“I worked in a ward with a lot of back surgery patients. A lot of the tank crews had their backs were blown out. We had the start of the Ace bandage in World War II. I was strong and became very good at bandaging.
“My first day, I was assigned to a ward with 68 patients, and 8 of them were scheduled for surgery. My help was the patients; they got out of bed and helped each other. This was a happy ward. They knew they were more fortunate than many of their buddies; they knew they’d make it home.
“I had a good time there. The happiest time was Friday. The soldiers who were able were allowed to go into town. We could go out too, after all the soldiers had left.
“I had never been away from home and I was a little homesick. My mom didn’t have the money to visit me.
“After the war, I went back to York Hospital and finished my training. Then I went to the University of Virginia and got my BS in Nursing Education, so I did become a teacher.
“I met my husband there. John Thomas was a Timber Wolf (104th Division). He was a night fighter, fought in the Battle of the Bulge.”
The attendees of this event were well pleased with the event as were the library staff.
As always, when I talk with people of that generation that came of age during the Depression and experienced World War II, I am amazed at their resilience, their spunk, and their optimism.
Featured image caption: Levato (“Vetti”) Jacobs (Thomas) [Erica Duffy]
Leon Reed, freelance reporter, is a former US Senate staff member, defense consultant, and history teacher. He is a seven year resident of Gettysburg, where he writes military history and explores the park and the Adams County countryside. He is the publisher at Little Falls Books, chaired the Adams County 2020 Census Complete Count Committee and is on the board of SCCAP and the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. He and his wife, Lois, have 3 children, 3 cats, and 5 grandchildren.