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Charles Meredith: Latvians in Bucks and high expectations


Dear Friends,

Good morning. Last week, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi announced that the Congress would proceed with the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Our congressman, Republican Brian Fitzpatrick, will have to make a decision.

If he votes to impeach the president, Fitzpatrick’s constituents will agree and support him (according to Meredith). If he votes with the president, he’ll face opposition in the Republican primary next May. And if he survives that, a Democrat challenger has a good chance of defeating him in the November 2020 election.

Quakers have an excellent phrase for this dilemma … Brian Fitzpatrick, it’s time to paint or get off the ladder.

On a more pleasant matter, there’s a new book about the Latvian immigration to Haycock Township at the conclusion of World War II. “Dangerous Journeys to Freedom” has just hit the local bookstores. Published by the Richland Library Company (44 S. Main St., Quakertown, 18951), you can purchase a copy for $26.50 (plus $5 if you want it mailed).

More than 30 family stories are included in this fascinating book. Its forward was written by my friend, Quakertown attorney Rodney Henry. Here’s what Rodney wrote: “Quakertown experienced the arrival and resettlement of Latvian refugees for more than a decade after the end of World War II, and I thought that their stories should be written and preserved,” he began.

“We met with Karina Sturman Rilling who had already written her story, a book about her family’s journey from Latvia to Germany to the United Sates. She graciously agreed to collect these stories.”

Friends, these stories are simply amazing and worth reading. Latvia and her two neighbors, Estonia and Lithuania, comprise the Baltic nations and border with Russia. Between the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the close of World War II in 1945, the Russian Army first overran the Baltic nations followed by the Nazi Germans overturning the Russians. Latvia was squeezed by two dictators … Joseph Stalin on its east and Adolf Hitler on its west.

As I read the book, several traits among those early Latvian emigrates stood out. First, they were industrious workers and fast learners. Second, they had strong religious traditions.

One of Quakertown’s beloved teachers is Carolyn Potser. Now retired, Carolyn taught more than 50 Latvian Americans from 1951 to 1986. This is what she wrote: “Also, I learned that they were highly motivated,” Carolyn began. “Their parents were partly responsible for their children’s positive attitudes because the parents themselves were highly educated. Many of them had held professional positions back home. “

That comment reminded me about the book I’m reading, “How the Other Half Learns” by Robert Pondiscio The gist of it refers to a phenomenon in one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City … a charter school out-performing every public school in the five boroughs. At the Success Academy in the Bronx, the vast majority of the children are black or brown. All are desperately poor. Why do these kids do so well?

The answer is parents. At the Success Academy, the parents have high expectations for their children and are significant role models for them. Students may not attend unless the parents sign a pledge to support their children in specific ways. It certainly echoes what “Dangerous Journeys to Freedom” emphasizes about the Latvian parents.

As I read the names of the children whom Carolyn Potser taught, I recognized several of them. One of them, Aivars Straume, worked at the Quakertown Free Press for many years. He was talented and hard working … just like all the Latvian families we knew.

In any event, “Dangerous Journeys” deserves a place in your library. And it makes a nice gift for friends too.

Finally, friends, for you music lovers, there’s a new book which has kept me very busy. “Beethoven” by John Cubbe is as fascinating as the composer’s music. The book shows how the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and Napoleon shaped Beethoven’s political ideals and inspired his groundbreaking compositions.

And if you buy “Beethoven,” be sure to include two of my favorite Beethoven recordings: his “Choral Fantasy” and his ninth symphony, “The Chorale.”

Mighty Betsy and I first heard the “Choral Fantasy” when our son was a chorister at his high school. A solo piano begins the piece, similar to a Beethoven sonata. Soon an orchestra joins in and turn the composition into a concerto. A mixed quartet appears and finally a full chorus does as well. It’s one of our favorite pieces.

Decades later, MB and I sang it with the Philadelphia Orchestra with Wolfgang Sawallisch playing the piano and David Hayes conducting the Philadelphia Singers Chorale. It was a moment we’ll never forget.

Sincerely, Charles Meredith