MARION REYNOLD FRETWELL -- Nov 25, 1918 to Mar 23, 2015

We are here this morning to celebrate the life of a most remarkable man; and also a most remarkable family -- the family in which he grew up. In a sense, Marion was part of a 113 year "dynasty" -- a time when he and his siblings were the matriarchs and patriarchs of the Fretwell clan. Marion's eldest sister was born in 1902, and his youngest brothers (twins) were born in 1921. Marion outlived all his other siblings, and ended the 113 year "reign" of his generation.

Marion Reynold Fretwell was born November 25, 1918, the ninth child of William Lafayette Fretwell and Fannie Sparks Fretwell. He was born already having seven older sisters and one older brother. Within 3 years after his birth, the family had three more children, all boys, bringing the total number of children to 12 -- six boys and six girls.

Large families were the norm in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Twelve children in one family was not unusual. Marion's grandfather, Samuel Lafayette Fretwell, sired 21 children and wore out three wives. Dad had a great aunt who gave birth to 19 children between 1849 and 1875, and lived to the age of 91. Hardy stock they were. And fertile too -- all being devout Southern Baptists, for which sex was the only allowed carnal pleasure in those days -- provided it was for procreation.

Marion was born in Parma, Idaho, but his ancestry was of Virginia Confederate stock. All of the Fretwells of our branch were Confederates. But the family didn't remain Southern Baptists too long after they came out West; but that is a whole 'nother story. Furthermore, my Dad absolutely did not maintain Confederate beliefs; although one of his brothers did to his dying days.

Dad grew up on a small farm, breaking day at 4:30 to 5:30 am every day -- and maintained that habit well into his 90s. He was milking cows by hand twice a day by the time he was 6. By the time he reached age 11, the Great Depression hit with full fury on the United States. He claimed that the family never went hungry, but they wore the best darned socks in school; and he wore mostly hand-me-downs, and on occasion the whole family ate cracked-wheat mush for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, because that was what they had to eat. But this didn't happen too often because they were all farmers, and had chickens, pigs, cows, and all sorts of crops to feed upon.

Being the child of ultra-devout Baptists, growing up on a farm, and enduring the Great Depression left definite trademarks on Dad. He took life seriously and cautiously. I don't think Dad ever took a vacation that he didn't experience pangs of guilt about -- time wasted and money wasted. He didn't really know how to play. But deep in his soul he was a very humorous man. He just had trouble showing it. If you came from a Great-Depression-Southern-Baptist-Confederate-Turned-Oneness-Pentecostal background, perhaps you would understand as well as I do how hard it was for Dad to not see life as deadly serious. He seldom would show his inner self. But when you did see it, you could not help but marvel at the purity of his inner being. Dad lived his beliefs to the utmost of his ability. Never once did I see him compromise on what he believed. Some of his beliefs were faulty, but he lived them without compromise. When it comes to integrity, character, and courage, I never met a man I respected more. I saw him several times do what he felt was right to his own personal and economic hurt.

Don't get me wrong; Dad had his deficiencies; and I carefully choose to call them deficiencies instead of defects. He simply didn't fully possess some of the positive traits like wisdom, tenderness, and compassion in his early years. He had these traits, but you had to look deeply to find them, and they were not as fully developed as his integrity, character, and courage -- until his old age, and then they started showing clearly. And he had considerable difficulty showing love. He was from a hard and hardy, stoic stock. He was a product of his upbringing; and he was as good a father as I could have wished for. He gave me the essentials and far, far more. And I loved him dearly. To my amazement, he continued to grow in quality of character as he aged. I saw remarkable advances in his wisdom. This is not just a fulfillment of the old saw about the college kid who comes home to discover how much wiser his dad had become. This was a man who began to understand that God's love did indeed forgive our human frailties, even when we didn't see them ourselves.

He always was tolerant of alternative religious views, but he was very hardline on living what you believed. He never compromised that view for himself, but in his last 20 years he was far more willing to accept that God's grace encompassed those who were less faithful to their beliefs.

Dad told me about his father, my Grandpa Fretwell, how he'd speak to his family after each meal about either his religious views, or his political views, or a life story about how people should act. Grandpa Fretwell felt that these short sermonettes was a good way to tell his young family of 12 how they should live. Apparently these mini-sermons deeply impressed Dad and every other child in his family, because every one of them remained devout Christians -- and politically active. But their politics were not the same as mainstream religious politics of today. There was no hatred in the name of God; to the contrary, they worked to have a civil government that expressed Christian charity; not Christian intolerance.

These mealtime mini-sermons left every one of Dad's siblings convinced that political and religious debate was normal table fare in any family. (Little did they understand that it was an extreme exception instead of a norm for American families.) For years thereafter, whenever these adult children would reunite at a family reunion their lively and loud political and religious discussions would drive many of their spouses to distraction. What was perfectly normal table conversation to the Fretwells was not at all normal to their spouses. The Fretwells did not discuss sports, local events, neighbors, or the weather. They discussed theological issues or political issues. Some of their spouses could not stand the spirited discussions -- which they took as arguments -- and would flee the dinner table as quickly as possible. One of them, my Uncle Clarence, would always find a nearby couch and fall asleep -- or at least he feigned sleep. Another, my Uncle Kenneth, went for long walks. But every Fretwell sibling stayed and enjoyed the loud and spirited discussions they so missed from their childhoods.

Don't misunderstand me, they were not more right about their beliefs than others are; they just took a more open view of how you test your beliefs -- by exposing them to the scrutiny and commentary of your brethren. One could have said that the Fretwell motto should have been, in Latin, "Saepe mendosus, nunquam dubius." In English, "Often Wrong, but Seldom in Doubt." But not in a closed minded sense. They just firmly believed what they currently believed. They might believe differently tomorrow, if you could convince them.

Because of this upbringing in a more or less ongoing, free-for-all religious debate, my father was very open to debate about any religious or political topic. As a minister he quite often was accosted by some church member about what some visiting preacher, evangelist, or missionary had said. The church member wanted to know why Dad had not corrected the visiting minister for something so obviously wrong to them -- usually some Trinitarian statement. Dad always responded that he had many Sundays following to tell the other side of the story to the congregation; and ultimately it was every believer's responsibility to examine and decide for themselves. (I have never since met any other modern minister who tolerated -- and in fact welcomed -- such a variety of different theology in his pulpit.)

Dad enjoyed being challenged in his beliefs. Make no mistake, he enjoyed responding with conviction about what he believed. Those who didn't really know him heard his conviction as closed mindedness. They utterly misread him. If challenged Biblically or intellectually, Dad would always check it out carefully and thoroughly. And he would change his mind if he became convinced that someone else's views were superior to his. It didn't happen too often, because he usually had done more thorough investigation than his challengers; but that was not always the case. But, I watched him change his mind many times, right up to the time of his death. In fact, if anything, he became more open to new and different ideas as he aged. He learned from the many changes in his own beliefs that we humans are far too smug and certain about things we see though a glass darkly.

Dad was, however, very closed minded about one thing. He saw the Bible as the sole reference point for all discussion. If you argued from any other basis -- science, politics, reason -- he remained unconvinced and unmoved. To his dying day this was so. I learned to challenge his thinking solely through interpretation of scripture. It was the only way he would accept challenge. But he readily accepted that type of challenge. In fact, he thrived on it.

Many was the time that I'd challenge him on some belief, and tell him to reread particular scriptures with an eye to a specific possibility. Next time we'd meet, he'd have had a new revelation! Of course there were many other times when his restudy of the issue simply strengthened his earlier belief -- but he never failed to rise to the challenge of reevaluating. And he never let tradition or long held beliefs stand in the way of new thinking if he thought the new ideas had greater merit. I absolutely know this is not the man some of you thought you knew; but this is the man I knew. But I had the advantage of knowing him closely for almost 72 years! If you didn't know this man that I knew, then you didn't talk religion with him very much.

Dad told me a few years back that several of the ministers of the UPC had nicknamed him "The Pope." In his inimitable fashion, he didn't understand what they were implying. I was so amused to hear this story I could not contain myself. I laughed and laughed. I think Dad thought I was laughing at him. But I was not. In the UPC all theology flows from the top. The leaders decide doctrine. In a sense, the leaders are the "many Popes" of the UPC. The ministers and the laity are supposed to believe exactly as they say. With Dad it was simply not so; he thought for himself, and they dubbed him "the Pope" in derision. How could he be so presumptious as to believe he could decide for himself? But he could, and he did. He never kowtowed to the beliefs of others. He came from a background where the whole family believed your theology was what you worked out between you and your God.

I have a cousin who grew up a Preacher's Kid like me. She grew up the daughter of a Missionary. She is not here today, and I'm not talking about anyone most of you would know. But to get back to the story, there was a nice little book written about the mission work of her father and mother. She didn't like it. I asked her why? She said that it made it sound like her Dad was a saint. She said that "Mom and Dad were real people! They had their problems and their faults just like everybody else." She dearly loved them both. But she also saw them as people with good points and bad points, strengths and weaknesses, flawed but beloved humans. She didn't like the idea of them being portrayed as saints of great stature. Us PKs are like that! We've all seen our parents as real people -- people who in all points are tested like everybody else -- and fail miserably in some points. And we've seen all the church "Saints" up close and personal -- and they ain't always real purty either.

Was Dad a failure? Absolutely not. He lived his Christian life as diligently as any person I have been privileged to closely observe. Did he ever fail? Certainly. And he admitted that he had at times failed. But he was not a failure. Never did I see him compromise his integrity nor abate in his desire to do right. He did, to his chagrin, discover in later years that some of the things he was certain were right in his youth he knew to be wrong in his old age. So his failures were those of bad theology. But, when he saw his mistakes for what they were, he admitted his mistakes and turned from them. I see Dad as having the heart of David; another man who made his share of mistakes, but always quickly repented of them and turned back to God with renewed fervor.

There is a great book out entitled, "Why Children Need Heroes." The short answer: Because if we do not provide them, children will seek their own, and perhaps not the right ones. Modern society is "starved" of genuine ones. But as a child I had one, for sure. I thought my Dad was the most wonderful, honest, honorable Dad a kid could have. And, you know, I have never lost that feeling.

Most of you know that Dad has lived alone since Mom passed away on 30 July 2006. He greatly missed his spouse of 67 years -- to his dying day. Living alone was not something he took to naturally; he missed Mom's companionship. But Dad learned to fill his "life-after-Mom" with activity, religious Internet forums, and friends to minimize the loneliness. And he succeeded. I loved to visit Dad, and thoroughly enjoyed our discussions -- adult to adult. I know my love for him deepened measurably over the past 9 years since Mom's passing. I became more and more aware of what a special man he was, and what a grand old man he had become after Mom's death. He aged with great dignity and grace. And I loved him more and more with each year.

And now that he is gone? He is still with us as an example. I just hope that I can measure up to the man who was my Father. If my children can say I followed my beliefs as diligently as their Grandfather did, then I will have measured up to him. He's a tough act to follow -- and I love him for that! Rest in peace, my beloved Father. I was greatly blessed to have you alive as my Father for 72 years of my life -- a blessing few can claim. I love you Dad.


Peter Fretwell spent many yours preparing a PowerPoint presentation for Dad's funeral. It has many pictures of Marion's life, and a wonderful selection of background music. You can download this PowerPoint presentation here (it is about 77 Megabytes). Once it is downloaded, go to the "Slide Show" tab and start the slide show.


Peter also wrote a eulogy about Marion's life. I am including it here:

An old man told this story. You will understand its significance in a minute.

Right around 1900, a young man named William met a young woman named Fanny. They met at a church social in northeast Missouri. William’s dream, over time, became making enough money to take Fanny’s hand in marriage. The dirt-poor farm where he had grown up offered no hope for that future, so William wished Fanny good-bye and boarded a Union Pacific Pullman car, seeking a better future in the West.

His destination was his aunt’s house in Idaho. William settled in with her family and began working at any jobs he could find.

By September, 1901, either optimism or loneliness won out. Or maybe it was the arrival of Fanny’s 21st birthday. Whatever the reason, the two young people decided the time had come for a wedding. Fanny bought a ticket on the same train and headed for Idaho.

Imagine 22-year William pacing the platform in Caldwell, Idaho, watching for the sight of the steam and listening for the sound of the whistle, checking his watch - anxious for the first sign of the arrival of his fiancée. When the train finally pulled into the station, William and Fanny wasted no time. Fanny was ushered to the waiting farm wagon and the old farm horses were urged to the Baptist minister’s parsonage.

There, a brief wedding ceremony began a marriage that endured more than four decades, until both William and Fanny passed from this life. As Dad would have said, “The preacher tied the knot real good.”

With an eventual work force of a dozen children, William and Fanny eked out a living as sharecroppers in Ten Davis, Idaho. Our storyteller was one of the twelve children. Like most of the children in the family, part of his childhood came at the height of a Depression that left one out of every four Americans desperate for any work.

Life was grindingly hard. The five boys in the family thought nothing of sleeping on a screened-in porch through summer and winter. The only insulation between the boys and the bone-chilling winters was a thin sheet of canvas over the screens. The only cooling during August’s blistering hot wheat harvest season was a dip in one of the nearby irrigation canals after a long day in the fields.

The old man recalled that William “broke day with a club” and “prowled with owls at night” to make sure all the work was done and that the growing family had food on the table. Fanny raised chickens to earn extra money.

The railroad tracks ran near their farm, so the family frequently saw “traveling men” during the Depression. Freight trains rolled through every day and night, and hoboes often “rode the rails.”

Hoboes had a graffiti system for sharing local information with other itinerant workers. The symbols, often made with chalk on fence posts, told others where to find a hot meal.

Many farmers removed the symbols from their fence posts when they found them. Even if they fed a tired soul who appeared on their doorstep, willingly leaving signs that encouraged more strangers to stop was beyond their charity.

Fanny was cut from a different cloth. She refused to remove the chalk on the fencepost at the edge of the 40-acres where their farmhouse stood. Her faith compelled her to feed anybody who showed up on her doorstep.

The youngsters in the family learned not to stare at the often haggard and weary individuals eating with them or sleeping in the hay in the barn, where the children joined their father for chores before heading to school.

The old man recalled a knock at the door late one afternoon after he was home from school. When his mother went to the door, a man asked if she could spare a bite to eat.

He wrote, “Then, he saw the faces of me and my younger brothers peering out the door from behind Mama. He said, ‘No, you have too many mouths to feed. If I get too tired, I'll lie down a while.’”

With that, the man turned away from the open door and walked on down the dirt road.

William came in from the fields a short time later. When Fanny told him what had happened, William turned to our storyteller and commanded simply, "Son, go bring him back."

The old man recalls, “I was not the fastest runner of the boys, but I HAD learned one secret about running: how to endure for the long haul. I started out running in the direction the man was going. I could not see him because of a dip in the road. I knew I could overtake him if I kept up a steady pace, but I didn't know how far it would be. I passed the first "forty acre" mark, but he was further down the road. I kept going, and finally caught up with him around the next forty-acre mark.

I was more out of breath than I had figured on, and when I tried to talk to the man, all I could do was pant for breath. I finally blurted out, ‘Papa wants you to come back and eat.’”

The stranger ate dinner with the family. Then, the old man recalls, “He slept in the granary that night, and went on his way the next morning after breakfast. In the meantime, we heard his story. He was a man of learning, but had lost his job when the Depression struck, and was looking for work. He had heard of a job that he could do in the early stages of construction of the Owyhee Dam across the Snake River in Oregon. We never learned if he found work or not, but very few skilled men failed to find something to do.”

The old man’s story is not particularly unusual for those days, or even later generations of farm families.

The only reason this story is known to me -- the reason the story is important to our time together here today -- is because the old man was the man whose life we celebrate and honor today – Marion Reynold Fretwell.

He was ninth of William and Fanny Fretwell’s children, the second oldest boy.

Dad shared with us recollections of growing up on that Idaho farm. They were almost always fond and happy childhood memories, despite the grinding poverty of the Depression.

Many of you understand that his ease with people from all walks of life was probably molded by those early experiences, like sharing those meals with traveling strangers.

Many of you served him greatly in his last years, simply by allowing him to share that part of himself. You brought him great joy with your kindness. Thank you for that, from all of us in his family. You helped keep him going on his long run.

To each of you here today who played a role in his final years – the Wednesday coffee group, the Harmon Senior Center friends, and all the church members, past and present – thank you for loving our Dad.

Many of you also understand that his work ethic also was molded during those years. He recently told somebody visiting him at the rehab center that he would not be in such poor physical condition if he had not retired too soon. Many of you know he retired at age 80…but he offered the opinion that he probably should have waited until he was 85 to retire.

The story he told about the kindness to a stranger was a remarkably apt metaphor for his life.

In a life filled with many sorrows and many challenges, Marion Fretwell showed he knew how to run with patience the race set before him, to strive for the mastery, to keep his eye on the prize.

We have asked Dad’s oldest granddaughter, Krista, to share what she wrote on Facebook at his passing. Krista…

Marion Reynold Fretwell aka Pete, Barney, Papa, Rev. Fretwell, Idaho farmer, Pentecostal preacher, paint store stockman, Internet surfer. A man of uncommon gentleness, strength, and adaptability -- an oak -- his formidable presence and power matched only by his boundless humor and grace. He was a man of profound personal honesty and humility, who never grew too old to change his mind, and who taught me that the very heart and essence of integrity is love. I love you, Papa. You are in me and with me, always. May your extraordinary spirit find its rest.

Krista, thank you for those words.

Kathy – who lovingly cared for Dad for his last two years –shared with us Dad’s sentiment in his final few days. One of the last days he was able to get up and make it to the breakfast table, his prayer was simply, “Lord, have mercy.” He knew he had finished his race. He was asking to be released to his rest. His Father granted mercy. We celebrate that mercy today, despite a sense of loss.

Kathy, thank you for your loving care of Dad.

Dad, as you recounted in your story, you did indeed learn how to endure for the long haul. Thank you for sharing that heritage with us. It is your legacy.


Here is a mini-autobiography by Marion, which was requested for the ROSWELL SCHOOL SCRAP BOOK which was put together as a memory of Idaho Rural District #46. It was written about 20 years back, but captures much of his life.


I was born one half mile west of the Roswell [Idaho] Rural District #46 Schoolhouse on Nov. 25, 1918.

My Papa's name was William Lafayette Fretwell. My Mama's maiden name had been Fannie Sparks Ramsey. They were both born in Missouri in 1879 and 1880 respectively.

I was child number nine, and boy number two. Sam, the first boy, had already absorbed most of the spoiling by the older girls, so I didn't get much of that. I was born left-handed, but Mama didn't see that as a good thing, so I was taught another method of doing things. There were some of the traits which she didn't recognize, so I still do some things the "wrong" way. Neither did she know about the dangers to the child if forced to change from being "southpaw" to being "regular." I'm not so sure that it had much effect on my development, but since it is popular right now to blame our parents for our quirks, why not join in on the empty "clatter" of the "parent bashers." NO! I will not!

My entire elementary school years were spent at Roswell. I was graduated from High School in 1937 -- one, of about 16 students. There were several of us who had the same track record -- 12 years in the same school.

After being graduated, God did a special work in my life in April 1938. He gave me a much deeper experience with Himself than I had ever had before. It brought about a definite and complete turnaround in my life. I felt He would be pleased if I would train for the Ministry. I started Bible Training in Caldwell in the Fall of 1938. The ensuing years have proven that I had, indeed, been called of God to the Ministry.

In Caldwell, I met a young lady named Pearl Snider, from Washington State, who had likewise had a definite calling to Ministerial work. She had been born at Midvale, Idaho on Nov 5, 1918 to a farm family. She was the last of her family -- her mother passed away from Spanish influenza when she was 3 months old.

Pearl and I were married near Yakima, Washington on July 20, 1939. Our first home was in Yakima, where I was serving as Assistant Pastor of a small Pentecostal Church.

We soon went for further training, to Oakland, California where a Training Home was conducted in conjunction with the Big Downtown Mission. What we learned there was to serve us well for the next 50 or so years. Harry Morse was an excellent trainer.

I was ordained to the Ministry in 1943 at Bend, Oregon. Pearl was ordained in 1960. She has been the perfect Pastor's Wife.

We have four children, born from 1940 to 1952. None of them have followed us in the Ministry. Each of them is doing very well in his or her chosen vocation -- from CEO of University of Ohio Library Computer Link, to Spokane Radio Talk Show Host, to Area Hydrologist of U.S. Geological Survey -- Water Resources Division, to Executive Secretary of Superintendent of Schools in Alaska -- also Legal and Medical Secretary.

Pearl and I have served several Churches during the nearly 56 years we have been married. [actually 67 years at the time of Pearl's death]

My hearing, and other factors, combined to cause us to change the course of our efforts in the early 70's. "The steps (and stops) of a good man are ordered of the Lord." I then did a radio Bible Study for five years. We eventually gravitated to the work we are doing right now. It is, perhaps, the most productive type of work we have ever done. We print and mail a 12-page monthly "letter" to our relatives and friends across the Nation.

I have access to the Internet with my computer, and have a large "mailing list." I send short bits of Gospel News to the list on an irregular basis (usually once a week). Later this year, I will be writing a Religious Column for AOL (America On Line), one of the "ramps" to the Internet. My Cyberspace address is: Write me! [Note: This is no longer an active email address.]


Marion was quite a storyteller. He loved to remenisce about his youth, and he was very good at making his stories come to life. If you are interested, here is a 35 page .pdf file you can download. It compiles most of the short stories he wrote about his early life.

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