A Few Words of Memory in Commemoration of the Life of Evelyn Hartman Park, M.D. from Marianne Wargelin:
She was "Aunt Evelyn" when I first met her. Almost five years old, I was living in Hancock, Michigan with my parents and baby brother. I remember the electricity in the air as my parents anticipated Evelyn's and, her sister, Edith's, arrival from Finland. It was shortly after the end of World War II, and my grandfather, John Wargelin, had used his professional influence to get his nieces, Evelyn and Edith, into the United States. After the devastating effects of the wars in Finland, the two sisters had asked their uncle to help them leave Finland and return to the land of their birth where they thought they could start a new life.
I have no idea how difficult it was for my grandfather to get them on the quota list, or how difficult it was getting passages to come. All I know is that when the two women arrived, all the adults around me were extremely happy. It was a long anticipated homecoming of family. Long hugs, non-apologetic tears, and joyous laughter. Lots of conversation about the rest of the relatives in Finland. Lots of conversation about the physical and political conditions in Finland. I don't remember the details. All I remember is the electricity.
Evelyn returned into my life nine years later. I was almost 14. My family had been living in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, in the interim. While my parents had been creating a career in the parish ministry in the largest Finnish Lutheran church in the country, Evelyn had been busy, doing first a residency under Dr. Spock at Mayo Clinic and then building her own public health career in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Now, all of a sudden, "Aunt Evelyn" appeared in my life again.
We were in Ely, Minnesota, attending the annual Suomi Synod church convention, during which my father had been elected the president (the bishop) of the Finnish Lutheran Church in America. In the midst of the crisis of a major change in my parents' professional and family life, "Aunt Evelyn" wanted to talk to my parents. That Sunday afternoon, after the last festivities were over, my parents took my brothers and I swimming at the public beach. While we swam and played in the sun, Evelyn talked seriously with my parents. In spite of the seriousness of the conversation, I remember she stopped to pull a leech off my little brother. I remember being impressed then both with the seriousness of the conversation and the professionalism of the "surgery."
Later, my mother told me that Evelyn had come to discuss the marriage proposal of a fellow Minneapolis public health doctor, Wilford Park. Apparently, they must have encouraged her because the next spring my family drove down from Hancock, Michigan, where we now lived in the Synod President's parsonage, and my father performed the marriage ceremony for them. That was the moment my brothers and I met Robert, James, and Warren.
"Aunt Evelyn" thus became a person with a family who joined our family celebrations. Family was extremely important to her, and she wanted her new family to become part of her family of origin. My parents and my brothers and I, now living in Minneapolis, shared many holidays and dinners, many birthdays and anniversaries together. Through these events, my brothers and I came to feel we gained another set of cousins. She had worked that hard to make that happen.
As I got older, "Aunt Evelyn" gradually became "Evelyn," a woman who functioned as a kind of mentor. Because I was working professionally after my own marriage, Evelyn began to counsel me about how to make marriage, a family, and a profession work. She told me stories about how it all came together. And she told me stories of times when it didn't...like the story about her discovery of her lost credit rating. Shortly after she had married, she had gone to replace her car and found she couldn't buy a new car without her husband's signature. She had lost her credit rating because she was a married woman. She was furious. To creditors, she no longer existed. Only her husband's credit rating counted. She decided then and there to continue to use "Evelyn Hartman" as her professional name.
"Evelyn" paid attention to women's status and, in our brief conversations, taught me to do so too. She taught me to pay attention to whether or not an organization included women on the boards of directors. She taught me to celebrate women's successes, like the success of Helvi Sipila, a Finn and a friend, the first woman to become Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations. She shared the excitement of Zonta, the international women's organization that gave her new opportunities for leadership in behalf of women and taught me to search for my own work with women's issues. She was always supportive of my achievements. She particularly liked that I had chosen to study and write about Finnish and Finnish American women. "People need to know," she said. Evelyn affirmed it all.
Yet, for all her concern for the status of women, she added the name "Park" when she moved to Prescott, Arizona, a tribute to the man she loved. She gladly retired early from a profession that she dearly loved. I remember the sheer terror in her face when she came over to my parents home one summer day when she thought Wilford might die. It was that moment that she decided to retire and move to Arizona, an effort to extend Wilford's life. She had her priorities. The last time we met, two years ago, she told me that love was the most important thing a person could achieve, love within a marriage, and love of God.
After Wilford died, she traveled to Finland alone. It was then I found I could give her something back. I asked her if she would like to attend a seminar I was involved in organizing that summer at the University of Kuopio in Finland. It was a feminist gathering of Americans and Finns. She eagerly agreed but, surprisingly, was quiet through most of the sessions. Near the end, however, she spoke up and told us a story about how her mother had reacted when Evelyn had decided to become a doctor. Here, at this conference, a story about an American mother, living in Finland, telling her Finnish and American daughter what to expect from life, seemed important to share. Evelyn spoke of her mother's pride and support for her daughter's desire to enter a career with few women role models. Evelyn went on to speak a bit of the horror of being a woman and a doctor in the midst of Finland's wars with Russia and the peace she found by returning to the States. When she closed by saying that her mother had earlier told her that she was still going to have to learn how to "run a house," I smiled. With Wilford, in America, she had been able to do that. And, here, at this moment in Finland, she was paying homage, not just to her mother, but to the love of her life. It had been quite a journey.
Written by K. Marianne Wargelin
September 15, 1999