by LHS Volunteer Dave Boling
Have you ever started a project and found that there were surprises along the way?
Such was the case last year when I began researching my program for the Lakeside Heritage Society about Lakeside missionaries. Surprises lead us in different directions. They can be distractions or they can deepen and expand the story you’re trying to tell.
And it all started with past Lakesider, Eleanor Durr!
In her book, Lakeside Lore, Eleanor tells the story of two of the many Methodist missionaries with ties to Lakeside, Franklin and Bertha Ohlinger. They spent their honeymoon here and Bertha gave a farewell address to the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society before the couple left for China. The Ohlingers were frequent visitors when they were in the United States. They stayed at the Searles Guest House (we know it today as "Idlewyld").
Eleanor also writes about her personal relationship with Dr. F. I. Johnson and his wife, Halla. The Johnsons were missionary leaders in the Methodist Episcopal Church a generation after the Ohlingers. Frend and Halla Johnson (she’s listed as "Helen" in an old directory) had a cottage on the Lakefront.
Both of these families left items that they acquired in their missionary work and world travels to the Upper Room Museum in Nashville.
I decided to follow up on Miss Durr’s stories and contacted the Museum to see if I could obtain some photos of some of the Johnson/Ohlinger items for my presentation. A month later, I received a call from their museum director informing me they had made the decision to close their museum. She asked if Lakeside would be interested in receiving some of the items; if not, they would be sold at auction. She preferred that the items be made available to Lakeside because we had connections with both the Johnsons and Ohlingers. We would be free to keep, store, or sell them as we saw fit. Soon thereafter, Dakota Harkins, Carol Morgan, and I, participated in a Zoom tour of the collection being offered, and we accepted the items with gratitude.
The Rev. Dr. Franklin Ohlinger and Bertha Ohlinger
The Ohlingers were German Methodist missionaries in China and Korea for more than 45 years. Franklin was a graduate of the German-Wallace College (now Baldwin Wallace University) in Berea, founded by German Methodist Bishop and Lakesider, William Nast. First stationed in China, the Ohlingers introduced the Gospel in the villages of China where it had never been heard. They used their linguistic skills to translate hymns and other English and German writings to the Chinese language. They were founders in 1881 of the Anglo-Chinese College in Foochow, where Franklin was the College President and Bertha taught. When Korea was opened to the West in 1887, they were among the first missionaries to enter the country. There, Dr. Ohlinger started one of the first printing ventures, published a newspaper, and continued to spread the Gospel message. (see Ohio's Yesterdays).
In this rather large collection gifted by the Upper Room Museum, there are a few gems related to Lakeside and our missionary heritage––for example, Bertha Ohlinger’s German Bible, and a hymnal in Chinese that she translated from English. Bertha was the first to translate English hymns to the Chinese language. The collection also includes a large bell and stand that belonged to her husband, Franklin, along with many other items that would have been typical for him to take as he traveled the Ohio countryside visiting churches when on furlough from his missionary work.
Franklin used photo images and artifacts like the Goddess of Mercy to help Westerners understand the culture of the Chinese and Korean people. The sessions must have been visual treats, featuring photos, art and traditional Asian costumes. Franklin could talk for an hour or more and not lose the interest of the crowd. A freewill offering would go to support their missionary work or sometimes a 25-cent admission would be charged. As much as the Ohlingers shared the Gospel in China and Korea, they shared Asian culture here.
Lakeside was home base for many missionaries like the Ohlingers, where they would rest, prepare for church visits, and for their return to the mission field. While at Lakeside they were an active part of the community, preaching at the camp meeting and the Lakeside church or speaking to mission groups and conferences like the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society.
Rev. Dr. Franklin Ohlinger died in 1919 after 46 years as a missionary in Korea and China. His wife and soul mate, Bertha, died in 1934. The Ohlingers are buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo. On their grave marker is inscribed, “Friends of the People of Korea and China.”
Dr. F I. and Mrs. Johnson
Lakesiders Frend and Halla Johnson were Ohioans who grew up in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Halla, a graduate of Marietta College, and Frend, of Ohio Wesleyan and Boston University, were married in 1897. Thus began a partnership in mission that took them around the world twice and led Frend to leadership roles in foreign mission work. Halla’s leadership included the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society, a passionate advocacy for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the founding by the WCTU of the Women’s National Union for Political Action. Halla led mission programs and pageants both at Lakeside and Chautauqua. This included several years at the Chautauqua Institution and Mountain Lake Chautauqua.
Together, the Johnsons started the American branch of the Save The Children Foundation, and Frend was a driving force behind the Methodist Children’s Home in Worthington, Ohio. Like the Ohlingers, the Johnsons would travel to local churches in support of missionaries and share their observations and “curios and costumes” from the foreign lands they visited. Places like Lakeside grew a wider understanding of the world through missionaries and the missionary leaders of Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Society of Friends and Presbyterian denominations.
Perhaps because they lost their only child, a daughter, in 1917, they were passionate advocates for children and for uplifting others. Their grave marker at Oak Grove Cemetery in Delaware Ohio, is inscribed with the motto “NOT FOR SELF BUT FOR OTHERS.” More than just words, it was the guiding principle of their lives.
Johnson items in the collection include selections from their world travels. Of special interest is a pair of 4-inch girl’s shoes. Foot binding was the Chinese custom of tightly wrapping young girls’ feet as a sign of beauty and status. Feet altered by binding were called lotus feet. It was an incredibly painful process, significantly limiting the mobility of the women involved. By the early 20th century, foot binding had come to an end.
As Eleanor Durr recalls in Lakeside Lore:
I was program chairman of the Old timers Day program and several speakers had cancelled. At the last moment, I called on the F. I. Johnsons to ask if she would reminisce on early Lakeside. Mrs. Johnson was almost a legend. She had been chair of Camp Wesleyan, taught on missions and produced numerous pageants using the hundreds of costumes she had collected from every known mission field.
To my question ... Mrs. Johnson said, “give me 5 minutes.” In that time we were headed for the auditorium, where she tried out the microphone and put her thoughts together for a talk. All went well on Oldtimers Day. ... Seeing the many people in costume, she inquired, “Do you have a costume department?” “No,” I observed, “everyone has to skirmish for their own.” “Then would you like to inherit all of mine?”
Many silks, possibly some of those very garments, along with some of Bertha Ohlinger’s collection, made their way to the Upper Room Museum, and are now in the possession of the Lakeside Heritage Society.
Other Items in the Upper Room Museum Gift to Lakeside
One of the items most interestingly connected to Lakeside is a rare 15-inch Staffordshire porcelain symbolizing Faith, Hope and Charity, the values of the Good Templars. While it celebrates the organization’s first branch in England, established in 1868, the organization’s values were the same here at the Lakeside chapter.
The Good Templars originated in 1851 as a fraternal organization dedicated to temperance. The organization included both men and women as members and made no distinction of race, but they had a short history at Lakeside. They disbanded and sold their unfinished building to the Methodist Episcopal Church, which was destroyed in the great 1929 fire that swept through Lakeside.
One of the rarest items in the collection is a Chinese ceramic tomb figure from the Six Dynasties period. This female figurine is of a Classic form, tall and slender, in a slight forward posture, with lowered head and down casting eyes, suggesting her status as lady in waiting.
There are more common items as well, like wooden boxes, tea pots, and a Chinese Cinnabar Red Lacquer Vase with panels of a scholar and his attendants, in a rich landscape, between panels of flowers.
The Heritage Society thanks the Upper Room Museum for this significant, unrestricted gift. Special thanks go also to Mrs. Carolyn Putney, retired Curator of Asian Art at the Toledo Museum of Art, for her assistance evaluating the items. The Heritage Society Collection Committee is determining how to use them to help tell the story of Lakeside’s missionary heritage. Depending on their condition, some of the silks will be sold. We'd love to find a fabric artist in Lakeside who could use some of the fabric in a creative manner for the benefit of the Heritage Society. Stay tuned!
David Boling's program for the Lakeside Heritage Society, Lakeside, the Missionary's Friend, is available online. Click these links to watch it: