Mother of BBI President Passes Away
By Charles Kelley
PHILOMATH, Oregon – Early last month my mother, Elizabeth Lydia Feldmanis, 83, passed away in Corvallis, Oregon. I want to share a few glimpses of her fascinating life.
She was born Lidija Elizabete Zingere in Jelgava, Latvia on July 4, 1932, the daughter of Karlis Vilhelms Zingers (Charles William Singer) and Marija Anshevica-Urbane Zingere (Mary Singer). He was a blacksmith turned Baptist pastor and she was a schoolteacher and clothing store-owner.
In 1940, when Elizabeth was 8 years old, Stalin’s Soviet Russia conquered and occupied Latvia for one year. The months that followed are still known as the ‘year of terror’; tens of thousands were arrested, deported and arbitrarily executed by the Soviets.
In 1941, the Nazis replaced the Communists as occupiers when Hitler ordered his armies to conquer Russia. For the next three and a half years German boots marched throughout Latvia. Elizabeth often recounted the story of when she and her granny were staying in a small rural house right next to a field where ferocious fighting between Russians and Germans took place. Nazi warplanes flew over and strafed their property with machine-gun fire numerous times. Thoroughly terrified, she and Granny decided to tie a bed sheet to a long stick and wave it back and forth, making it clear to the German pilots that they were surrendering. Amazingly, the strafing subsided.
When the Nazi invasion of Russia failed in 1944, the Russians chased the Germans to the Baltic Sea where overcrowded warships and cargo ships shuttled Latvians to slave labor camps in Germany and Poland. Faced with the hellish choice to live under Stalin or Hitler, Elizabeth’s parents were among the 207,000 who opted to flea their beloved Latvia and head for a slave labor camp in Schneidemühl, in northwestern Poland, known today as Piła. Elizabeth was 12 years old.
Upon arrival at the labor camp in Poland, her parents used cleverly smuggled valuables to bribe Nazi officials to release them. Soon they were on a southbound train headed for the Austrian Alps where they, and other Latvian refugees, lived with Austrian families in near starvation conditions until the war ended. Nevertheless, they were grateful to escape the violence of the war.
When the war ended in 1945, 13 year-old Elizabeth and her family moved into a refugee camp for 8,000 Latvians in Esslingen, Germany, near Stuttgart. She attended high school in Esslingen.
In 1949, the family immigrated to the United States through the sponsorship of a California physician from Sierra Madre, California. Elizabeth was 17 when her life in America began. After graduating from high school and a year of studies at Pasadena City College, she went to Memphis, Tennessee to study nursing at what is known today as the Baptist Memorial College of Health Sciences. Upon graduation she passed the state boards to become a registered nurse.
In Memphis she met Talbert Cooper Kelley. She was 20 when they were married on April 23, 1953. They soon moved to California to live close to her parents. Together they had two children, Linda Ruta Kelley and Charles David Kelley. Talbert passed away in 1970.
Elizabeth became a United States citizen on the very same day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. It was then that she opted to change her name from Lidija Elizabete to Elizabeth Lydia.
She continued her education, studying at UCLA and Loma Linda University. She worked as a private duty nurse for many years.
Elizabeth’s social life was fascinating. Though she was extremely shy and rather reclusive, her striking beauty caught the attention of prominent personalities. She received and declined an offered from a famous Hollywood movie producer to play Elizabeth Taylor’s double. She was invited to exclusive events including the Academy Awards. She even casually dated well-known stars.
On one occasion, in 1968, she was invited to attend a major rally at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles celebrating the primary election victory of Robert Kennedy who was running for president. Little did she know that she would be less than 20 feet away as Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan. I still remember her coming home in the early morning hours with blood on her dress.
She married fellow Latvian immigrant, John Feldmanis, on Valentine’s Day in 1974. He was a much sought after brick and stone mason, having built fireplaces for many celebrities including Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis and Barbara Stanwyck. He died suddenly in 1989.
In 1985, she and I went to Latvia. It was just a few weeks after Gorbachev had declared Glasnost and Perestroika. Though she enjoyed seeing long lost relatives, she was disgusted with what had become of her beloved homeland in the hand of the Soviet occupiers.
Her interests included old movies, collecting interesting items, like porcelain dolls, Christmas villages, fine china and crystal vases. She loved to wheel and deal at swap meets and garage sales, often buying jewelry in need of repair which she later creatively repaired.
She lived in the same home in Los Angeles for some fifty years moving to Corvallis, Oregon on April 22. She wanted to live closer to family and receive better medical care. On Tuesday, May 4, 2016, Elizabeth passed away in a beautiful Corvallis home having spent quality time with both of her children, four grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
My mother’s favorite verses were Romans 8:38, 39. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Memorial gifts may be given to Bridge Builders International, which she faithfully supported for more than twenty years … and remembered in her last will and testament.