Thursday, October 20, 2016

Being Special Without Ever Trying

Iva Roxburgh would not approve of this essay.

She died last week at the age of 101.  If you've never lived in Arlington, Texas, you've probably never heard of her.  Yet she was one of those selfless people who is being remembered by literally thousands of people right now, as we mourn her loss.

Ironically, we all know her despite her lack of self-promotion.  She simply lived the life God gave her.  It sounds like such a cliche, but Iva is special mostly because she never tried to be.

For several decades, generations of Arlington children have attended Camp Thurman, a weekday summer camp nestled along a dry gulch in a little town called Pantego, which Arlington has grown to envelop.  Older kids who've outgrown Camp Thurman as campers have returned year after year as counselors, and the facility has grown to the point where it's about to burst through the maze of subdivisions that sprang up around it.

When I was a kid, I didn't attend Camp Thurman, and even though I don't now have any kids, I know full well the legendary status of the Roxburgh gift to our little corner of the Dallas - Fort Worth Metroplex.  Thurman was Iva's husband of 50 years, and although they never had children of their own, the Roxburghs - early homesteaders in what was then barren prairie - donated 14 acres of their land to their church for use as a children's ministry.  That was "way back in the day," as we say 'round these parts, when the Roxburgh's roomy yet understated brick ranch home was on a rural dirt road.

Indeed, although she didn't have children of her own, as long as Camp Thurman is around, Iva will never be childless.  These days, Camp Thurman is a bona-fide youth services organization serving 7,000 kids every summer with a reputation for down-home, wholesome outdoor fun despite our modern generation's fixation on personal electronics.  Their program also now includes evening activities and teambuilding events for adults.

Iva long ago gave up her personal oversight of the camp, but not her love of children.  For decades, she volunteered in the Sunday School at Pantego Bible Church, of which she was a founding member.  In fact, it wasn't until last year that she finally gave up her Sunday morning duties - after she turned 100.

Iva loved her husband, always wearing his wedding band on her right ring finger after his passing.  And most of all, she loved her Savior, Whom she worshiped with just about everything she did and said.  Pantego Bible Church was the congregation to which Iva and Thurman donated their land for the camp all those years ago, and despite many changes in the church, Iva never left... even though a lot of what changed didn't please her.  Her funeral there tomorrow will likely be standing-room-only, and I plan on being one of the folks unable to find a seat.

Iva worked secretarial jobs in a variety of offices throughout her career, until she retired - in 1980.  I got to know her when I worked in the financial office at Pantego Bible Church, where she'd already been a long-time volunteer on Monday mornings, overseeing the counting and posting of the previous day's contributions.

My boss, Linda, was officially in charge of counting the weekly contributions, but Iva was in control of the process.  She faithfully managed the team of volunteers who counted the money, cross-checked amounts, bundled the cash for depositing at the bank, tabulated the checks, and then created a grand total after adding everything up.  After lunch, Iva would then set to work at a computer, posting every recordable contribution into our finance software for IRS compliance.  I don't know how many software programs Iva learned during her 80's and 90's, but it was two or three at least.  Not bad for an old lady, huh?

Me greeting Iva at my father's memorial service last year.
Not that Iva was ever actually old.  As long as I knew her, she sported a luxurious dollop of pure-white hair, neatly arranged and always stylish.  Still, even into her 90's, Iva never really looked old.  She certainly never looked her age, even at 100.  And she didn't act it, either.  I never knew her use a cane, or be ill.  Her mind stayed sharp up until this year.  She attended my father's memorial service a year ago, not just because she was my friend, but because she remembered Dad from the Bible studies at Pantego Bible Church that he used to attend with me back in the 1990's.

Yes, Iva was my friend, but that wasn't because we were especially close; it was because I doubt Iva ever had a single enemy.  She never had a negative comment about anybody, which is something nobody, unfortunately, can say about me.

Nevertheless, she could be ornery.  Years ago, some young men from the singles group at Pantego Bible Church tried to start an outreach to widows in the congregation.  Since the church had undergone so many changes many of its older people hadn't embraced, there weren't a lot of widows left.  But Iva was one of them, and she didn't live with family, like some of the other widows did, or a retirement home.  So these guys decided that they needed to start doing Iva's lawn.

Even though most of her property had long been deeded to Camp Thurman, Iva still had a sizable lawn.  And flower beds, and shrubs.  Nothing extravagant, of course, which would have been extremely un-Iva-like.  But there was a lot of it, and Iva kept it all very neat and tidy.

Another friend who already had befriended several of the older people at the church warned the guys that of all the people who needed help, Iva wasn't one of them.  "But she's in her 80's," they protested.  "She's got so much to maintain.  The Bible says we need to help her."

So they tried.  They contacted Iva and asked if she needed help with her yard.  No, she did not.

They tried again.  Are you sure there's nothing we can do?  Yes, she was sure; no, there wasn't.

Finally, Iva realized that these young men were genuinely trying to show her some respect and Christian affection, so she relented and agreed for them to come over one Saturday morning.

And on the appointed day, several single guys from church arrived with all the tools they thought they'd need.  Iva met them in the front yard with instructions, and some apprehension on her part.  As the young men began to labor over the grass, Iva didn't go back inside, but stayed outside with them, supervising.  She wasn't crazy about how they were mowing her grass, but she didn't begin to show her concern until they started on her hedges.  By the time somebody began pulling weeds in one of her flower gardens, however, Iva was reaching the limits of her patience and diplomacy.

"I really appreciate y'all trying to help me like this," Iva told the men, "but I think I'd better take care of the rest."

That true story was relayed to be by a couple of the fellows who'd been there.  I hadn't bothered to show up, since I was one of the guys who knew that Iva was mighty self-reliant.  But Iva was a good sport, as were the guys who, sheepishly, agreed that Iva really didn't need their help after all.  Even in our brutal Texas summers, for example, Iva had honed her lawnmowing ritual to avoid the worst of the heat, and she'd soak herself with the garden hose every little while.  Who cared what passers-by thought if she looked a little silly all drenched with water?  It wasn't that Iva needed to be a fashion plate, or keep the yard up for appearances sake.  It was work to be done, and Iva could do it, so you did what you needed to do to get it done.

I don't know a lot of people who have the pluck and fortitude that Iva had.  She was one of those people who simply kept on going, no matter what happened.  She never seemed to get rattled, or especially tired.  She kept her house tidy and clean, but she never updated it.  Her cars were purely utilitarian - plain models that she drove until they wore out.  It wasn't for lack of money, or even indifference.  She simply never saw the need to fuss about much of anything.

Except, perhaps, how somebody else manicured her yard.

"Miss Iva," as generations of kids who've grown up at both Camp Thurman and Pantego Bible Church call her, was one of the most widely-known yet uniquely genuine people we'll probably ever meet.  With her passing, the history of Pantego - both the town, and the church - becomes not only a memory of what used to be, but a celebration of what one person, unburdened by conceit while being quietly faithful to her God, can achieve.

Not because she was out to achieve anything.  But because she was content to let Christ live through her.

"Well done, good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” - Matthew 25:23


  1. Oh Tim, what a great tribute! So true. Captures this precious lady so well!

  2. Iva Roxburgh was a treasure. We lived in Pantego for 30+ years , just a few streets north of the Roxburghs and Camp Thurman. Since Smithberry was a "main drag" in Pantego, I passed their home frequently and, no kidding, she was almost always in the yard smiling, holding yard tools, and obviously relishing what she was doing. She was always kind, friendly, and welcoming. Our kids went to Camp Thurman and loved it so! The eldest of the kids in our family was a counselor at Camp Thurman for years. She was known as Butterscotch she had such joy there. Even though she lived out of state when she had her kids, she still got them back tp get at least one time at Camp Thurman. Iva and Thurman have left an amazing legacy of love that grows every year and we are forever thankful to have been allowed to be among those blessed by their lives.


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