Friend to Friend

From a personal interview by Joleen Meredith with Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the First Quorum of the Seventy.

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    Elder Ronald E. Poelman

    “I did not really enjoy being a child, because they were difficult years for me. I was the oldest of six children and somehow resented this responsibility. I can never remember feeling carefree, because I was always trying to measure up to my parents’ expectations. Now when I’m in someone’s home, I often ask the oldest child, ‘How do you feel about being the oldest one in your family?’ I’ve had some interesting conversations.

    “I liked school and really enjoyed learning, which has been a very stimulating thing for me. Knowing how to read has been one of the great satisfactions in my life. To be able to read was always exciting to me. When I was a very small boy, I started reading the newspaper. I was a conscientious student.”

    Elder Poelman said that one of the things he remembers and cherishes is the scripture stories that his mother taught him during his childhood. “Often my mother would be working at the ironing board. I can remember sitting close-by while she ironed. She would tell me Bible and Book of Mormon stories, and that was a great legacy my mother left to me.

    “My parents were always very active in the Church and were hard workers. During my childhood, we lived in rather strained financial circumstances. A good part of that time we lived in a four-room home. We had one bedroom and a sleeping porch and one very small bathroom. I now live alone in a condominium with three bathrooms and it makes me chuckle to think about it.

    “Many people had a difficult time during the depression. Father was unemployed for about a year and a half, and I remember worrying a great deal. My mother often took me into her confidence, because I was the oldest child. And I knew from the time I was a small boy all about our family finances—how much the coal bill was and how many months behind we were in its payment.

    “But now,” Elder Poelman continued, “I have a great deal of satisfaction enjoying the childhoods of my children and my grandchildren. I have seven grandchildren, one girl and six boys. Our oldest just turned seven. I really enjoy being a grandfather, and I think that I’m reliving my own childhood to some extent. It’s a great opportunity!

    “My parents were both musical, though untrained. While we had no musical instruments at home except my father’s ukulele, the family enjoyed singing together. I was in my teens when my parents first acquired a record player. And I remember what a great experience that was and how much we all enjoyed it. When I was older, the family did acquire a piano, and some of the younger children took lessons. My wife was a music major, and that was one of the things I enjoyed about her when we were dating. I loved to sit and listen to her play the Bach Inventions.

    “The name Poelman is a Dutch name,” Elder Poelman explained. “My paternal grandfather was born in Holland, and as a young man in his teens, he left Holland and went to South Africa. There he married my grandmother, a Scottish girl. She was working at the time as a governess for an English family living in South Africa. My grandparents had one child born in South Africa, then they went back to the British Isles. Another child was born in England, and then they moved to Glasgow, Scotland, where my father was born. It was to their home in Scotland that the missionaries came tracting, and my grandmother answered the door. They were on the third floor of a cold-water flat in the working-class section, and a man named A. Z. Richards was one of the missionaries. He stayed close to our family until he died, and I have always been very fond of him.

    “Subsequently, I was called to serve as a missionary in Holland, as were all three of my younger brothers. My father also served a mission in Holland. That missionary experience was a valuable one for me, because I had an opportunity to meet some of my grandfather’s brothers and sisters, and I was able to learn the language.”

    I asked Elder Poelman what message he wanted to share with the children of the world, and he replied, “Your Father in heaven knows who you are and loves you unconditionally. Even when you do things that are bad, He loves you. It makes Him sad, of course, but it doesn’t mean that He stops loving you. I would encourage you to pray to our Heavenly Father often, knowing that no matter what you’ve done or how you feel about yourself, Heavenly Father will listen to you.

    “Sometimes we may think that the Lord loves us only if we keep His commandments and that if we disobey His commandments, He loves us less. That isn’t true! This is something Satan would like us to believe because then we feel estranged from our Father in heaven. Remember, He loves you all the time wherever you are and whatever you are doing.”

    Illustrated by Ron Stucki