Life Story of Florence DeShazer

By Carol Dixon

Florence Faye Matheny DeShazer was born August 9, 1921 in a little farm house outside of the town of Toddville, Iowa. Her parents were Archie and Alice Matheny from La Fayette, Iowa. There were four children in the family Margaret, Florence, Junior and Phyllis.

Florence wrote fond memories of her family, “My dad was a farmer, and he loved fun and taught us to play. He also loved music and often sang at P.T.A. and Farm meetings. He played violin, trumpet, fife, jews-harp and harmonica. Sometimes I jigged along with the violin. My mom was a quiet, loving and deeply spiritual person. She didn’t scold and I never heard her raise her voice in anger. My most fond memory of her is seeing her in her white night gown, kneeling by her bed each night. I know that she was praying for us kids.”

In 1928, when Florence was 7 years old, she and her family moved to a farm in Toddville, Iowa. They raised corn, hay, oats, pigs, chickens and milking cows. For a short time, they bottled milk and delivered it and the cream to the neighbors. They had a big garden and homemade their clothes and bread.

Florence wrote the following of her childhood memories, “I attended a one-room school house called ‘Little Head.’ My dad took us to school by horse and buggy and later by our first car—a model T-Ford. My mother sewed our clothes. We usually had two school dresses and one Sunday dress. Our house was old and had no running water or electricity. We had to carry our water from the pump and often I would have to pump the tank full of water for the cows and horses--they drank a lot! We had to use the outhouse with paper from the Montgomery Ward Catalog for our toilet needs. I suppose that we were poor but we didn’t realize it.

When I was nine, I was awakened one morning by the cry, ‘Fire, fire, get everyone out!’ I saw black smoke coming from the woodshed near our house. It was an extremely windy March day and the fire soon spread to a pine tree and then to our house. With no fire department there was no way that we could control the fire. I watched tearfully from the neighbor’s house as our home quickly went up in flames. Fortunately, kind neighbors helped to carry most of our belongings to safety. Only the freshly butchered meat in the basement was lost. We rebuilt a nice home on the same spot.

We had a very interesting life as kids. We didn’t have many toys; a ball, rope for jumping, marbles, dominoes and a few books. We mostly made our own fun. In the winter we had lots of snow. My dad would hitch our two white farm horses to the sleigh. We, along with many of the neighborhood kids, would tie our small sleds behind the sleigh and dash through the snow with jingle-bells adding to the fun.

We worked too. Every summer we canned 2000 cans of sweet corn. It was a family affair. My dad would bring the corn from the field. We would all help shuck it and my mom would blanch it. My sister, Margaret and I would cut off the corn—every twelve ears, we earned one penny. My dad would put the corn in the cans, add salt and seal the cans. My mom placed them in large pressure cookers to finish the process. My dad sold most of the canned corn in Cedar Rapids to special customers. The extra money helped us in the depression years. My usual job was to drive the cows to a lower pasture and then bring them back for milking in the evening.”

Florence attended “Toddville School” from 3rd grade to high school. The school was a five-minute walk from their home. About her high school years she wrote, “My high school memories are mostly of playing basketball. I made Varsity Team as a sophomore. My Junior year we had our best team, winning county, district and sectional tournaments and qualifying for the state tournament in Des Moines. We didn’t win the state but what an experience for small town kids!

High school studies were fun especially since I shared many of my classes with my sister, Margaret. We studied together and competed for the best grades. It kept us both on our toes. These were also some of my best years with my younger brother and sister, Junior and Phyllis. It was fun to watch them grow. I loved reading to them and many an evening we spent on a good book. Every spring we would go mushroom hunting. My brother laughed at the time I was crossing a stream on a log and fell into the water. We also gathered goose-berries, black-berries and hickory nuts from our pasture.”

Florence also described her post high school training and her first teaching job in this way, “From the time I was six I had always wanted to be a teacher so when I finished high school at age sixteen, I left home to attend Lenox Junior College in Hopkinton, Iowa. Since it was my first time to be on my own, I probably spent more time having fun than studying but I did earn my A.A. degree and teacher’s certificate.

I began teaching at age 19 in a country school about 2 ½ miles from my home. I rode part way with the mail carrier and walked part way. In the winter I often had to walk through drifted snow—knee-high and built the fire and cleaned the schoolhouse, all for $65 per month.

I taught grades K-8. I loved teaching and seeing the students make progress.

The government gave us some surplus food like canned milk, beans, salt pork and prunes. I was supposed to cook one hot dish for the kid’s lunch. The salt-pork came in big slabs in a wooden-box. I cooked some of it with some beans but the next time I went to use it, I found that the mice had gotten into it. What to do with the ruined meat was the question! If I threw it out a dog or cat might eat it and get sick. The best solution, seemed to me, was to throw it into the stove. It wasn’t long until the stove was red hot and almost dancing across the room. Soon sparks were flying from the chimney and all of the neighbors came running, thinking that I was burning the schoolhouse down! It’s a wonder that they didn’t fire me on the spot!”

Her last three years of teaching were in her home school ‘Toddville School’ where she taught grades K-4.

In 1942, while she was teaching, she made some life changing choices for her life saying, “My life changed drastically in 1942 when I attended a revival meeting and received Jesus in my life. I had always attended church but now found serving Christ an exciting adventure.

A few years later, I felt God’s call to leave my teaching and further my education to prepare for missionary service.

Being a practical person, I wanted to know all the answers like ‘how, when, where, etc.’. God provided the words in Philippians 1:6—‘Be confident of this very thing that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.’ It was like signing my name to a blank sheet of paper and letting God fill in the details. It is wonderful to see how God worked in fulfilling these details.”

In August 1945, seven years after her graduation from high school, she left Iowa for the first time to attend Seattle Pacific College in Seattle, Washington. She was 23 years old. About these memories she wrote, “I was accepted as a Junior at Seattle Pacific College and my choice was confirmed when my pastor, Rev. French and his wife, moved from Iowa to Oregon and I was able to ride out west with them and their family. They located in Gresham, Oregon and I stayed with them until school started.

During this time, I worked at a small ice-cream shop. One day I picked up a newspaper and read the story of a Doolittle Raider named, Jake DeShazer. It said that he had been a P.O.W. and had become a Christian while in prison and wanted to return to Japan as a missionary.

The article said that he was planning to attend a Christian College but that he wasn’t sure which one but that his sister, Helen, was attending Seattle Pacific College.

I thought that if he chose Seattle Pacific that I might get to shake his hand.”

Well, Florence DID get a chance to shake Jake’s hand at SPC and many teased her saying….”She shook his hand and NEVER let loose!”

After getting to know each other, Florence and Jake started dating. She went with him to most of his speaking engagements where he gave his testimony. She wrote home to her parents saying that she had heard his testimony so many times that she had memorized it and believed she could tell it herself.

Florence and Jake got married at the Free Methodist Church in Gresham, Oregon on August 29, 1946. Their first son, Paul, was born a year later and after graduation from SPC in 1948, they departed on a ship to be Free Methodist Missionaries to Japan. For 30 years Florence and Jake spread the message of Christ’s salvation, love and forgiveness, helping to start 23 new churches through out Japan. In 1977 they packed up a few of their life long belongings and with heavy hearts bid farewell to the country and people that they loved and cherished.

Here are Florence’s reflections on their retirement.

”Jake and I returned from Japan in July 1977 and had just a week’s time to purchase a car, home and furniture. It was important to us to establish a home where our family could gather because we had not seen some of our children for more than five years.

Then began a very busy schedule of travel and speaking in our supporting churches throughout the United States and Canada. We literally lived out of our suitcases, but it was a great opportunity for us to greet old friends and make new ones. We had several long tours of churches in the Ohio area. It became like our second home. One church in Akron, Ohio, built an all-purpose building and named it ‘The DeShazer House’. The pastor and his wife named their son after Jake and the Mayor of Akron declared an official ‘Jake DeShazer Day’ complete with B-25 Mitchell bomber rides.

We officially retired in 1978, but requests continued to come in for Jake to tell his story in churches, veteran’s groups, schools, and a lot of other places, so for twenty more years we drove more than thirty thousand miles a year traveling and telling Jake’s story and of our ministry in Japan.

Being in the United States gave Jake and me the opportunity to attend the yearly reunions of the Doolittle Raiders. They are a close-knit group and it was great for Jake to see his old buddies and for me to get better acquainted with them and their wives. During these reunions, Jake was usually interviewed by newsmen and given the opportunity to share his story.

In 1993, we traveled to Arlington, Virginia for General Doolittle’s funeral and Jake was asked to pray at his memorial service. General Doolittle was a great leader and was much loved by all the Raiders. In 1998, Jake spoke at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and also at the Aerospace facility nearby.

During these years we returned to Japan three times and were able to visit most of our churches, some of which we had helped start and many where we had ministered. The Japanese Christians welcomed us and treated us royally.

In 1996, Jake and I celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary with most of the family and 150 guests in attendance. Then, in 2002, our family gathered again for Jake’s ninetieth birthday celebration. At age ninety, Jake preached his last sermon at a little church on the Oregon coast.

Jake and I lived in an assisted living facility in Salem, Oregon for three years where Jake passed away on March 15, 2008. I told people at the time of his death that I knew where he had gone and I knew how to get there.”

After Jake passed away in 2008, Florence continued to live in Salem. Just before her 90th birthday, in August of 2011, she had a heart attack and needed more help so she moved to Shoreline, Washington to be closer to her two daughters. She was warmly welcomed by the Shoreline Free Methodist Church and made her home at Crista Assisted Care for 6 years where she passed away peacefully on July 5, 2017.

Florence leaves behind a brother and sister, five children, ten grandchildren, eleven great grandchildren with one more due in October and many nieces and nephews and their families.