LARNED — Emma Jean Bradley, the matriarch, the mother and the grandmother of the singing Bradleys ... but there is oh, so much more to this story.
Born April 15, 1929 in Larned, and a resident of Larned for all of her 88 years, Emma Jean and her husband Roger raised 13 children plus several grandchildren.
Each of their children graduated from Larned High School, a notable feat for a family this large. Both Damon and Pam were recipients of the Jordaan Scholarship. Two of the boys, Damon and Chris, are ministers. Damon’s wife is also a minister.
“Sometimes it’s hard to believe that five of our kids are in their 60s since to me they are still ‘the kids’”. Clayton, the firstborn, died at the age of 37. He was born in Great Bend. The rest of the children were born in Larned because St. Joseph Hospital was then a reality.
Regina was the second child, then Jokathan, Angela, Patricia, Phillip, Becky, Mark, Damon, Pam, Jay, Chris, and Amy. “Did I miss anyone?” she asked. I knew there were 12 living, and no, she didn’t forget any one.
Patricia, who is now 62 years old, was born with a disability and has never talked nor walked. Patricia lives at home. Emma Jean and her family have been the major caregivers over the years and Emma acknowledges that Patricia has enriched all of their lives.
“She’s been a blessing. I’ve learned a lot of lessons because of her. I have especially learned patience, and tolerance for people being different”
Emma added, “All our children have been a blessing, including Patricia. The kids learned from her too; helping feed her, and caring for her needs. ‘Tricia’s’ room has always been a playroom and gathering place!
“Faith is important to me, and Patricia made it real,” she explained. “She had seizures often; sometimes they lasted all day long. It was frightening. Dr. Coughlin advised that perhaps she would grow out of them. And in part, she did. At about 12 years on, she ceased from such severe seizures.”
“We were a large family, but each of the children learned to do chores and help with each other. Roger taught the kids a good work ethic. Many were involved in the raising of our children and you know, ‘It takes a village!’”
She quit school her Freshman year of high school, stating that one of the reasons was that she was the only black child in her age group. She then did domestic housework. She left Larned for a time to live in Denver to baby-sit her sister’s children. It was World War II, and her sister worked at the Kaiser factory, a war and ammunition plant.
She returned to Larned and married Roger after he came back from the war, as many did during that time. And, at the urging of her kids, “mom” went back to school at the age of 51 and earned her General Education Curriculum (GED) diploma.
Asking her about Larned in those days, I brought up the subject of racial prejudice.
“In those days, prejudice was more subtle than today,” she observed. But, as she related her experiences and the way the society worked, there didn’t seem (to this writer) to be subtlety.
Blacks were not allowed to try on clothes in stores, nor to try on hats. The clerk customarily tried on the hat for the customer. The black citizenry was not allowed to swim in the city pool except once a season, and then it was drained and refilled after use. Eating establishments gave access to orders by way of a back door or window since entering and eating inside was not permitted for the black community.
At the age of 17, Emma gave her heart to Jesus Christ during a time when she knew she could no longer depend on her own efforts; she needed the Lord. This relationship was paramount in her life, and her faith would be an influence and a guide to her children in the years to come.
Emma had always been musical, and during one era, she and Edith Haun would sing duets together during church exchanges. Music and singing were a big part of their family life.
When the three oldest girls were in their teens, one day while they were sitting on the front porch, they began to sing and harmonize to “Peace Be Still” by James Cleveland. Emma was sitting in the living room and she perked up her ears. They were good! She suggested that they start a chorus in the church, and, joined by musical friends of the girls, that’s exactly what happened.
The “Singing Bradleys” were born! Today, the group performs whenever they can get together, and when they do, they inspire. During the week of Thanksgiving, the group comes home and traditionally gives a performance for the public several days after the holiday at the CME Church in Larned. Jo is the soloist, and the family nickname for her is the “songbird.” Not only grandchildren, but also great-grandchildren have joined the group. Their songs of faith and performances stir the soul. And until just the past several years, Emma Jean has sung with them. They rock!
When asked about her work experiences, Emma alluded to her years working at the old St. Joseph Hospital. Sister Magdalene originally hired her, and it was there that she began her 30 years of employment at this hospital.
Emma Jean explained, “I worked for 30 years, on and off, at St. Joseph hospital. I started out doing a little bit of everything.” She worked in supply, she helped in cleaning, and also ended up helping out in the OB and Surgery areas, and in most every other facet of the hospital’s daily demands. She then moved to the 2nd floor as a nurses aide until the newly hired nursing director decided that she would be a good “ward clerk,” keeping supplies ordered, transcribing for doctors orders, and making out requisitions for the medical needs.
The hospital next decided that Emma Jean would be a good fit in the then Alcohol and Chemical Dependency unit. The hospital sent her to a training session in Salina and, upon return, Emma Jean worked in the Chemical Dependency unit. After returning from the training sessions, they lost their son Clayton. She remarked that the training that she received in Salina was deeply helpful to her dealing with her grief from her son’s death.
She worked in the CD unit for 10 years until her retirement in 1992. She was involved in family weeks, as a receptionist, involved in intake, and was responsible for a teaching lecture to the patients.
When asked when she retired, Emma Jean replied, “Gosh it’s been so long ago! I retired in 1992. Roger was sick and he needed my care. He passed away in 1998.”
As to her years of parenting, Emma added, “Our children have never given us any trouble. They have been good kids. I do remember just one event though when Angie was in high school. I dropped her off at the school, and coach Geier (Mel) was behind me in his car. Several hours later I got a call from Coach, asking me,”Didn’t I see you drop Angie off at school?” I replied “yes,” and he said, “Well, she’s not in school today.”
Immediately, Emma and Roger decided that they knew where Angie was, and which girlfriends she was with, and they went to Hutchinson (where they went to play hooky) and knew exactly where to look for her. That was the first and last time that Angie tried that, and Emma Jean laughed while recalling the event. Yes, it takes a village.
When asked what message would she give as her guide in life, she replied, “I have tried to live by the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
And that’s exactly what she has done.
Judi Tabler is a guest columnist for the Great Bend Tribune and her views don’t necessarily reflect those of the paper. She can be reached at email@example.com.