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Recipes featured in current and past editions of Moxie!

The Greatest of These is Love

Emma Lou Bizer spends her days quietly, enjoying the company of her husband of 69 years, Ray, in their tidy apartment at New Braunfels’ Eden Hill retirement community. Her days are filled with a comfortable routine of reading, cross-stitch, crosswords, puzzles, cooking and conversation. When you meet this bright-eyed, soft-spoken lady, you would never guess that she is 93 years old – or that this tiny, smiling woman has led such a big, purposeful life.

Born in Missouri in 1921, Emma Lou was proud to be one of the few young women in her Missouri high school’s graduating class who went on to college during the Depression. Emma Lou’s dream was to become a minister like her father – but in those days, women could not be ordained. Instead, she decided to serve others through social work under the auspices of her church. On scholarship, she attended a small religious college in Missouri, then transferred to the University of Kansas to major in sociology and psychology.

At just 5 feet tall, Emma Lou’s size contributed to a lot of good times during those years. Because she was small enough to be tossed in the air, she became a cheerleader and a popular boogie-woogie dance partner. “Everyone liked to dance with me because they would pick their partners up and swing us around, and I was so little,” she says. “The football and basketball jocks were all so big, and they gave me the nickname ‘Itty Bitty.’ They liked to take me to a carnival in town or the movies because they would get me in for half price.”

After KU graduation, Emma Lou sought work in settlement houses and missions, where she was asked to pursue further training in theology and Christian education. So she enrolled at Eden Seminary in Missouri, and there she met Ray, who was studying for a career as a pastor. Because she was the only woman at the seminary, Emma Lou was not allowed to live on campus.

“That’s when I first ran into negative attitudes toward women,” she says. “It was a big surprise.”

But it was far from the last time she blazed a trail as the only woman in a field of men. After seminary school, during World War II, she went to work as the only female employee at a fellowship center in the slums of St. Louis. There, she created the area’s first clubs for girls and a program for rural mothers who had come to the city seeking work in armaments plants, many of whom had limited education and were living in tiny, rat-infested apartments.

“That was really an interesting time for me because it was the first time I really understood the cultural problems we have in our country,” she says. “I was proud that they trusted me to do that job.”

The civil rights movement was just taking root, and the fellowship center sat on the dividing line between white and black neighborhoods, where race riots were common and some did not approve of the center’s integration of black and white children. It was a tense time, but Emma Lou was never afraid – not even during her daily two-block walk to the streetcar for the ride home to her rooming house in the suburbs.

“People in the community loved us,” she says. “People asked if I was scared to walk in the evenings, but I wasn’t afraid. I had friends all around me, and better not anybody bother me.”

As a working woman at a time when the controversial Equal Rights Amendment was a hot topic, Emma Lou made it a mission to help other women find their place in a changing society.

“I was really a woman’s libber, though I didn’t say it then,” she says. “In the churches, we had task forces to help women understand what women’s rights meant for us. Some women were just so pushy about it, and that did more harm than good. We were working with task forces to make this a positive thing, to help women work into the workforce and community life, taking jobs and being elected to things in a positive kind of way.”

Emma Lou married Ray in 1945, when she was 24. When they moved so he could take a job as pastor of a small church in southern Illinois, she launched a program there to train church school teachers in Christian education. These happy years were spent writing curricula and hosting workshops for women educators around the country. With the birth of her first child in 1947, Emma Lou became one of few working mothers of her era, with Ray helping to raise their three boys as they moved to Iowa, Ohio, and eventually back to Missouri, where Ray had been asked to run an outdoor ministry with camps and retreats.

Soon, she was back to work with the seminary, launching a groundbreaking laboratory program to help churches create nursery schools for children whose mothers were going to work because of the war. Her program design became the model to train seminary students and local churches in creating their own church nursery schools. The lab nursery school she created celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.

Eventually, Ray’s career called them to the small town of Union, Missouri. There, Emma Lou volunteered for a program for educationally delayed children, returning to college for another year to learn about working with special needs children in order to secure a permanent job with the program.

By the time Ray was ready to retire, he got a job offer he couldn’t refuse: building up the Slumber Falls camp and retreat in a small town called New Braunfels, Texas.

“Here I was again,” she remembers. “Because I had enjoyed working with special education, I volunteered with the local Mental Health and Mental Retardation program for adults, and after a little bit, they asked me to start a new program in New Braunfels for preschool children who were physically or mentally handicapped. And that’s how I started what is now ECI Homespun Early Childhood Intervention. [Moxie! editor] Georgia’s little girl, Kelly, was one of my very first students about 30 years ago.”

After decades spent creating innovative ways to improve the lives of women and children, Emma Lou now has time to enjoy her hobbies, as well as Ray’s company. Her three sons have given her four grandchildren, and she mourns the loss of her son John, who died of ALS in 2004. Her other two sons grew up to be a cabinet maker and an ordained minister, as she dreamed of being as a young girl.

In her 93 years, Emma Lou has gained plenty of wisdom to pass along to younger women: “Take the time to develop hobbies. Accept what happens as you grow older. Discover what you can do, and stop worrying about what you can’t do. Develop a personal faith, in God and in yourself. And learn how to choose people in your life who you can trust and put your faith in. I would never have been able to do all of this without my father guiding me as a man, and the support and encouragement of my husband. He still keeps pushing me to do things now. I have been blessed with a very busy and happy family life, as a wife, mother and grandmother.”

Throughout her life, Emma Lou has been guided by the Bible verse, “And now abides faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

“I think that’s exactly the kind of spirit that God gave me to do what I was able to do,” she says. “Faith in God, myself and other people; hope for change to be positive; and to do everything with love. And love was something I got through all of this, from many, many, many people.”

 

Wilted Winter Greens, Beans & Beef Meatball Stew Recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped carrot

Read more: Wilted Winter Greens, Beans & Beef Meatball Stew Recipe

 

Panko Crusted Tilapia

4 Tilapia filets
1½ Cup Panko breadcrumbs
1½ TBS Fresh Herbs – parsley, rosemary, cilantro, basil (any combination will work)
Salt, Pepper, Onion powder and Paprika
2 Eggs
Olive oil

Read more: Panko Crusted Tilapia

 

Mango Salsa

1 red onion diced
4 ripe tomatoes diced
3 cups mango diced (fresh or frozen)
1 bunch cilantro
2 jalapenos finely diced with seeds

Read more: Mango Salsa

 

Sweet Potato Tacos

½ medium-sized onion, chipped
3 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
1 large sweet potato, diced
1 can of organic black beans, rinsed and drained (organic beans are naturally lower in sodium)

Read more: Sweet Potato Tacos

 

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