Which way to go?
During her adventures in Wonderland, Alice asked the Cheshire Cat which way she should go. The cat said, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where—“ said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,”’ said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
Bob and Helen Brown, owners and proprietors of Wholesome Fare and Clune Vitamin Center, live in the real world, not Wonderland, but they seem to have followed the Cat’s advice. Throughout his life, Bob often changed jobs and locations, without any singular long-term career goal.
“We moved every three years,” Bob said, “and changed states every six years.”
Born in 1924, Helen lived in an orphanage until age five. She knew nothing about her parents.
“I don’t remember much about the orphanage except being sick there a lot,” she said.
She was adopted by a couple who nursed her back to health. A year later they adopted another little girl so Helen would have to grow up alone.
About the time Helen was adopted, Bob was born in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, eight miles south of Baltimore. Bob’s father was a carpenter, but after the Depression hit, he got a job with the local police department.
Bob was fascinated with airplanes from the first time he saw one. As a kid, he built models powered by rubber bands and small gas engines.
“In high school, I built model airplanes for the Navy,” he said. “These were solid planes, painted black,. They would move them across a screen to help navy men identify aircraft.”
Bob learned to sail with the Sea Scouts, a branch of the Boy Scouts. He also enjoyed motorcycles.
“If it moved, I wanted to try it,” he said.
When he was a high school senior, he decided to study aeronautical engineering at the University of Maryland.
“ But instead of taking aeronautical engineering, it took me,” he said. “After two years I realized it wasn’t going to work out financially and scholastically, so I left. But it was a good experience.”
Bob went back to work with his father in the carpentry business. Then he served as a rural mail carrier until he received his draft notice in 1950.
By that time, Helen was pursuing her life-long nursing career. She studied at her mother’s alma mater, Washington Missionary College in Tacoma Park, Maryland, which is now Columbia Union College.
After graduating, she took nurse’s training in Fletcher, North Carolina, worked in a hospital for a while, then enrolled for a Bachelor of Nursing Education at Emanuel Missionary College in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
Meanwhile, Bob served his two-year military service, mostly in the Panama Canal Zone.
“I had joined the Seventh Day Adventists, so I went into the army as a conscientious objector.”
Although he was trained as a company first aid man, Bob ended up as a clerk in the headquarters company for the entire Caribbean area.
“There was an Adventist group down there,” he said. “So we had lots of people to encourage us while we were away from home. It was a very positive experience.”
When Bob got back home, he was invited to represent his church at a youth conference in San Francisco. He was going to make the trip by bus, but he learned that there was another group driving to the conference who wanted another person to come along to share expenses.
“They had a stretch Dodge with two folding seats between the front and rear seats,” Bob said. “That made room for six people.”
On the way, they stopped at Emmanuel Missionary College in Michigan to pick up Helen Linnell, daughter of one of the passengers.
“The first time I saw her,” Bob said, “she had just finished her finals and she was all worn out and ornery. I thought, I don’t know about her.”
Helen’s mother went back to Maryland by bus, and Helen took her place in the car.
“As we traveled, Helen and I started to find out that we both wanted to do spiritual things with our lives. So we were on the same page, even if our personalities clashed somewhat. She was and is a very independent person. You know right where you stand with Helen. We got to know each other very quickly. As we drove along, she would sing softly, just one song after another. She sang with feeling, and it was a very pleasant experience.”
Before the trip was over, Bob proposed to Helen – twice. The first time she said no, the second time yes. But the wedding had to wait a little while.
“An army buddy, my brother, and I had planned a trip around the country. Our goal was to visit every state.”
While zigzagging across the southern states and back through the northern states, Bob corresponded with Helen via general delivery. The Jeep broke down in Chicago, so they had to forego the New England states. They rented a trailer, picked up Helen’s belongings in Ann Arbor, and headed home. Bob’s father knew nothing about the engagement, so he was very surprised when Bob arrived with the trailer.
After they were married on October 11, 1953, Helen worked in a hospital while Bob went through a number of jobs – carpentry work with this dad, vacuum cleaner sales, investigator for Retail Credit, and precision machinist for a small machine shop that made such things as air-powered dental drills.
Their first son, David, was born in 1954, followed by Darlene (1955), Bud (1961), and Margot (1962).
“We decided to raise our family in a healthy lifestyle,” Bob said. “I decided that the vegetarian diet was the original intended by God before Original Sin, because you couldn’t kill.Most of our life we’ve lived on some acreage where we could have our own garden.”
Bob never lost his love for aviation. When Emmanuel Missionary College became Andrews University and started to develop an aviation program, Bob and his family moved to Michigan with plans to become a missionary pilot. The program, however, was delayed because the people in the neighborhood objected to the building of an airport in their area.
So while Helen worked in a nursing home, Bob got a job in the shipping department of the book bindery on the university campus.
“ I’ve always admired Thomas Edison. His motto was, ‘There’s a way to do it better – find it.’ Every place I worked I endeavored to find different ways of doing things. At the bindery, I redesigned the shipping department and doubled its capacity.”
Next, Bob worked at a printing supply house rebuilding used printing machines and installing new ones. Then he worked keeping books and estimating jobs for a construction contracting company that built commercial buildings. After working there six years, he moved to Lancaster County, PA, where he sold spiritual and health books door to door. After seven years there, the company moved him to the Shenango Valley to be a supervisor. Book sales slowed down,so Bob got a sales job in the Sears Auto Center. When there was an opening in the shop for an alignment specialist, Bob switched careers again.
But their life was never defined by their work.
“We’ve had a sailboat all of our married life,” Bob said.
“I’ve enjoyed many adventures,” Helen said. “I went parasailing in Florida. A motorboat towed us, and the parasail lifted us up very high.”
She also climbed mountains in the Cascades of Washington state. On one trip, she climbed with her son up into the ice and snow – in July. Another time they climbed as high as the treeline on Mount Hood. Then Bob and Helen borrowed their son’s motorcycle for a 150 mile ride along the Columbia River.
Bob eventually got his pilot’s license, so Helen went flying with him. When she was 77, she walked a section of the Appalachian Trail with her daughter and son-in-law.
As they approached retirement age, Bob was unaware that he had accumulated money for retirement.
“I was always part time for Sears, so I didn’t think I had any benefits. But when I turned 65, I got this letter that said I had accumulated retirement money. I could take it and keep on working for them. I said to Helen this would be a good chance to start a health food store. So in 1995 we opened Wholesome Fare. I continued at Sears until I was 72.”
In 2008, Bob and Helen bought Clune Vitamin Center from its founder, Dr. Patrick Clune, who was dying from cancer.
Helen and Bob had both been vegetarian most of their lives. The two stores represent the culmination of their lifelone commitment to healthy living, for both practical and spiritual reasons.
So Bob and Helen did indeed arrive at a great SOMEWHERE (right here in Hermitage) that fulfills their lives in ways they could not have foreseen. And they arrived by taking, at each of the many forks in their road, the path they believed God wanted them to follow – not with doubt or reluctance, but with a commitment to the principle defined in Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.”
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 4, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2010