e siblings—Janet van Houten of Rapid City, S.D., Dale and Ruth Fast of Chicago, and Lavon and Randy Sperling of Lincoln, Neb.—plan to attend their mother’s birthday celebration Sunday afternoon at Park Villa in Hillsboro.
Elfreda Fast’s long life has centered on faith, music, the church and family.
Son Steve attributes his mother’s commitment to prayer as having a direct impact on his choice of vocation and that he is a passionate follower of Jesus.
He shared one story illustrating that influence.
“When I was in grade school, I was struggling as a kid and got into trouble with the principal,” he said. “When Mom found out, she realized that my destiny was in jeopardy. She suggested that we pray together every morning before school, and I agreed.
“So every single school day, I didn’t leave home until the two of us knelt down by the bed and prayed that I would follow and obey Jesus that day. Sometimes the school bus literally waited by the driveway while we prayed together.”
Elfreda’s influence also has touched the lives of others, including a group of young girls who were once part of a choir she led.
“None of them had ever sung anything but soprano,” Elfreda said. “So I had to teach the girls how to sing alto. We got so good that we went out and gave programs…. They learned a lot and I learned a lot.”
Elfreda said she has always enjoyed singing.
“My two brothers, Walter and Dan, and I organized ourselves as the Penner Gospel Trio,” she said. “Walter was the organizer—he was the oldest one. He would always be checking with churches if they wanted a Sunday service, so we would go.”
She would play piano as they learned and practiced the songs, she said, but when they performed, the threesome sang a cappella.
Born in Meade, Elfreda grew up in Ingalls, graduated from high school and then attended Tabor College, where she met her future husband, Chester.
Asked if she remembered meeting Chester at Tabor, she laughed.
“Do I remember that?” she said. “The first day that I saw him and met him, I said to some girls, ‘I’m going to marry Chester.’ And then I nearly died because I thought someone would tell him that, but they didn’t.”
After she had completed a two-year degree at Tabor, she was invited back by President A. E. Janzen to serve as matron for the women’s dormitory.
“It was an awesome experience because I was about the same age as the girls,” she said about being matron. “I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
At that time, female students were housed in the Mary J. Regier building on campus, which with construction of the new fine arts center is scheduled for demolition.
“And now they want to tear it down,” she said. “I’m supposed to cry but I don’t feel like crying. It’s just a sign of progress.”
Elfreda and Chester Fast, who taught school for a couple of years in western Kansas after graduating from Tabor, were married in 1941 and soon moved to Kansas City so he could attend Central Baptist Theological Seminary.
Before her husband could finish his program, however, he was asked to go to Minneapolis, Minn.
“It was kind of a mission,” she said about the Mennonite Brethren pastoral assignment. “The board asked Chester to come right away. That was not a happy situation. After all he paid for, it cost him another year of seminary, but we went and we were there five years.”
The Fasts then returned to the Kansas City area.
“From there, he was determined to finish his seminary, so we moved back to northwest Missouri and served a couple of churches there while he was finishing his seminary (degree),” she said.
After seminary graduation, the Fasts moved to Balko, Okla., where Chester became pastor of a Mennonite Brethren church. By that time, their four children had been born.
“After the children came, then it was my job to teach them,” she said. “I just enjoyed being a mother.”
Over the years, together Elfreda and Chester were a team serving in several Mennonite Brethren pastorates in Oklahoma and one in North Dakota, plus a two-year stint for Chester as the first full-time alumni director at Tabor.
“I never dreamed I’d be a pastor’s wife,” Elfreda said, even though she once told her brothers in jest that someday she would be married to a doctor or a pastor.
For Elfreda, being a pastor’s wife involved certain responsibilities.
“Some were (working with) Vacation Bible School, and also we were the janitors, which is a pretty big responsibility,” she said.
Two Oklahoma churches—Balko and Collinsville—had problems with water in the basement.
“So lots of times we were dashing over to the church with dust pans and anything we could fine to mop up the water,” she said.
At Balko, Elfreda said, she discovered the source of the problem.
“It was very simple if people would have done just like I did,” she said. “As soon as it started raining, I ran to the church and I went inside and went to the basement.”
There she saw a pipe that came through the concrete wall from outside the church.
“It was a drain coming down right into the church basement,” she said. “It was so obvious if anybody would have looked. Those kind of things you just face and learn what you can do. We just closed up the hole on the inside and the outside and took care of that.”
She added, “I wish I could solve other problems as easily.”
In 1986, the Fasts moved to Hillsboro, where her mother, Katie Penner, had lived, and then retired. In 1999, Chester died.
Asked what has helped her get through hard times, Elfreda shared a perspective she has maintained and modeled for a lifetime.
“The only thing I can say is God,” she said. “If you have a good relationship with God and he leads you along the way, that’s the only way to survive.”