Grace Esther Edhegard Smith


Grace Esther Smith







     Grace Esther Edhegard's parents met and married while serving as missionaries in the Belgium Congo from 1915 to 1919. Her father, Nils Sixten Edhegard was a Swedish minister, and her mother, Grace Ellen Miller was a nurse from Kansas.

     When it was time for the two missionaries to be furloughed, transportation to Sweden was impossible to find because World War I was still being fought, but a ship to England was available. A few weeks after landing, Grace Esther was born in London.


Grace Ellen Miller and Nils Sixten Edhegard on their honeymoon, May 1917, in Ibandi, Congo. Mrs. Edhegard is being carried in a native made creeper hammock.
Click to enlarge.

     Sixten admitted his heart was no longer in the missionary effort. He had dreams of going to America and making his fortune. He let Grace know, that after their furlough, he did not intend to return to the mission field. Even though Grace was glad to return home, she would forever regret not being able to finish her missionary work.

     The little family soon set out on the U.S.S. Adriatic entering the United States on August 7, 1919 in New York, their nationality listed as Scandinavian. After going thorough the rigors and humiliations of Ellis Island, they boarded a train to Kansas City and on to the farm outside Rantoul, Kansas to visit the Miller family.

     Their final destination was New Mexico where Mrs. Edhegard had a brother farming. After a short period of three years of farming in Clovis, New Mexico, Grace's father received and accepted a call to pastor a small Swedish Baptist church in Manistee, Michigan.

     While in New Mexico, two more children were born, Conway and Agnes. During their stay in Michigan, two additional children were born, Ruth, and Hazeltine “Tina”.

     In 1926 the family's final move took place to Silverhill, Alabama, where Sixten planned to raise chickens. There, three more children were added to the family, Edith, Margaret, and Paul.


The Edhegard Family in Silverhill, Dec. 28, 1926. Pictured back left is Rev. Palm, right, Sixten; front on left is Grace Esther, Ruth, Mrs. Palm, Grace holding Tina, Agnes and Conway.
Click to enlarge.

     With little money and limited knowledge of farming, the family struggled for survival. Grace, being the oldest child, bore much of the burden of household chores. From the time of arrival in Silverhill, until Grace was about 17, her father had operated a small feed store, along with a grocery store. The business was quite successful.

     It was at this time that Grace was offered a job in Orange Beach, Alabama, cleaning rooms, making beds, and cooking for fishermen who rented cabins. Her pay was fifty cents a day.

     By her 18th birthday, Grace decided she would like to become a nurse, so she followed in her mother’s footsteps and entered nursing school at Birmingham Baptist Hospital. She graduated and became a registered nurse in May 1941. Following graduation, she worked for the city of Birmingham as a public health nurse before moving to Alexandria, Louisiana to work in the Veteran’s Administration Hospital.

     When America became involved in WWII, Grace joined the Army Nurses Corp and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. She spent three months at Ft. Barrancas, Florida, and an additional two and a half months at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, where doctors, nurses, and corpsmen from all across the United States gathered for indoctrination. Grace, one of only two nurses who volunteered for overseas duty, and had no information of their overseas' destination, except being told they were going to a “hot” climate.

     The unit shipped out from Camp Kilmer, New Jersey on the British Ship Aquantia, arriving in Cairo, Egypt via the Suez Canal and then to Eritrea, Africa. It was in Eritrea that Grace met her future husband, Simeon “Sim” Smith, a soldier and corpsman from Madison, Florida. After two months, the unit left for an American Army hospital in Iran where medical personnel treated sick and wounded soldiers, and worked on “Liberty Ships”. During the 13-month stay in Iran, Grace said it was so miserably hot that frequently they had to soak their bed linen in water for a cooling effect.

     In May 1944, Grace flew to Cairo, Egypt then to Miami, Florida for her next assignment at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Prior to reporting for duty at Camp Shelby, she was given two weeks leave. In the meantime, Sim had also returned to the United States and was assigned to a unit in nearby Biloxi, Mississippi. Since their meeting in Africa, the two had never lost contact with one another. When Sim arrived in Mississippi, he called Grace and asked her to come visit. Upon her arrival, he asked her to marry him. She accepted and they were married on May 28, 1944. After leave Grace was assigned to the Army General Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana until separated from the Army. When Sim was discharged, they lived in New Orleans for two years. Their first child, Sim Jr., was born in 1947.

     A short time later the family moved to Mobile, Alabama where Sim worked for General Electric, and their second child, Susan Elizabeth, was born in 1949.

     In 1951, during the Korean conflict, Sim was recalled to active duty and the family moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where Sim was assigned to work in the induction center. While there Grace worked toward earning a Master’s Degree at the University of Alabama. Sim was assigned duty in Korea, and Grace stayed in Montgomery until the end of the school quarter, then returned to Silverhill to live until Sim returned from overseas.

     When Sim returned from Korea, he separated from the service and the family remained in Silverhill. A third child, Shelley Grace, was born in 1953. Sim tried his hand at raising chickens, but finding that Army life was more to his liking, he returned to active duty in 1956.

     Following his re-entry, the family served tours of duty in Connecticut, Germany and at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida. While assigned to Homestead, Sim retired from active duty, and Grace earned her Master’s Degree.

     They returned to Silverhill in 1971 where they built a house. Grace worked from 1971 until 1974 for the County of Mobile as a psychiatric nurse. The next year she began working with the newly opened Baldwin County Mental Health Center and was one of the original professionals with that organization. Grace retired in 1988, but continued working part time. That year a wing of the Mental Health Building in Fairhope was dedicated in her honor.

     Grace attended the Evangelical Covenant Church in Silverhill from age 12 until she left for nurses training. She played the piano for church services during her youth years, and later played for services at Grace Bible Church in Fairhope after Sim's retirement until she re-joined the Covenant Church in 1997.

     Sim passed away in 1975, and daughter Shelley in 1993. Grace herself left this life in 1999. Four grandchildren survive her. Shelley’s two daughters live in Minnesota and Sim, Jr., adopted two Russian children, a boy, and a girl.


Written 1998 by Paul Edhegard for The Covenanter Newsletter, updated August 2003.





Listen to Grace tell about her father changing his last name. She also tells of her first memory of Silverhill - read along below. Use the console buttons to control the recording.




Grace:

    Our father’s name was Johnson, and he changed it,… well, Papa changed his before he left Sweden, his was Johnson.

    …and I remember stretched across, right down there by Emery’s Mill, there was a sign across the road, – I remember that when we – the night that we drove in here – it said, “Welcome To Silverhill.”

Source: taped recordings made by Don Sweeney in 1992.