Remembering My Mom

Me and my Mom in 2017.

My Mom, Linda Vander Hart, and my Dad, Dan Vander Hart, were hit by a drunk driver in Des Moines, Iowa, on December 17, 2020. My Mom did not survive, and my Dad had to have his jaws wired shut due to two fractures in his jaw. 

Below is an edited version of the eulogy I gave at her funeral on December 31. 

My Mom, Linda Mae Kinney Vander Hart, was born the second of three children to Cecil and Lamoille Kinney in Marshalltown. She was the first granddaughter born after three grandsons born on Grandma Kinney’s side of the family. My Great Aunt Donna said she was very special and doted on.

Donna also recalled that when Mom was the flower girl at her wedding (she was four-years-old) in 1953, she only dropped two flower pedals because she thought they were so pretty and wanted to keep them. Mom always loved getting flowers. 

She grew up in a little town called Owasa, where my grandparents operated a small grocery store where she became an English Bulldog wrangler. 

Uncle Russ said that my Grandpa Kinney made a cart and hitched it up to Slugger, one of his bulldogs, but sometimes Slugger would give her a ride without the cart. Russ said that Mom and a leash on Slugger and something caught his eye, and he dragged my Mom across the street and through a neighbor’s garden before she finally let go of the leash. She came out of that encounter a little skinned up and likely had a new respect for bulldogs. 

Uncle Allan, Uncle Russ, and my Mom.

My Mom, Russ, and her other brother Allan, would do chores in the grocery store. They would stock and price the shelves they could reach. When my Grandpa Kinney would order a 100 lbs bag of potatoes, the kids would take the potatoes and put them in 10 lbs bags to weigh. 

This chore was not one of their favorites because invariably, they would reach in the bag and grab hold of a rotten, smelly potato that would gross them out, and Grandpa would patiently wait while they whined and finished their chore.

Uncle Russ said that all of their friends thought they could get pop and candy whenever they want, but apparently, this was fake news. Only occasionally would they be allowed to pick out a treat. 

My Mom was a protective big sister. On Sundays, my Uncle Russ told me, the family would drive to Eldora to see Grandma Thackery. They would listen to all of the grown-up talk they could endure before getting bored. My Grandpa Kinney would then give my Mom some change so they could walk to the town’s soda fountain to get some malts. Uncle Russ said this was quite the adventure as his big sister would take his hand and walk with him to the soda fountain, to keep a close eye on him. 

As she grew older, and my Mom began to learn to drive, her high school friend Becky told me when they were learning to drive, her driver’s ed group drove across a long bridge, driving a stick. You can imagine how smooth that ride must have been; by the time they got to the end of the bridge, my Mom asked to get out of the car because she was sick.

This story wasn’t surprising as she continued to be prone to have motion sickness and passed that on to her kids.

Mom’s senior photo

Her friend Becky said that Mom loved to watch American Bandstand and loved to dance. She was super organized (that continued throughout her life) and was an avid reader getting Becky to start reading Nancy Drew. (Something she passed on to her children, and Mom introduced me to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books and continued to suggest books throughout my life.) Mom and Becky spent Friday and Saturday nights scooping the loop in Eldora, which must have been exciting because she told us about this particular activity growing up, and I could never understand the attraction. 

Mom and Dad met through mutual friends. Without sharing details at his request, I’ll just say Dad was very bold courting Mom. They married in 1971.

Mom and Dad in 1971.

Mom went to the races with my Dad before they were married, and Mom came into the marriage with a 65 Chevelle that she would let Dad race. He said it was her idea. She wanted to know how well the car would do.

In the winter of 1972, my mother gave birth to twin boys, myself and my brother Scott, surprise! (Fortunately, my Mom and Dad knew before the grand arrival.) Before the time of quintuplets, sextuplets, and septuplets, having identical twins was a novelty. 

Mom with her boys.

Dad said her doctor informed them that Mom was carrying “multiples,” but could not confirm how many for several days. Dad said he woke up in a cold sweat one night, thinking Mom would give birth to a litter. 

Almost four years later came my sister Stephanie who was admittedly her favorite (it’s ok, Scott and I accepted that years ago). 

Mom and Dad with Steph.

Dad traveled a lot for work, so Mom had to take care of three children on her own during the week, something she made look effortless until it didn’t.

During those times, we learned Mom had secret knowledge. She knew where Kingdom Come was located; she threatened to send us there and would never reveal its location. 

Things were tight when we were growing up. Going out on dates was a novelty for my parents. They rarely went out to eat some of that in part because Dad traveled. He was tired of eating out throughout the week (my Mom did send him off with sandwiches at the start of this week, though).

They spent time with friends, particularly the Cawthorns who lived next door from us for a while in Bondurant. Dad said they would play low stakes card games with friends and on a really good night come back with enough money to pay the babysitter when they got home.

After one night with friends, the next morning Mom was sick. She told us she had too much macaroni salad the night before. Even as her children became adults, she never admitted to having anything other than macaroni salad.

Mom and Dad enjoyed going to drive-in theaters on occasion, which became a family outing with their children. We enjoyed watching films with my parents’ conversion van’s back doors open with my brother and sister laying on the couch that turned into a bed in the back of the van, and my parents sitting behind us.

As kids, we remember Mom spending a lot of time in her den at our house in Bondurant painting, something she was incredibly talented at doing, and something she did not pass on to this child.

The family’s favorite painting.

To my recollection, Mom rarely, if ever, missed one of her children’s football games, swim meets, softball games, wrestling meets, band concerts, or show choir concerts. I remember playing football in 8th grade when it was pouring down rain, many parents didn’t come out to watch because of the weather, but Mom was sitting in the stands with an umbrella in hand.

She would enthusiastically cheer on her kids. Along with my coach’s, her voice was one of the few voices I could hear when I was out on the wrestling mat. I remember her yelling, “Pin him Shane! Pin him!” during one match where I had my opponent on his back. Admittedly, she probably yelled that particular phrase more when my brother Scott wrestled. 

Family Christmas, sometime in the early 80s.

Scott remembers Mom always trying to get him to eat more during wrestling. “You’re getting too skinny.” She would say.

She also patiently waited for Scott and me to exit the locker rooms after practice, unfortunately having to wait longer than most parents to give us a ride home.

Mom also played the role of grammar nazi in our house when reading over our school papers and she proofread my weekly columns for the school newspaper when I was in high school. 

Mom had this silent laugh. I’m not even sure I could call it a laugh because she never made any sound. She would shake and turn red. So she would hyperventilate when she found something funny. Of course, my brother and I thought this was hilarious, so we would imitate it, which would invariably get her to do it again.

My cousin Tiffanie shared about the trip she went on with my Mom, Uncle Russ, and my Grandma Kinney to Washington, D.C., when she was 13, so just a few years ago, right? 

My Mom and Grandma Kinney on that trip.

She learned that siblings, even in their 40s, still bicker. She thought it was pretty cool to yell, “cut it out you two!” at grown adults. Mom had another episode with motion sickness in Indiana on that trip, but I’ll spare you the details.

“That trip was so much fun,” Tiff wrote me in an email. “It came at the right time in my life- I wasn’t a surly teenager yet, but I was old enough to actually participate In the conversation. I heard a lot of stories from when Dad and Linda were kids.”

As my Mom became a grandma, her nine grandchildren – Kelvey, Morgan, Lillian, Rachel, Riley, Drew, Jenna, Jesse, and Abby – became her hobby.

Mom and Dad with the Grandkids in 2013.

And like she did with her children, she watched soccer games, swim meets, wrestling meets, flag football games, drama performances, and choir performances. Later as my niece Rachel was recruited to play women’s soccer for Iowa State, she would catch numerous home games. Then there was my daughter Kelvey’s college graduation, the first of her grandchildren to graduate from college. Then, of course, were the hours and hours she spent watching different grandchildren.

She also didn’t stop cheerleading her children’s interests. Mom would raise funds for Autism research as my sister’s oldest son is on the spectrum. When I moved back to Des Moines to work with Serve Our Youth Network, my parents became donors, Mom and Dad would sponsor a table at our banquets, and they would come to hear me preach when I filled a church’s pulpit and when I was an interim pastor at a church in Indianola. 

When Mom would go birthday shopping for my sister with Stephanie’s daughter Abby, Abby said Grandma would always end up at the Hallmark Store. He had marathon shopping outings with Jenna. On the day of Rachel’s senior prom, my Mom took her to the nail salon and was so giddy about having her tomboy granddaughter having her nails done. She also loved taking pictures on the rare occasions Rachel was wearing a dress. 

From Left: Scott, Me, Dad, Steph, and Mom. Christmas 2018.

My Mom was frugal, she insisted on keeping Christmas bows on presents to reuse, so the grandkids would throw their bows at her when opening presents. She was also very diligent in spending the same amount of money for Christmas on each grandchild and making sure each grandchild had the same number of presents to open at our family Christmas gathering. Even two foreign exchange students living with Scott and Tami received gifts from my Mom and Dad at Christmas.

After the kids were grown, Mom and Dad got to do more traveling. Mom made a once-in-a-life-time visit to Israel. Often they would piggyback a vacation on top of conferences Mom attended for work (much like we would do as a family when Dad was traveling). They visited places like Toronto, New Orleans, San Antonio, and Southern California that way. They recently visited Montana. Just this Fall, they traveled up to Door County in Wisconsin with Scott and Tami.

Mom in Montana.

Mom worked in accounting and office management in the nonprofit sector for over 30 years, starting at the Des Moines Jewish Federation in 1989. Her co-worker Susan told me, “Linda was always a shining light at the Federation, always willing to help and be supportive. It was so much fun to check in, in the morning with her and her co-office pal Dorothea in the early days until she took on major responsibilities with the accounting… She was organized, level headed, creative, dedicated and the most wonderful team player with a heart of gold.”

She then worked for the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) in 2013. She especially enjoyed serving DMARC’s mission to assist central Iowans in overcoming food insecurity. Mom believed that churches needed to do more to help meet basic needs and meet people’s spiritual needs inside their congregations and out. 

DMARC noted in their remembrance of her life that Mom was “the glue that held everything together.”

They also remarked that Mom would go out of her way to connect callers with the kind of assistance they needed – often connecting them with other organizations. And she worked with great determination to find ways DMARC could do things more efficiently and more effectively, always with that person who faces food insecurity in mind.

The family encourages those who would like to make a memorial donation to donate to DMARC’s food pantry. 

Mom and Dad

Most importantly, my Mom, years ago, trusted Jesus Christ to be her Lord and Savior. On the inside of her study Bible, she wrote, “I trust You so much, I’m all in. I want your way not mine. I believe that Your plans and Your wisdom are better than mine. I am willing to live by faith.”

She took copious notes in her study Bible. She highlighted a favorite verse, John 3:16, which reads in the New Living Translation that she used, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

She also highlighted one of her favorite scriptures, Romans 8:38-39. Next to it, she wrote, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God,” which was part of a Daily Creed she had written in one of her notebooks (I don’t know where it comes from or if she wrote it herself.) I want to share that in closing:

  • I believe God’s promises are true.
  • I believe heaven is real.
  • I believe nothing can separate me from God’s love.
  • I believe God has work for me to do.
  • I believe God will see me through and carry me when I cannot walk.

Her family and friends love her so much and will miss her dearly, but we know she is now at rest in the Lord Jesus enjoying His presence.