A Family Grafted In

A Family Grafted In

by Nick Kertsen 


One of the great things about Seventh Day Baptists is how generously we bestow our heritage. No matter when someone becomes part of the SDB family, they are grafted into life among our people.

This is equally true if your family roots run deep in our history or if you covenanted with one of our congregations last week. When you become an SDB, the story of the movement becomes your story. Tracing one family provides an instructive example:

John Leland Shaw joined the Trenton, Minn., Seventh Day Baptist church in the early 1860s. He had married Catherine Burdick of the Berlin, Wis., SDB church, and shortly after the wedding they moved to Minnesota to start a family. John and Catherine had six children in Minnesota, but as the older children grew and needed schooling, the family moved to Southern Wisconsin. Ultimately settling in Milton they became members of the Milton church.

Three of their six children died young—Dighton passed at age 30 while preparing to go to China and work at the SDB missionary school there; Frank, died at age 19 shortly after completing his education at Milton College; and Russell died shortly after his birth in 1880.

The eldest son, Edwin Benjamin, was educated at Milton College, and then the University of Wisconsin and the University of Chicago. He became a professor of English and Philosophy at Milton College before entering the pastorate (serving Rock River, Wis., and Plainfield, N.J.) and ultimately serving the General Conference as the joint secretary of both the Tract and Missionary Societies. After leaving Conference service, Edwin returned to the faculty at Milton, where he both taught and founded the college library and served as its first librarian.

The second son, George B. Shaw, also was trained at Milton College and then at Alfred (N.Y.) School of Theology. Entering the pastorate, he served SDB churches in Hartsville, N.Y., Friendship, N.Y., New York City, Ashaway, R.I., North Loup, Neb., and Salem, W.Va.

The last of John’s children, Adeline, was born in 1885, and was trained as a teacher at Milton College before marrying Rev. Herbert Polan. She served with him at SDB churches in West Edmeston, N.Y., Hartsville, N.Y., Piscataway, N.J., Nortonville, Kan., North Loup, Neb., Brookfield, N.Y., and Verona, N.Y. John’s three surviving children all served SDB churches and the General Conference for the majority of their lives, and surveying their contributions would take more space than this column is allotted.

Edwin Benjamin Shaw married Nellie Campbell in 1895, while teaching at Milton College. He and Nellie had four children. Leland, the oldest, followed in his father’s footsteps and became an English professor at Milton College. Stephana, the second child, was trained at Milton College and taught English and Latin for more than 40 years. Elston attended Milton College and worked in commerce and publishing. He was also a long-time member and Sabbath School teacher in the Milton church. Ruth, the youngest child, married Elton Bingham and was a long-time member of the Milton Church.

Elston E. Shaw had one child, my grandfather Edwin, who passed into glory March 7, 2013. My grandfather graduated from Milton College, working in businesses in southern Wisconsin for his entire life. He loved to sing and was active in the church and community until a rare condition sapped his physical strength.

I am thankful for my grandfather and for the way that my family has been grafted into the larger Seventh Day Baptist family. From John Leland to now, the Seventh Day Baptist story has become the story of my family—a part of who I am and what I teach my daughter about what God has done for us. Even in the midst of grief, it is difficult to be anything but thankful for what God has done for just one family grafted into SDB life nearly 150 years ago.

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