If you visit Irene Hill, you’ll notice that she’s a cat lover! What are the clues? Cat toys are strategically placed and there’s a shelf full of cat pictures. They are right next to the love of her life, Arnold Hill.
Irene met Arnold when he was a soldier serving overseas, and she was working at the Army PX (a retail military mega store) in Berlin, Germany. Germany was continuing to recover from World War II, and Irene was getting her feet under her as a young adult. Irene is from Berlin. She’ll tell you this with a laugh: “Ich bin ein Berliner!” (“I am a Berliner.”)
This German phrase also carries a powerful message. President John F. Kennedy made it famous in a speech he gave in Berlin on June 26, 1963. He said, “Today in a world of freedom, the proud boast is, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’ All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in it.” While the world’s press made light of the possibility that JFK accidentally said that he was a jelly donut, his words encouraged Berliners like Irene.
By the time President Kennedy spoke his words, the East German government backed by the Soviet Union began to erect the Berlin Wall, a barrier between East (the Soviet-occupied sector) and West Berlin. President Kennedy’s speech was a great morale boost for West Berliners who lived in an enclave deep inside Communist East Germany. People in West Berlin were cut off from the rest of Germany and the western, democratic world. It was a fear-filled and difficult time. Twenty-seven years later the Berlin Wall came down. People around the world rejoiced!
As a young adult in Germany, Irene was blessed by her job working as a civilian for the US military. Irene and Arnold married and moved to the U.S. in the 1960’s where Arnold continued to serve in the U.S. Army. Despite the constant moves, Irene thrived in an environment that was new: new jobs, new people, new cultures, new living situations and new cats. When asked, “Where were you the happiest?” Irene replied, “Be happy where you are at!”
Irene was happy growing up in the church in Germany, but reflected that it was less personal. “We never got to know the pastors in Germany,” she said. Once back in the U.S. they attended the Presbyterian church. After moving to Dilworth (from Glyndon) they decided to give the Lutherans a try. How did that go? “We really liked the pastor at Dilworth!” she said. What is Irene most thankful for? “I’m still here!” she exclaimed. Yes, you are, Irene, and we are so thankful for you. She is a true witness that with steady faith in God and a kitty beside you, you can be happy where you are at!