approximate dates and places of their years in Turkey with ABCFM


1911—Paul graduates from Beloit College.  Begins short term in Tarsus, Turkey

1912—Harriet Fischer graduates from Wheaton College.  Teaches one year in         California.

1913—Harriet goes to Adana Turkey to begin short term in the girls’ school.

1915—Harriet and Paul are engaged.  Paul finishes his term in Tarsus, returns to study in Hartford Theological Seminary.

1917—Harriet’s term is finished, also war conditions force Americans to leaveTurkey

1918—Paul graduates from Hartford.  Paul and Harriet married in June.

1919—March.  Faith Elizabeth is born.  The family returns to Tarsus. 

1920 to 1924—Paul becomes head of Tarsus.  Organizes relief activities, as Turkish War for Independence begins causing food shortages etc. in Tarsus.  Baby Faith dies. Three more babies are born and die.  Doctors insist on a transfer to a healthier climate. 

1925—1926.  Paul studies for graduate degree in education at Universisty of Chicago.  One baby born, one conceived during this interval. 

1927—Paul returns to Kayseri/Talas station in Turkey (higher, drier climate)  Some general mission work, Mostly work on reopening the school in Talas.  There had been both a boys’ school and a girls’ school, as well as a hospital in Talas.   Harriet returns with a toddler and an infant, May and Paul Jr.  (Paul Senior is Paul Emmanuel, Paul Jr. is Paul Herman)

1928 _1952  ABCFM  reopens the Talas boy’ school. Nilsons continue there until the fall of 1952.  Sylvia is born Sept. 1928, Dorothy is born June 1930.

1934-1935—the whole family on furlough in America.  Technically a mission couple is supposed to have a furlough every seven years.  During war conditions it didn’t always work that way.

1943-44—Harriet brings the four children back to America for school.  School shorthanded, Paul can’t leave.

1946-47—Paul finally gets a furlough with Harriet in charge of the school.

1950-51 Both are on furlough together.  Much travel to speak in churches, etc.

1951-52—the last year in Talas.

1952-57--  General mission work among the many ancient Christian groups in that far eastern section of Turkey.

1957-1961 – Retirement from the Mission board.  They get an invitation to teach in a private Turkish school, specializing in English.  (To supplement the over-crowded public schools, businessmen in many towns in Turkey opened private schools where they tried to get British or American teachers to teach.  English was now the favored international language.)

1961-1964—Paul and Harriet, plus Jim and Dorothy (Nilson) Fyfe teach in the private school in Iskenderun, Turkey. 

1965   Paul and Harriet settle in Wheaton for their declining years.

D.F. Nov. 2005


Some introductory information:  Paul E. Nilson’s father had come to America from Sweden when he was very young.  In Rockford , Illinois ,  he built a successful construction business.  He did not believe higher education was necessary for success, and was disappointed that his son Paul did not come into the business with him.  When he was young, Paul resented that he had to work with his father during school vacations,  but what he learned about construction was valuable to him later when he had to oversee  repairs on the buildings of the schools when he was principal.

Harriet Fischer came from a family of educators.  Her father, a second generation German,  taught German and astronomy at Wheaton College in Illinois .  Her mother was the daughter of Jonathan Blanchard who founded Wheaton college.

I am  sending some selections from the book I wrote about my parents for my relatives.  The sources for the book include my parents’ letters and reports, the first edition of Dr. Frank Stone’s Academies for Anatolia, Allen Bartholomew’s  A History of Tarsus American School,   Justin McCarthy’s Ottoman Peoples, End of Empire,  and Halide Edip Adivar’s  memoir, House with Wisteria.

In the first part of these selections I use the Nilson’s names, Paul and Harriet.  In the Talas section I use ‘my mother,’ and ‘my father.’  since I was a child during those years.  I hope this change of names is not confusing.

 The paragraph about education in the   Ottoman Empire was information for relatives who are not familiar with the history.  I apologize if I have made errors.  A little of this history is, I think, helpful to understand the beginnings of American schools in Turkey .

My computer does not have the Turkish letter markings.  When I copy directly from the old letters, I use the old spellings.  Sometimes I use ‘sh’  because I don’t have cedilla.  I hope you can fill in the correct markings. 



by Dorothy Nilson Fyfe


There were a number of minority populations in the Ottoman empire .   The census lists categorized the population by religions;  Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Jewish, Coptic (in Egypt ), and others.  The majority were the Muslims.  The system of government was by millet  which in effect meant that each ethnic/religious group had its own courts and ran its own schools.  The schools for Muslim children were primarily run by the religious Imams .  American missionaries working with the ancient churches founded many Protestant schools.

            In the late 1800s, early 1900s there was an effort to make some reforms.  It was possible for a woman like Halide Edip Adivar to rise to public prominence, both as a writer and as an educator.  According to her memoir,  House with Wisteria,  her education was a combination of  a school centered in the mosque,  private tutoring, and education in one of the American girls’ schools in Istanbul .  It was possible for a privileged child in a large city to get an education, but a village child still had few opportunities.


In 1911 Paul Nilson graduated from Beloit College and went to teach in Tarsus at  St. Paul ’s Institute.  This had been founded by an American philanthropist  influenced by an earnest Armenian religious leader, who became the first principal of the school.  For a number of years St. Paul ’s Institute was independent, but in 1903 it had come under the umbrella of ABCFM, (American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions) the Congregational mission board, with Thomas Christie, a Beloit graduate,  as president.    The American staff consisted of the senior Christies and their recently widowed daughter, Mary Rogers and Paul Nilson .  Later William Nute was added to the American staff.    

 Harriet Fischer graduated from Wheaton College in 1912, taught one year in California , then came to teach in the girl’s school in Adana , which had a medical station as well as the school.   West of Tarsus there was the sea port town of Mersine (old spelling), with a Presbyterian school.  The three mission stations shared two summer homes up in the Taurus mountains , one in Goezneh (old spelling)  and one in Namrun.  Before the age of air conditioning,  summer mountain homes and vineyards were a retreat from the tropical heat of the cities in the southern areas of Anatolia .  Vineyards were not only practical sources of fruit, but also picnic grounds shaded by trees.

During the school year, teachers, doctors and nurses from Adana and Tarsus visited each other frequently, riding horse back, in  arabas, or on the train.     Tarsus had a record player and a number of records, which was quite an attraction for  the Adana teachers to visit Tarsus . 

 As Paul’s term in Tarsus was drawing to its close, he made plans to return to America and enroll in Hartford Seminary.  But meanwhile Harriet Fischer had caught his attention.  It was too late to change his plans.  Just before he left Tarsus on June 26th of 1915 he proposed and she accepted.  They faced an indefinite period of separation, during the beginnings of  World War I. 


1915 THROUGH 1919


            It was a difficult time for the newly engaged couple,  living in the shadow of war that engulfed Europe and spread east as the Ottoman Empire came in on the side of Germany .   Harriet’s letters to Paul give little hint of the war.  I expect  she was aware that their mail was being censored.

Like the other missionaries during hot summer months, Harriet journeyed up into the foothills of the Taurus Mountains to Goezneh, and settled down to write letters.  Letters  took six weeks or more between Adana and Hartford Seminary.

            The mission property in Goezneh, as I knew it later, in 1963,  had one large building which was like a deck open to a view down the mountain side, with kitchen behind, and a large sleeping room on each side.  I don’t know if there were more buildings in 1915, but Harriet’s letters are mostly about tents.  There were nine people staying up there, one family with children and a number of other teachers.  They took turns leaving at least one person on duty at the buildings in Adana and Tarsus .  Each trip up and down was made on horseback. 

Harriet wrote many letters during the quiet days in Goezneh, then sent them down to a post office  whenever someone went to Tarsus or Adana .  

            At the end of the summer of 1915, Harriet’s letters mention a  group of the missionaries planning to leave, uncertain just when, uncertain whether they would sail from Mersine or Beirut .  I am guessing that they may have been advised to evacuate families.  Bill Nute, who had married the Christie’s daughter,  the widowed Mary Rogers, sent his wife and stepson Miner to America while he stayed in Tarsus with Mrs. Christie.  Dr. Christie had gone to Istanbul in the summer of 1915 and war conditions prevented his return.  He was able to get to America where he stayed until April 1919.  Mrs. Christie held things together even though soldiers occupied some of the buildings.  

 Harriet felt duty bound to stay in Adana so as not to leave Grace Towner alone at the girls’ school.  Back in Adana after the summer in Goezneh,  Harriet and others on the staff of the school or the hospital visited Tarsus several times.  Harriet  wrote to Paul of her admiration for Mrs. Christie, and how she was pleased to hear the older woman’s praise of the energy and ability of Paul Nilson .

 In a postcard,  to young Mr. Nilson at Hartford Seminary, dated January 16th 1916, Mrs. Christie wrote, “Our two months vacation ends this week.  I shall be very glad to be in regular school work again….a number of students cannot return for 2nd term.  The boys of military age are not likely to be here….How we’d like to have you here.  and someone else  who is here would love to have you here still more. Yes she is here for her Christmas vacation and is more of a peach blossom than ever. She wears evenings a lovely garnet red silk dress and tucks a rose in her hair.  Happiness becomes her….” (The “someone else” of course was Harriet Fischer.)


 Harriet’s letters  are filled with uncertainty.  She did not comment on any war activities.  But she constantly wondered when would she get to leave?  When would someone come to take her place?  There is a gap in the letters from June of 1916 until February of 1918, by which time she was back in America . 

From a story she wrote after her retirement, I have learned a little of her journey to America .  As long as America remained neutral, missionaries had been able to remain at their posts.  But when USA entered the war,  American citizens were advised to leave.  Harriet traveled with Bill Nute and seemed to think this was proper since he was married, and she had a fiancé waiting for her.  They left in January of 1917.  They were trying to reach a port where a shipload of grain was being taken to starving Beirut ,  but her story is not clear which town they were to sail from.  It may have been Alexandretta (now called Iskenderun ) or a smaller port south of there.

They headed east by train, then reached a two mile long tunnel which was being dug through the Amanus mountain range.   Two teams from Germany working from each end had succeeded in meeting accurately,  but work was not yet completed.  The passengers had to transfer to an open work car (probably a  kind of hand propelled car)  which entered the tunnel.  In the middle of the tunnel they were told they could go no farther, they’d have to walk the rest of the way.  So they stumbled on, in the middle of a tunnel, in the middle of the night.  They finally reached the end where there was a little shack  for the workmen.  But the men refused to let a woman come in.  Bill Nute settled Harriet on a pile of boxes, and left her his coat, coming out many times during the remainder of the night to check on her.     When daylight came they discovered that her makeshift bed was a box of German ammunition.

When they reached Beirut there was further delay.  I think Bill Nute left her at this point and traveled on alone.  Possibly the ship he  sailed on would not take women.  But from all reports Harriet had a safe and pleasant extended wait in  Beirut .  She filled in her time  teaching in a school  organized and run by Halide Edip Adivar.   In later years Harriet often spoke with pride of her association with this noted Turkish woman educator.  In Halide’s memoir, House With Wisteria,  she writes of  setting up a school for  Turkish, Armenian and Kurdish orphans and mentions  “Miss Fisher who taught physical education, a valuable addition to the staff.” (p,374) Even though the name Fischer is misspelled, I am sure she referred to Harriet Fischer.

Eventually Harriet reached the United States and her home in Wheaton .  In May of 1918 Paul graduated from Hartford Seminary, and on June 5th, 1918,  they were married, on the lawn of the family home in Wheaton , Illinois . 




At the close of World War One the Ottoman Empire was divided among   Greece , Italy , France and England .   Palestine was a British protectorate, Lebanon , Syria and southeastern Anatolia were under the French.   Ottoman Turkey was limited to a small section in the northwest, around Constantinople .  Russia was still a hostile presence in the northeast, though now involved with its own Bolshevik revolution.   

 The puppet Ottoman government summoned Mustafa Kemal, hero of Gallipoli,  to lead the small army it was allowed, but he defiantly began to  form his own army.  They set out to reclaim the areas under allied protectorates. 

This then was the situation when Harriet and Paul returned to Tarsus in August of 1919 with a five month old baby.   The French held the Cilician plain which included Adana , Tarsus and surrounding areas.  Bands of Turkish fighters called Chetis, who had a loose connection with Mustafa Kemal’s army, roamed the hills and shelled the town.  Since French headquarters were in a building across from St. Paul ’s Institute, and Stickler Hall  was the highest building in town, it sustained a number of hits from Turkish shells.

  January 22nd, 1920 the elderly Christies left Tarsus , and Paul E. Nilson became the head of the school.  Not quite 30 years old, he ran a school of 200 boarders, and had charge of relief work in the nearly starving town. 

            Harriet kept a baby book of the development of their little girl, Faith Elizabeth.  The last sentences in this booklet state, “…became sick Feb. 26, listless and smileless…March 18 took her to hospital (probably in Adana ).  Nurse Duggan, Drs. Kennedy , Dodd all very kind…”    Only two months after taking over as head of the school,  Paul Nilson had to deal with the death of  his infant daughter.

            During this private grief, Paul turned to public action.  The French had introduced legalized prostitution,  and many citizens in the decaying morals of a town under siege tried to escape reality in drink.  Paul countered by organizing a Temperance Society, and distributing a translation of an American pamphlet on sexual hygiene.   He wrote in a report to mission headquarters:

 This is a mess!  Turkish brigands growing in power, the French withdrawing from outstations…now only in control of the railroad. …City Turks fleeing from French, Armenians fleeing from Turks…everybody afraid of everybody else.”  (Stone, p. 222  )

            In the summer of 1920 there was a brief cease-fire between the guerillas and the French.  Paul and Harriet sought some relief from the oppressive heat by riding  out to the vineyard.  As they started back, Turkish chetis  appeared and led them on their horses  to  the foothills of the Taurus mountains . 

            The French commandant in Tarsus promptly seized nine prominent Turkish citizens of Tarsus and sent word to the chetis that these people would be kept hostage until Paul and Harriet were released.  When the Nilsons returned after three days they went to those persons to thank them and apologize for their imprisonment. 

            The Nilsons were only held captive for three days.  But immediately after they were kidnapped, telegrams had been  sent to mission headquarters in America and to their families.  Then communication was cut off and not restored for six weeks.  The families in Wheaton and Rockford did not know they were safe.

            Upon being released from their brief captivity, Paul and Harriet  were busy with relief work.  The French had cut off supplies from reaching Tarsus , and the school organized a relief program for women and children.   Paul also established a trade school in the basement of Stickler hall.  This provided employment for a number of orphans.  They did weaving, tailoring, carpentry, slipper making, bookbinding, and printing.  The products were sold in the market place.  With all this relief effort, there was still academic activity going on, even though enrollment was much diminished.

            With the collapse of the Ottoman government and the withdrawal of occupying allied forces,  a new Turkish state was declared on October 29th, 1923.  The Congregational mission debated the question, should they close the schools?  The young leaders of the new republic didn’t quite know what to do about the foreign schools.  They had strong nationalistic pride, but were drawn to the quality of education offered in the American schools.  One thing was sure, they did not want religion, even their own Islamic faith, taught in the schools.  Back in America   the mission board advised that the schools should be closed, as religion could no longer be taught.  The  young Swede at the head of St. Paul ’s Institute (renamed Tarsus Amerikan Koleji) replied:

Abandon Turkey ?  Some Americans are urging it.  But American business firms are already increasing their efforts.  In May we welcomed a splendid Philadelphia company which is introducing agricultural implements.  Reapers, binders, Fords, Fordsons, etc. are coming to help the farmer.  When business firms adventure shall missionary forces back out?  ….?” (Stone,  p. 223)

            Meanwhile Harriet had three more pregnancies. Those three babies also died.   (One up in Namrun)  When she became pregnant again,  the doctors insisted that she return to America .  Paul  followed a short time later.

May Emily was born on May 16th of 1925.  The family lived in student housing at the University of Chicago where Paul  earned a Master’s  degree in education in 1926.   Then Paul went back to Turkey and Harriet went to her family in Wheaton to wait for another birth.

            Paul Herman was born on January 28th of 1927.  When he was old enough to travel Harriet returned to Turkey , but not to the heat and malaria  of Tarsus .  The Nilsons were to start, or rather renew mission activity in Talas.  This was situated in the high, dry central plateau of Anatolia.

The new government of Turkey began to build on  the early educational efforts of the late Ottoman reform groups. They aimed to combat illiteracy, to reach the remote villages as well as the large cities and to keep the teaching of religion in the homes, mosques, synagogues and churches, not in the schools.  The greatest challenge facing my parents and the Congregational mission as a whole was to change the focus of their schools and to cooperate with the new government regulations for schools.  Paul Nilson directed his energies  to building strong moral character in Turkish boys.   




There had once been a medical mission and  both a boys’ school and a girls’ school in Talas.  These  had been closed for several years.  In 1927 while the Nilsons were waiting for permission to reopen the schools, they were active in general mission work, which centered in a reading room in what had once been a Protestant church.  My father was busy overseeing the repairs and renovating the property in Talas.  Throughout his missionary career he benefited from his experience in construction – which he had learned from his father.  He also visited other villages around with his stereoptican slide machine.

He describes  one such slide show  to a neighboring town in February 1927: 

            Up on the slopes of Mt. Argeus …is the Turkish village of Zinjedere .  Formerly when the Greeks were here, this village was quite a center of the Orthodox church.  Now the old monastery has been changed into a Turkish orphanage.  The old church makes an excellent storeroom for supplies, and from the walls the old saints look down … as they used to survey the worshippers of old.

     Besides the church is an American building.  Miss Gerber built a substantial school building  and cared for many an orphans.  Her picture looks down on the Turkish boys who are now studying in those halls to be teachers in Turkish village schools. 

           My father writes of one slide show where the wives of the faculty attended unveiled and mingled with the men.  At that time in remote villages only the most modern women appeared unveiled.  He showed pictures of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. 

           During the time of waiting for government permission to reopen Talas, my father also taught English in the Turkish high school in Kayseri .                                                                     

After five years of negotiations by leading spokespersons of the Congregational mission in Turkey , the Talas boys’ school was reopened in 1928,  They were not able to get permission to reopen the girls’ school



            After she retired, Mother wrote quite a long description of Talas so I will base this section on her article.  I know from the dates on letters, that Harriet’s mother,  Julia Blanchard Fischer and sister Ethelwyn visited Talas once before 1929.  Quite likely they traveled  back to Turkey with Harriet when baby Paul was old enough to travel, probably around five months old. 

Talas is a small town about five miles from the city of Kayseri , formerly  known as Caesarea .   Kayseri was the shopping center for the Talas school and clinic.

While Kayseri is situated on a wide plain, the Talas school is built on a hill.  My mother describes her mother’s reaction:  “I never saw a place where  there are so many places  a child could fall off.”  Mother writes about one drive along the flat five miles between the city and the village of Talas .  The driver of the araba   waved his whip to indicate all the surrounding plain and said, “You know that all this was once a great sea.  The name ‘Talas’  comes from the Greek word, thalassa which means ‘sea.’”  Through the years my mother heard other traditions, but it is possible that the name did come from a word meaning ‘sea.’.  There is an extinct volcano in the area.  Deposits of lava and volcanic ash have been found so far away that they  must have been spread by water.

This snow topped Mount Erciyes (the same height as Pikes Peak in Colorado ) dominates the view from the plain.  Near Talas, the friendly, triple peaked Mount Ali , which is only six thousand feet high,  shuts out the view of Erciyes but it protects  from the cold winds sweeping down from the higher mountain.

As I remember it in the 1930s and ‘40s, the approach to Talas and most of its business and government buildings are  on flat land, but the road rises to higher ground quite rapidly.  To reach the American school every vehicle has to follow the sweeping  road which climbs another thousand feet around the village, forming a giant ‘S’ curve.  A passenger who does not want to ride with the luggage another two miles around  can get out and walk up 130 steps carved out of a rock precipice.  (Mother writes that  at  three years old, I climbed those steps, one step at a time, plod, plod, plod.  It made Mother impatient to keep to my pace until she realized that she could climb all the way without stopping to rest.  Those who dashed up had to rest  along the way.)

On each side of the steps there were terraced vineyards  belonging to neighbors.  The school building was at the top, a four story stone box-like building, with a smaller box on the side for the Nilson living quarters.  There was a large playing area for the school boys, with a sunken volleyball court.  The school also had its own vineyards, apricot orchard, almond and walnut trees, all of which helped to reduce the grocery bill.  There was a foot and a half thick wall whose flat surface was used for drying up to ten bushels of apricots.  These were stewed for deserts in the winter, as well as eaten fresh during the summer.   Mother writes that the wall also served as a track for us children to run along, and she often had to look the other way and try not to think of the sharp drop on the other side of the wall.

Water from the mountain streams filled caves for the school water supply, and also filled two irrigation ponds where we children learned to swim. Drinking water was boiled.   Beyond the vineyard and the irrigation pool there was a grassy shaded area surrounded by lilac bushes and a honeysuckle covered wall, where the children of the previous principal (the Wingates) were buried.  Mother liked to go there and sit on a bench by the three small graves,  to get away from bustle and noise of a school full of active boys.  And I think her thoughts may have turned from the graves of the Wingate children, to the three small graves she had left behind on the grounds of the Tarsus school.




                  The first day of the opening of the boys’ school included a brief English lesson, and also an introduction to the new Turkish alphabet,  in which they learned to write “Bu Amerikan Mektebi dir.  Lisan, sana’at, ve ticaret orenecegiz.”  (We will learn language, trades and business).  Because the alphabet had been changed American teachers had to teach the boys to read and write their own language.   A Turkish teacher gave an oral geography and history lesson.  Textbooks in the new alphabets were not yet available. 

            My father continued his story of the first day by telling of the visit of a teacher and forty students from the Zincidere teacher training school to offer congratulations on the reopening of the Talas school.  They had walked all the way , about four miles.  (Information about this first day comes from  Stone, pp 277, 278).

             The government made a great effort to teach people the new alphabet, and also to make sure that the remote villages had a chance at an education.  Students who attended the government teacher training schools got a free education in return for promising to teach a certain length of time in a village school.

            The Talas Amerikan Koleji was a private boarding school offering “language, trades and business.”  Tuition was paid by the families with some scholarship funds.  The basic course was four years including English and French,  math, science and Turkish history, and some business classes. In addition the Turkish government helped to finance a number of poor village students who attended a two year trade course with less emphasis on learning English.   My father was passionate about the need for these young Turks to learn a useful trade.  The poor village students were closest to his heart.

            Boarding students were required to provide some of their nonperishable food supplies, so when the father brought the boy to school, he often led  a camel with a load of bulgur, rice, and other staples.

            I remember that these trade students made skis for the winter.  But more important, these students were able to get jobs, often in the airplane factory in Kayseri .  

            Among the first group of students was a boy named Hasan from a nearby village.  He could not afford to come as a boarder, so lived with an uncle in Talas and walked home to his village on weekends.  He had a serious hearing impairment  which caused the other students to torment him and call him ‘Deaf Hasan.’  In frustration he would lash back so was frequently in trouble.  Finally my father told the assembled students the story of Helen Keller, and said “Perhaps some day Hasan will outstrip you.” 

            When the teasing stopped Hasan applied himself to his studies (English, Turkish, book keeping, math, shopwork and the required Turkish subjects).  By the end of the year he was second in his class, and began to mix with the other students, to the extent that they urged that he be accepted as a boarder with them.  So my father appealed for scholarship money from his many contacts in America . 

            In the early 1930s depression in America had a serious effect on the schools in Turkey .  Missionaries were asked to take a cut in salary.  Some of the organizations in America which had been providing scholarship money to Deaf Hasan and other students were forced to discontinue their charitable giving.

Many of the schools in eastern Anatolia had closed during World War I and the Turkish War for Independence .  The depression led to the closing of others.   The remaining schools were two girls’ schools, one in Istanbul and one in Izmir , two  boys’ schools at Tarsus and Talas, a hospital and nurses’ training school in Gaziantep and general mission work in the remote eastern part of the country.  Two colleges and a hospital in Istanbul had started with missionary activity, but had become independent.  


Bill Nute had been a teacher  with my father  in Tarsus .  He had then studied medicine in America , and in 1925 was back in Turkey waiting for permission to practice medicine.  For two years (1926-1928) he served as principal of Tarsus until he had permission to practice medicine.    After a few years practicing in Adana , he came to replace Dr. Dodd in Talas.   We called him Uncle Bill and his wife Aunt Mary, and used Aunt and Uncle for all the missionary personnel.  The Nutes lived on the lower compound  and ran a clinic in one of the buildings that had been part of the girls’ school.  Besides seeing patients in the clinic  Uncle Bill made many horseback house calls in nearby villages.     Aunt Mary gave us French lessons.


Another important person was Emily Block, ‘Aunt Emily.’ She came to Turkey with the Near East Relief.  She worked in the Tarsus school for a while, and was acting principal for a brief time in the summer of 1925.  Later she followed my parents to Talas where she was matron for the boarding students, and also our teacher.   In her early years in Turkey she caught small pox which damaged her hearing and left her face scarred.  I never really noticed the scars, but she was self conscious and avoided having her picture taken.  She lost the sight in one eye due to glaucoma.    With all her health problems she had energy and love for the students in the dormitories, and also for teaching the four of us.


I have just read a number of letters from Ibrahim Ertash, the school secretary around 1946.  I remember this quiet, pleasant man in the office, but did not know his story until reading these letters and some of my father’s.   He was one of the early students in the school, an orphan from Zincedere.  After graduation he worked eleven years in the  airplane factory in Kayseri until he became  ill with tuberculosis and spent some time in a T.B. sanitarium in Istanbul .  When his illness was stabilized my father brought him to the healthy climate of Talas,  and trained him to be secretary, less physically demanding than his work as foreman in the airplane factory.    His letters to my parents while they were on furlough in America in 1950/51 show his good command of the English language, and also his knowledge of the of the administrative details and paperwork of running a school

 In the early 1930s Mother was busy with us children.  She was the station treasurer and also taught mathematics in the school.  She  wrote some translations, some from English to Turkish, and also some Turkish authors into English, such as Gonulsuz Olmaz,  by Ahmet Agaoglu .

My father  still went to the villages around to show pictures, only now they were black and white movies instead of the old still pictures.  We sometimes went with him.  I remember a health movie about tuberculosis, a film about Toscanini, and some cartoons of Felix the cat.   He had the ability to make friends with street urchins, villagers, and high government officials.




By 1941 The Turkish education system had developed its own trade schools and no longer needed the trade school program in Talas.  What they wanted from the mission school was education that would prepare Turkish youth for positions in the professions.    The school was to  have one year preparatory English classes, then three years junior high level school, preparing the students to continue in the Tarsus American high school, or   Robert College in Istanbul .  The loss of his beloved village students was a blow to my father, but he  accepted the government  requirements. 

            The years of World War II were difficult years for the school.  My parents’ vacation year should have come in 1941, but there were no teachers to take their place.     In June 1943, Mother brought the four of us to America .  There were still submarines in the Mediterranean so we went a long way around –  the Orient Express train to Baghdad, another train to Basrah, then 70 days at sea on a Norwegian freighter—Karachi , Bombay,  Perth Australia, Panama, and finally New York .  We were only a month late for the start of school.   Mother returned to Talas in 1944.

  My father’s vacation year was long overdue.  He left  Mother in charge of the school for the 1945/46 school year.    While at sea on the journey to America , my father was thrown against a bunk  during a storm, and spent most of his furlough in a body cast.   That did not stop him from traveling and speaking about the schools in Turkey .  Once one of the Rockford churches raised money for a half ton pickup vehicle for the Talas schools. 

             In 1952 my parents were assigned to Diyarbakir , where they  taught in the public high school,  organized repairs to mission property in Diyarbakir and Mardin, and made trips to villages around showing movies.   They retired in 1957, and went to live in Wheaton , Illinois .  In 1961 and 1962 they returned to teach in a new private school in Iskenderun .  But it was clear that my father no longer had the energy of his young days.  They returned to Wheaton .  Paul E. Nilson died in April, 1968.  Harriet Nilson lived to be nearly 94 years old.  She died in a retirement home in Tennessee in February, 1985.  They are both buried in the Nilson family plot in Rockford , Illinois .