Alvina Elmer

Gospel Pioneers
Gospel Pioneers
Gospel Pioneers

Alvina Elmer came with her family from Czarist Russia in 1910. They were all under contract to pick cotton in Texas to pay off their steamship passage. Depending upon which of the eight children in the family you might have asked, their father either did or did not possess a violent temper. He would strike out at the closest child when something went wrong that could not be blamed on a specific offspring.

One of the older brothers spotted his father coming across the cotton field towards him with his belt removed while flailing the buckle in his hand. Not waiting for the probable results, the young man ran home, grabbed his meager possessions and headed west. The West Coast was where he met the Apostolic Faith people. He sent a letter back to Texas, “You’ve got to come out here. I’ve met the people.” The entire family moved to Oregon in 1917. Alvina was saved at the Front and Burnside church in Portland, Oregon, shortly after their arrival and was faithful until her death.

She lived with various church families while working at the True Blue Cookie Company. In the early 1920’s a brother in the church, Otto Olson, who was six-foot-one, 210 pounds, with black wavy hair, proposed marriage. The five-foot-zero Alvina turned him down. He moved to Los Angeles, California and worked hard in construction. He saved his money and paid cash for a brand new 1926 Model T Ford Coupe. Then, driving up to Alvina one day while she was waiting for a bus, he proposed again. This time she accepted.

They moved to San Francisco, California, but the foggy weather apparently didn’t agree with Alvina, and her weight dropped below one hundred pounds. The couple moved back to Portland in 1928, where they were familiar figures at Sixth and Burnside for many years. Three boys were born to them. A small inheritance from one of Otto’s brothers came their way, and they purchased acreage and built a house at Sixty-second and Flavel Streets. They added a barn for cows and large chicken coops. Money ran out before the house was finished, so they omitted the fixtures from the space for the bathroom (Otto would never borrow a cent) and built an outhouse next to the chicken coop. The boys were kept busy delivering milk and eggs on their bicycles, including swapping eggs for groceries at the Mission Grocery store on Fifty-second and Ogden. Money was hard to come by during those days of the Great Depression.

Otto passed away at the age of fifty while working at the Swan Island Shipyard, so Alvina raised the boys on a small amount of Social Security income supplemented by caring for elderly people and later small children. With only a third grade education she, nevertheless, was not to be underestimated.

In 1953 she married Arndt Elmer, an old-timer who came into the Apostolic Faith Church from the Salvation Army in 1916. He passed away in 1968. It was in that period of time that she suffered a heart attack. She lay panting on the sofa while the church was called for a minister. Brother Forrest Damron came, anointed her with oil and prayed. He left saying, “She’ll be all right now,” as he headed out the door. “But doesn’t he realize that she’s still panting badly?” I thought as he left. A number of years later, when she died of other causes, we were forced to have an autopsy, since she hadn’t been under a doctor’s care. I don’t remember the listed cause of death, but there was a notation, “This woman suffered a severe heart rupture at some time in the past. It is completely healed.”

Alvina lived with the family of one of her sons for the last fourteen years of her life, including a move back to the San Francisco branch church in 1969. She passed away in San Rafael, Marin County, California, in June 1982 and was buried next to Otto at the Rose City Cemetery in Portland, Oregon.