Baha'i News -- Daughter's project is saving Grace

Daughter's project is saving Grace

To readers of Lancaster newspapers in the 1980s and '90s, no name - not even the editor's -- was more familiar than Grace E. Behrens'.

The longtime city resident saw 776 of her letters to the editor published in the three local papers, most during those two decades. Some readers suggested she be put on the newspaper payroll; others agreed, if only so they could demand she be fired!

The New York City transplant, a retired bookkeeper, had an opinion on everything. Her comments were always succinct, sometimes colorful and, yes, often controversial, since she was of a more liberal bent than many natives.

Behrens died in early 1998 at age 78. That left her many fans wondering, "What would Grace have to say about... ?" (Fill in the blank from the local, state, national and international news pages.)

Those who know her daughter, Paula E. Jackson, chief city planner, made that remark to her. Jackson perused her mother's scrapbooks and put together a 98-page paperback booklet titled "Amazing Grace: Letters to the Editor by Grace E. Behrens," which arrives just in time for Mother's Day. "This book is a daughter's expression of love and pride in honor of her mother," Jackson writes in the preface.

The book's 12 chapters classify letters by topic -- including Religion, Race and Human Rights, A Woman's Place, Public Education. Three chapters include letters written by others about Behrens -- Grace Sparks Controversy, Too Much Grace ???, and Farewell Grace.

A 1958 letter objected to a caricature of Buddha in one of the papers. A 1967 letter chastised a city councilman for referring to two city police officers as "colored boys." A 1983 letter took issue with Good Friday being a legal holiday. A 1997 letter urged paying the U.S. debt to the United Nations.

JACKSON WEAVES BITS of her mother's personal history into the introductions for each chapter, including the fact that she arrived here in 1955 as a missionary for the Baha'i faith, which promotes tolerance and unity. Some chapters include a quotation from Baha'i leaders, such as this one from Baha'ullah: "Newspapers are as a mirror endowed with hearing, sight and speech; they are a wonderful phenomenon and a great matter."

Behrens herself like to quote Saturday Review Editor Norman Cousins: "Convictions are potent only when they are shared."

Is it any wonder Behrens' hobby was writing letters to newspaper editors?

The book project was sponsored by the board of trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster, which Behrens attended and where her daughter is a member. Diana M. Burnett of the church designed the book, and the cover bears artist Ralph Lindsay's sketch of the Behrens' West Chestnut Street home. Inside is a Lancaster Newspapers photo of Behrens taken for a 1984 Sunday News profile.

Proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit the church, located at 538 W. Chestnut St. It may be purchased for $8 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays at the church office. Mail orders ($10, including shipping) may be placed by writing or calling the church office, 393-1733, or e-mailing

©Copyright 2002, Intelligencer Journal

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