On a spring morning in 2003, a young Indonesian man walked down the aisle in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Techny to be ordained a priest of the SVD. At his side walked a couple from Epworth, Iowa. Benyamin Boro Nama had lost his father just eight months before, and money was too tight for his mother to make the trip, so he asked Larry and Donna Clements to walk in her stead. On that morning, there was not a dry eye among the three.
“He said to us, ‘Just hold onto my hands. I need your strength,’” Donna said. “It was a beautiful, beautiful day spiritually.”
The moment illustrates the relationships the couple has built with countless DWC students. For 40 years, the Clements welcomed them into their home, many years before the college devised its FAN (Friends Across Nations) Club which matches students with local families. The couple moved to Epworth in late 50s, and was around for the college’s early years. Both of their sons worked there in the summer.
“The boys would invite students over for supper,” Donna said. “Then at Easter or Christmas we’d open our house to any students who didn’t have any place to go.”
And they have stories. There was the young man from Mexico 15 years ago, who struggled with English. On Thanksgiving Day, he went to their home where their then-four year old granddaughter decided to work on his language skills.
“She got this student to open up. She’d say the words over and over and he’d pick them up,” Donna said. “Fr. Tony Romo Romo has been like one of our ‘sons’ ever since.”
On Larry’s birthday one year, a group of students came to their house.
“There was Polish, an Indonesian, Mexican, and Vietnamese, and they all sang ‘Happy Birthday’ in their native language,” he said.
Though they have touched many lives, the Clements are they first to say that they have gotten much in return.
“Divine Word College has been a blessing to us,” Donna said. “It’s the different cultures. We have learned so much from these kids.”