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Book Review: 36 Days and a Dream

Updated: Apr 14

Publisher: Review and Herald, 1952.

Author: Leona Running

Matthew J. Lucio

 

Leona Running (1916-2014) is known for earning a PhD from Johns Hopkins, working closely with famed archaeologist William F. Albright, becoming an infectious polyglot, and, most of all, for being one of the first women to join the faculty at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary (1955). At 96, she also wrote an admonishing open letter to the General Conference president, Ted Wilson, signed, "your Hebrew teacher." Leona Running was a brilliant and accomplished academic. 36 Days and a Dream reminds us that Adventists can also find joy in living.


36 Days and a Dream is a memoir of her adventure through Europe in the summer of 1951. European travel had been the province of the wealthy before the war, but cheaper transport and an economic boom gave women like Leona Running - then working as a secretary for the General Conference - an unequaled opportunity. Running had graduated as valedictorian from Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University) with a BA in modern languages - but put it on hold when she married Leif Running. He died four years later during an operation, and Running found herself alone in her mid-thirties working as a secretary. (Was Leona Running the first Millennial?)

Source: Northern Light, vol. 1, no. 7 (Sept. 1951), p. 2.

Leona's reason for traveling to Europe was to attend the Paris Youth Congress, where 5,000 young Adventists from around the world were expected to attend. Leona planned to travel with an unnamed "college girl" but the latter decided to get married instead. Undeterred, Leona saw H.M.S. Richards - then at the General Conference attending Spring Council - and told him her troubles. Leona had worked with the famed radio evangelist at the Voice of Prophecy (VOP) as a translator from 1944-1948 and told Richards: "I'm going to Europe if I have to go all alone!" Richards suggested she contact Del Delker, the famous VOP singer, and invite her. Leona was game and received a telegram in reply: "You have got yourself a traveling pal."


On the voyage to Europe, Frankie, "our good-looking and charming little headwaiter" set a can of "fine marshmallows" in front of Del. Wary, she popped the lid off to find a coiled snake firing out and startling nearby tables. The rest of the dining hall quickly realized that Leona and Del's table was the goofy table: "They must have wondered many times as the days went by, for those stewards made every meal a circus."


In England, the two Americans thought they saw Winston Churchill get into a taxi. "Coming back down to earth," Leona and Del turned toward the business of tourism by working out an efficient strategy: Leona would take notes while Del would take pictures. When they got a break, Del would copy Leona's notes and, later, share her pictures. This book is the product of that diligent note-and-photo taking.


The pair travelled to England, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and, of course, France. The comparative difficulty of travel in those days led to some high drama: Del lost her passport and Leona took her first flight; they missed trains, lost luggage, agonized over money, and met good samaritans.


Through it all, Leona narrates the story with a mix of Adventist modesty and a sense of adventure. Leona teases that Del's hunger is a "chronic condition" and nicknames her "Never-miss-a-train Del." Most charming of all is the American innocence through she she and Del saw the world. The Old World was new again and Leona happily reported every errant fact she could scrounge up. Seeing the world through her eyes is a treat.


36 Days and a Dream is a fantastic and forgotten piece of Adventist travel literature. With no overt religious purpose, it was published purely to convey a sense of joy and adventure. While Leona would go on to publish a similar travel memoir, From the Thames to the Tigris (1958), it more closely reflected her intellectual interests (she received her MA in Greek and Hebrew in 1955 and began teaching at the seminary) more than 36 Days. In any case, both 36 Days and Thames were overlooked in favor of "her most outstanding published work" - the biography of William F. Albright.


Leona Running's travel literature might not have contributed to any academic field, but it's good fun. Adventist have published legions of books advancing an argument or critiquing a position. As a highly intelligent and accomplished academic who broke through more than her share of glass ceilings, Leona nevertheless reminds us that sometimes it is OK just to enjoy the world.



 

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