Interview with Verna Inglis Bidwell
Interviewer: Terry Randolph (1972)
I heard there was a Baha’i named Verna Inglis Bidwell (neé ‘Lence’) who was one of the few people still living who had met Louis Gregory, a well known and respected Baha’i travel teacher. On 5 Aug 1951, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian and spiritual leader of the Baha’i Faith appointed Mr. Gregory, posthumously, to the rank of ‘Hand of the Cause of God’.
I made arrangements to travel to Birmingham, Alabama to visit a Baha’i family. It was from them that I learned about Verna Bidwell. I requested the assistance of Dianne, a local Auxiliary Board Member, to arrange for me to interview Mrs. Bidwell. She made contact with her via telephone and received permission for me to visit her at home. I asked Dianne to accompany me because as a Birmingham native she is very familiar with the area.
Verna Lence was born in Valparaiso, Indiana (near Chesterton) on March 12 1906. Twice married, full name: Verna Lence Inglis Bidwell. The interview took place at her home, 1812 Wellington, Road, Birmingham, Alabama 35209.
During the interview Verna Bidwell mentioned that she first met Louis Gregory in 1942, and again in 1943, and became Baha’i as a result of his second visit. She recalls that his first visit mostly likely took place at her previous residence on Cliff (Clifton?) Road, also in Birmingham. She also said that at some point he may have visited Miles Collage, but she was not certain.
As described by Mrs. Bidwell, she remembers Mr. Gregory was being mild mannered, serene, but very dynamic. She recalls that he was very much aware that in order to communicate with people in the south that he must base his Baha’i talks on the Bible.
It became increasingly evident during the interview that it was difficult for her to recall much detail, due in part to passage of time and her advance age. So, that which is recorded is the extent of our conversation regarding her recollections of Louis Gregory and his Baha’i travel teaching efforts in the southern states.
Mrs. Bidwell has a photograph of Mr. Gregory that was taken at the Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois, dated June 1, 1944. She agreed to let me make a copy and then return the original to her. [Note: The original was returned as promised].
The first Baha’i Local Spiritual Assembly was formed in Birmingham at Ridvan 1943. Membership at time of formation included: Robert Dunn (deceased), Rose Brown (currently resides in Seattle, Washington), Verna Inglis (later Bidwell) and her husband, also a Dr. Brown, and a Mr. Johnson.
Mrs. Bidwell also said that she was in the company of Mr. Gregory on three separate occasions, but did NOT see him in Birmingham after 1945. One of the three times was “at a convention” (National Baha’i Convention).
Sometime around 1940-42, Grace Ober, Harlan Ober’s wife, gave a talk in Birmingham.
Mrs. Bidwell has in her possession a photo album that includes photographs of David Villasenor doing an Indian style ‘sand painting’ at the ‘Indian Village’ in Valparaiso, Indiana, dated Sep 26-27, 1970. There’s also an earlier photo of him taken in March 1952.
Other photographs in her Album include:
~ Hands of the Cause of God, Mr. Samandarí, and Mr. Furitan (possibly taken in London, and at the same event)
~ Stanley James, 1942
~ Margaret Ruhe, Gertrude Gurney (?), and Verna Inglis. Photo taken in Birmingham, the backyard of Verna Inglis’s home on Cliff Road.
~ Hand of the Cause of God, Paul Haney, Aug 1956
~ Peggy True, 1943 (no relation to Edna True)
~ Hand of the Cause of God, Leroy Ioas (probably in the 1940s)
~ Hand of the Cause of God, Bora Kavelin, May 1952
~ Hand of the Cause of God, Alvin Blum (Also Knight of Baha’u’llah), photo taken in Fiji
A great amount of research is already completed on the life of Louis Gregory. There are written works about his tireless effort, as a teacher of the Baha’i Faith, especially in many southern states, and much is included in “To Move the World”, a book about the life Louis Gregory.
However, the extend of current research on the life of Louis Gregory does little to capture and portray the spiritual nature of his being that was the driving force of his creativity, moral courage, and awesome dedication to teach the Cause of Baha’u’llah. Much more must be done that not only details historical fact but also strive to capture the true essence of this “mild and serene, but dynamic” man whose innate nature is manifested by deep wisdom, an abiding sense of justice, graced, and intense spiritual insight. The extent, magnitude and impact of his leadership have yet to be fully revealed and appreciated.
 Miles College is a historically black college founded in 1898. It is located in Fairfield, Alabama, six miles (10 km) west of Birmingham. It is a private liberal arts institution of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME Church). Miles College is also a member of the United Negro College Fund. Miles College began organization efforts in 1893 and was founded in 1898 by the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. It was chartered as Miles Memorial College, in honor of Bishop William H. Miles. In 1941 the name was changed to Miles College. -Wikipedia