Tales from the Life of an Extraordinary Man


2014_09_hinkle_coverWhen you meet Ernie Hinkle, a man who has lived 90 years on this earth, you find out pretty quickly that he has stories to tell. In his well-worn jeans and suspenders, plaid shirt, and Fesler Auto Mall cap, he is chatting with a teenager when I approach his table at the Fairfield Farmers Market. While his face is remarkably free of wrinkles, his hands are a sculpture in clay, swollen from arthritis and hard work, dirt embedded in the cracks of his skin.

Sometime in the gap between handing him the cash and adding his persimmons and pears to my bag, Ernie starts spinning a yarn.

“As a young man, I traveled the Midwest performing in showboats and vaudeville acts.” As if to prove it, he opens his mouth and belts out “Old Man River” in the middle of the market.

The Adventures of Ernie

I’ve made a point of visiting Ernie at the market ever since. He once was the “long-time, old-time mayor of Birmingham,” the small town south of Fairfield where he has lived and farmed for 56 years with his wife, Betty. Ernie confides with a sly smile that some rowdies might not have liked him as mayor, “because I don’t put up with much nonsense.”

2014_09_ernie_marketA colorful personality known throughout the state for his performances in charity shows and fundraisers, Ernie was inducted into the Beard-Growers Hall of Fame in Eddyville for his annual green St. Patrick’s day beard and his red, white, and blue sesquicentennial beard. Not to mention 56 years of playing Santa in Sunday schools in Birmingham and Fairfield.

As a salesman for Iowa Tire in Fairfield, Ernie made many friends while driving his long route throughout southeast Iowa and northern Missouri, often raising money for families in need and more than once saving the lives of motorists who crashed on the highway.

He wrote about his adventures in The Travels of Ernie Hinkle. “The big boys didn’t want to fool with it,” he says, “So we self-published under Ernbet Press. Then the United Press picked up the story, and people all over the country bought the book.”

In 2013 Ernie was honored for being a founding member of the Fairfield Farmers Market, which consisted of five vendors when it started back in 1975. Born in Montana and raised on farms in the greater Fairfield area, Ernie knows the old ways of farming, before chemicals and pesticides, and he’s been raising crops organically for the last 25 years, “because that’s what the Fairfield market wanted.”

On the Farm

On the 10-acre truck farm where he and Betty still live, Ernie has lovingly tended over 50 varieties of fruit trees, plus a one-acre garden and some berry patches. He grows his own horseradish and until recently sold 700 pints of horseradish pickles and hundreds of gallons of home-pressed cider each year.

The last time we chatted, Ernie mentioned that he and Betty were about to celebrate their 70th anniversary. And, oh yeah, he let it drop that over the years he and Betty took in 30 foster children—yes, that’s 30—and adopted six of them.

I want to know more about this side of Ernie Hinkle, but when I return to the market the following week, he’s gone.

Dennis in the orchard of his family home in Birmingham.

Dennis in the orchard of his family home in Birmingham. (Photo by Linda Egenes)

Soon I’m on the phone with Dennis Ives, a nephew of Ernie and Betty’s. Dennis tells me that, sadly, Ernie has taken a bad fall while picking plums. He will take a while to heal from his injuries, and will need assistance that can only be given in a nursing home.

Dennis invites me to the family farm, where he and his wife are staying to help Ernie and Betty in this time of need. Other children have flown in as well, including the youngest child, April, and her husband, Dylan, who teach theater arts in Wales.

It’s easy to find Ernie and Betty’s Victorian farmhouse in Birmingham, surrounded by orchards, flower gardens, and a grape arbor. In a way it’s fitting, to be sitting with Betty and Dennis in the Hinkle kitchen with its bright yellow counters, hearing stories about this man who was the best storyteller of all.

Nurturing Children in Need

“Ernie and I used to joke that when he came home each night he never knew how many children he had,” says Betty, who at age 90, has energy and brain power to spare.

“Social services would call up and say, ‘We have five boys—can you take them for one night?’ Then the ‘overnight’ lasted six months.” Those boys ranged in age from two to fifteen.

“Right after that we had a group of sisters come,” says Betty. “Only they arrived at three in the morning.”

Dennis says that his own mother (Ernie’s sister) died when Dennis was 5 and his brother was 7, and “Ernie and Betty took us in just like the others.”

Dennis was taught from a young age to welcome all of the children who came to stay. “Even the cats knew to come to the Hinkle household. There were always at least 10 stray cats that Ernie fed in addition to our own. If he saw a neighbor’s horse was underfed, he’d buy him hay.”

Dennis helped Ernie run the farm, rising at 4:30 a.m. to feed the animals before school. Tuesdays were candy nights, when Ernie would walk into the parlor and toss each child a candy bar. “We were eagerly waiting,” Dennis remembers.

Dennis was a smart kid, and Ernie and Betty sent him to College of the Ozarks in Branson, MO. “I was working with Ernie in the tire business, which helped him a great deal, but it was Ernie who told me, ‘You need to get your education.’ ” With Ernie and Betty’s support, Dennis went on to medical school. Today he manages hospitals in Arkansas.

“I owe my whole life to Ernie and Betty,” Dennis says. He means this literally. When Dennis came to the Hinkles, he had nephritis, a deadly kidney disease in the era before dialysis, and he wasn’t expected to live more than a year. Ernie rearranged his tire route so he could drive Dennis to the University of Iowa Hospital once a week for treatment. With the healthy food and lifestyle on the farm and an innovative medical treatment, Dennis eventually was cured by age 14.

Leslie’s Little Bit of Heaven

2014_09_ernie_market“Ernie and Betty are two of the most generous people that I know,” says Dennis. “They’ve always been there for anyone who needs anything. . .” Dennis stops, overcome with emotion.

Betty picks up the story. She tells about Leslie, a baby with Down syndrome they adopted and raised.

“When we adopted her, someone said, ‘How much closer could you get to heaven?’ ” says Betty. “So Ernie named  the farm ‘Leslie’s Little Bit of Heaven.’”

The cover of Ernie’s book lists his many roles: actor, auctioneer, beekeeper, emcee, gourmet, herdsman, journalist, lay preacher, politician, poet, horticulturalist, entertainer, musician, orchardist, truck driver, writer, loafer, water-witcher, Sunday-school teacher, salesman, and Santa. And that’s just half the list. Yet Ernie’s true legacy is the children he and Betty raised and the people he helped throughout his life.

When I drive away from Ernie and Betty’s orchards, my last glimpse is the sign “Leslie’s Little Bit of Heaven” in the rearview mirror. I remember something Ernie said last month at the farmers market that sums up his philosophy of life.

“I guess that’s what we’re all supposed to do, isn’t it?” he asked while removing his cap and slapping it back on his head. “Something in this world to help other people.”

Due to Ernie’s recent injuries, the Hinkle family sold the family farm in Birmingham.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa SourceSeptember 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

Categories: Iowa, midwestern living


Developing Full Potential of Students at Rajapark Institute in Thailand

(Part three of a three-part series)

by Linda Egenes

Gail Connellee didn’t expect to go back to school in her 60s. She already had a BA in education and worked as a counselor. But when she heard about the opportunity to earn an MA degree at the Rajapark Institute in Bangkok, Thailand, she decided to return to the classroom.

“The difference at this school is that we all practice the Transcendental Meditation technique, and this is what made me even consider going back to school at this late stage in life,” says Gail. “Meditating has given me the confidence and ability to manage my studies. Learning comes easily—in some ways better than ever before. I feel young again. I attribute that to the TM technique—the rest it provides, the orderliness of thinking, and the ability to enjoy and experience the bliss of learning.”

Chen Au Teo, 24, whom the other students at Rajapark Institute call “Angel,” also finds that the addition of the Transcendental Meditation technique is a perfect complement to learning. “Back home in Malaysia, I used to only enjoy studying art, but now I enjoy studying physics, astronomy, history, economy — just about everything,” she says. “Because I am exploring my own consciousness, which is also the basis for every field of study, I feel connected with the knowledge, and that is fulfilling. This connection with knowledge brings me joy while learning.”

Gail is unique not only because her fellow students are much younger, but also because she is the only American to study at Rajapark Institute, which has 4,000 students (mostly from Thailand) at the main campus in Bangkok and in seven satellite campuses around the country. They are earning graduate degrees in four areas: Engineering, Management, Education, Political Science and the Science of Creative Intelligence for Management.

It is this last major that Gail chose. “I was interested in learning how to teach this unique subject, which studies the field of intelligence and creativity that underlies all disciplines and can be directly experienced through the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. With my background as an elementary school teacher and counselor, I immediately recognized that the addition of the TM technique to education could help in developing full student potential.”

Indeed, research published in peer-reviewed journals has shown that students who practice the Transcendental Meditation technique significantly improve in academic achievement, cognitive functioning, logical thinking, focus and even IQ. Other benefits to education include reduced teacher burnout, improved teacher-student relationships, higher levels of moral reasoning, and better health for teachers and students.

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing the president of this unique university, Dr. RajaVikram Charoen-Rajapark, who founded Rajapark as a college in 1996 with less than 100 students. He was inspired by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique, to start a university to offer ideal education, to develop full potential for the students, and to establish a large group of students to practice TM and the more advanced TM-Sidhi program together to create peace and harmony for Thailand. In addition the Rajapark Institute currently donates most, if not all, of its profits to support large groups of people practicing the TM and TM-Sidhi program together to create world peace.

Based on positive government assessments, the college was able to upgrade its status to “institute” in 2008.

“The government sends teams to assess our programs on a routine basis, and they are very supportive,” says Dr. RajaVikram. “They not only support us in using the Transcendental Meditation technique to expand the students’ learning and earning potential, but they encourage us to emphasize it as our strong point. ‘Base your reputation on the TM program in your curriculum,’ they advised us.”

I found out that the “raja” in “Rajapark” means “administrator or king.” Dr. RajaVikram’s family has served the royal family in Thailand for three generations. His maternal grandfather, a top-ranking administrator, was the Chief of Justice of the judges under the King of Thailand, and the beautiful campus, which is graced with tropical gardens and trees, is built on land that his mother purchased for her family.

I get the feeling from Dr. RajaVikram that here is an extraordinarily compassionate man who, with his wife, Varaporn Charoen-Rajapark, feels responsible for the well-being of people in Thailand and the whole world, not just his own family.

“We feel that our students are creating an atmosphere of peace for the whole country through their practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique,” he says. “And the Science of Creative Intelligence for Management Master degree program was inspired by recent visits from the representatives from the Ministry of Educationthat emphasize the importance of full human development, creating a happy society, and protecting the environment.”

For the students of Rajapark Institute, daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique has far-reaching benefits. Man Yin Chen, a student from Hong Kong, says, “Every morning and evening I attend a group meditation. It gives me the support I need for my research. When I get stuck, somehow after meditation the answer comes to me. Sometimes the quote that I’m looking for is right there in the next book I open. I also feel that with the help of the Transcendental Meditation technique I can expand my consciousness and explore my inner self, to know my true self.”

Man Yin also feels that the benefits of the TM technique extend beyond the classroom, to the rest of her life. “Practicing TM not only helps me with my studies, but to be a better person as a whole. I feel nourished by the beautiful experience of transcending, and then I can nourish my friends and classmates.”

Gail Connellee agrees. “TM allows you to manage your time efficiently and allows you to handle challenges without stress,” she says. “You enjoy your life more.”

For more information about the BA in the Science of Creative Intelligence for Management and ELL (English Language Learners) programs offered at Rajapark Institute in 2015, please contact asianthmd@yahoo.com.

Read Part One of this three-part series here

Watch video: Women and Girls Tell what Transcendental Meditation does for them

Photo credits: Tina McQuiston. Used with permission.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.


Transcendental Meditation and At-Risk Girls in ThailandThe Story of Two Students

(Part two of a three-part series)

The word “education” comes from the Latin verb “educere” which means “to lead out.” For children in many parts of the world, an education is a way to lead their families from poverty to prosperity. In Thailand, education for girls means earning a higher degree or learning a respected trade. Without an education, girls growing up in poverty often end up being trafficked into prostitution and living on the street.

At the Dhammajarini Witthaya School, the only free boarding school for at-risk girls in Thailand, girls are not only being given a safe haven and a quality education, but have the opportunity to develop their mental, emotional and physical potential by practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique. They are literally being “led out” to a better life.

While visiting Thailand recently, I had the pleasure to interview two students at the Dhammajarinnee Witthaya School, where 500 children preschool to age 12 meditate together. The school is located on 11 acres of gardens, lakes and shady lanes.

Outside the beautiful administration building, smiling girls in crisp uniforms stop to greet me, saying in perfect English, “How are you?” I talk to them for a moment. English and Chinese are part of the curriculum here, which includes computer science and other college-prep courses, as well as instruction in traditional Thai crafts.

Aytittaya, age 16, tells me, through a Thai interpreter, that she is in grade 10. She is wearing a blue polo shirt and sweat pants, the attire for after-school chores and sports. While we talk inside Acharn Yai’s comfortable office, we can hear the happy sounds of children playing outdoors.

Girls at the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya schoolAytittaya smiles when she explains that her family is from Bangkok. Unlike many of the girls, she is not here due to poverty, but rather because her parents divorced when she was two years old. “I lived with my mom and brother and grandmother in Bangkok, but my mother had to travel for her work,” she explains. “So she put me in a boarding school in Bangkok.”

Then in grade six, her great grandmother, who is a Buddhist nun, found out about the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya school and her mother brought her here.

“The students in the previous school were not so disciplined,” she says. “Here we learn Buddhist values. In the previous school there is a gap between the student and the teacher, but here the teacher is like the mother.”

Another difference is that the students meditate longer here. In her previous school, they spent five minutes doing Buddhist meditation before school each morning, as has been mandated by the King of Thailand for every school in the country. “Here we practice the TM technique and meditate for a longer time twice a day and I really like that. I feel much more protected, more happy here.”

Aytittya smiles again when she describes how naughty she used to behave. “At my other school, I didn’t listen to my mother and listened to my friends instead,” she says. “I’ve changed a lot.” She is more focused on her studies, and she’s proud that she just won the province-wide competition for Buddhist chanting. And her team just won second place for the national Mind Map competition.

Girls at the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya schoolApinya, also sixteen years old in grade 10, has a different story. She comes from a very poor family in Ratchaburi province. When she was only eight, her parents divorced and her mother left her with her father and two older sisters. Her father had a difficult time making a living, and took his anger out on Apinya. Eventually, her teachers removed her from her abusive home environment and placed her first in a foster home, and then brought her to the Dhammajarinee School.

Apinya not only feels safe here, but happier. “The nuns and teachers take good care of us, just like a family.” She also confides, “Before I didn’t dare to express myself. If I saw a stranger, I was afraid. Now, after practicing Transcendental Meditation, I have more confidence. I’m not afraid to express myself.”

Apinya also was on the secondary school team that won second prize in the national Mind Map contest, and later this month she will compete in the national Memory Competition.

I ask the girls if they mind doing chores for the school. Aytittya says that her job is to help clean the buildings, take care of the grounds and cut the grass.

She smiles widely and says, “I don’t mind because the physical work helps me stay in shape. And I want to help the school.”

Aditya says that she likes helping in the kitchen. “Before I didn’t know how to cook,” she says. “Now I know how to cook for myself and for others.”

Awards at the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya school“From the beginning, from when I first started to meditate, I have felt that this is very good for me,” says Aditya. “When I feel tired or stressed, I just do my evening meditation, and all the stress is gone. I feel happy.”

Aditya enjoys learning Chinese and English as part of her studies. She would like to go to college and study Chinese and become an interpreter, while Aytittya wants to become an air hostess so she can travel to see her mother, who now works in Norway.

Or, they both mention, after college they may come back to teach here, at the Dhammajarinee Witthaya school, to give back to others the same extraordinary education that they have received.

New Fundraising video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JoS32IKA1c

Full 13 minute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCHFb_2Q_5U

During the past two years, Acharn Yai and supporters have raised funds and completed a new classroom building. Now the school are raising funds for a new dormitory building that will allow the school to expand from 500 to 750 students. Tax-deductible donations for the school can be made athttp://www.seedsofheaven.org/donate.htmlWhen donating, be sure to click the button for Dhammarjarinee Wittayah school in Thailand. Or you may donate directly to the school here: http://www.buddhistgirls.org/eng/donate.html

Photos by Tina McQuiston, reprinted with permission.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, October 16, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)


Acharn Yai (Aunampai Passakchai), Buddhist Nun, Talks About Meditation, Academics and Peace

(Part one of a three-part series)

All photos courtesy of Tina McQuiston

I was deeply moved while writing two previous blog posts about the Dhammajarinee Witthaya School, which provides 500 at-risk girls in Thailand a free education. So when I took a short trip to Bangkok last month, at the top of my wish list was a side trip to Ratchaburi Province to tour the school and meet Acharn Yai, the extraordinary Buddhist nun who is the headmaster of the school.

At the Dhammajarinee Witthaya School, 400 students practice the Transcendental Meditation technique together each day. For Acharn Yai (translated as “headmaster teacher”), TM is not only a way to help girls with a history of extreme poverty, broken homes and domestic violence to find their way to a successful and happy life, but it’s a way to create peace for the entire country.

Visiting the school in person was much more impressive than writing about it from a distance. The buildings and grounds were light-filled, clean, spacious. We were greeted by several teachers with a traditional Thai greeting of “Swasdeeka” and trays of Thai sweets artfully wrapped in banana leaves. After refreshments, we were invited into an air-conditioned office where Acharn Yai took time from her busy day to answer questions. I was deeply moved by Acharn Yai’s warmth, her beautiful heart and her love and compassion for the girls at the school.

Acharn Yai Buddhist nun who practices Transcendental Meditation Linda Egenes: How has the TM technique helped girls to learn?

Acharn Yai: What has helped these girls the most is growing in consciousness. Normally people focus on physical development, development of the body, and they forget consciousness, the inner life.

In order to grow in wholeness, a full life, the students need to develop both the consciousness and the body together. For growth of consciousness, they learn the TM technique.

Linda Egenes: What do you do to help the children grow strong physically?

Acharn Yai: For the body, we give them proper food of all five food groups, with plenty of vitamins, minerals, proteins and healthy fats. We also make sure they have time to exercise every day. We provide a safe, secure and beautiful environment for them to live in.

Every morning the nuns who live here go out to the village to beg for food. This is not the traditional way for nuns in Thailand to find food to eat, but we need extra food to feed the growing girls.

Yet there is not enough food from begging to feed all the girls! So we have a kitchen and a cook to prepare meals for the students. We buy some food, such as chicken and fish, and the girls grow organic vegetables and mushrooms and harvest the fruits from the banana and coconut trees. Other girls help cook, and others keep the lawn mowed and the grounds and buildings tidy. Each girl has a job in addition to their academic studies.

Linda Egenes: How have the children changed since they started meditating at the school in 2009?

Acharn Yai: Most of the girls have come from a rough or problematic background. Their families were unable to care for them properly, due to divorce, extreme poverty, domestic violence, or neglect. So these children are so delicate in heart and mind. After they begin the practice of meditation, their minds become stronger. When they are more strong and stable inside, whatever they do will be more successful. TM is just like a medicine to cure and nourish and uplift them and help them become better students and people.

Linda Egenes: Have the students grown in academic achievement since you introduced the TM technique to the school?

Acharn Yai: In the first years of the school, before we introduced Transcendental Meditation, the teachers never took the girls to competitions with other schools because they were not ready. Some girls were so tough they would make the teachers cry, made their friends cry. We had to replace the teachers every month because they did not want to stay.

Now, since adding TM to the curriculum in 2009, the girls not only attend all government competitions, but they win prizes.

Last week some of the girls attended a Mind Map Competition—a national competition for creative thinking and drawing skills. One of our students won first prize for the primary level (Grades 4, 5 and 6) for the entire nation. They were asked to draw “My Happiness.” She drew the parts of her day that made her happy—such as taking a shower and eating sweets. The judges felt that she expressed her inner feelings, and that’s why she won the first prize.

For the secondary school level (Grades 7, 8, 9), a team of our students won the second prize for Mind Map Competition and also second prize for the Memory Competition.

In fact, out of all the public government-run schools in this province, our school is now considered the top school for academics of all kinds. This has only been possible since we started teaching the girls the Transcendental Meditation technique and the advanced TM-Sidhi program.

Linda Egenes: I know that you were adding on grades as the children grew up, and now for two years you have offered all 12 grades. How many of your graduates are going on to higher education?

Acharn Yai: Out of the 25 who finished grade 12 last year, 22 continued on to college and three went back to their villages to work. A donor has contributed to a special fund so the students can receive scholarships if they wish to go to college.

Linda Egenes: How does TM help the intellectual development of students?

Acharn Yai: Transcendental Meditation helps the children become more calm, more peaceful, more intelligent, and more focused on their studies.

As Maharishi said, there is so much knowledge to learn, it is infinite. What students need is to develop their consciousness by practicing TM. Then they expand their minds, the container of knowledge, and expand their capacity to learn more and more.

Linda Egenes: And moral development—does that also grow?

Acharn Yai: When the students practice TM, their consciousness become more pure, more good. Naturally their behavior, whatever they do, is good. That’s the direct consequence of meditating.

Because of their backgrounds, most of the girls, when they first come, are angry and sad. This gets expressed in rough behavior. They may fight the other girls or act aggressive. After they start meditating, they become more soft, more kind. After they meditate they become happy and find life is more fun.

Linda Egenes: How does the TM technique fit in with Buddhist education?

Acharn Yai: By practicing TM, it makes us understand the Buddhist religion more deeply. Between TM and Buddhism there is no conflict. Lord Buddha taught us to do good, to not do non-good, and to make our hearts and minds pure. Doing TM, your consciousness becomes more pure so it’s very much in accord with what Lord Buddha taught so there’s no conflict at all. And when the students meditate more and more, they are more and more peaceful so they can understand the teaching of Lord Buddha better. It’s easier for them to be good.

When you meditate you contact pure consciousness, then naturally your thinking, your action and speech are good and you don’t do any harm to anyone. You don’t have to force yourself. When you have good consciousness it would hard for you to do anything that is not good. When you have a pure heart then non-good will not happen.

Linda Egenes: What do you see as the future for your school and what is it that you need to reach that future?

Acharn Yai: I would like to have 1000 students meditating together and doing the advanced meditation program of the TM-Sidhis together. That will create peace and happiness not only for these students, but for all of Thailand. That’s why we are building a bigger dormitory, so we can enroll more students.

Linda Egenes: Why do you feel that education is important for every mother, every woman in Thailand and the world?

Acharn Yai: Education is the root of life. Through education you can have the knowledge to support yourself and your family in this world, to earn a living. But even more, real education provides the proper knowledge to live a full life. It helps you to develop your inner consciousness so you can bring peace and happiness to yourself and everyone around you.

Linda Egenes: How do you feel that the TM technique can help women around the globe, to realize their full potential?

Acharn Yai: If we practice Transcendental Meditation we will have inner happiness. We will have more strength. We will be more calm and peaceful.

When we are more peaceful we have clear vision. Then if a problem arises in life, we can see clearly what is the cause and how to solve the problem properly.

If you don’t meditate, when a problem arises, you tend to keep repeating the problem, and you can’t solve the problem as easily. Some people will run away from a problem and continue to run. But if you don’t solve the problem it will just keep following you!

That’s why it’s important to have a peaceful mind so you can see the source of the problem and solve it properly.

Read Part Two of this three-part series here

During the past two years, Acharn Yai and supporters have raised funds and completed a new classroom building. Now the school is raising funds for a new dormitory building that will allow the school to expand from 500 to 1000 students. Tax-deductible donations for the school can be made at http://www.seedsofheaven.org/donate.html. When donating, be sure to click the button for Dhammajarinee Witthaya School in Thailand. Or you may donate directly to the school here: http://www.buddhistgirls.org/eng/donate.html

New Fundraising video 

Full 13 minute video

Photos by Tina McQuiston, reprinted with permission.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, October 16, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)