Ethel “Dutch” Brink Memoir


In Loving Memory

Ethel “Dutch” Brink

Today I heard the sad news from my high school buddy Dan Brink that his mother, Ethel Brink had passed away. Her nickname was “Dutch” and she lived a long life of 94 years.

Dutch was a very special person to me-­?-­?like a surrogate mother. The entire Brink family was so kind to me. My own mother Helen had a stroke when I was 6 years old and was in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Then when I was 15 my father Pete passed away. Bob Brink, Dutch’s husband, had the difficult task of telling me that my dad had died. I lived with my grandparents until finishing high school.

Bob was Assistant Manager at the Oil City A & P Grocery Store. Later that summer, when I turned 16, he gave me a job as a bag and stock boy. It was a HUGE thing for me. It was a good-­? paying union job and I made enough money to buy my first car and save money to later go to college. I was on my own and thanks (in great part) to the Brink family I grew into a strong, confident adult.

Dan Brink was the first trumpet player in the Oil City High School Band and we were close friends. Dan went into the Navy and later got two degrees at Penn State. But even after he was gone I still hung out at the Brink house. Bob and Dutch always had time for me. They constantly answered my questions and guided me with good advice in my life and career. Bob died more than 20 years ago and all of the Brink children moved on with their lives. But I still visited Dutch whenever I could get back to Oil City. She always had a bedroom and good meals for me. We discussed everything. She was super-­?smart, had a great memory-­?-­?no subject was beyond her mind. I shared all of the important moments in my life with her: my degrees, marriages, career as a musician and teacher, travels and awards. She was proud of me and always made it comfortable for me to talk about anything.

For more than 50 years I have returned as a welcomed guest at her home. It was a focal point and a way for me to remain connected to my hometown—my roots.

Dutch was born in 1920 and lived in the Oil City area her entire life. She experienced so much: from the roaring 20s, the Depression, WW 2, and raised four wonderful children through the turbulent 60s and worked full-­?time most of those years. For much of her life Oil City was a prosperous center of the oil industry. Early on she was a telephone operator and worked for Pennzoil. Her last many years of work were as a secretary at the Oil City District  Schools. It  seemed like she knew everyone and everyone knew her—and everyone liked her. Dutch was an outgoing and woman—strong well before women’s lib. She was always positive and upbeat. Her last few years were physically challenging, including a lot of pain and the loss of her sight. But she remained strong and sharp of mind.

And she was nice to everyone. She outlived most of her best friends but for many years played in a weekly bridge club in town. She was a champion bridge player. And she drove her own car until almost 90.

I dedicated one of my CDs to her. It was called “My America” and loosely followed my musical career, including my years in Pennsylvania. It was a kind of jazzy group of folk songs and Americana. I think she was happy for that honor. I played once as an artist in Oil City with my jazz quintet and another time in nearby Franklin as a soloist with the Erie Philharmonic. Dutch was in the front row both times.

Dutch had no fear. One time while visiting OC I rented a Cessna and took her for scenic flight up over Niagara Falls. She flew with me another time when she visited me in Los Angeles.

A few years ago my brother Bill organized the one-­?and-­?only Self Family Reunion in Oil City at the Arlington Hotel. I have always tried to return to OC in late summer so I could sweet corn and tomatoes. For years I bragged about Dutch (and those delicious foods) to my brother Joe and my extended family in Los Angeles. They were all at the reunion and Dutch invited them to her house to eat corn and tomatoes. It was so cool!

Dutch was one of the most important people in my whole life. She was as close to me as any real mother could be. I really loved her and remain grateful to her for giving me a place to visit and call home.

My wife Jamie says “she was a dear soul—they don’t make ‘em like that anymore”. I agree and feel so lucky she was in my life. A big emptiness will be there now but know that she had great long life, filled with love from her children (Dan, Terry, Randy and Ron), grandchildren, great grandchildren and many, many friends. Dutch was a positive force in this world and we are all better for having had her in our lives. Rest in Peace!


Jim Self

San Luis Obispo

August 19, 2014

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