By Jim O'Leary
An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.
June 21, 2004
The walking encyclopedia of Waverly passes away
When I first started this column, more than one person, including Bette Stifter Reinert, told me I should go see Mabel Volmerding, who was a walking encyclopedia of Waverly, and, indeed, all of Wright County.
It isn't too late, though, to learn about Mabel herself, thanks to this tribute Reinert gave at Mabel's funeral at St. Mary's Church May 26. The pallbearers were Jerry McRaith, Thomas Fitzpatrick, James Franske, Donald Smith, Patrick Borrell and Charles Borrell; the celebrant was Father Timothy Cloutier.
Mabel Volmerding was born in Woodland Township to Herman and Mary (Berkner) Volmerding. Herman made his living in plumbing and heating when Waverly was a thriving community with about 50 businesses. When he died at the age of 36, he left his wife to raise four children under the age of 10.
Neither Mabel nor Ella ever married, but their two brothers did, and they cherished, very much, the one nephew they had.
Mabel and Ella lived in the Montrose Trailer Court for 15 years, and then moved to the Linden Woods Apartments in Winsted. After Ella died, Mabel moved to St. Mary's Care Center. She spent the last few years of her life in a wheelchair because of possible blackouts, which would cause her to fall backwards.
One time she had a spell when she was delivering cream puffs (she was known for making delicious cream puffs - as Father Martin Rath, the care center's chaplain, can attest. He never missed a potluck supper at the Linden Wood Apartments, thanks to Mabel's cream puffs).
Mabel was a great cook, and one of her jobs in life was cooking for 10 or 12 Sisters of St. Joseph, who were teaching at St. Mary's School in Waverly. That was the school Mabel graduated from in 1924, where she also had the lead in the class play. She learned easily, as she was an intellectual person, and she enjoyed reading, even though she had 80 percent vision in one eye.
Mabel was a caregiver, and worked for people in their homes. In her own home, she was a gracious hostess, and would make you feel comfortable always. If I brought my grandchildren along when I visited, she always had a treat for them, and would ask them about their interests. They always felt welcomed, and looked forward to seeing her.
Mabel lived a simple life, but her interests were wide and varied. She had a memory which was beyond belief, both of the past and the present, and was a most interesting person to visit. Her 99 years were not a hindrance, but included years of wisdom and understanding. She called everyone by name at St. Mary's Care Center: the residents, the staff, nurses, custodians, and all the workers.
Whenever I would visit, she would always ask ‘What's new in Waverly?' Well, as you know, Waverly doesn't have too much news, so she would tell me some story about someone she knew. If it was a humorous story, she'd chuckle to herself first, and then proceed with the story. Maybe you know someone who does that, too.
She had a wonderful sense of humor, and enjoyed a good joke or story all the time. She never said anything mean about anyone. She would be friendly with everyone, whether it was at the grocery store (Jim Franske can attest to that), or in church, or passing someone on the sidewalk. She always had a warm greeting.
She loved the Lord, and cared about His poor. She was always ready to share a dollar or two with the missions, or with anyone who had less than she had.
Mabel grew up in a little frame house about a quarter of a mile south of Waverly, on County Road 8. The house stood there, with flowers all around it, for a long time, empty. After the family left and the house was demolished, lilies multiplied and grew all the way down into the ditch. To this day, if you look to your left going south, you can see the orange lilies still there. Every year, in the spring, Mabel would always ask me, ‘Are the lilies still there?'
Mabel's mother, Mary Berkner Volmerding, wrote a poem about their empty house. Mabel treasured this poem, and kept it on her wall in her room:
"Are you lonely, little house, as you stand there all alone? Are you missing all the people that at some time you have known? All the gladness and the sorrows, yesterdays and tomorrows?
"Are you lonely, little house all alone? Can you tell me, little house, of the experiences you have had? Were they mostly happy, or were they sometimes sad? Did you watch the folks grow old, and their young years unfold? Was your life on the whole very good?
"The little house keeps silent as if in tryst with God. Not a whisper will it utter of the people who have trod so oft upon its threshold as they left or entered there.
"So we leave you still unanswered, leave you to your silent prayer."
Mabel was never a complainer, but one thing she did complain about was the fact that the care center didn't serve pumpkin pie often enough!
Mabel not only liked to spend her time reading, but she also liked to write letters and cards to friends and relatives. Last Christmas, at the age of 98, she sent out and received over 30 Christmas cards to her loved ones, but, she said, ‘I think this will be my last time.'
She always wrote newsy or encouraging notes on each card. She started writing her Christmas cards in October.
Over the years, she also exchanged letters with her first cousins, Father Marion Casey and Lillian Casey Benson. Lillian is 108, and Father Casey is 96. (He will be celebrating 70 years in the priesthood.)
Lillian, herself, writes a five-page letter with about six sentences, because she is almost blind.
Now, Mabel's pen is stilled, and no more articles will be clipped by her. One of the last of her little treasures she had clipped was this anonymous poem, which seemed really to speak to her:
"Lord, just a few things on my mind today, as I sit and rest for a while. I think you won't mind listening, for you made me and know me through and through.
"Lord, it's my eyes. They're tired. I can't see too well. It's hard to read the paper or watch TV. And I just can't seem to find the right glasses when I need them. Lord have mercy!
"Lord, it's my ears. Nobody speaks loud enough. The music is always too strong. I can't hear the priest at Mass, but I do like the quiet at home. Lord have mercy!
"Lord, my knees and legs. They won't do what I tell them. They fall asleep too fast. And those steps are just too steep. Lord have mercy!
"Lord, food. It just doesn't taste the same. Lord, have mercy. Lord, there are too many pills. Lord, have mercy.
"Lord, you do have a sense of humor. You've made me for yourself. Bear with me as I try to figure out how best to give myself to you these days.
"Lord, hear me. Christ, graciously hear me."
Mabel died May 22. She was conscious almost to her last breath. She died with great dignity. She was loved and she will be missed. God rest her soul.
More than one Waverlyite told me how moved they were by Bette's remarks at Mabel's funeral. Bette graciously consented to let me publish her tribute.
Mabel didn't reach 100, but Marie Rogers and Marie Borrell both did. I also was able to celebrate, one time, the 104th birthday party of another former Waverlyite, Mrs. Rasset, at the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged in Minneapolis.
I remember that on her birthday, she enjoyed a glass of wine and a cigarette. I also remember her kissing her visitors. When I kissed her that day, I got some birthday cake smeared on my face.
Waverly ladies like Mabel Volmerding, Mrs. Rasset, Mrs. Rogers and Mrs. Borrell, do go gently into that good night, filled with faith and love.
Last month, the nation lost its last Civil War widow, who was only 97. Alberta Stewart Martin died, appropriately enough, on Memorial Day, in Enterprise, Ala.
At the age of 18, she married Howard Farrow, who died in an auto accident in 1926, leaving her with a young son and no money.
In 1927, at age 21, she married William Martin, who was 81. They had a son the following year.
William Martin received a Confederate pension from the state of Alabama for his service in Company K of the 4th Alabama infantry. He died in 1931. Two months later, his widow married his grandson.
In 1997, Alberta Martin was finally granted a Confederate widow's pension based on her husband's Confederate military service.
Here's to a long life and a happy death!
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