22. Dorothy (Aunt Dot)
You know you must be a fantastically interesting person when everyone gets up and starts dancing to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” for your 90th birthday brunch! What better way to celebrate than dancing to rock music and hearing words like “glamorous” “class” and “spirit” to describe yourself? This was just the scene at Aunt Dot’s 90th birthday party.
I say “aunt,” but she’s not my aunt. Even politicians at the Republican events she attends know her as “Aunt Dot.”
Dorothy’s list of activities and jobs shows just how much she values staying busy and being involved. She grew up, the daughter of a minister, in Griffin, Wisconsin. She met her husband in Racine. He was a football player at Northwestern. Dorothy worked as a nurse. Now, she works, at age 90, in security for an elderly apartment complex. She has also served as a Commissioner on the board of the Community Development Authority. And she has served as Marathon County’s President for Republican Women. She’s involved in jail ministry, the Altrusa Club, and volunteers with Morality Media. And that is just the short list!
Rose grew up on a farm in West De Pere. Her mother came from Holland when she was 13, with her family. And her dad came from Belgium when he was 27 years old. Rose said her mother was a seamstress, and from 8th grade on, Rose herself learned to sew.
She met a young man, a city boy, from East De Pere. We all know the rivalry between the two sides.. ;) And in 1940 they were married! They had 7 children. And when her mother died, Rose picked up her customers, and sometimes would take care of children all day and then sew into the night. Today, she has 16 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren.
One really remarkable and brave thing is that when, in 1976, her oldest son got his diploma, Rose went back to school at night and got her diploma too! She also is an accomplished painter, taking lessons for 10 years. These days, she spends her summers in Door County.
20. Emerald Conley
“If my kids would allow me, I would go to the conventions, and I’d still be learning!” said the Bohemian Irish accordion player, who doesn’t play polkas!
Emerald Conley has always enjoyed a challenge. Her father owned Van’s Greenhouse. And when she was 3 1/2 years old, he showed her how to take a cutting and grow it. It initiated her love of a challenge which grew with her love and passion for music.
She began playing the accordion accidently. Emerald first started playing the piano. For two years, she had lessons where she learned to read music well, and where correct fingering was stressed.. which came in handy! She had to quit lessons, because her parents couldn’t afford them during the depression. But in 1937, they offered accordion lessons to her sister, who starting on a 12 bass accordion, showed Emerald how to “pull two measures and push two measures.” Emerald caught on quickly, and she learned all the same lessons as her sister without any instruction. When her parents bought a 120 bass accordion for her sister, Emerald asked if she might take lessons too? She had to show the instructor that she could do all the lessons her sister could, and her sister quit the accordion shortly after, picking up another instrument.
Emerald grew up right next to Fort Howard Cemetery, and she would practice the accordion ‘til 10 or 11 at night, because there was no one to complain about her playing! ;)
When her teacher got his draft papers, he came by to tell her she would be taking over all his students. When she objected, he told her he had already told them she would.
After she was married, she traveled, following her husband who was in service in WWII. Her accordion went everywhere she did.
Emerald spent years teaching and always perfecting her craft. She took lessons from the best of them.. and she can tell you all about making apple pie for the world’s greatest accordion player, Charles Magnante! She even got to play for him!
Emerald still practices daily, and she still gives lessons when time permits, saying, “I can’t take my knowledge with me!’
The theme of challenges can be seen in other aspects of her life. Emerald took ballroom dancing lessons. She wanted to quit, but she became a pretty good ballroom dancer. She has also worked on many crocheted blankets and making dish clothes by the 100s! She always wants to figure out how to do something new and to get it right. Emerald does not shy away from things that might scare others, even at 92 years! She said if her kids would allow her, ”I would go to the conventions and I’d still be learning!”
15. Sister Mary Grace Peters
Sister Mary Grace grew up in De Pere, at 444 Reid Street. When she attended St. Boniface, she fell in love with one of the Sisters there. She said, “I want to be a Sister like my Sister.” She then attended St. Joseph’s Academy in Green Bay, where she took the city bus to school, and she did not miss a day in four years. She said, “I wasn’t going to the convent to be a teacher, I wasn’t going to the convent to be in nursing, I was going to be a Sister and do what was asked of me. Although, Sister Mary Grace did teach in the Catholic schools from 1944 - 1962, she said, ”I didn’t decide to be a teacher, I decided to be a nun.” Sister Mary Grace was residing at a full time care facility when I took her photos, where she was continuing to minister to people. People would stop and remark on her smile.. about how it makes them happy. She has smiling eyes, I think. She has recently passed away. I am grateful to have gotten to take her photos.
Sister Mary Grace had said, “People ask me to pray for them; I do it!” :)
16. Sister Jean Jarvis
Sister Jean has always been an educator her whole life! She still tutors a few students at age 90.. working with immigrants.
But let’s start a bit earlier…
Her family moved from Crystal Falls, Michigan, to a place on Memorial Drive in Howard, when she was young. She told stories about getting skis for Christmas, in order to ski down the hill to school, three and a half
Her mother had great faith. And Sister Jean loved the Sisters she had in school. She recalled a Sister named Rose that was her favorite because she was very kind and loved the arts.
Sister Jean came to the convent in 8th grade. It was like a boarding school. She could go home in the summer.
Sister Jean said she wanted to be a teacher like Sister Rose. Her first teaching job was in Madison when she was just 18 years old. She had 42 Italian students, many whose parents came right from Italy. She taught 1st and 2nd grade. And she loved it.
Then she got sent to Our Lady of Good Help in Robinsonville, which was also The Crippled Children’s Home, at that time. They had ages from 5-18 years old. Things weren’t diagnosed as they are today. And children were simply dropped off from this state and surrounding states. At first, Sister Jean said she missed her Madison school, but even the other Sisters talked about Sister Jean’s “gift” or “touch” with the children at the school in Robinsonville. And she spent 8 years teaching and caring for children there, without training for the different abilities it might call out.
She was educated herself though, achieving her Bachelors and Masters degrees.
Sister Jean spent 17 years as the Supervisor of schools in the Green Bay Diocese. She was also Director and Coordinator of Religious Education. There came a point though, where she wanted to get back to the “grass roots.” And Sister Jean spent a year in Nicaragua. And now, still teaching at age 90, you can sense the kindness, faith, and dedication to her gift.
17. Sister Marjorie Fabry
Sister Marjorie grew up in Allouez, right by St. Joseph’s Orphanage.
She said she was close to her parents and would watch them play cards. She learned by watching. And she still loves to play! Sister Marjorie taught at Catholic schools from 1949 to 1974. She then served as a homemaker at several parishes until 1985 when she came to the Motherhouse to help her Sisters through community service.
Sister Marjorie was very close to Sister Mary Grace.
18. Sister Carlotta Ullmer
Sister Carlotta said her love of education began in kindergarten. When she was in 8th grade, she remembered how she loved to help the younger kids with math. Sister Carlotta said, “working with others is something I enjoy.”
She attended high school at St. Joseph’s Academy. She listed off sport after sport after activity that she signed up for when she first got there, because “There’s more to life than sitting on the bench watching,” she said.
Her junior year of high school, she had a retreat where she found a book of St. Francis. She was so taken by his life and experiences, she thought, “I’m going to be a Sister of St. Francis.”
Sister Carlotta worked as Peace and Justice Coordinator. She contacted via telephone or in writing, leaders on every level. She said she has always kept up her voting.
She volunteers with Literacy of Green Bay, where she could help very poor people. She helped tutor people and helped them get their citizenship. She spoke of writing back and forth with an inmate on death row. Through their correspondence, she learned he felt like he had been in jail his whole life, because his early life felt like prison. She learned many prisoners are in prison because they did not have opportunities. And with the prisons so crowded, Sister Carlotta said, “What in life do they have that even makes them feel human?”
Sister Carlotta has taught for 50 years,. She told stories that showed her capabilities in handling large classrooms and multiple schools through her energy and sense of humor. One year she had 53 students spanning three grades. And for one whole year, she was principal of two schools. And to this day, she is still teaching!
She said, “I feel alive! I don’t feel 92…” and she repeated, “There’s more to life!”
19. Sister Mary Ellen Lowney
“Preach the gospel at all times, use words only when necessary.” ~ St. Francis
Sister Mary Ellen grew up on a farm in Bear Creek. Her parents instilled independence; they did not order her and her siblings about. She said they were very joyful people. They loved sports, they visited relatives quite a bit, and they were proud of their Irish heritage.
Her mother was a public school teacher. Sister Mary Ellen said her mother was not satisfied with her calling to become a Sister, until later years when she saw how happy she was! Sister Mary Ellen said she has always been grateful for her vocation. She never had regrets. And she actually spent 16 non-consecutive years as “Mother Superior” or the Community Leader. She did away with the “mother” part. She said they were all peers. “You never have a leader without members.” What she liked about her order is that it “changed with the times.”
Sister Mary Ellen had the opportunity to spend one whole year traveling. I could not write fast enough, as she was rattling off all the places she visited… Ireland (of course), Rome, Hawaii, all over the East Coast…
She finished the interview with saying how important gratitude is.. and that the greatest gift God has given her is the gift of faith.
13. Mabel age 92
I took Mabel and Madeline’s photos together because they live together. They met through a Catholic organization..
They’re both the epitome of the word “leader” and were part of so many civic and humanitarian organizations. I think they fit the term “community servants!”
Mabel was actually born just outside of Cleveland. She said her family moved to Green Bay in 1938.
What’s truly remarkable, is that Mabel was the first woman in an elected position in Brown County. She was elected Brown County Treasurer five times!! Mabel said she always worked with a lot of numbers. And she was already working at the court house when she ran for office. She said she ran against four men in the primary. And she got more votes than all four combined.
Mabel said they worked the church picnics. They put signs all over. They bought matchbooks. And they put one ad in the newspaper.
The two organizations that we spoke a lot on, were called the Daughters of Isabella, and the Altrusa Club. The Altrusa Club is an international organization in which the members are in a profession. Madeline was president and Mabel was treasurer. I’m not sure for how long or how many years this was.. but they’re still part of the organization today. And the thing we talked about most was the Altrusa House. This is why I always say, these women are the foundation of things you see now, because they actually built this house. In the beginning, they noticed a need for a place for patients to stay, when they were coming from Michigan, but they did not need to be hospitalized. So, they set up a three bedroom home near St. Vincent Hospital. This quickly grew too small. And they were finally able to build and run the Altrusa House, which has 12 bedrooms. Mabel said it cost just under one million dollars.
The Daughters of Isabella is primarily a religious organization. It’s noted for interest in civic things. Mabel was president two times. And Madeline was president three times. ;)
I have in my notes, “Curative Workshop” written down twice.. and I’m guessing that they were part of the beginning of that, as well!
Also, the Green Bay Botanical Garden has been something they’ve been interested in since the very beginning. Mabel was quite the gardener. And you know the fountain at the gardens? That’s the Mabel Thome Fountain. The patio outside the new building will be hers too.
14. Madeline age 93
Madeline was born on the corner of Roosevelt and Cedar Street in Green Bay. She graduated from East High School. And she was telling me how her mother had a coffee peddler.
Madeline and Mabel both did a lot of golfing and bowling together. Madeline was the better bowler (that’s what they said).. She was actually the first woman in the Green Bay Women’s Bowling Association Hall of Fame!! Madeline and Mabel also did a lot of traveling together. They always drove. They even drove to Alaska! Mabel was telling me how Madeline took photos of the capitals of every state!
As if we haven’t listed enough organizations, Madeline and Mabel were also remembering ringing bells for the Salvation Army outside of Pranges on Washington Street.
I really enjoyed this visit with Madeline and Mabel. I was just in awe by these women. And I left feeling so inspired by all the women I have met and will meet.
12. Marguerite age 93
Marguerite, or Mugsy, said she’s just a year older than the Packers! She had Packer memorabilia throughout her home. and she she told me with so much pride, how one year, she was one of ten finalists for Packer fan of the year! ;)
When I asked why “Mugsy”.. she said a little neighbor kid called her that, when she was eight years old! I guess it stuck.
Marguerite grew up on a farm over by where St. Bernard is now. She said once, when she was about six, the rooster perched on her head and went to peck at her eye. She screamed to her mother.. who luckily got there in time. Marguerite said of the rooster, “He made good soup!”
Mugsy spoke some of her mother too.. She said her Irish mother could play piano by ear, that she never had a lesson.
Also, Marguerite’s mother was Irish. She told Marguerite, when she was about 12 years old, “don’t you marry a Polack!”
And when she started dating, the man she would eventually marry, she did not ask him how to spell his last name. She assumed it was Irish, because it sounded that way. She even asked her family, “that’s a good Irish name, right?” And everyone agreed..
Until she asked Harry, after a date.. and he told her, “heck no! It’s Polish!” (I am putting words in his mouth)..
But they were married. And they had three children!
Marguerite learned to drive in her 40s. She started working as a school secretary.. first at Oakgrove School (which closed one year later) .. then at Roosevelt (which closed one year later) .. and then she worked at Tank School.
I never asked her, but I bet she knew Carmella Blecha, because Carmella taught there for years and years. Oh, the connections!
11. Violet age 90 years
Oh, I wrote pages and pages of stories with Violet. I couldn’t keep up! She had such great expressions. She would throw her hands up, and her head back, when she laughed.. and you could see the laughter in her eyes!
She was born in Green Bay.. she grew up in a brick house, on the hill, on Deckner Avenue. It’s still sitting there. And her grandparents lived on Baird Creek Road. When she was little, you could walk, through the fields.. that are all now covered with houses, of course. There was a little school on the corner of Main and Deckner, that she attended. And her dad worked at the post office! Her mom was a strict German woman. Violet said many times, that there was never a hug or a kiss from her parents at home. They weren’t raised that way. She said, “you went to school, and you came home, and you didn’t chum with anyone.”
But Violet is such a loving and open woman. She said, “I’m a hugger!”
Violet was barely 16 when she married. Her husband, Orb, was 7 years older. She met him because he was a hired hand for her mother. And then he was a bridge tender when they were first married.. And they lived in a garage that was 7 dollars a month to rent, until they moved to a home on the bay, for 17 dollars a month rent. She told me right off, that her husband was an alcoholic. But he always gave her his paycheck.
During the summer, Violet would work at Bay Beach, cleaning the pavilion for 80 cents an hour! She also worked at the Prange’s toy department.. and was remembering for me, all the dime stores downtown!
Violet and Orb were busy working and raising children, four at that time, when they learned that Orb got his draft papers and would be sent to war. They also learned, they had to move.. Violet’s father gave them the 3000 dollars for a house, right on the bay.. It had no water when they first moved in.. but it’s the very same house she’s living in today.
Orb went off to Fort Louis for basic training. But they sent him home, because he fell apart. His body was so bad, from the alcoholism.
Violet said that her husband didn’t talk that much. But one time, he told her, he remembered that he had started drinking when he was four years old.
The house they lived in, and that she’s still living in now, is right on the water. Violet said it was a nice place to raise kids. They would ice skate and swim. She said, “I love this darn area!”
Even though, she told of that flood.. where they could rowboat up and down the street. And the water was up to your knees in the house, but she said, “you don’t want to leave your house!”
Violet’s parents divorced in later years. She seemed sad when she talked of her father. He ended up living in an apartment above the YMCA. She said her mother was never satisfied. And Violet said, “I never had no love for her.. I didn’t.” Her mother ended up living with Violet’s sister in Florida. And she went there, when her mother was dying. She was in the room. But she said, “I didn’t feel nothing.”
And again she said, “The way we were raised was sad, kinda screwed up our lives.”
I’m not sure, all I know is from one visit, but Violet had every excuse to become hardened.. But instead, it seems to have made her more open and loving and kind.
Much love to her! And many thanks for these stories!
10. Katherine age 90..
Katherine told so many great stories. She grew up right there in the Town of Allouez on Webster Avenue! She said during prohibition, there was a tavern that would sell moonshine, on the side, at 4AM!
She also spoke a lot of the reformatory right there.. (well, that’s still there actually.. only different now) they had a farm where the prisoners would work. And they had cattle that the prisoners were assigned to.. Her dad would fill the kettle with water, for the prisoners, so they would have water while working in the fields. And she said she remembers the men jumping off the wagon, because they weren’t allowed cigarettes. So, if there was a partly smoked cigarette on the ground, someone would jump off and grab it!
I loved the stories of her father. He peddled bottled milk in De Pere.. at first, with a horse and wagon. And then he had a regular milk truck for the crates. There were two stories that stood out. The first was when there was a milk strike. Katherine’s dad got her out of bed to go with him on the route. He told her to hit anyone over the head with a milk bottle if they come close to the truck! Luckily, she didn’t have to.. :)
And the other stories she told were of the train depot in De Pere. She said that’s where the hobos begged for milk off her dad. And he would always give them a pint of milk. And then they would go back and see the bottles all sitting in a row, to be collected. She told that story with such fondness.
After Katherine was married, she lived on a farm in Bellevue. They raised five children here. And where the farmhouse was, there’s a McDonalds and a gas station with a Taco Bell there now. The barn is still standing across the road!
Katherine recollected a story about when a prisoner from the reformatory hid out in their barn overnight. She said they had two German Shepherd dogs that wouldn’t stop barking! They couldn’t figure it out! When her husband got home from working, a man came crawling down from the rafters asking if they had a telephone, and could he call the reformatory to come pick him up. He was cold, and he was turning himself in! ;)
That last photo is a photo of the land that Katherine lives on now.. There was an old train car! They gave it to the Railroad Museum.
Awhile back, Katherine used to volunteer at Heritage Hill in the Tank House. She would bake cookies on the old wood stove for school children coming through!
She also taught leather craft, for 4H and at a school for differently abled children.
Katherine was a graduate from De Pere HS! And she has three grandchildren that graduated from there, as well. She said if they’re really getting into it, they sing the school song!! :)
9. Delores.. age 91 years!
Oh my goodness, she is very seriously the youngest looking and feeling 91 year old ever. You would not believe she’s in her 90s if you met her. On the phone, before I met her, i could even tell, there was this amazing youthfulness about her.. and she said people think she’s in her 60s! :)
Dell served in the Marine Corps during WWII. She was 23 in that second photo up there. She said there were 23,000 women in the Marines in 1943 and 1944. Also, they didn’t even have full uniforms for women in the beginning! She was stationed in San Diego.
But when I asked her, “why the Marines?” She said, “because of the uniforms!” ;)
And also, Dell has been an active member of the American Legion for 61 years!! 61 years! Seriously!
And the beautiful baskets in the photos, Dell made them! (I think she should sell them, mostly because I would want to buy one)! ;) And the gorgeous tatting was done by her, as well. Tatting is something I’ve been introduced to because of this project.. and it’s really an art that I’ve grown to appreciate, due to the intricate beauty and amount of time it consumes! You can just see! Goodness.
Dolores actually graduated from Green Bay East HS! She raised 4 children in Green Bay, in the house she lives in now.. and she even showed me a 5th generation photo with her newest family member.. a great great grandson!!
This was such a nice visit! I could have stayed forever! :)
Number 8.. Helen age 92!
I drove up to Sturgeon Bay to meet with Helen and her daughter, Mavis. I loved this little visit immensely! Here’s some of what I learned:
Helen grew up on a farm in Black Earth, Wisconsin. She got on a train to Chicago, when she was 17, to join her two older sisters. She lived with them and worked taking care of two young children. They were all employed by different families, but they could take the children to the same parks. Helen even recalled the stories and natures of the children she watched! She said the little boy was a handful, and the little girl was “her pet.”
And at one point, she worked for a photographer. She would call up and down the street.. looking for houses with children, whose parents wanted photographs. The photographer would follow some houses behind. And she would mark the houses with an “x” on the sidewalk. And that’s how they would get clients! Isn’t that so interesting?
Helen’s daughter, Mavis said, of her mom, “She is a passionate gardener and recycler, before the word found its way into the vernacular.” And I love this part.. She told me that Helen ate oatmeal and corn meal alternately every day for the first 21 years of her life, and she said, “Oatmeal may be the key to her longevity.” ;)
I think I must have been talking about my son, Augustus.. and how he’s in kindergarten. Helen then started talking about being in first grade. She recited all of The Little Red Hen for me.. it was a first grade book at her school.. the whole darn thing, she recited.
There’s one photo in the post where Helen is holding her wedding photo! Helen was married for 49 years.. raising three children. Her husband was in World War II.. and he did not even see his son until he was four years old. Helen remembered making a record of her son talking and sending it overseas for her husband.
Helen spoke a lot of her sister, Neva. Neva was an artist (they said an amateur artist.. but i don’t think you have to be trained). She actually worked for photographers coloring photographs. But the most amazing thing was the sketchbooks they found of hers, after she died. They’re in frames all over the house now.. and they’ve even been in an art gallery. They’re really amazing. And they’re done all from memory.. childhood scenes.. perfectly captured. What a great talent!
And as I was leaving, Mavis gave me notecards.. with one of the sketches printed on them. They make me so happy. I can’t even tell you..
And the last photo is a photo of Helen in her early 20s.. Isn’t she just beautiful??!
Even though I met them in Sturgeon Bay, where Helen is living with her daughter, Mavis said, “her home is still in Chicago, awaiting her return one day.” :)