March 13, 2021 marked one year since I brought my Son home from college for what was only suppose to be two weeks.
A year later he is still home, taking all his classes virtually.
AND, my how things have changed.
When the COVID pandemic was not yet classified a pandemic, but things were escalating daily, my anxiety levels were also escalating, especially because my Son was away at school. I feared the US would go into lockdown and he would be stuck there.
As a fan of “The Walking Dead” every end of world scenario was playing out in my mind.
How would I get my Son home if we were in lockdown? What covert operation would I have to pull off? Would I have to dodge law enforcement or the military? Would I be fined if I was caught?
Granted, some of this is extreme, but a year ago so much was up in the air that anything imaginable crossed my mind.
SO, when the school sent out the plans to send students home for an extended Spring Break I was beyond relieved. No covert operation would be needed. I could pick my Son up in a somewhat normal fashion.
Once he was home I didn’t care what happened, as long as he was home with me. If the world fell apart we’d face it together, just like Rick and Carl.
And face it we did.
When my Son first got home, I was still working full-time in the office, coming home strung out because I had no clue if I was exposed to the virus. Within a week though the Stay-At-Home Orders were put in place in our state and the official lockdown began.
Being told I had to stay home and not venture out into the virus-infested world was a huge relief, and an order I was grateful to abide by. We’d make due with what we had and when we ran out of something figure it out then.
The true test would be how my Son and I handled being home all day, every day with just each other.
I had finally adjustedto being by myself after a rough Freshman year, and my Son had gotten comfortable with his on-campus college student lifestyle.
He was becoming more independent and he liked it. His visits home up to this time were always relaxed and playful because that’s just what they were meant to be. Breaks from the college workload to refresh and recharge for the next semester.
AND, of course Mom would dote on him because that’s what Mom’s do when their kids come home from college.
Now however, he would be taking classes from home and I would be working from home. Nothing at all like a normal home visit for a college break.
Add to it, we both had to share the loft where our computers were.
Needless to say it was a bit of an adjustment, but some how we made it work. His irregular class schedule and my flexibility with work hours certainly helped.
Plus I was only home full time for about a month before I was going back into the office a couple times a week which eventually led to full time again by May.
One of my biggest challenges came when I was trying to focus and my Son would decide that’s when he wanted to give me an update on something related to a class, or even just something silly he read and thought I’d enjoy.
Prior to this it was a none-issue because I wasn’t doing work related things at home. BUT, now it mattered, so I had to find a delicate way to let him know it was not a good time and not offend him because I certainly wanted to know about school.
Note, my Son is very random when it comes to informing me about personal things or school, so I have learned over the years to pause when he gets in the mood to talk. No matter when that may be.
The last thing I wanted was to have him think I didn’t care and stop randomly spilling what’s on his mind.
Considering the fact that he still does this, I can say I did not offend him, and we’re all good it that department.
The other key thing at play with my Son home full-time again was and still is the general dynamics between the two of us.
Our relationship as parent and child has been evolving since my Son was a teen, and took on a whole new level when he went away to college. At college, he was maturing and learning to be more independent, and I was concerned being forced to move back home full-time could do some damage in that area.
Something I most certainly didn’t want to see happen.
So I have tried hard to give him space, within limits though, because after all he is still at home under my roof.
There had to be some rules. Like helping Mom with kitchen duties. Something he got out of while in high school, but not now. It was only fair considering I was back to doing more cooking on a regular basis.
When I contracted COVID in late January, my Son had no choice but to step up his game in this area, and I can say he has done it without complaining which is major sign of maturity.
In the beginning of the stay-at-home orders, because we were both so consumed by what was going on with the pandemic, and my work ours were not consistent, there was a lot of fluidity with household dynamics.
BUT, once my hours went back to full-time and my Son was back working part-time at a local grocery store, I quickly realized our relationship was evolving into a whole new phase.
The dynamics between the two of us was becoming one of true camaraderie, with a buddy-like quality, and a real sense of respect for each other. Something I happily welcomed and was excited to experience. Were there hiccups, of course, but overall things were changing for the good.
Because of this new-found camaraderie I noticed my Son more willing to open up about his emotions when dealing with being home. Which I was beyond grateful for because otherwise I would not have realized the toll quarantine was actually taking on him.
One of the biggest issues he addresses was a feeling of apathy, and lack of motivation. He noted that at least he was getting his class work done.
Apparently a lot of friends have not been.
As my Son told me the extended virtual learning was taking a toll on everyone he spoke with.
The lack of in-person classes and “real” on-campus life was hindering their desire to perform to the best of their ability. AND this was coming from friends who were actually on campus, but had at least half of their classes still virtual.
Once he told me all of this, I started to better understand some of his not so normal behavior.
My Son has always been a bit of a night owl, and would sleep in as often as he could, which is pretty normal for teens and college students. BUT, things were escalating to the point where he’d be up all night and sleep all day whenever he didn’t need to be up for classes. AND sometimes even when he did have classes.
This concerned me because how could he be prepared for class if he crawled out of bed 5 minutes before class. Plus be alert enough to actually participate.
And to add to all of this, my Son had finally gotten his computer moved to the basement over Winter Break so he had more seclusion and privacy, which only amplified the night owl problem.
Prior to the move, he was right outside my bedroom in the loft so I could hear him, which meant I could keep tabs on him and make him accountable for his time. Something he didn’t really like.
Although he’s holding his own with classes, despite an issue with one class that’s tied to the instructors, he’s spending the bare minimal of time on his classwork, but certainly spending plenty of time gaming, and watching Anime or stupid videos on YouTube. If he’s not in front of his computer, he’s got his phone and is watching stupid videos there.
Again, I know this is pretty standard for a college kid, but for my Son it’s excessive. It’s most certainly a means of escape.
He’s always spent a lot of time online with friends, either gaming or just BS’ing, but he’d also spend just as much time socializing with his friends in-person, especially on campus.
SO, taking the personal one-on-one side out of the equation was rearing it’s ugly head.
At least when he’s working he gets some one-on-one time with co-workers and customers, but because of the amount of writing one of his classes required he decided to not work during this semester, which just added to the seclusion problem.
I’ve told him his behavior is a sign of depression, and he’s aware of it. YET, he’s making limited effort to break free of the hold the quarantine has on him, which is what concerns me.
In general he seems fine, but because he has no reason to leave the house, and has limited commitments, he’s left to just flounder.
He is not very self-motivated, which is another issue for another post, so although there are many things he could be doing with his time, he chooses to do nothing.
I toss out ideas, and make suggestion to help lift him out of his funk, but he dismisses the ideas, even when he knows it’s on him to make the change.
When he was away at college, living on campus, he was starting to get more organized with his time, plotting his days out, prioritizing tasks, etc… He was learning to create structure and order to his days. Even motivated to venture forth beyond his comfort zone.
NOW, all bets are off
At least he’s getting his schoolwork done, which I have to be grateful for. And, the classes the back half of this semester seem to be more engaging, which seem to be helping his overall mood a little.
BUT,next semester is his senior year and I fear what this extended time at home has done to his overall growth. I’m hoping once he’s vaccinated and can be back on campus, he will be able to pick up where he left off, but until then, I will do my best to help him break free from his quarantine funk.
I will need to find ways to make him more accountable for his time every day. What that is I don’t know yet, BUT if he has to answer to someone other than himself about how he spends his days, maybe that will help.
This is all very new for me.
Usually my Son has had so much schoolwork, and extracurricular activities that I was not concerned about his “veg out time.” I knew he needed it as a means to recharge so I didn’t worry.
Now however all this “veg out time” is doing the opposite.
It’s slowly burning out all the stored charge that motivated my Son to succeed. Apathy is winning and despite still being in a pandemic I have to find a way to reverse this course and get my Son back on track for I hope and pray will be his best year of college, his Senior year!
Individually each one these women were amazing in their own right.
Kathryn Amanda Dechert Krill August 24, 1911 – January 10, 1998 A Rosie the Riveter and Small Business Owner
Mabel Mae Dechert Swanger October 24, 1912 – March 3, 2013 Pursued a Career as a Hairdresser in her 40’s
Helen Grace Dechert Danko September 13, 1920 – April 10, 2015 Registered Nurse, ran the health services for students at DeSales University
Elizabeth “Betty” Mary Dechert Koblentz Kutz November 12, 1926 – July 11, 2011 Beauty Shop Owner
Mildred “Mickey” Alice Dechert Bortz March 23, 1928 – July 10, 2020 Home Health Care Provider, long before it was ever classified as a real occupation
As a group though, they were a force to be reckoned with.
All strong women forging their own paths at a time when that was not the protocol for women, they were certainly pioneers. BUT they didn’t see it that way. They never saw themselves as anything other than ordinary.
BUT ordinary they were not.
They were feminists before feminists were a thing, but they never came off as anything other than caring, loving women, who wanted nothing more than the best for every person they ever met, especially their family.
Family always came first, no matter what.
They loved completely, lived fully, and persevered through some of the toughest situations: divorce, loss of a spouse, loss of a child, health challenges, and financial difficulties.
And lived through some of histories greatest events: The Great Depression, World War I and World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, President Kennedy’s Assassination, Watergate Scandal, Persian Gulf War, and the Terrorists Attacks on 911.
Plus, endured ridicule for being poor, their heritage, their “duchy accent”, and their religion/faith.
YET, they never flinched.
Did they cry? Most definitely. No matter how resilient they were, they were human, with huge hearts that felt everything.
Did they get angry? Sure, why wouldn’t they? Once again, they were human, and felt everything very deeply.
Did they retaliate? ABSOLUTELY NOT, it wasn’t in their nature. They wouldn’t stoop to the attackers level. That was not who they were.
They had each other’s back and were always there to support one another. They were all cut from the same cloth and they understood each other better than anyone else.
Regardless of what they may have been confronting, others always came first. A rarity no matter what era. Their empathy for their fellow man was greater than any struggle they may have been enduring.
Kassie, Mabel, Helen, Betty and Mickey, lived their lives by following the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
They were the “Personification of Love and Kindness.”
Their every action was motivated by their deep, unadulterated love of family and their fellow man. At their core they knew nothing more.
The Dechert Sisters legacy of love left an indelible mark on the hearts of all who knew them. They may have achieved great things, but who they were at their core, what made their souls shine, is how they are remembered.
“You have no idea what your legacy will be because your legacy is every life you touch.” – Maya Angelou
Their children and grandchildren cherish every memory they have and honor the beauty of their souls by trying to carry on their legacy.
Living up to these women’s example is a tough feat, but the amount of love that flows through this extended family is a true extension of the love these five beautiful women bestowed upon every one of them.
Family continues to be the priority for each of their children and grandchildren, and it’s obvious the circle of love will continue for generations to come.
Especially by keeping their astonishing stories alive.
Betty Dechert was the 4th child born to Sallie and David Dechert and very much the baby of the family at least until her sister Mickey was born in 1928.
Her sister Helen was 6 when she was born, and Mabel and Kassie were 14 and 15 respectively. One would think the age gap would have impacted the relationship between all the sisters, but not with the Dechert Girls, they adored each other, and spending time together meant the world to them throughout their lives.
AND, they always had each other’s back.
Being teenagers, Mabel and Kassie helped care for both Betty and Mickey, but there was no resentment; this just helped tighten their bonds. Plus the older sisters were always keeping tabs on the younger ones.
Like all the other Sisters, Betty was weaned into the ranks to help sell Sallie’s shoofly pies and homemade egg noodles. Sallie’s little side-hustle helped support the household, and she took her business very seriously, training each one of the girls from an early age. First with the baking/cooking and clean up process, then the actual door-to-door sales, traveling around town with the goods in a wagon.
Betty and Mickey became a tag team for the sales part, but Mickey often noted that Betty preferred to stay with the wagon instead of doing the actual sales transaction.
Not sure if Betty’s reluctance to be the sales person was before or after the infamous “You dum ‘tings, I bet you broke every noodle in da box.” incident, but I could see why this incident might impact her reluctance to be any more involved than necessary
As the story goes, when Betty was 10, she fell down the steps that Sallie so carefully lined her boxes of noodles on to dry. During her fall, Betty some how was able to knock down every box. Needless to say, when Sallie discovered Betty at the foot of the steps with toppled boxes and broken noodles all around her, she was not pleased. Not only was the days work ruined, but it was also a loss of income, income the family needed.
Now, if Betty had been injured I’m quite sure Sallie’s reaction would have been different, but other then a few bruises, Betty was OK.
As a child, Betty was your typical kid, but by her teens it was obvious her spark was a little different than her sisters. All the Dechert Girls were beauties with a personality to match, but Betty was the glamorous one and turning into quite the charmer, especially with men. Her stunning red hair and hazel eyes did not go unnoticed.
By the time she was 18, she was dating Bob Foreman, a tool and die maker for the Bethlehem Steel, extremely handsome and 5 years her senior. They had met at a dance and had an immediate connection.
At the age of 19, Betty was a contestant in the Miss Lebanon Pageant. The local newspaper referred to Betty as “a titian haired beauty.” Which is evidence enough to confirm she was a standout in the beauty department.
For the talent portion of the pageant Betty sang accompanied by her sister Kassie on piano. Both Bob and her sister Mickey were in the audience cheering her on.
In the Spring of 1947, at the age of 20, Betty and Bob were married. On December 6, 1947 their daughter Linda was born.
It was the events surrounding Linda’s birth that would impact Betty in ways no one can fathom unless they experience it themselves.
For all appearances, Betty’s pregnancy was a very normal one. That was until her sister Helen, who was a nurse, came to visit to check on her because she was a week past her due date.
Upon examining Betty, Helen was concerned that something wasn’t right and told Bob he had to get Betty to the hospital right away.
At the hospital the doctors discovered Betty was not only in labor and didn’t know it, but the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck and the baby was experiencing Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (MAS).
Both these issue in themselves are extremely dangerous, but combined they can be fatal. MAS occurs when stress, such as low oxygen, causes the baby to take forceful gasps, thus inhaling amniotic fluid containing meconium into their lungs. Even though fetuses do not eat, their intestines contain a sterile substance called meconium. Meconium aspirated into the lungs may block the newborn’s airways and cause regions of the lungs to collapse.
Getting the baby out was the priority, but the doctors knew it would be risky, not just for the baby, but for the mother too. They told Bob he may have to choose between his wife or his child.
An emergency C-section had to be done in order to save Linda because Betty’s hips would not loosen enough to have the baby naturally. Fortunately the doctors got Linda out just in time, but Betty was told she should not have any more children because she might not make it through another birth.
The doctor’s most certainly saved both Linda and Betty, but both of them always felt the real hero was Betty’s sister Helen, whose natural instincts as a nurse knew something was wrong. Had she not come to visit things most certainly may not have ended up they way they did.
It goes without saying this was a traumatic event, and one that would leave scars, even if they weren’t visible.
Betty was physically, mentally and emotionally drained from this event, and needed help caring for Linda. Fortunately Betty and Bob had already been living with Bob’s parents, so Bob’s mother stepped in to help, not just to care for Linda, but also help care for Betty who was put on 5 – 6 weeks of bed rest due to a swollen leg, also known as “milk leg” – a painful swelling of the leg caused by inflammation and clotting in the veins, affecting some postpartum women.
Finding out at the age of 21 you shouldn’t have any more children was a tough pill to swallow, so when Betty was back on her feet she threw herself into her work.
After high school Betty had gone to the Bryland Beauty School in Reading, graduating with a certificate in cosmetology and completing an apprenticeship at the Heffelfinger’s Beauty Shop in Lebanon.
Falling back on this training Betty was able to secure a position with the Stuart Wood Salon in Lebanon. Because her mother-in-law was already caring for Linda, she had a built in babysitter, which enabled her to establish herself in the world of cosmetology.
This also gave Betty and Bob the money they needed to move out of his parents, first into an apartment and later purchasing a house, both in Lebanon, PA.
Even though they had their own place, it was decided it was best for Linda to stay with Bob’s mom during the week and spend weekends with Betty and Bob. This would keep some level of stability in Linda’s life, and allow Betty the opportunity to pursue her vision of owning her own beauty shop.
By 1956, Betty and Bob had enclosed their porch and converted it to a beauty shop for Betty. Betty was in heaven, slowly building up clientele and creating a place where Linda could spend time with Betty even when Betty was working.
With cookies, coffee and adult conversations always available, Linda loved hanging out at Betty’s shop. She not only got to spend time with her Mom, but she also got to know all of Betty’s regulars.
Unfortunately Betty and Bob’s marriage started to have problems, there were obvious signs of abuse and by 1959 they were divorced. Their house was sold along with the shop and Betty temporarily moved in with Mickey and her family till she could get back on her feet.
This time with Mickey was a life saver because the troubles Betty faced in her marriage were very damaging to her psyche and having a sister always by her side was the comfort she needed to heal before stepping back out on her own.
It also gave Linda the opportunity to hang out with her Mom and Mickey and her family, who she adored. Needless to say the relationship between Betty and Linda was challenged enough, and with Linda heading into her teens, it was important she have the comfort of family around too.
Sometime in the early 60’s, Betty reestablished herself getting a small apartment of her own, and got involved with the Lebanon County Hairdressers and Cosmetologists Association, even becoming the secretary.
She also once again ventured forth into the world of beauty shop owner. This time though she rented space in Lebanon.
Betty would run Betty’s Beauty Shop until she retired in 1992 at the age of 66. Her shop became her refuge and her life. And although Linda continued to spend a lot of time at her Mom’s shop, by her teens she started to feel a little resentment. This could be expected considering all that had transpired, but it would put a strain on their relationship that wouldn’t show signs of healing until Linda was older and a mother herself.
Being very outgoing and friendly, Betty got very close to a lot of her clientele, some of who also became close friends. She would often go to events at the local synagogue and Jewish center with some of these women who were of the Jewish faith.
AND, in so doing, she would meet the love of her life, Isador Koblentz, better known as “Izzy.”
Izzy was a well-educated, well-dressed, well-mannered and very handsome gentleman, who treated Betty like she was the only woman on the face of the earth. They adored each other, and it showed in the joy on both of their faces.
Betty was truly happy and her heart could once again feel love. BUT, due to Izzy’s mother’s objections because Betty was not Jewish, the two settled on dating for many years before they could consider marriage.
As long as Betty and Izzy were together it didn’t matter to them though. They had each other and that was enough. Betty was complete with Izzy, whether she was wearing a ring or not. They didn’t need a marriage license to prove their love. Their actions said it all.
They would often do romantic things like take trips to the Poconos where they would rent a cabin, take long walks and later warm themselves in front of the fireplace or just linger chatting on the patio taking in the beauty of the mountains. They also loved to share a bottle of wine with a gourmet meal, and could even be seen holding hands. They made the best of their situation and were very content.
Their day did come though and on Christmas Eve of 1971 Betty and Izzy were finally married. To say they experienced wedded bliss after all those years is an understatement.
By this time, Betty’s daughter Linda was 24, and married with 2 children, Lori, 6, born in 1965 and Lanny, 7, born in 1966.
Betty had discouraged Linda from marrying so young like she herself had done, and this only added to the friction between the two of them, but with Izzy in her life Betty began to lighten up.
Izzy had stepped into his role of stepfather whole-heartedly and was there for Linda whenever she needed fatherly advice. As a matter of fact he was more like a father than her real one and she referred to him as “Pop.”
The bond between Izzy and Linda truly helped heal the friction between Betty and Linda and by the time Linda’s third child Jenny was born in 1983, Betty had fully embraced being a grandmother.
Izzy’s presence in both Betty and Linda’s lives was what they both needed to heal old wounds and move forward. As the wounds healed, so did the amount of time together.
Holidays were always a big thing with Betty and Izzy, but now they could expand their celebrations to include Linda and her family. They would host a light meal after Christmas Eve Services followed by a big Christmas Day gathering at Linda’s house.
Things weren’t perfect, but they could finally really feel like a family again. The strains of the past were not gone, but things had mellowed with time.
This mellowing was very evident in the amount of time Linda would spend with Betty and Izzy. They both loved to take walks daily in South Hills Park near their home, and Linda would often meet them for lunch on her days off, even bringing Jen, her youngest daughter, who had gotten very close to Betty.
The strength of the healing bond between Betty and Linda was put to the test when Izzy was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years after Betty had retired in 1992. To say this was devastating news for both of them is understatement.
Izzy had become Betty’s rock and to see him knocked down by illness was a challenge she wasn’t prepared for. BUT, when you love someone as much she loved Izzy, you find that inner strength you need to persevere which is exactly what Betty did. She went from being the center of Izzy’s universe to caregiver.
In the beginning things went fairly well, but Izzy’s battle was a long drawn out one, and eventually Linda convinced Betty it was time for Izzy to be admitted to the V. A. Medical Center where he could get round the clock care.
This was a tough decision for Betty to make, but she wanted what was best for Izzy. As can be expected, Betty came every day to be with Izzy. Even if she just sat quietly by his side, he had the comfort of knowing she was there.
Linda, who had become a nurse, just like her Aunt Helen, also worked at the V.A. Medical Center so she would visit with Izzy and Betty every day on her lunch and after work.
Through it all though, Betty never really knew how bad things were until Izzy succumbed to the ravages of the cancer in October of 1996.
Izzy’s passing just about destroyed Betty. She was lost and lonely. How could she go on without Izzy?
All the troops rallied around Betty: Linda, her children Lori and Jen, and her new husband Pete, and of course all of Betty’s sisters stepped in to be there for her us much as they could.
In so doing though, Linda discovered how much Izzy had actually done around the house and she knew her Mom would never be able to handle it all. Especially in her state of grief, so she took charge of all she could while Betty got back on her feet.
Throughout the grieving process, Linda and Pete would take Betty out for drives, to dinner and to visit her sisters. Seeing her sisters helped a lot. It reminded her of the great times they had over the years.
And, by this time, Lori, Linda’s oldest daughter was married with 2 children, Ashley, born in 1995 and Dylan, born in 1998 and they would spend as much time as they could with Betty.
Linda’s son Lanny was also married with children, Skye, born in 1994, and Kyle, born in 1997, but he was in the service and not available to visit as much as he would like.
Seeing the great grandchildren really helped Betty, but her loneliness was too much to bare some days, so with Linda’s urging, she decided to get out more on her own.
On one of her adventures, she went to a local Burger King, and while there, an older gentleman approached and offered to buy her a cup of coffee. Not quite sure what to make of it, Betty declined, but after giving it some thought, she decided to go back to that Burger King to see if that gentleman would be there again.
Just so happened he was, and after that cup of coffee, the two started to date. That gentleman’s name was Jim Kutz, and much like Izzy, he was well-dressed, well-mannered and very handsome. He was however quite a few years older than Betty, but that didn’t matter to her, she was happy again and that’s all that matter.
It wasn’t long before Betty and Jim bought a home and soon after, in June of 1998 married. All seemed right in the world again for Betty. She had worked through her grief, and even though she continued to miss Izzy, she was able to find some happiness.
Unfortunately that happiness was short-lived. Jim had underlying health conditions and in October of 1998 died of complications from a massive heart attack.
Losing two husbands within two years was more than Betty could process. It destroyed her mentally and emotionally. Once again the family rallied around her all they could, but this time that wasn’t enough.
Linda quickly discovered Betty wasn’t paying bills and doing basic household chores. These all seem like a normal response to all Betty had endured, but because of her age and the trauma to her system, her doctor was concerned this behavior could be signs of Alzheimer’s. He recommended Linda attend a few meetings at Cornwall Manor, a nursing facility for Alzheimer’s patients.
Linda took the doctor’s advice and it was a blessing she did because it prepared her for what was to follow.
Over time Betty’s behavior became even more erratic, including wondering the streets at night in her nighty looking for Izzy. Wanting to keep Betty in her own home as long as possible, Linda brought in nursing care to keep tabs on Betty in the evenings.
Despite all the two of them had been through throughout the years, Linda could not turn her back on her Mom, she felt a deep obligation to her. Their roles had change. Linda was now the mother and Betty the daughter, and it was at this point that all the wounds of the past were permanently erased.
Taking on the role of caregiver for Betty only strengthened Linda’s love for her Mom.
In September of 2004 though, Linda could no longer make things work keeping Betty at home and had to make the difficult decision to admit her to Manor Care in Lebanon. Betty had developed blood clots in her legs and had to be admitted to the hospital for a week, so transitioning her into nursing care at this point was the best thing to do.
Betty battled Alzheimer’s for years. Sometimes knowing her family and other times not, but that didn’t stop them from having a birthday party for her every year, and visiting as often as they could.
Seeing the once bright light that was Betty slowly extinguish was the greatest heartache the family had to endure. And although the pain of losing her on July 11, 2011 was almost unbearable, they knew she was no longer suffering. They knew she was in a better place and whole again.
AND, they had their memories of the days when Betty’s light was shining bright. Memories that remind them of the truly beautiful soul Betty was, both inside and out. No disease could take those away.
Memories like the story of how Linda’s male classmates in high school were so enamored by Betty’s glamorous presence when she would come into school for parent/teacher conferences they would send notes home with Linda for her. As Linda noted, I was extremely popular on those days.
Or the twinkle in Betty’s eyes when she would great her niece Pam, Helen’s daughter, with “There’s my Scorpio Buddy.” They had birthdays one day a part, and this greeting always made Pam feel exclusive to be paired with her glamorous aunt.
Or the joy Betty would be beaming with when she was with her Sisters. The love the Dechert Girls had for each other was only matched by the love they had for their own families.
BUT, most of all, was Betty’s dazzling smile and sparkling eyes that would light up a room when she walked into it. No matter what challenges Betty was facing, she always had a smile on her face.
And it is that smile that will forever shine in all of our memories.
Please check back next month when I will feature Mildred “Mickey” Dechert Bortz, the fifth of the Dechert Girls.
Many thanks to my brother-in-law Terry Stout for his assistance with scanning all the photos for not only this post, but all posts on the Dechert Sisters.
Kathryn, better known as “Kassie”, was the oldest of Sallie and David Dechert’s five girls. Her sister Mabel was born 18 months later, and it was just the two of them for 8 years until Helen was born in 1920.
Because of this Kassie and Mabel developed a very tight relationship. One that would last their entire lives, even writing letters to each other when they were not living close enough to see each other on a regular basis.
Kassie even stayed with Mabel and her family periodically while going through radiation treatment for cancer in her 50’s. The treatment Kassie needed wasn’t available in the Myerstown area, but was in Philadelphia, and Mabel just happened to be living in Sharon Hill, a suburb of Philadelphia.
Sometimes it was just a short visit, but it was enough for Mabel to keep tabs on the health of her big sister.
At an early age both Kassie and Mabel would help their mother Sallie deliver her homemade shoofly pies and noodles. Loading up the goodies in a wagon and delivering to all the regular customers. This sort of became a right of passage for all the girls, but Kassie and Mabel were the first to assist in Sallie’s cottage business. Teaching the younger sisters the ropes as each one grew old enough to help.
Kassie was also an accomplished vocalist and pianist, often performing for concerts at school. She did not perform publically beyond that though, likely because family obligations took precedence.
After Helen was born in 1920, there was a gap of 6 years until Betty was born in 1926, and Mickey 2 years later in 1928. Kassie and Mable were teenagers by the time the youngest two sisters were born, which gave Sallie the extra helping hands she needed.
Considering Sallie was 42 when Betty was born and 44 at the time of Mickey’s birth, and still had her pie and noodle business it’s very understandable that Sallie needed some help.
Because of this, Sallie and David decided to have Kassie and Mabel drop out of high school.
This decision was not done in haste or taken lightly though. It was however encouraged by Ralph, the Dechert Sisters half-brother, who by this time was in his late 20’s and well established in the business world. As a matter of fact, David, his father, truly admired how far he had come, and respected his opinion.
Because of the age gap, Ralph did not play a huge part in any of the girl’s lives, until they were older, and able to work away from home. He saw an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
He ran a farmers market in the Philadelphia area where he would sell goods from the Amish, and often needed extra help.
Who better than ask his siblings to help?
He got the help he needed, and they made some money too. Plus, got to experience what the city had to offer.
Ralph knew he would need Sallie and David’s permission though and had the perfect angle. By telling Sallie and David that “Girls don’t need an education.” it helped ease the guilt they may have felt when pulling Kassie and Mabel out of school, and opened the door for him to get the extra help he needed.
Although Kassie was happy to make money, and get exposure to life in the city, not graduating from high school left a huge impact on her. She became very conscientious of English and grammar. Teaching herself all she needed to know to be well-spoken. She certainly didn’t want to sound uneducated when speaking with people in Philadelphia.
And, she took her grammar very seriously often correcting those who spoke incorrectly.
Whether it was her exposure to city life, or just in her blood from birth, Kassie became the trendsetter, wearing stockings with seams, and being the first to wear pants, which was a big deal for the time period. She had a real sense of style, and wasn’t afraid to show it off making sure to find ways to include her favorite colors orchid and lavender.
She was also the trailblazer for the rest of the sisters. Daring to cut her hair short, which triggered a major argument with her Mother and Grandmother.
Having Mabel follow in her footsteps, just added to the problem. Rumor has it the argument between Kassie and her Grandmother actually got physical with the two of them rolling around on the floor swinging at each other.
Now that would have been a site to see.
Kassie’s feistiness was even more obvious when it came to politics. She was a staunch Democrat and was in awe of FDR. She loved what he did for the people and felt he was the best president.
She was often called a bar room politician, getting in arguments with people who didn’t quite see things the way she did.
Women had just gotten the right to vote in 1920, when Kassie was 9, so it’s obvious as a young woman she was quite conscious of the importance of this right and did not take in lightly.
Being extremely patriotic, Kassie even became President of the American Legion Auxiliary, which is the word’s largest women’s patriotic service organization. Embodying the spirit of America that has prevailed through war and peace, standing solidly behind America and it’s ideals.
Kassie had even more inspiration beyond her patriotism though in the fact that her husband, Miles Krill, better known as Krilly, was serving in the Air Force from 1943 to 1945 during the war. Not only was she serving her country, she was also aiding her husband in his efforts.
When Kassie and Krilly met it was love at first sight for both of them. There was a catch though. They met at a picnic, and both had come with a date. Krilly very much wanted to leave with Kassie, but she refused, stating she wanted to do the right thing by the date she came with.
After that though, the two were inseparable. Marring on June 27th, 1931, just a couple months shy of Kassie’s 20th birthday. Krilly was 23 and working as a shirt presser, while Kassie was working in a bakery.
Krilly had a variety of jobs, to include brick layer before settling in at North American Refractories Company in Wolmelsdorf just before enlisting in the Air Force in 1943 where he remained until he retired in 1971.
While working at NARCO, Kassie and Krilly dabbled with making homemade potato chips, and selling them to local markets in the Myerstown area. It was while doing this they set their sites on one day having their own market.
That opportunity opened up when a small convenience style market called “the Shanty” went up for sale in the mid-50’s. This market was on the ground floor of a home in Myerstown with a small apartment above. It was exactly what they wanted.
Based on Krilly’s retirement date from NARCO, he obviously kept his day job while they had the market. I’m guessing that was for financial security and insurance purposes.
Their little market became the neighborhood gathering place with a couple of small tables and chairs where men would hang out, playing checkers, reading the paper and chatting. Plus, pinball games attracted the local teenage boys, which their nieces really appreciated when they came to visit.
They even had a one-armed bandit (aka slot machine) in a back room and punch cards for those that where interested in a game of chance.
The local Amish farmers would periodically come and sell their goods from their trucks in front of the store, offering everything from fruits and vegetables, to meat and cheese.
The store was very quint and rustic with a large penny candy section. This section was a hit with all their nieces and nephews when they came to visit because Kassie and Krilly allowed them to indulge in whatever treats they wanted.
AND, when it was time to head home, they could fill a small paper bag with whatever candy they wanted.
Kassie and Krilly doted on all their nieces and nephews. They had hoped to have children, but Krilly had mumps as an adult and that destroyed all hope for children of their own. Instead they spoiled their nieces and nephews.
They treated them all like their own kids, even proudly displaying their artwork on their refrigerator.
The store property also had a nice backyard ideal for cookouts, which they did often. Kassie and Krilly loved picnics, and spending time with family, so they got the best of both worlds. Add to it, Krilly was quite the master when it came to grilling.
Kassie and Krilly were both very active with the American Legion running the weekly Bingo Games along side Kassie’s sister Mickey and her husband Forrest.
The four of them got very close because Krilly and Forrest had a military background, plus the rest of Kassie’s sisters had relocated to other areas of Pennsylvania. Mabel had moved to the Philadelphia area with her family in the early 50’s, Helen relocated when she left for nursing school in 1943, and Betty had relocated to Lebanon for cosmetology school and remained in the area post graduation in the mid-50’s.
Not that the sisters didn’t see each other as often as possible, it was just that they had all ventured off to forge their own paths in the world and Kassie and Mickey remained in Myerstown.
Over the years Kassie (and Krilly) would become extra close to Mickey and Forrest’s children, especially their second daughter Kathy Rose, who Kassie helped to raise.
Mickey lost a child between Kathy and her younger sister Judi Lynn, and needed the extra support, so when Kathy was 3, Kassie started to watch her during the day, and after school.
Kassie was in her late 40’s by this time, but that never slowed her down.
The two of them became quite the buddies. Kassie would drop whatever she was doing to give Kathy her undivided attention. She even helped Kathy learn to read and taught her some cooking skills.
Kathy had a little stool next to the stove and she played Kassie’s sous Chef while she was cooking. Kassie was quite the cook, teaching Kathy some valuable tips. One her specialties was slowed cooked pork chops on the stove top, which Kathy noted shows just how patient Kassie was.
Kassie often bought books for Kathy and one her favorites was one filled with not-so-common Fairy Tales like “Rumple Stiltsken,” “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “Thumbelina.” Kathy loved this book and Kassie never tired of reading it to her.
The bond between Kassie and Kathy never faded. As an adult Kathy would visit Kassie on a regular basis, and often cook a special meal for her. To say they were tight is understatement.
By the time Kassie and Krilly hit their 50’s, they decided it was time to expand beyond apartment living and buy a house. Krilly was an avid coin collector and often did consulting for a fee. It was this money that helped them buy their first home in a small development called “Lynncrest” just outside of Myerstown.
The house was a rancher with 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, full basement, garage, central air and a large backyard, ideal for cookouts. They were in heaven.
Their house became the new gathering spot for the large extended family.
They hosted an Easter gathering and large cookout over the Summer every year. Easter was epic with a huge egg hunt for all the nieces and nephews, and individual Easter baskets made from box lids for each one.
In the Summer the nieces and nephews would go between playing outside and in the basement, where they would often roller skate from one end to the next.
To say that many fond memories were created in that house is an understatement.
Besides being an amazing cook and housekeeper, Kassie also collected colored glass figurines, bowls and vases, and proudly displayed them in an open framed wall between the kitchen and living room. They were absolutely beautiful, and fascinated quite a few of her nieces.
How they survived all the kids coming in and out of the house is still a mystery today?
Kassie and Krilly enjoyed a good ten years in their home before Krilly’s heart condition got the best of him. Having a heart attack while at home, he passed in 1974. Because this happened in their home it was hard for Kassie to go home.
For 6 months after Krilly’s passing, Kassie lived with Mickey and her family. Working her way up to being in the house again by spending days in the house, but sleeping at Mickey and Forrest’s house.
Kassie became part of the family. Wherever Mickey and her family went so did Kassie. She didn’t drive, but Forrest, was more than happy to bring her back and forth.
As a matter of fact, Forrest would often go in the house ahead of Kassie to make sure everything was safe. Living alone had made Kassie a bit nervous, and this reassured her. AND, Forrest was more than happy to oblige.
Kassie remained in the house till her early 80’s when a fall caused a bad sprain and she never was able to fully recover. This forced her into a series of rehab and nursing homes, finally settling into an assisted living facility in Myerstown where she remained until her passing in 1998.
Funny thing though, through all of this, what she missed the most was her nightly beer. Normally alcohol isn’t really allowed, but with a little wheeling and dealing Mickey, Forrest and Kathy got permission for her to keep some in her room so she could still have her nightly beer. This made Kassie very happy.
Another thing that made her happy was music, listening to her favorite songs like “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”, “A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich & You”, “Stardust” and her all time favorites “You Are My Sunshine”, and “Ava Maria” would always put a smile on her face.
Kassie was a sweet and gentle woman, who’s true beauty was reflected in her eyes which were truly the window to her beautiful soul.
In her senior years Kassie was very quiet, far from the feisty woman she was in her teens and twenties, but the one thing that was consistent was her simple, no pretense demeanor, which was ever present in her greeting “Hello Dare!” There, sounding like “Dare” because of her Pennsylvania German accent. I can still her sweet voice greeting me to this day.
And she would say this with a dazzling smile and a sparkle in her eyes.
Many thanks to my family, especially my cousins Kathy Lewis and Sallie Galletti, for their contributions of stories and memories which enabled me to pull together Kassie’s story.
PLUS, I have to send out a huge thank you to my brother-in-law Terry Stoudt for scanning all the photos for all these posts. I am eternally grateful for his help.
Please check back next month when I will feature Mabel May Dechert Swanger, the second oldest of the Dechert Girls.
Logically it would make sense to honor each sister in the order of their birth, but because Helen, my Mother, would have turned 100 this month I decided to start with her, even though she is the middle sister.
Helen and her Sisters, Kassie, Mable, Betty and Mickey were as thick as thieves as the expression goes. Even with a huge age gap between them.
Kassie, the oldest, born in 1911, and Mabel, the second oldest, in 1912, were 9 and 8 when Helen was born in 1920.
Then there was a gap of 6 years until Betty was born in 1926, and Mickey 2 years later in 1928. So Kassie and Mabel were teenagers by the time the youngest two sisters were born.
The older siblings always helped with the younger siblings, but there was no resentment. The love they had for each other was too strong. And this love grew even stronger as the sisters aged and ventured out on their own journeys. Their bond was stronger than any I have ever seen.
As individuals they were unique in their own right, paving their own paths, but united by the belief of kindness and compassion for all, something that came naturally for all of them. And something they saw first hand in their home growing up.
The story surrounding Helen’s birth is one that has become cemented in family history, and can even be considered legendary.
As the story goes, when Sallie, Helen’s Mother went into labor, her father David noted “But Sallie there are no fresh baked goods in the house.”
SO, before giving birth Sallie made sure to baked 12 small shoofly pies so David’s sweet tooth would be satisfied while she tended to the new infant in the house.
This in itself isn’t what makes the story legendary, the fact that Helen became an amazing baker in her own right proved it was in her genes from birth, and as my sister noted she was “Born to Bake.”
Of course her first teacher was her Mother Sallie, teaching her all the traditional foods unique to their PA German heritage, like shoofly pie, fastnachts, whoopie pies, apple dumplings, Moravian sugar cake, strudel, and sugar cookies (both the thin cut ones and the thick ones with icing.)
Over the years though, Helen would expand her baking skills beyond that, learning traditional foods of her husbands’ Slovak heritage like kiffle and nutroll, and experimenting with her own ideas, often entering baking contests. Unfortunately she never won though, why I’ll never figure out.
Helen was also a fantastic cook, mastering cuisine from both cultures, especially with traditional foods of the Easter and Christmas holidays, like cirak (homemade cheese) at Easter; and bobalky (poppyseed dumplings), noodles with cottage cheese and lekvaur and sour mushroom soup (machanka) at Christmas.
Plus, there were dishes not related to holidays like halupki (filled cabbage) and huluski ka pusta (cabbage and noodles), plus homemade pizza. Helen mastered the perfect thin crust and no chain restaurant or manufacturer will ever match it. Plus her homemade bread was better than any bakery.
Some of the holiday dishes are still continued in our family, which is all due to Helen’s intense desire to keep traditions alive.
Family heritage and traditions meant a lot to Helen, and she instilled the rich history of both cultures into her children, who in turn continue to share these traditions with their children.
Helen’s PA German heritage wasn’t just about food though, it was also about faith. She was raised Dunkard Brethren, which is similar to the Mennonite and Amish, and classified as Anabaptist. They don’t believe in baptism at birth, but when the individual is old enough to understand the teachings of the Bible and accept them. If a child was baptized at birth, they would be baptized again. Their baptisms took place in a body of water, not in the church.
Which is just how Helen was baptized, in a creek near their church by Reverend Harry France. As Helen told the story, after the baptism she asked the Reverend if he was Jesus. His response “No, but I work for his office.”
Clever comeback for a man of the cloth, don’t you think?
Helen took her faith very seriously, and it is what carried her through every challenge she faced through out her life. One of her most popular words of advice was “Put it in God’s hands.”
At her core was an unbreakable belief that the Lord will always see you through, and that with every challenge is a lesson to learn or stage of development to reach. You might not see it right away, but with time it will come to you. You just need to pause, ponder, and pray, “putting it in God’s hands.”
Then, put it aside, and patiently wait. As they say patience is a virtue and this is something Helen mastered at an early age.
From all accounts, Helen had a pretty normal childhood. She was somewhat quiet, and spent a lot of time with her grandfather Jonathan at his bike repair shop. He was her buddy.
She often spoke of a sledding accident, which caused her to loose a few teeth, and left a scare on her cheek. It occurred on a Saturday and when she wanted to stay home from church on Sunday her Mother Sallie stated, “If you had time for sledding, you have time for the Lord.”
Sallie was tough; there was no getting around her. Her word was the be all and end all.
Helen also noted she was called “Little Fat Hellie” because she was chubby as a kid, and had a sweet tooth. Who wouldn’t with a Mom who was a baker?
As Helen hit her teens though that nickname was far behind her. She got involved in sports and cheerleading. Playing basketball and teaching herself how to play tennis with a racket she bought for .25¢. She was also an avid ice skater.
She was a determined young woman, and didn’t let her humble home life stop her from exploring the world around her.
While in high school, Helen was also involved with a singing trio who sang radio commercials and even opened for the famous big band leader Kay Kyser. How she was able to do this with the strict rules of the church and her Mother, we’re still not sure. Must have been a covert operation on her part, although her cousin Vivian was part of the group too, so maybe that helped.
With a large extended family, Helen was very close to her cousins. The two that became her close buddies though were Harry and Charles Forry, sons of her Aunt Lizzie, who had 10 children. Both went to the Hershey Industrial School because their Father passed when they were young and it was too much for Lizzie to care for all of them. This of course broke her heart.
Later Harry and Charles became soldiers and fought in WWII. Harry was a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps and was reported missing in Australia and ultimately declared dead on July 14, 1942, while Charles was captured by the Japanese and was a prisoner of war. Based on the story Helen told us, Charles escaped and even brought home kimonos he took en route to safety. Because of their bond, he gave two to Helen. My sister Pam has one, but where the other one is still a mystery.
Helen was a natural caregiver and it was this observation on her father David’s part that would land her at St. Luke’s Nursing School in Bethlehem after graduating from high school in 1938.
Helen would be the first Dechert Sister to leave her hometown of Myerstown to venture out beyond the comforts of her home to learn a trade.
And it was this decision that set in motion the true path Helen was born to take, that of a nurse. A profession that truly encompassed the person Helen was at her core; kind, compassionate, caring, helpful, loving, and trustworthy. If you were in need, Helen was there. She always put others first, no matter what her own personal circumstances were.
Helen started her career at St. Luke’s Hospital after graduation in 1941, working the ER, and becoming the Assistant Night Supervisor. While working one night, a handsome young man with coal black hair named Bill, brought an injured co-worker from the Bethlehem Steel in for care.
As the story goes, Bill took an instant liking to Helen commenting how beautiful she was, but added she needed to do something about taking care of her hands, which looked awful. He did however make sure to make note of her name and boldly called to apologize and ask her out on a date.
And, the decision to say, “Yes” to that date would change the course of Helen’s life. Having been offered a scholarship for Columbia University, Helen was seriously considering this opportunity to pursue a career as an obstetrician.
Not wanting to lose Helen, much to Helen’s surprise, Bill proposed. Upon popping the lid on the ring box, he said, “Well you love me, don’t you?”
And the truth was, Helen did love Bill, so she followed her heart and married Bill, never once looking back.
William (Bill) Henry Danko, and Helen were married on January 23, 1943 at the Rectory of St. Theresa’s Church followed by a reception at the Bethlehem Steel Sunshine Club in Hellertown, PA.
Early on in their marriage, Helen and Bill lived in an apartment in a building owned by Bill’s Mother Agnes. This situation as can be expected came with some challenges not just because Helen’s Mother-in-Law was the landlady, but because Agnes was not happy that her Son married a girl who was not Slovak or Catholic.
Helen did not let this get between her and Bill. Being the kind of person she was, she accepted Agnes for who she was, and understood it was part of her culture. Not that it didn’t hurt at times, especially when it came to the dislike of her PA German heritage.
Helen had already endured enough teasing and harassment about her PA German accent while in nursing school, she had hoped that discrimination would be behind her. Unfortunately it was not.
Helen knew she couldn’t change her heritage, but her religious affiliation she could.
At some point in their marriage though, Helen converted to Catholicism. This could have upset her Mother, but her response was “Well they’re good people too. They believe in Jesus Christ.”
Helen took her religious training seriously and became an active member of St. Theresa parish. Joining the guild, singing in the choir and making sure to contribute fresh baked goods for the guild bake sales. Once it got around what a phenomenal baker Helen was, parishioners would wait for her contribution so they could be the first to purchase them.
It wasn’t long after their marriage that Helen and Bill started a family. By December of 1943 their first child Carolann was born, with Georgene following 18 months later in 1945. Then Pamela in 1951 and Francine in 1956.
Much like Helen’s own family, there were age gaps between the children, but that didn’t impact the camaraderie between them.
Once children entered the picture, Helen left her job at St. Luke’s to become a full time Mom and housekeeper. Something she adored. Being a Mom took precedence over everything else.
Stopping housework to make oatmeal box houses for the girl’s dolls, or to have a picnic inside on a rainy day throwing a blanket on the living room floor and making peanut butter sandwiches with sprinkle sugar cut out with cookie cutters, or walking Carolann and Georgene to the Steel Club (miles away) for swimming lessons in the middle of doing laundry.
Agnes was not happy with Helen’s actions, she thought they were frivolous, but Helen and Bill knew the needs of the children where more important than any housework. The children would remember time spent with them, not how clean the house was.
Fortunately for Helen, she had also bonded with their neighbor Anna Killian and her husband Charlie. They would become a buffer for Helen when Agnes’ criticisms were too much to bear. They were also like surrogate Grandparents for the children.
Helen would also feed the hobos who would hang out at the picnic table in the back yard. As she told the girls, Christ is in everyone. As a matter of fact, Georgene even asked one of them if they were Jesus. Their response was “Hardly.”
Granted in these days, this would be quite dangerous, but back in the 40’s and 50’s it was a different world.
Although Helen and Bill’s apartment was not big, they made it work for their family. There was a decent size backyard where Bill built a sandbox for the girls, a large vegetable garden, and dog pen for Bill’s hunting dogs.
That sandbox was just a simple homemade one, with old coffee cans and muffins tins to play with, but the neighbor kids always ended up there, despite the fact that they had fantastic ones with fancy toys.
As my sister Pam has said, “Mom knew how to make the ordinary into something special.”
There was also a large basement that opened up into the backyard, which extended the girls play territory. Using the basement to perform plays, create an ice cream parlor, and of course celebrate birthdays.
The basement was also where Bill had his workbench where he created original furniture designs, and even had a dark room. Photography was one of Bill’s passions and he even had a little side business doing portraits.
Both Helen and Bill were very creative and playful and it showed in their style of parenting and how they approached the holidays, especially Christmas. It was most certainly a magical time.
Bill would create the most amazing Putz with real moss. It was so large it took over the living room in their small apartment. Staying up till the wee hours of the morning preparing stockings and gifts. One key feature was the Surprise Balls filled with little toys rolled up in paper that unraveled.
AND of course all the amazing baked goods created by Helen. Baked goods Helen had to be a “culinary sleuth” (as my sister Pam stated) to figure out because Agnes did not willingly reveal the recipes for the traditional Slovak dishes of the Christmas holiday.
There is also a story of one Christmas Eve when a woman and her baby showed up at the side door. She appeared to be in some sort of danger and it was believed she had gotten out of the car with her husband and somehow found the side door to the apartment. Bill took her somewhere, but where no one knows for sure.
The mysteriousness of the story, just added to the magic of the season, and further shows both Helen and Bill’s kindness toward their fellow man, which is why this story is still told today.
In 1958, Helen and Bill would find their emancipation from living in Agnes’ home when they built their own home in Bright Acres/Bingen, which was just outside of Hellertown.
This was an exciting time for the whole family, a place to finally call their own. Bill would plant a huge vegetable garden surrounded by raspberry and currant bushes, which Helen would use to create wonderful jelly and can and freeze their harvest.
As an avid hunter, fisherman and outdoorsman, Bill was in his element in this more rural setting and would decide to raise German Short Haired Pointers to be sold for hunting. He would also make his own lures for fishing and do custom designed carved gunstocks.
Helen would also learn how to prepare wild game and fresh fish. There is story that she even helped to gut a deer while she was pregnant.
Helen and Bill were green and sustainable before they were the trend. Starting a compost pile, and harvesting fresh organic produce and cooking from scratch, every day.
They would recycle everything they could, which back then took effort. Cans went one place and bottles went back to the beverage distributor.
Plastic baggies and aluminum foil were never used just once either. If they still had some life in them Helen would wash them out and dry them on the dish drainer. As Helen would say “This could come right handy in.” I have to confess I do this too. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
The neighborhood was the perfect place to raise a family too, all young families with children of similar ages. The women would gather for coffee klatches, often at Bill and Helen’s where they could enjoy Helen’s fresh baked goods.
AND, an Annual Halloween Parade was organized with reception and prizes to follow. The location was rotated through different households every year. A visit from Santa was also initiated with the Fathers taking turns to play Santa.
All this was done with donations from the neighborhood, each household rotating the chairperson duties each year.
When word got out that Helen was a nurse, she quickly became the nurse of the neighborhood. Never once hesitating when someone was in need.
In 1961 Helen and Bill would expand their family, with Mariann being born in March of that year, and then William, born in December of 1962.
Bill loved all his children, but was overjoyed to finally have a boy he could take hunting and fishing. He had always wanted a large family and hoped to one day have a boy.
In 1964 though, this happy household would be dealt the cruelest of fates. After a long battle with the Asian Flu, Bill would be diagnosed with colon cancer. On October 1st he would pass, leaving Helen a young widow with 4 children still at home.
Carolann had recently graduated from St. Luke’s Nursing School, and Georgene was a student at Kutztown University. Both moved home to help with the younger children; Pamela, 13, Francine 8, Mariann 3, and William (Billy) 18 months old.
Helen had to fall back on her faith and every deep reserve of strength she had to overcome her grief and focus on caring for the children.
Bill had no pension to draw on, but there was a small life insurance policy, plus, Bill had very wisely purchased Mortgage Insurance that insured the mortgage would be paid off when he died, thus providing a place for the family to live. This enabled Helen to stay home with the children for about a year and figure out where to go next.
First thing she had to tackle was learning to drive. One neighbor, Buddy Gress, was willing to help, but after neighbors started to talk, he had to step back. Helen would not only learn to drive, but also learn basic car maintenance because she learned early on no man in the neighborhood would help because their wives would not allow it.
It was sad that the neighbors she would drop everything for would turn away during her most desperate times.
Fortunately she had her sisters who were always there for her, Anna and Charlie, her friends from the old apartment and a fellow widow, Helen Barndt, who lived in neighborhood. These two would become close allies in their quest to overcome the heartache of grief and discrimination.
Throughout all of this though, Helen didn’t turn her back on her neighbors. It was not in her nature. She continued to be the kind, caring and compassionate woman she was before her loss.
Her children were her priority and she knew that neighborhood was where they needed to stay. After all it was the home she and Bill bought specifically to raise their family. And that was what she was going to do, no matter how many challenges she would face.
In July of 1966, Helen would embark on a new adventure that would ultimately help her heal and move forward. She took on the task of starting the first Health Service for students at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley, which would later become DeSales University.
Over time she and her partner Jean Mauer developed a Health Service Department that lured other directors of health services from local colleges to come and tour their facility.
In the beginning she had to bring the two youngest children, Mariann and William (Billy) with her to work every day. As she told the school when she was interviewed, my family comes first.
The college community, staff and students, would become a second family for Helen. And she quickly became a second family for the students. Often bringing the extremely homesick students home for a home cooked meal. She knew the students needed more than medical care, they needed a listening ear, and someone who could “hear what they weren’t saying” as she put it.
In 1990, DeSales honored Helen with the DeSales Award, the highest non-academic honor awarded by the college to recipients who had given outstanding contributions to the development of the college through personal service. This was the first time it was ever given to an employee; it was usually presidents or monsignors.
As it was noted at the service “ Helen Danko is a living symbol of the humanity of this college. She is distinguished for the witness she gives in her life work to the ideals most highly prized by St. Francis de Sales, the college’s patron saint.
Later, in 2013, DeSales would create the Helen Danko and Jean Mauer Wellness Award, to be awarded to a student who exemplified the qualities both Helen and Jean embodied.
When Helen passed in 2015, the outpouring of love from former DeSales students was overwhelming and a reflection of Helen’s true character.
Helen would be part of the DeSales community until she fully retired in her late 70’s, after slowly cutting back her hours from 5 days to 1 day. Her reason for retirement was to turn her energy to helping care for her grandson Billy, one her son Bill’s children, who was born in 1997.
Her Grandchildren were her pride and joy. And she helped all she could with every one of them. Dustin, Georgene’s son was born in 1971, then came Ethan and Dylan, in 1989 and 1991, both Bill’s sons and later Roy, in 1999, Mariann’s Son.
She was also blessed with one Great Grandchild, Ian, Dustin’s son, who was born in 2004.
Helen also had two Step-Grandchildren, Crystal and Dale; and two Step Great Grandchildren, Damian and Aiden.
Even in her later years Helen still had a childlike and playful outlook on life, despite all she had endured over the years. It was this childlike quality that made her the Best Grandmother any child could ask for.
From playing super hero; to lion, crawling on all fours; to coloring and painting; to playing with Legos and board games; and most of all baking cookies. Helen did whatever the Grandchildren wanted to do.
One of the best stories though is the time she and Billy got locked in the laundry room until Judi, Helen’s daughter-in-law got home from work. They were playing hide and seek, and when Billy found Helen in the laundry room he pulled the door closed behind him, thus locking the door from the outside. Helen made the best of it, singing songs, playing games and telling Billy they would play make believe hide and seek with Judi, so when she came home she could find them.
Needless to say, Judi was quite surprised when she came home and found them in the laundry room. She thought they were there to greet her, little did she know they had been locked in there for hours.
As my sister Pam has said, “Mom knew how to make the ordinary into something special.”
Her family was her priority, and being able to spend time with them was what brought her pure joy. Whether it be with her immediate family, a visit with her sisters and their families, or large gatherings with the extended family, Helen would be beaming, swelling with love and gratitude for the greatest gift bestowed on her, family.
AND, if there was music playing at any gathering, Helen would be sure to be up on her feet dancing. Even in into her 90’s she would kick up her heels if the mood hit her. Especially if you put on some Big Band music, she just couldn’t resist. Something I know for a fact all of her children inherited.
The last 15 years of Helen’s life, she lived with her Son Bill and his family, but would spend weekends with her daughter Mariann and her Son Roy. In the beginning it was because Mariann was working weekends and needed someone to watch Roy, but when the weekend work stopped, Helen still came. Weekends with Grammy were something both Roy and Mariann looked forward to. Roy would anxiously wait at the window every Friday, looking for Grammy to arrive, greeting her with a huge hug and kiss.
Some weekends Carolann would join them and they quickly became the “Four Musketeers” doing everything together. With Roy as the ringleader, and Helen going along with whatever he so desired.
Being part of these two households was extremely fulfilling for Helen. She would help not just with the children, but also in the kitchen and with the laundry. I dubbed her the “Laundry Fairy” because some how she magically got everything folded and put away before I even knew it.
Helen was a pure joy to have around. She always had a kind word to say. As her daughter-in-law Judi noted, every morning before Judi left for work, Helen would tell how beautiful she looked in the color she was wearing. Didn’t matter what color it was, she always looked beautiful. It was these kind words that were the sunshine Judi needed to make it through the day. As she told her co-workers, “I have the best Mother-in-Law.”
One of Helen’s catch phrases when something pleasant and unexpected happened was “Well that wasn’t in my Star Gazer today.” Something tells me if she could read this post, that’s exactly what she would say.
Helen was a woman of great integrity, coming from humble roots, overcoming discrimination, and major loss. Never once feeling sorry for herself and always putting others first, her compassion for her fellow man can only be rivaled by one other person, Mother Theresa.
And it is this quote from Mother Theresa that I feel encompasses all that Helen stood for and what guided her every day of her life.
“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
Many thanks to my family for their contributions of stories and memories which enabled me to pull together Helen (Mom’s) story.
Please check back next month when I will feature Kathryn Dechert Krill, the oldest of the Dechert Girls.
It’s not often I’m half way through a month and lost for a theme for my post, but this month I can say I was beyond writer’s block.
I could blame it on a couple things: getting busier and busier at work, and still working an odd schedule, family crisis regarding one of my sisters which created excess stress, or even just the fact that since the Pandemic hit daily life is very limited. A lot of the same old same old, nothing new or intriguing going on, which is the case for everyone I suppose.
And the last thing I wanted to do was write about the same old same old thing like; quarantine, social distancing, or wearing masks in public and at work.
Although a post about life wearing a mask in public could very well be in the future. You have to admit; only seeing someone’s eyes is an interesting thing, especially if the eyes are truly the windows of the soul.
I have noticed that the eyes can be very telling as to the mood of the person behind the mask. We’re so use to basing mood on other facial expressions, but now we only have the eyes to go by. And surprisingly they can reveal a lot.
This observation however will take a bit more research to see if it’s worthy of an entire post.
So as the month ticked away, with nothing sparking my writing soul, I began to think for the first time since I started blogging six years ago I just might have to concede to writer’s block.
Then, the weekend the crisis with my sister hit it’s peak, my family also experienced the unexpected passing of my dear Aunt Mickey.
Although we were concerned about the situation with my sister, we had traveled this road more than once, and were just grateful she was finally in the hospital.
The passing of my Aunt however was very upsetting, not just for my Cousins, but also for the entire extended family. My Aunt Mickey was a sweetheart of a woman, who treated her nieces and nephews as if they were her own. Her home was your home too.
Some of my greatest childhood memories are about time spent hanging at her house for a week during the Summer. Our annual trips to Hershey Park with my Mom, my Brother, my Aunt and my Cousins were epic.
My Aunt Mickey was also the last of my Mom’s living Sisters and her passing became the end of era.
An era steeped with amazing family gatherings, with five sisters who stood by each other’s side through every life experience possible; marriages, births, divorces, deaths, etc. and with their Pennsylvania German heritage, from religious beliefs to the food. Oh so much amazing food.
My mind was flooded with memories the days leading up to my Aunt’s funeral.
AND, I couldn’t help but ponder about my Mom and each one her Sisters and how they impacted my life.
To say my Mom and her Sisters were unique is an understatement.
They came from very humble roots, and through out their lives never forgot that. They were all selfless, caring and giving women, who looked at everyone as equals.
Family came first. They were always there for each other, regardless of what was going on in their personal lives.
The Sisters were a tight group of ladies who cherished each other and encouraged each other’s individuality.
Looking at today’s standard this may seem normal, but you have to remember these ladies were born in the early 1900’s. Encouraging individuality was not a common thing.
Especially growing up in a strict religious household.
They were raised Dunkard Brethren which is an offshoot of the Brethren, very similar to Protestant, but closer to Mennonite because they had to wear head coverings, and drinking, smoking and gambling were prohibited.
Now, by the time these ladies hit high school, like normal teens, they started to rebel, but not in a wild way. They wanted to wear more stylish clothes, high heals, and make up. Plus be involved in things at school, like sports and clubs.
BUT, they never forgot the roots of their faith.
The oldest two, Kassie (Katherine) and Mabel, paved the way for the younger three, Helen (my Mom), Betty (Elizabeth) and Mickey (Mildred).
In addition to the restrictions put upon them by the church, they also had a very strict Mother. She was the disciplinarian, not the Father. Which in itself speaks light years as to why these five ladies grew up to be five very uniquely different women.
The more I pondered all of this, the more I realized these amazing women needed to be honored, by documenting their story and individuality.
Not just for their uniqueness, but also for the lessons we all learned from them. My Siblings, my Cousins and all of our extended families are who we are because these five special ladies touched our lives, and forever made a mark.
Each one of them imparted upon us little bits of wisdom that have guided us through good times and bad. AND, by example, showed us that family, faith and food, are all one needs to be truly happy.
So, It brings me great joy to say for the next couple months I will be dedicating my posts to the Dechert Sisters. I have reached out to my Siblings, Cousins and extended family to aid me in this quest.
After all, part of rediscovery is looking to the past, and what better time to do so.
I haven’t quite decided if I will dedicate a month to each Sister, or mix it up. This idea is a work in progress and to a point a labor of love. A way to carry on the legacy that is “THE DECHERT SISTERS – KASSIE, MABEL, HELEN, BETTY AND MICKEY.
I hope you enjoy reading about the Dechert Sisters legacy as much as I do sharing it.
And, maybe you too will start to ponder those within your family who have also left a legacy. Because, it’s those legacies that have molded each of our families and lead us to where we are now.
As the month of June was beginning I couldn’t help but ponder how fast the halfway mark of the year was upon me?
AND, I wondered how could it creep up on me so quickly when I felt like I’d been standing still since the end of March?
OR, was that precisely why it crept up on me?
When stay-at-home orders were enacted, for all intensive purposes, time stopped. What was, was no more, at least temporary, and what would be was still up in the air.
At first this was all a bit unnerving, but once I settled into the notion of being forced to stay home, and knew my work from home would be limited, I embraced this time as time to focus on my dreams and aspirations for retirement.
I was actually a bit happy to finally have the time I needed to focus on my writing and this blog.
AND, I actually welcomed this time after the hiccup I hit in January that set me back as far as my goals for 2020 were concerned.
“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” – Confucius
Music is an essential part of my day. I can’t imagine an entire day in complete silence. Even when I write I have music playing.
Every day has a rhythm of it’s own, and the music playing can impact the course that day travels.
Being home more now, I’ve found music to be the comfort I need on days that can be emotionally more challenging. Especially when the pandemic was just unfolding and my anxiety levels were off the richter scale.
Putting Pandora on shuffle was and is the magic I need to traverse my day. I never know what genre will pop up, and what song within that genre. I have a very eclectic taste in music and can go from classic rock to jazz to blues to contemporary country in a matter of minutes.
“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.” – Plato
There are some songs that can take me on a journey to another time and place in my life. Sometimes it’s like ripping the bandaid off a wound, which can be difficult, but necessary to healing.
BUT, most of the time, hearing those songs releases an endorphin that makes everything around me melt away.
AND, often the music will spur spontaneous dancing.
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” – Friedrich Nietzche
Dancing around my kitchen while cooking is pretty commonplace for me, but to randomly start dancing at any given time of the day can be truly liberating.
You might even find me dancing to theme songs to TV shows sometimes. Don’t get my Son started on my whacky dance to “The Walking Dead” theme. It started as a joke, but now I do it just to spite my Son when he’s home from college.
My whole family loves to dance, but I never thought of my spontaneous dancing at home as something more than just that. Now however I’ve realized it’s a means to release anxiety and let the outside world disappear, even if just for those few minutes.
“Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances.” – Maya Angelou
With a song in my heart and a rhythm in my feet, my spirits are lifted and all is well with the world. Which means a lot right now.
Our lives will be forever changed by this pandemic. Some good, some bad, but it’s what we bring out of it that matters most. How we process what we’re feeling and how we handle the ever-changing rules to survive a trip outside our home are key to surviving without a negative impact on us.
By finding the things that bring us peace and joy, and allowing time to escape the mayhem around us, we will become stronger. And in so doing be able to find ways to adapt to our new circumstances in a healthy and happy way.
NOT letting this situation take us down, or should I say take us to the dark side is important. (Sorry watching way too many Star Wars movies with my Son lately.)
When this all started in March, I can honestly say I felt the pull of the dark side starting to swallow me up. Leaving the house felt like a supply run on “The Walking Dead” and my adrenaline was on overdrive.
Two months later, I’ve found myself in a much better place, and can attribute that to being honest with myself, facing the things that were triggering those emotions and allowing things like music to ease my soul and chase the negativity away.
“When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way.” – Wayne Dyer
SO, find that thing that soothes your soul. If you don’t know what that thing is, experiment. Give dancing with abandon through your house a try. If that doesn’t do it for you, keep searching, and in so doing I’ll bet you’ll find a new part of yourself or maybe one that was lost over the years.
Use this new world we’re all adapting to as a means to grow, not stagnate. Then, we will really come out of this situation stronger, and better than when it all started.
Most of all though, be kind to yourself.
AND REMEMBER –
“Every day brings a chance for you to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes, and dance.” – Oprah Winfrey
Life is not just the passing of time. Life is the collection of experiences and their intensity. – Jim Rohn
I’ve always found that having something to look forward to is the key to bringing joy into even the most mundane of any day.
Sometimes it can be as simple as watching the season finale of your favorite show or it can be an event, like a graduation party, or vacation, that blessed week of workless bliss.
It’s these things that enable me to keep moving forward. Whether large or small, they become markers on the pathway to the future. They mark a specific moment in the timeline of life.
BUT, since the world fell apart, none of this is happening. No parties honoring a birthday, anniversary or graduation. No meeting a friend for lunch or drinks. No hanging with family, who doesn’t live with you. No vacations.
Without these markers, the days, weeks and months just blend right into the next. It almost feels like we’re stuck in time and nothing is moving except the hands of the clock. Tick, tick, tick, slowly and methodically counting away the minutes.
Creative – Having the quality of something created rather than imitated: imaginative
Creativity can come in many forms, it doesn’t always have to be in the traditionally known forms of painting, drawing, sculpting, writing, composing, singing, dancing, or acting.
It’s also part of cooking, baking, knitting, crocheting, gardening, landscaping, architecture, photography, fashion design, jewelry design, graphic design, game design, interior design, furniture design, anything related to crafting, etc…
The list is endless when you actually think about it.
I’m sure you’re coming up with things to add to my list now. What I think is interesting though, is how many people think they aren’t creative, when in reality we all are, in our own ways.
Yes, there are some who excel in the classic creative pursuits and float to the top, but if you have a knack for coordinating family gatherings, organizing closets, decorating for parties, decorating your home, aiding in your kids school projects, throwing together an outfit, or even just keeping your home running smoothly, YOU ARE CREATIVE.
(Again, I’m sure you’re thinking of more things to add to my list.)