October 24, 1912 – March 3, 2013
Mabel was the second oldest of Sallie and David’s 5 girls, and only 18 months younger than their oldest daughter Kassie. Being the only two in the house for 8 years before Helen was born just reinforced the tight bond these two had not only growing up, but throughout their lives.
All the Dechert sisters were extremely close, but Mabel and Kassie had a special bond, formed not just by their placement in the line of birth, but because they were the only two who never graduated from high school. Not because of any fault of their own though.
They were teenagers by the time their youngest sisters Betty and Mickey were born, in 1926 and 1928, so it’s understandable they wold be expected to help with their younger sisters. Especially in that time period.
But they were needed more full-time because their mother Sallie was 42, and running a thriving side business selling homemade pies and noodles. Adding two little ones into the mix was a lot for her to handle even if she was a fireball of energy. Kassie and Mabel were the extra help that enable her to keep things running smoothly.
They had always helped around the house and even with the pie and noodle business, becoming Sallie’s delivery girls, as did all the girls when they became old enough, but now Kassie and Mabel were needed for an even greater task, tending to an infant and toddler.
Beyond this though, there was also another factor that came in to play.
The Dechert Sisters had a half-brother named Ralph, who was in his 20’s by this time, and a well establish business man in the Philadelphia area. He had built up a business selling Amish goods at a farmers market and was always in need of help. Not just with the market, but also with his own young daughter Jamie.
Who better than his siblings to solicit for help?
So, Ralph saw this situation as an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Telling Sallie and David “Girls don’t need an education.” He helped reinforce their decision to have Mabel and Kassie drop out of high school.
And, eliminated any guilt Sallie and David may have had about pulling the girls out of school.
Although this gave Mabel and Kassie the opportunity to explore the world beyond Myerstown, and earn some money, not graduating from high school would be a stigma that Mabel wouldn’t shake her whole life.
Even if this was a very common practice in that era, Mabel was embarrassed by this and very rarely ever spoke of it. She often said she came from nothing and had nothing of importance to say.
Which is oh so wrong, because life is our best teacher, and it is the things we learn as we face all that life can throw at us that teaches us far more than anything we could ever learn in high school.
AND, Mabel just so happened to live a full and long life, celebrating her 100 birthday the Fall before she passed in 2013. This in itself is an achievement far greater than graduating from high school. It’s a sign of a life well lived and most definitely filled with lessons learned.
Lessons worth sharing with her loved ones, which Mabel most certainly did, especially her grandchildren. It is her sage words that they still recall with fond memories and have heeded on many occasions.
Some of those sound words of advice were:
“Stay away from the bums.”
“If he/she doesn’t treat you right, give them the shoe.”
“You must rise above it.”
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
“Drink a glass of water in the morning to get the bowels going.”
“If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much.”
While cleaning up in the kitchen “Lick the spoon.”
Some of these sage words were garnered from hardships Mabel herself faced. She learned early on how important it was to stand up for yourself and to not let anyone treat you badly.
Plus, how critical it was to be proud of your heritage regardless of what others thought. Mabel took a lot of ribbing for her PA German accent, but she never let it hold her back from living her life to the fullest.
Her other words of advice were just a way of life learned growing up in a humble, simple and faith-filled household. From an early age Mabel learned you had to work hard for the things you want, and never look for anything to be handed to you.
It was this lesson that inspired Mabel to go to beauty school to learn to become a hairdresser in her 40’s. Even though she was married with children, she no longer wanted to ask her husband for money if she wanted or needed something for herself. Nor did she want to rely on him for transportation. She wanted a car of her own. She wanted to be self-sufficient.
Needless to say, Mabel was fiercely independent, and wanted to live her life on her terms.
This of course was something other woman in her neighborhood couldn’t understand. They were living the June Clever life, but she wanted more. Not that she didn’t love being a wife, mother and housekeeper. Her family was the most important thing to her, but she knew she needed her independence too.
As a matter of fact, when she bought her first car, she was furious the registration was put in her husband’s name. It was her car, not his, why would they do that?
As her granddaughter Aria stated, “She was a feminist before her time in her own Mabel Mae Dechert way.”
And indeed she was. Raising a family and having a career was not something you saw many women do in the 50’s, but that didn’t stop Mabel. She moved forward and never looked back. Getting a job as a hairdresser at Lit Brothers Department Store where she worked until her retirement in 1974 at the age of 62.
Mabel loved being a hairdresser and took her career very seriously, carrying her scissors with her wherever she went. Even at family gatherings she would offer haircuts, especially to anyone with long hair.
As a fan of short hair she couldn’t resist. As a matter of fact both her and Kassie got in trouble with their Mother and Grandmother for cutting their hair short when they were young.
As a woman with boundless energy, it’s not a surprise Mabel was able to accomplish being a wife, mother and career woman. She was often called the “Energizer Bunny” because she was always one step ahead and constantly on the move. Even well into her senior years she could run circles around people younger than her.
Mabel was a natural beauty with wavy, short red hair and beautiful, flawless, ivory skin. She never washed her face with anything but water, and the only make-up she wore was eyebrow pencil. There’s even a story that in her senior years, when driving by the funeral home, she insisted on stopping in to drop off her eyebrow pencil to insure they had the right color.
One can only imagine that it was her stunning looks that caught the eye of her husband Lloyd Swanger. Although we aren’t sure about the story behind their meeting, it is believed they both worked for the same hosiery company, Nolde & Horst Hosiery Company in Womelsdorf, PA and once Lloyd spotted Mabel the writing was on the wall.
Mabel and Lloyd were married on August 25, 1935 at her parent’s house in Myerstown. They had a small civil ceremony followed by an intimate reception with family and close friends.
In 1943 Lloyd was drafted into the Navy and served aboard the USS Tuscaloosa from May 19, 1943 to November 25, 1945.
Mabel and Lloyd held off starting a family until September of 1946 when their first child, David, was born. Followed by Sallie, their second child, in September of 1948. Yes, Mabel named her children after her parents. Just another sign of how tight knit the Dechert family was.
Mabel and Lloyd lived in Myerstown until 1951, when they moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia in search of a better employment. At this time, David was 5 and Sallie was 3.
Sometime in the 60’s they purchased a cabin in Deer Lake, PA on a beautiful wooded lot with a little stream running through it. This place became not only their escape from the city, but a place for the large extended family to gather every Summer.
AND, these gatherings became legendary.
Grilling duties were left in the hands of all the Sisters husbands who were always having a few beers and playing cards while they performed the task. Needless to say, some of the food ended up burned, in particular the chicken. After awhile though, this was just expected.
The sisters were so busy getting caught up and preparing the rest of the food they were oblivious to what their men were up to and that was just fine.
All the kids would go off on adventures. The cabin was near the Pollack Mink Farm and Muhammed Ali’s Training Camp, so there was always an excursion on foot to see if they could spot any minks or Ali.
PLUS, there was a huge park and playground along the lake, so after the excursion the kids would head to the park to hangout and play till the food was ready.
In addition, even though the cabin had running water and a real toilet in it, there was an old outhouse, which for the kids, in the dark, was a scary place to venture to. Needless the say the boys did all they could to scare the girls. All in good fun of course.
Even when the kids hit their teens, these adventures didn’t loose their charm. Being able to hang out with all the cousins was the best thing in the world.
Even as adults the cousins are the same way. We wish we had more opportunities to be together. The tight bond all of our mother’s shared is most definitely part of the gene pool. Family means everything to all of us.
Falling in love with the Deer Lake area, Mabel and Lloyd decided to build a home on the lot next to the cabin when they retired in 1974. And even though the lot was smaller, they continued to host the annual family gatherings.
Mabel absolutely loved having all the family together. She was in her element. She would scurry between the kitchen and the guests, dabbing her brow with a hanky she had tucked under her bra strap. Beaming with love seeing all of her extended family gathered together.
And these Summer gatherings would not be complete without Mabel’s famous fruit salad and cabbage slaw. Both extremely refreshing treats on a warm Summer day.
Mabel was noted for spending a lot of time in the kitchen when she had family visiting, but this is what brought her joy. She always made sure she had her children and grandchildren’s favorites on hand, like mashed potatoes, applesauce and corn & broccoli with brown butter.
Butter being a critical ingredient in everything she made. As it’s been noted, she put butter in or on everything she made. Her granddaughter Stacie even noted that she got dubbed the “Butter Grandma” by some her friends.
She even made sure her children’s spouses had their favorite foods. In particular making sure there was a basket of bread when Sallie’s family was visiting because Sallie’s husband Fred was Italian, and they always had bread with their meals.
Keeping busy was part of Mabel’s DNA. Even when her children or grandchildren would finally get her to sit down when they would visit, it would not be long before she’d be up and scurrying back to the kitchen getting a jump on clean up.
AND, when she wasn’t in the kitchen cooking for her loved ones, she’d be busy with housework. She kept a very clean and tidy home and was very proud of this. She even had her seasonal cleaning she did ritually like taking down curtains to be washed, and cleaning inside cabinets. Climbing up on stepladders well into her senior years.
Nothing was going to slow Mabel down. Determination ran through her bloodstream from an early age.
Being an early bird certainly helped. She was generally up before sunrise to get a jump on any tasks she had planned for the day. There’s even a story about a time her sister Betty and her husband Izzy were visiting and Izzy got up to use the bathroom around 6AM. Mabel was already up bustling around the kitchen, when she caught sight of Izzy, she said ‘Now how do you like your eggs?”
Needless to say, Izzy felt compelled to stay up and have breakfast.
Mabel’s love for her sisters was endless. Just speaking about them brought a smile to her face and joy in her heart. Getting together with her sisters meant the world to her, and she so looked forward to their time to visit and share a beer together.
AND, not just any beer, a “Sister Beer.”
The feeling was mutual with the Dechert Girls. As Lloyd often told Mabel “There’s nobody like your sisters.”
No matter what their age, they always looked out for each other. Being a generous, and kind-hearted soul, Mabel would often slip Helen, who was widowed at a young age, some cash at family gatherings, often noting, “Don’t tell Lloyd.” She felt there was no need to let him know, after all Helen was her sister, and it was her money.
The level of kindness and compassion all the Dechert Girls had not just for each other, but for everyone, was immeasurable.
Sometime in the early 80’s, Mabel and Lloyd moved back to the Myerstown area. By this time they were in their early 70’s and living in a more rural area like Deer Lake wasn’t the best idea, plus, it meant Mabel could be closer to her sisters.
By this time, both their children were married with families of their own.
David had married Ruth Parkhill in 1970 and had a daughter Kim in 1973, and son Michael in 1976.
To say Mabel and Lloyd were thrilled to become grandparents is an understatement. Being the first grandchild, Kim was like royalty in their eyes. She was treated like a Princess. Not that they didn’t love and adore all their grandchildren, it’s just being the first one that brought perks with it.
Sallie married Fred Galletti in 1977, and had three daughters, Aria in 1979, Stacie in 1981 and Amanda, who was named after Mabel’s sister’s Kassie, who’s middle name was Amanda, in 1986.
Sallie and her family lived in Florida for a while, and during this time if they weren’t visiting Mabel and Lloyd, Mabel and Lloyd would visit them.
Being able to spend time with her grandchildren meant the world to Mabel.
As a matter of fact, when Aria and Stacie were little, Sallie got pneumonia and couldn’t care for the girls, so Aria went to be with Fred’s Mother and Stacie stayed with Mabel. Mabel would take her to visit Kassie and the three of them would just hang out. Even well into her 90’s Mabel would remember fondly the time Stacie stayed with her.
Mabel was not only blessed with 5 grandchildren, but also 5 great grandchildren. David’s daughter Kim has 3 children, Jessica born in 2000, Evan in 2004, and Mia in 2012. And, Sallie’s daughter Stacie has 2 children, Huck born in 2009 and Django in 2011.
It has been well documented that Mabel had quite the “sweet tooth.” She had a candy addiction unrivaled by anyone and one she did not deny.
As a testament to her faith though, she would religiously give up candy for lent. Never once bending. Talk about strong will and commitment.
In her senior years, candy was often the gift of choice, and once the wrapping was off, Mabel would crack open the box so she could sample her tasty treat. AND, as was her nature, she would always be sure to share.
When her grandchildren were little they always wondered which one of their teeth was their sweet tooth, or if “sweet tooth” meant Mabel had one tooth that was black and rotted through. It wasn’t until they were older that they realized it meant she had a massive love of candy.
One of the best stories regarding Mabel’s “sweet tooth” came in her senior years when she was living with Sallie. After being gone all day, Sallie asked Mabel if she had breakfast, Mabel’s response was “Of course, candy.” and when asked about lunch, Mabel’s response was the same.
Mabel would often note “It had a moreish taste.” meaning it’s so good you want to eat more. Her sister Helen also used that expression and stated it came from her mother Sallie. Whether this is true I’m not sure, but it’s more than a coincidence that two of the Dechert girls used this same expression, especially in reference to sweets.
After Lloyd passed in 2000, Mabel lived by herself in their home, with David and Sallie checking in on her regularly. It wasn’t until she started to show signs of having vision problems that she moved in with Sallie, who had lost her husband in 1999.
Setting Mabel up with all new physicians, Sallie found out Mabel had macular degeneration and was considered legally blind, this combined with her failing hearing presented it’s challenges, but having her Mom with her meant the world to Sallie.
AND, Sallie’s daughters loved the opportunity to get to know their grandmother even better, and they cherished the time they had with her. Often recalling with great love some of the silly things she said because she didn’t hear well.
One incident was when the girls were leaving and they said, “See you next Tuesday.” Mabel turned around and yelled ‘What’d ya say about the cheese?”
This expression is still used between Sallie’s girls when they miss what the other one said.
Hearing issues were definitely in the family. Not only did one grandfather suffer with hearing issues, but also both Helen and Mickey ended up very reluctantly wearing hearing aids.
To say the Dechert Girls were a bit stubborn at times is an understatement.
One of the other things the sisters had in common was they loved to dance. At family gatherings the sister’s would often hit the dance floor as a group.
Polka’s were Mabel’s favorite and at her granddaughter Aria’s wedding in 2007, when she was 95, she and Helen, who was 87, kicked up their heels to the Polka of her choice.
To say they were the hit of the reception is an understatement.
It didn’t need to be a big party to get Mabel up on her feet though. Sallie’s girls vividly recall a snowed-in Christmas when Mabel was living with Sallie and they all hung out in Pj’s listening to music and dancing. This time though it was Elvis music that got Mabel up on her feet dancing with Aria.
In addition, the Dechert Girls all had their own unique style, and Mabel was noted for her awesome sweaters, cool aprons and love of the colors kelly green and purple. Green in particular was not just for her fashion; it often came into play in the décor´ of her homes and the color of her cars.
Mabel’s style was certainly a reflection of her spunky, go-getter personality, which even into her very senior years was very present. BUT, behind this spunky, fireball of a woman was a resilient spirit, who despite hardships, always had a smile on her face, never complaining or speaking negatively, and most definitely never raising her voice.
As her granddaughter Aria has stated, “ She didn’t know how great she was, but we do.”
Please check back next month when I will feature Elizabeth “Betty” Foreman Kobletz Kutz, the fourth of the Dechert Girls.
© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2020. All rights reserved.
Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2020. All rights reserved.
Many thanks to my by brother-in-law Terry Stout for all his help with scanning of photos.