The Dechert Sisters Legacy – A Hometown Visit

In conjunction with the posts I wrote about my Mother, Helen Grace Dechert Danko, and her amazing Sisters; Kassie, Mabel, Betty and Mickey, some of my Cousins and I decided to venture to the Dechert Sisters hometown, Myerstown, PA and explore a few of the landmarks that played a big part in their lives, and ours.

https://www.myerstownpa.org/index.php

This trip was very much a walk down memory lane for us because Mickey and Kassie both remained in Myerstown, and there were many extended family gatherings either at one of their homes or the local American Legion were both Mickey and Kassie’s husbands were members and Mickey and Kassie helped out. 

PLUS, many of us Cousins spent extended time at Mickey’s home, so it was like a second home for us.

Those of us on this excursion were 2 of Helen’s Daughters, Myself and my Sister Pam; one of Mickey’s Daughters, Kathy; Mabel’s Daughter Sallie; and Betty’s Daughter Linda and her Daughter Lori, Betty’s Granddaughter.

The designated meeting spot was the Myerstown Playground were we all had many great adventures, particularly in the Summer hanging out at the pool, going to pool parties in the evening or Playground activities like arts and crafts during the day. This landmark was very much for us, the Cousins, because this was our hangout when we would be visiting Mickey’s house. For Kathy the playground held even more memories because Myerstown is also her hometown.

From the Playground we ventured to Mickey’s home, which was just a few blocks away. Driving down Maple Street was like a flashback to all the times we visited Mickey’s home. I could see the layout of the interior of the home and the smells of Mickey’s phenomenal cooking and baking wafting through the rooms. My heart was overflowing with excitement and love just driving by. Mickey welcomed everyone with a great big hug and kiss, and you instantly felt like you were at home, even though it wasn’t your home. 

Our next stop was one of legends. I had heard many a story from my older siblings about this Dechert Sister landmark, but it was no longer in use by the time I was old enough to appreciate it. So I was excited to see this spot who’s legendary stories danced through my head as a kid.

This spot of legend was the location of Kassie and her husband Krilly’s store with a small apartment above it. In addition to the stories my older Sisters Carolann and Georgene had told; Kathy, Sallie, Linda and Pam all had wonderful stories to tell of their time at Kassie and Krilly’s store, and the family picnics in the back yard.

They talked about being able to fill a bag with penny candy and pick a soda from the cooler, and how neat it was to be able to have that much freedom as a kid. Kassie and Krilly had no children of their own, so all their Nieces and Nephews filled that void, and to say they spoiled us all is an understatement.

En route to our next destination, we passed the house Mabel and her husband Lloyd lived with their 2 children David and Sallie. They were only in this house for a few years before moving to the Philadelphia area when Sallie was three years old, but as we passed Sallie noted little details about the house that she remembered, to include a smaller cottage style house in the backyard.

Which is still there, but I was unable to get a picture of because there was a Mennonite Woman outside hanging laundry and I didn’t think she would have appreciated that. We suspected she may be the one living in the smaller house out back, but that was just a guess.

One little tidbit to add here is the fact that this house was across the street from Smith Candies, a landmark in Myerstown that some how escaped me growing up. BUT, that’s probably because all the Aunts always had quite the stash of candy, which I now know why.

Before my Sister Pam and I headed home, we stopped by the retail store and it was a candy lover’s paradise. Every candy you could conceive of from the old days to today was available for your sweet tooth craving. You could purchase in bulk or just a small sampling. My Sister and I settled for a small sampling. Can’t do candy in bulk any more.

Next up on the agenda was the house the Dechert Sisters grew up in. I was excited to scout this one out because I do recall my Mother commenting when we would pass it while we were in town visiting, but I was a kid and it had no significance to me then. Now it most certainly did.

None of us that were on the trip had ever been in this house. I believe my 2 oldest Sisters Carolann and Georgene may be the only offspring that may have actually been in the house when our parents and grandparents actually still lived there. Even they were very young, but their memories painted a wonderful picture of what the inside was like.

“The home they lived in was a classic old German style red brick house that only had heat in the basement. It would seep up through the grates in the floor to the main floor of the house, leaving the second floor quite cold, especially in the winter. It would take multiple quilts just to keep warm.”

“One of my older Sisters has fond memories of coming downstairs from the cold bedroom into the warm farmhouse style kitchen with the smell of coffee and fresh baked goods in the oven.”

Below is the link to the full post about the Dechert Sisters Parents, which has more details about the Dechert Sisters family roots.

Based on it’s appearances now though, it’s present owners have not quite given it the love Sallie and David Dechert did. We suspect it may now be apartments, which can explain that.

We knew this was the right house though, because it was across the street from the Seminary which used to be the State Police Barracks which all the Sisters would mention when telling stories about the trauma they experienced when having to take the chamber bucket from the house to the outhouse while the Troopers were out doing their morning drills. They were all mortified by this act, and seeing how close the house is, it’s completely understandable.

Note, the house they grew up in did not have a bathroom, thus the chamber bucket.

State Police Barracks – back in the day

Another spot we could not miss was the Bahney House, a landmark in town that is still an active business. Back in the Sisters days it was a bar and restaurant that their Father frequented, and where Mickey honed her amazing cooking skills. The building has certainly gone through renovations, to include adding solar panels on the roof.

Bahney House – back in the day

Plus the building also houses a hair salon and laundry mat, but at it’s core, is still the bar and restaurant. It was still early in the day when we were there, so we didn’t venture inside, but seeing the outside and the care the owners have taken in the upkeep of the building was more than enough for us.

Another destination that was a must to stop by was the infamous American Legion where many major events were held. From birthday parties to wedding receptions, this was the go to place. From an early age I can remember hanging out in the Bingo Hall when one of the Uncles was calling the numbers, or celebrating with family at private parties. It’s too bad poor management closed the place down years ago; otherwise we most certainly would have gone in just to see if the inside had changed.

This was the side entrance to the Bingo Hall

We had one more stop before heading outside of town to our final destination, and that place of many sweet memories was Kassie and Krilly’s home in the Lynncrest development.

Kassie and Krilly loved to entertain, and once they got this house they could really put on a spread. Hosting a huge Summer cookout for the entire family and their annual Easter gathering at which they held an Easter Egg Hunt for the kids and had baskets made up for each Niece and Nephew. 

Kassie and Krilly’s home when they first moved in

Although there have been some changes made to the house, and the neighborhood is more developed than back in the “Old Days” it didn’t take away from the memories that came flooding through my mind when we pulled up in front of the house. 

From Myerstown we headed into Lebanon, a short 15-minute drive, to a little restaurant called The Gin Mill. This is the place all the Sisters would meet after they were all grown and married. This became their watering hole for their annual “Sister Beer.” As their children aged, many of them would join them on this excursion, to include myself at least once.

BUT, nothing beats the days when it was just the Sisters. As part of our journey this day I wanted to recreate the one photo we have of the Sisters sitting at the bar having their beverage. And although the interior of the building has been updated, it didn’t take away from the history we wanted so much to recreate.

The Dechert Sisters at The Gin Mill enjoying their “Sister Beer” –
Betty, Mabel, Mickey, Helen and Kassie
The Next Generation Recreation –
Kathy (Mickey’s Daughter), Sallie (Mabel’s Daughter), Mariann and Pam (Helen’s Daughters), Linda (Betty’s Daughter) and Lori (Betty’s Granddaughter)

The 6 of us spent close to 3 hours lingering over our lunch reminiscing and getting caught up. I can only imagine this was what it was like when the Sisters gathered at this very spot. We had the most wonderful time and hope to make just getting together a more regular thing, just like our Mom’s did. 

We’d love to one day track down the Merkey homestead which was the Dechert Sister’s Mother’s Farm. The actual barn was supposed to be moved to the PA German Heritage Center at Kutztown University, but we don’t know if or when this was done yet.

http://www2.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=228187

http://www2.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=219580

We had hoped to find the Merkey home in Myerstown where their Grandfather had a bike shop, but based on the address we had the home is long gone and is a Senior Home now. 

At least the rest of the town was still like walking back in time. There’s something to be said for leaving things untouched for posterity.

Speaking of posterity, if you have not read all the posts on the Dechert Sisters, below is a link for my wrap up post that has links to their individual stories.

History transcribed for all the generations.

© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

Photos from my personal collection

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#MomMemoir

#TheDecehertSistersLegacy

#EndofanEra

#SallieandDavidDechert

#Kathryn”Kassie”AmandaDechertKrill

#MabelMaeDechertSwanger 

#HelenGraceDechertDanko

#Elizabeth“Betty”MaryDechertKoblentzKutz 

#Mildred“Mickey”AliceDechertBortz 

#Family

The Dechert Sisters Legacy – SUMMARY

Mickey, Betty, Helen, Mabel, Kassie

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. 

Mickey, Betty, Helen, Mabel, Kassie

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. 

Mickey, Kassie, Helen, Mabel, Betty

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.

Kassie, Helen, Betty – front row; Mabel, Ralph (step-brother), Mickey – back row

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.

Mickey, Betty Helen, Mabel, Kassie

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

Kassie & Mabel
Helen
Mickey & Betty

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.

Kassie with her nieces & nephews
Mabel with her children David & Sallie
Mabel’s grandchildren: Amanda, Kim, Stacie, Mike & Aria
Mabel’s great grandchildren: Huck, Evan, Jessica and great nephew Roy
Mabel’s granddaughter Stacie with her husband Micah and their son Django
Mabel’s granddaughter Kim and her daughter Mia
Helen with her children Carolann, Georgene, Pam, Fran, Mariann and Bill, grandchildren Dustin, Ethan, Dylan, Billy and Roy, and great grandchild Ian
Betty with her daughter Linda, granddaughters Lori and Jenn, and great grandchild Ashley
Mickey with children Judy, Kathy, Mike and Jim, her husband Forrest and sister Kassie
Mickey with her son’s Jim and Mike and their family’s, Joanne Jim’s wife, Valerie Mike’s wife and Mike’s children Kellan and Alex, and Jim’s daughter Jaimie
Mickey with her granddaughter Jenna and great granddaughter Merritt
The Dechert Sisters with their parents David & Sallie – where the Legacy of Love started

© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

#WakingtheWoman
#MomMemoir
#DechertSisters
#KathrynAmandaDechertKrill
#MabelMaeDechertSwanger
#HelenGraceDechertDanko
#BettyDechertKoplentzKutz
#MickeyDechertBortz
#FamilyLegacy
#EndOfEra

The Dechert Sisters Legacy – Mildred “Mickey” Alice Dechert Bortz

March 23, 1928 – July 10, 2020

Mildred, better known as “Mickey” was the 5th and youngest daughter of Sallie and David Dechert, but in no way was she ever really the “baby” of the family other than in age.

By the time she was an adult, Mickey’s home became the central meeting point for all the sisters and their families.

AND, she sort of became the keeper of all that was going on within the extended family. She was like the central switchboard operator, with all lines of communication going through her.

I’m thinking some of this was because Mickey, by choice, stayed in Myerstown, while all the other sisters ventured out beyond their little hometown, SO, by default, she became the center of the family without even realizing it.

BUT, there were also the unique relationships Mickey forged with each one of her sisters. 

Mickey, Betty, Helen, Mabel and Kassie

All the sisters were very tight and absolutely loved spending time together, but because there was such a large gap in age between Mickey and her older sisters Kassie and Mabel, the dynamics between them was different than with she and Betty, who was just two years older.

Kassie and Mabel were teenagers by the time Mickey and Betty were born and actually helped to raise the youngest Dechert girls, but in no way did they ever resent this though. As a matter, by the time Mickey and Betty were school age, both Kassie and Mabel were married, and along with their husbands, would often take the girls places, and even buy them little gifts. 

SO, instead of being “older” sisters who dominated their younger siblings, they were Mickey and Betty’s equal, which you don’t often find between younger and older siblings with a large age gap. And this bond of equality just tightened, as they got older. 

Mickey, Betty, Helen, Mabel and Kassie at Mickey’s daughter Kathy’s wedding 1991

Now Helen was only 6 when Mickey was born, which is not as much of a gap, but enough of one that allowed Helen to also step in to help with her younger sisters whenever she was called upon. But in no way did that impact the dynamics between Helen and her younger siblings. She too felt like their equal, not an older sibling who could boss them around.

As a matter of fact, Mickey and Helen and their families became extremely close over the years, in part because of the closeness in age between their children, but even more so because they had very similar personalities.

Mickey and Helen in their senior years

Plus they both inherited their Mother Sallie’s baking gene carrying on the traditional Pennsylvania German treats they grew up on.

Now Mickey and Betty, being the youngest, were tight as tight could be. As a matter of fact, it was Betty who had a hand in Mickey meeting her husband Forrest.

Mickey and Betty as kids

As the story goes, Mickey had been dating a young man who turned out to be not the best match for her, so they split up. After this adventure Mickey, who would have been in her early 20’s, was not in any hurry to start dating again. Betty however disagreed, and being the charmer that she was, talked Mickey into joining her and her husband Bob to a dance at a local social club. 

Forrest, who was chatting with a friend when the threesome arrived, spotted Mickey right away. When his friend commented about the red head who just arrived, Forrest commented, not the red head, the blonde.

For Forrest It was love at first sight, and he wasn’t going let that blonde leave without finding out who she was. 

Finding a table near Mickey, Betty and Bob, Forrest was able to keep tabs on Mickey and when the time was right asked her to dance. Mickey was very reluctant at first, but eventually gave in, and upon doing so Forrest told her every dance that night was his.

As the evening was drawing to a close, Forrest overheard Mickey, Betty and Bob discussing going to a diner for breakfast. Not one to back down, Forrest showed up at the diner, and before you knew it he was sitting with the three of them.

And that pretty much sealed the relationship.

Forrest, who lived outside of Myerstown, would come into town to visit Mickey as often as possible. The two started dating seriously and by early 1951 the two were married, and their first child, Jimmy (Jim), was born in October.

After WW2, Forrest had taken advantage of the college incentive available and headed to Kutztown University where he got a degree in art education. When he met Mickey he was teaching at a high school in Reading, but when things got serious between them he took a job as a serviceman for Metropolitan Edison Electric Co.

At one point, he even had an offer to work on TV sets in New York City, but Mickey had no interest in leaving Myerstown, so without giving it a second thought, Forrest found work that was more suitable to support a wife and family.

Having an outgoing personality paid off in the promotion department for Forrest, who by 1956 was a “right of way” agent for MetEd, which helped support, their growing family.

In 1957, their second child Kathy Rose was born, with Judy Lynn soon after in 1960, and their youngest, Mike, in 1965.

Mickey and Jimmy
Mickey and Jim
Mickey, Kathy and Judy
Mickey and Mike

Mickey loved being a mother. She was a natural and it was her greatest joy, which is why the loss of a child, Johnny, in 1958, was beyond devastating for her. He had only lived for one day, which about destroyed Mickey.

Thank goodness she had her sisters to support her through this crushing loss. Especially Kassie, who stepped in to help with Kathy. In so doing it allowed Mickey the time she needed to heal and figure out how to move forward.

As it turns out, Mickey’s dedication and devotion to her children and family would be her saving grace. Her world revolved around them and it showed in the tender loving care she put into everything, from her cooking, baking, housekeeping and selfless support of everyone in her life, not just her family.

Whenever anyone needed help Mickey was there. Early on she and Forrest took in her parents David and Sallie when David become ill, and Sallie lived with Mickey and her family until she passed in 1972. Sallie was senile late in her life, so there were some interesting days to say the least, but through it all Mickey was always upbeat and had a big smile on her face.

The bond between Sallie and Mickey was extremely tight, and this was evident in the story of Sallie’s passing.

At the end of her life Sallie was in a coma at the hospital. With nothing more they could do, the doctors told Mickey it was best to bring her home, and just make her comfortable till her time came. Upon bringing Sallie into the house, she opened her eyes, grabbed Mickey’s arm and said “Mickey it’s so nice to be home.”

Sallie passed a few days later and although the loss was very painful for Mickey, she knew by Sallie’s last words she had done right by her Mother.

It wasn’t just her parents that lived with Mickey and her family. Her sister Betty stayed with them after her divorce from Bob until she could reestablish herself. And her sister Kassie and her husband Krilly stayed with them while they built their home.

Kassie, Sallie holding Judy, Betty, Mickey, Jimmy and Kathy

For Mickey and Forrest, it was always the more the merrier. Forrest was the Master of Ceremonies and Mickey the gracious host.

Family was the most important thing to Mickey, and having the family together, whether it be just her immediate family or the extended family, brought her pure happiness.

Mickey, Judy, Kassie, Forrest – Standing: Kathy Mike and Jim

Along with these gatherings came massive amounts of food, all of which Mickey was thrilled to prepare. She was in her element in the kitchen. She loved to cook and bake, and boy was she good at it. Every dish was made from scratch, and everything was fantastic. 

Mickey had her specialties, and to this day no one has ever matched them.

In the baking department it was treats like her lemon sponge/meringue pie, shoo fly pie (her pie crust was phenomenal), chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, snowball cookies, snicker doodles, and sand tarts.

AND, can’t forget her spectacular baked beans (from scratch) with lots of bacon, homemade Mac and Cheese, fried chicken, spaghetti sauce and juicy roast beef.

As a matter of fact, her daughter Kathy is in the process of putting together a cookbook for the family, so all her recipes can be passed down from generation to generation. Her biggest problem though is translating “a pinch of this,” or “some of that to taste.”

Some of Mickey’s secrets were inherited from her Mother Sallie, but a few of them she learned while working at the Bahney House, a local restaurant. Although she was a waitress, the chef and Mickey became good friends and she often helped him in the kitchen. This just helped to fuel her love of cooking.

The Bahney House

Come the holidays, Mickey made a feast fit for King, with quantities large enough to feed an army. For example, her Thanksgiving meal would include: turkey and gravy, candied sweet potatoes, PA Dutch style potato filling, dried & yellow corn, broccoli with brown butter, pepper cabbage, cranberry sauce, warm rolls, fruit salad, and for dessert either pumpkin, mincemeat or apple pie.

AND, don’t think you’d get away from the table without having seconds. Mickey would be sure to stop you and say “You haven’t had a nauthin.” Even though you were stuffed and could barely move.

When she and Forrest won a kitchen makeover, she was beyond excited. This was sometime in the 60’s when Jimmy was in high school and Mike, the youngest child, was just a baby, so the timing was perfect. It allowed them to open up the kitchen from two rooms to one large room, which was ideal for all the family gatherings.

Mickey loved to entertain and have a good time. When she and Forrest were dating they often had Betty and Bob over for high balls. And early on she established New Years Eve as her holiday to have her sisters and their husbands over to celebrate and ring in the New Year.

Betty, Izzy, Mabel, Kassie, Mickey, Lloyd (back to camera)

She and Forrest also socialized outside their home as often as they could, even winning a jitterbug contest at some point.

They were also both very active with the American Legion and VFW, helping Kassie and her husband Krilly run bingo and other events. Even letting Kathy and one her friends help recall the numbers.

Before Helen lost her husband Bill, Mickey and Forest would often visit them in the Lehigh Valley and the four of them would go to the Steel Club, where Bill was a member.

Mickey and Helen’s families were always close; often visiting each other’s homes for holidays and summer picnics, but this loss brought them even closer.

Even before Bill’s passing, Mickey would often have Helen’s children visit and stay for a weekend or even a week by themselves. This gave Helen a little time to regroup, and the kids a change of scenery. With 6 children, this was very helpful for both Helen and her kids.

When Helen’s two oldest girls, Carolann and Georgene, were in their early teens, they recall fondly visits with Mickey when they would attend dances at the local park. This was when Mickey’s oldest daughter Kathy was only 2, so it was a real treat for Mickey to watch the girls primp before the dance, and she could hardly wait to hear stories when they got home.

Helen’s two youngest, Mariann and Bill, both cherish their memories of their summer visits to Mickey’s. Being close in age to Mickey’s two youngest, Judy and Mike, they had a buddy for the week, which they loved.

The week would start off with a visit to Hershey Park, followed by a week of swimming at the local pool and attending evening events at the community park. And you can’t forget those amazing half dollar pancakes for breakfast!

Hershey Park trip, sometime in the 70’s – Mickey and Helen on the bench, Judy and Mariann standing

Mickey treated Helen’s children like her own, and she was like a second Mom for them. And this didn’t change as the children got older and had children themselves. When Mickey would visit, she always came with a “sister gift” and a little treat for Helen’s grandkids too.

As a matter of fact, Mickey was like this with all her nieces and nephews. Whenever they visited, no matter what age, she made them feel right at home and welcomed them with a huge hug and a special treat.

Mickey was a “small town girl” who liked to keep things simple, and wasn’t big on change. Which is why she could even be stubborn (a PA German thing) about some things. Like not wanting to fly, or driving the new-fangled automatic cars. Believe it or not she preferred driving a three speed on the column with manual steering and brakes.

Some may consider this a negative trait, but not for Mickey, it was actually part of her charm. There was no false pretense with her. Mickey’s heart was pure and everything she said and did was a reflection of this.

She believed strongly that everyone should be treated equally and the only thing that would get her dander up was seeing someone being bullied or treated unfairly. This all goes back to how she and her family were treated at times because they were poor.

Mickey often recalled how people would pass them by on their way to church and never even considered to offer them a ride. This type of thing stuck with Mickey and she vowed to not be like that.

Mickey as a child

AND, she most certainly stuck by that creed. Mickey was one of the kindest women on the face of the earth. 

When a neighbor had surgery, she cooked and cleaned for them until they were back on their feet. At Christmas, she would always invite the milk delivery man in for cookies and coffee and he loved her cookies so much he asked her to bake a cake for he and his wife’s wedding anniversary. Of course Mickey obliged, asking nothing in return.

One of the most touching stories though is when Mickey’s sister Helen’s husband died in October of 1964. Mickey just couldn’t bear to see Helen have to face the holidays alone and went out of her way to prepare the most amazing Thanksgiving meal for Helen and her children.

For many years after that, Mickey continued to host Helen and her children for Thanksgiving. A tradition both families embraced whole-heartedly.

To say Mickey was a happy homemaker, OR, better yet, a “Domestic Goddess” is an understatement. She actually enjoyed doing housework, even ironing, and took great pride in the cleanliness of her home.

Mickey was up early every day, tending to her housework, and seeing that everyone had a hot breakfast, no matter what time they got up. Getting a healthy start to the day was a priority to her. 

Some how, some way, Mickey got it all done, and she still took a break to watch her Soap Opera during the week. This was her one guilty pleasure, and she most certainly earned it.

OR, if a neighbor stopped by, she always had a pot of coffee on and would pause to chat and get caught up.

There is one story of a time when Mickey got walking pneumonia, and was so exhausted she actually had to spend time just laying around. Her Mother Sallie, who was living with her, actually asked her why she was laying around so much.

It’s pretty evident that was not the norm and where Mickey got her intense work ethic came from. The apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree.

How she accomplished what she did when there were times she had an endless stream of children under foot, her own, friends of her children, or nieces or nephews, is a miracle.

BUT she did and with a bright big dazzling smile too.

Mickey always seemed to just roll with things, and never seemed to be flustered by things, but that’s not to say she didn’t worry about her loved ones. As a matter of fact, Jimmy, her oldest son, said her middle name was more like “Anxiety,” not Alice. Especially when he joined the Air Force and became a fighter pilot.

Worrying though is just part of being a Mom, as well as being a protector, which was a hat Mickey wore regularly with her children. Protecting them from the wrath of Forrest if they misbehaved.

Not to say Forrest was mean, he was tough, and didn’t believe anyone should get a free ride. If the kids had problems with homework he would review their work, and point out where the problem is, but they had to fix it. He wasn’t going to just step in and fix it.

And forget asking him how to spell a word or what it meant, he’d point you in the direction of the dictionary and leave it at that. This coming from a man who did cross word puzzles in pen.

Being parents was one of Mickey and Forrest’s greatest joys, only matched by becoming grandparents. Being grandparents opened the door for a whole new level of loving, and they cherished every minute they had with their grandchildren.

Their oldest son Jim had married his sweetheart Jo Ann in September of 1978, and their first child Jamie was born in September of 1982, with their second, Jenna, following in November of 1986.

Mickey with Jamie
Mickey with Jenna
Mickey with Jenna

Being the only grandchildren until 1997 when Mike’s son Kellan was born and his daughter Alex in 2000, gave Jamie and Jenna quite a few years to have Grandma Mickey all to themselves. One of the best parts of this time was when Mickey would come to Virginia to babysit the girls while Jim and JoAnn went on their “every five year” anniversary jaunts.

AND, just like when her children were young, would end up with a houseful of Jamie’s friends. The best part was when the friends would show up after school before Jamie even got home, and would make themselves right at home. Not sure what Mickey was thinking when a stream of teenage girls came knocking, would say “hi” and stroll right in.

Jenna and Mickey – Jenna’s graduation from James Madison Universtiy
Jaime, Mickey and Jenna

Although Mickey didn’t get to spend as much time with Mike’s children Kellan and Alex because Mike and his wife Valerie had settled in the Pacific Northwest, that just made their time together even more extra-special.

Alex and Kellan
Alex and Mickey
Sitting Valerie, Alex and Jaimie – Standing JoAnn, Mike, Kellan, Mickey and Jim

Mickey was also blessed with one great-grandchild. Her granddaughter Jenna and her husband Brian had a little girl named Merritt in December of 2017. For Mickey, who was 89 by the time Merritt was born, being able to hold her precious little great-granddaughter brought her a level of joy equal to that of holding her own children as infants.

And although Mickey passed before Merritt turned 3, Jenna has made sure to carry on her memory by telling Merritt stories, and most of all showing her videos. As a matter of fact, when they watch Jenna and Brian’s wedding video, Merritt always comments “That’s Grandma Bortz” when she sees Mickey.

Jenna, Merritt and Mickey at Mickey’s 90th birthday party

So even though Merritt will only have others memories of Mickey, with time they will become hers too, and she like every one who knew Mickey will feel immense love when one of those memories dances through her mind.

Jim and his family lived in Germany for many years while both he and his wife were in the Air Force, but once home and settled in Virginia and later North Carolina, they would host the entire family for Christmas, which quickly became the highlight of the year for the family.

Family visiting Jim and JoAnn in Virginia – seated: Mike, Forrest and Jenna – standing: Jim holding Jaime, JoAnn, Mickey and Judy

For Mickey and Forrest, who came from extremely humble backgrounds, and grew up with very little, it was overwhelming to see the level of generosity bestowed upon them by their children. Not to say they weren’t beyond grateful for every gift they received, it was just more than they had ever experienced.

There’s even a story of how Mickey burst into tears upon opening a gift of a chef-caliber stainless steel colander noting “it was the nicest colander she ever had.”

Mickey and Forrest had a very unique dynamic in their relationship. Forrest was very outgoing, had a quick wit, and never stepped away from the limelight. While Mickey would just quietly stand by his side, smiling and often shaking her head and rolling her eyes.

Forrest often came off as being flirtatious, but Mickey knew he was harmless and only had eyes for her, and it showed in their boundless love for each other. As a matter of fact, his flirty personality was just part of his charm.

As were some his comments like “Baldness does not detract from my physical charm, it merely exhibits the classic sculptor of my brow.”

Mickey and Forrest were married for 48 years before his passing in November of 1999, and every one of those years was wonderful regardless of any hardship because they had each other.

Mickey and Forrest at Kathy’s wedding 1991

In early 1999, Mickey and Forrest had sold their family home and moved to a retirement community in Lebanon. It was a difficult decision, but once they settled in they were extremely happy they did.

The townhouse had everything they needed, but the best part was a screened in porch that overlooked a baseball field. They could relax with a beer and watch the local teams play, and on the 4th of July had a front row seat for the fireworks.

Unfortunately Forrest became ill and passed in November, less than a year in their new home.

After Forrest passed, Mickey was by herself for the first time in her life. Concerned about how she would handle this, Jim, Kathy and Judy activated a plan to rotate weekend visits so they could be there for her.

Sometimes just to visit, other times to run errands with her. OR just go out to eat or take a drive. Mike being on the West coast couldn’t physically be there, but he would always call to check in on her.

Jamie, Jenna, Mickey, Kathy, Mark and Jim visiting Mickey at the townhouse

Much to their surprise Mickey adapted to her new independence quite well.

She had her regular housework schedule to keep her busy, AND as a long-time Penn State football fan (all her children were Penn State grads) during football season she had her weekly games to watch.

Along with those games came a ritual Mickey had developed over the years. Prior to each game she would carefully place her Joe Paterno bobblehead, a Beaver Stadium ashtray and Nittany Lion that played the fight song on the coffee table where they would stay through the entirety of the game.

But, what was better than the ritual was Mickey’s response to the game. If a Penn State player was tackled her comment would be “Look how ugly they are to those poor Penn State boys.” YET, when it was Penn State who was on the defense, she would yell, “Rip his head off.”

AND, if Penn State lost, it was because the other team cheated or there were dirty referees.

Mickey lived by herself till she was in her early 80’s, deciding at that point it would be best to move in with one of her children.

All the children were happy that Mickey had decided it was time to transition into living with family. They were all open to having her join them, but many of Mickey’s doctors were near Kathy, so she felt it would be best to move in with Kathy and her husband Mark.

Kathy and Mark were excited to have Mickey join them, but wanted to make sure everything was just right for her, and decided to make some renovations to their home so they could create a space for Mickey that felt like it was hers.

Mickey’s actual move though would be postponed due to emergency surgery for a bowel blockage and the subsequent recovery time needed to heal.

By the time Mickey was 84 she had her house on the market and by the following year, at the age of 85 she was finally able to move in with Kathy and Mark.

There were some adjustments once Mickey became part of the household, but with time Mickey and Kathy became the best of buddies, much like Mickey and her mother Sallie.

Kathy, Mark, Mickey and Forrest – 1996

Over the years though, Mickey began to show signs of Alzheimer’s. Kathy did everything she could to keep Mickey safe and well cared for, but it became more and more evident that moving her into an assisted living home was the best thing to do.

This decision was devastating for the children, but they wanted to keep Mickey safe and had no other options. In February of 2019, one month shy of her 91st birthday, Mickey moved into Saucon Manor. The home was extremely close to Kathy, which enabled her to visit Mickey almost every day.

Although this was another huge adjustment for everyone, the family settled into acceptance and a new routine.

BUT, when the COVID Pandemic hit in March of 2020 their new routines were shut off. No one could visit Mickey at the home, which was even more painful than having her in the home.

The family’s pain was amplified in July of 2020, when Mickey’s body could no longer fight off the complications brought on by Alzheimer’s and some underlying heart conditions and she passed peacefully in her sleep

Not being able to be with their Mother when she passed was the most painful thing any of the children and grandchildren had ever endured.

Mickey was the poster child for unconditional love, and it showed in everything she said, and did. AND, was reflected in the sparkle of her eyes and the kindest, sweetest smile beaming from ear to ear regardless of the circumstances.

Even the ravages of Alzheimer’s couldn’t remove the glimmer of love, and kindness that was in Mickey’s heart. Her memories may have been fading, but that love was stronger than any disease because it was the purest of any love.

“Intense love does not measure, it just gives.” – Mother Teresa

This completes the individual posts dedicated to each amazing Dechert Sister, but there will be one more post next month recapping what a special group of women these Dechert Sisters were. So check back for that wrap up post.

© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

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