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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