Today, November 5, my Mom would be 100 years old. She’s been gone for 6 years but it seems I think about her more and more every day. The older I get the more I understand her. It’s a good time to write a little about Mom’s life, to honor her and to memorialize her accomplishments.
Mom, Anne Louise Quist McDearmid Nehls, was born in Saylorville, Iowa, the third in a family of twelve. Her Dad was a miner from Sweden and her Mom had been a housemaid before marrying Carl. At about age 5, in 1925, the family moved to Gages Lake, Illinois where some of her Dad’s family lived. Carl was going to go in business with some of the family. That worked for awhile but then the Great Depression happened. The business of gravel hauling (I think) fell apart and Anne found herself helping her father sell vegetables from the garden door to door.
At the age of twelve Anne was farmed out to be a nanny/maid for a wealthy family. She would have been in 7th grade. So she worked and gave her money to the family. She never lived at home again! I think over the years she worked for a couple of families and was able to go to high school through her junior year. At that time she worked for a family in Gurnee, Illinois. A young man named Jim McDearmid who worked at the Ferry Hardware store and delivered papers began to “court” her. He had a motorcycle and Mom told me they went to hill climbing races and long rides on the country roads. Mom would sneak out to go dancing with Jim, throwing her dress from the window and climbing out after it.
They were madly in love and married in June 1938. They lived with an invalid man in a little house in Gurnee. Mom cared for him and then I came along so they soon needed new living arrangements. They were able to buy 5 acres of land and ordered a house plan from the Sears Catalog which they proceeded to build. My Dad was the kind of guy who could fix, build or figure out anything. So they embarked on “5 Acres and Independence”, a popular book and concept at that time. They planted a huge garden, canned the resulting bounty, raised chickens, goats, rabbits, geese, and had a cow for milk and butter. Mom dug a septic system in the back field, killed chickens to fill the freezer, canned tomatoes, beans, peaches, applesauce, made jams and jellies and kept the chickens fed so they’d provide eggs!
Mom was the planner, motivator, record keeper and problem solver….the boss. As one of the older siblings she often was the shoulder to cry on for her sisters and brothers. It seems to me there was always one of them living with us. And when no more babies came after me Mom and Dad decided to be foster parents. Over the next 3-4 years they took in 17 infants who were waiting to be adopted. We would have the babies for 9 months or so until the state decided they were “fit” for adoption. The last baby we took in was a special needs child (they said she was blind) and she became my adopted sister.
As I write this and think about all my Mom and Dad accomplished in those first 10 years I am in awe! They were so focused on being independent, providing for their family AND caring for others.
My Dad was diabetic, diagnosed at age 7. The medicines for treatment and management of the disease were not available at that time so my Dad suffered from severe ups and downs due to diabetes. He would be out of commision for days and weeks at a time so Mom would have to handle everything including caring for Dad. And somewhere in this time frame my Grandma Louise (Dad’s mother) was diagnosed with cancer that was terminal and left her bedridden. My Mom became her caregiver for two years, practically living at Grandma’s house. I think Mom’s sister Loretta came to live with us at that time to help out.
Around 1952 Mom decided to get a job because Dad was ill so much of the time. We needed the money. Dad worked at Abbott Laboratories (he’d been there since 1940ish and that’s another story) and because he was so well thought of his friends at Abbott found a job for Mom. She became a Purchasing Assistant. This was to be a turning point in her life.
She didn’t have a High School diploma but Mom was very intelligent and self-educated. She worked for Abbott Labs for about 30 years, retiring in 1977. She became and Assistant Buyer and when computers came into the workplace she was one of the first to learn and manage the key punch project management system. I don’t remember her job title but she was the go-to person for the engineers in managing their project time and money. One of her favorite engineers was a guy named Jim Weise (but that’s another story!)
Going back to 1952 as I entered high school Mom and Dad were pretty active in our community church. They sponsored the youth group and I remember so fondly the Thursday Evening Missionary Society which was really a time for me and my friends to gather, pray, eat, sing and dance. We had a player piano that provided many hours of singing harmony for me and my friends. Mom and Dad were active in the church programs and served on committees. For the church Centennial Mom wrote a pageant depicting the founding of the church and milestones along the way. This was very special! Mom was a poet and short story writer…along with everything else!
My Dad passed away in 1954 from kidney disease (resulting from diabetes). Mom was devastated. But somehow she managed to continue working, raise two daughters, AND go to night school to get her high school diploma AND send me off to college at University of Illinois. Although I got some scholarship help Mom provided monthly monies and a suitable wardrobe. She remained very active in the church, worked with the youth group and served on the educational committee. That’s where she met Harry Nehls. (But that’s another story)
In 1958 Mom had to have surgery which resulted in peritonitis. She was deathly ill. I was home on summer vacation and as she recovered I decided to stay home after 2 years in college. I was doing very well but just not sure of where I was headed. I felt guilty having her spend money on me when I was so confused. She slowly recovered and after several months returned to her job which Abbott had held for her. Quite by accident I landed a teaching job at my former grade school! (But Yes, that’s another story!)
Mom, Bobbi and I had a couple of fun years together. Then I met and married Jim, she met and married Harry. They sold the house I grew up in and after a few apartments they bought a house in Gurnee on Orchard Valley. Life settled down and became easier in many ways for Mom. She and Harry had good jobs, a nice house, a lovely yard where they planted trees and a garden, visited with neighbors and played cards with friends. The kids in the neighborhood often stopped in after school and Mom would entertain them with stories and sometimes wrote short plays for them to perform. She loved to share her books with friends and family and then discuss them. Family problems arose here and there but overall it was a comfy lifestyle.
Mom was tough, strong-willed, independent, intelligent, ethical, creative, responsible, loving and caring. She accounted for every penny but was very generous. She read voraciously, loved her poodles and enjoyed finding treasures at yard sales. I feel her influence every day.
Love you, Mom! Happy Birthday!