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Tribute to Mom

Paul Race is a writer, editor, teacher, musician, and railfan who lives in southwest Ohio. On September 15, 2006 his mother, a devoutly religious woman who lived for her children in all the right ways, passed from this life at the age of 78, due to an accumulation of natural causes. This is what Paul wrote about her and read at the funeral (with a few minor changes and additions). If you have recently lost a loving, giving person such as we have, we hope you find comfort in the following paragraphs.

In some ways it’s hard to get to know someone who lays down her life for you on a daily basis. Asking “what would you like to do today?” almost never gets a straight answer, because she is really thinking about what you want or need to do. Still, since Mom and Dad moved some 170 miles closer to the family in the last two years, our family has had a chance to get to know them both again. We've been reminded that, although mom was frail in body, and almost never stood up for herself or said anything she thought would hurt anybody, she was nobody’s fool. As an example, sometimes when some bore was droning on about some self-serving topic, Mom would catch your eye and wink to let you know she wasn’t buying any of it.

That’s one reason why I believe that Mom’s daily service and support of her family wasn’t based on not knowing any better. Rather she laid her life down for the rest of us because that was what she wanted to do, even when we didn’t deserve it (which was almost always). And that is the definition of Godly love, what the King James calls “Charity.” Mom’s strength of spirit and faith in God could move mountains one pebble at a time. In fact, I can’t help seeing Mom in First Corinthians thirteen, the chapter about God’s love for us, the love that God can help us have for one another. Mom is patient, Mom is kind. Mom is not self-serving, Mom thinks no ill of others. Mom bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Mom being greeted at her second granddaughters wedding, Englewood, Ohio, June 18, 2005. Click for bigger photo.If you asked Mom what she had accomplished in life, she’d probably talk about her accomplished children and grandchildren. And giving three children such a start in life as Mom and Dad did was a tremendous accomplishment. But to me her legacy will be that her giving example made you want to be a better person.

Mom believed with all of her heart that Jesus died for her sins. I believe she is with Him now, and with Gregory, her second child, and Corinne, her grandchild, both of whom preceded her. I pray that through faith in the God she honored with her life, each of her children, her grandchildren, and her friends can live up to her example.

Mom's Obituary

Henrietta Race, of Grosse Ile, Michigan, passed away September 15, 2006. Born in Russia, Ohio in 1928, Henrietta spent many years helping her mother Marie, her brother Carl, and her sisters Eleanor and Margaret run the family farms in Russia, Miamisburg, and Celina, Ohio. Henrietta graduated from Houston High School. In 1947, she married former Serviceman Donald Lee Race. They settled in Donnelsville, Ohio, joined the Sacred Heart parish in New Carlisle, and had four children, Theresa, Gregory, Paul, and Kathleen. In 1964, the Races moved to Miamisburg, Ohio. When Donald retired in 1976, he and Henrietta moved to a small farm near Edmore, Michigan, where they made many friends, especially in the St. Margaret-Mary Alacoque parish.

In late 2004, Henrietta and Donald moved to Grosse Ile, Michigan. There they have made many friends in the Island Woods apartments and at St. James Episcopal church.

Henrietta was preceded in death by her parents Leo and Marie, brother Carl, sister Margaret Doocey, son Gregory, and granddaughter Corinne. Henrietta is survived by her husband Donald, her sister Eleanor Ayers of Russia, Ohio, her children Tess Hoffman, Paul Race, and Kathleen Gardiner, her grandchildren Dorothy Ballard, Jesse Hoffman, Kristen Coppess, Emily and Molly Race, Nicholas, Casey, and Andrea Gardiner, and many nieces and nephews. She will be greatly missed, but we are grateful for the time we had with her and for the way she blessed our lives with her grace, dignity, good humor, and love.

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Sister Linda's Tribute to Mom

Click for Sister Diane's story.In the 1980s, Dad and Mom befriended and were befriended by two young women who wanted to start a religious community and retreat center in the Vestaburg, Michigan area, Sister Linda and Sister Diane. The sisters bought a farm, added two houses, and participated in many ways in the spiritual life of the community, especially at St. Margaret-Mary Alacoque, the Roman Catholic church in Edmore. Sisters Linda and Diane grew to know Don Race (my father) because they all helped with the music of the church. And they grew to know Henrietta as well, as you'll see below. When the sisters learned of Henrietta's death, Sister Linda was out of the country, but she immediately wrote a memorial about Mom. Sister Diane exerpted from this memorial during the "Reflections" part of the service during Mom's funeral service in Edmore (at St. Margaret-Mary). Sister Diane also helped us with many of the arrangements for the service, for which we are very grateful. I don't have the text of Sister Diane's "Reflection," but Sister Linda's longer version is printed below. r

This took me all day to write, but it was one way of "being present" with you gathered to celebrate Henrietta's life - Sr. Linda-Susan.

Click for Sister Linda's story.As for remembering Don's (and all our) Henrietta, that is a particularly easy task since she was unforgettable from the very first time we met her at coffee after Sunday Mass, in the basement of this church, at the end of Lent in 1983. She seemed from that very first impression to be one of those who is a born caregiver; she asked so many questions about how we had come to Vestaburg and what plans such young women had for the farm. Though we were both so far from family and friends, one felt as if Henrietta had made room for us in her heart as those who were of an age to be honorary daughters, but were going to be good friends despite the generation spread. (Sr. Diane was still in her twenties when we moved in.) Of course, you had to get close to Henrietta's good ear, but that made the exchange so much more intimate. Henrietta took our hands to welcome us and told us how much she looked forward to visiting. And her eyes smiled even before the rest of her face lighted up with expectation.

I remember . . . switching roles with Henrietta so that the teacher became a student again as she and Don seriously and soberly (after all Donald was there) taught me how to can. Having been born in New York City and never having visited a farm up close until my mid-twenties, there hadn't been much cause to learn this wisdom form the past. But once there was a garden plot - a rather large garden plot - harvest meant canning beans and tomatoes, making tomato juice and sauce, putting up carrots and corn and a whole tapestry of summer's color quilt of beauty. And when I mentioned casually to our friends on County Line Road that I needed a hands-on lesson, Don and Henrietta took me through all the precautions and instructions for safe pressure canning. The two of them read a great deal and were probably Public Television's most committed local patrons. They told me about the need to be careful with canning tomatoes. The new hybrid varieties were easier on some folks' stomachs, bu the acid had to be returned to the canning jar to keep it from exploding. (And you can just hear Don's voice in passing on that important information while Henrietta showed me how to get out air bubbles or how to manuever the tongs when lifting hot and heavy jars out of the canner.)

I remember . . . that Henrietta was always so interested in what the people around her were doing or thinking. She said very little about the long and difficult struggles with her own body that were a centerpiece, nevertheless, of her day-to-day living. Somehow I don't remember watching her hands become misshapen through those years of hand holding. One's eyes were captured by hers and they gave away none of the secrets of the extraordinary pain she came to befriend as an intimate. It's not that we were, on one hand, completely unaware. After one of our dinners with Don and Henrietta, we thought it only fitting that we should take care of the dishes. I tried to cajole her into letting me wash up the dishes so that we could get down to the serious busines of card-playing. But Henrietta insisted that she do them. Finally she found a way of having the final word by explaning that the heat from the sudsey water was one of the ways in which her rheumatoid, arthritic hands found comfort. That was one of the very few times I remember her talking about the pain management in which she was too quickly achieveing expert status. If you pressed, she would say just a little, but there seemed to be so many other things she preferred talking about - children and grandchildren, the family back in Ohio, Don, the church family at St. Margaret-Mary, and of course ideas - from Pavarotti's operatic musicianship to a documentary on the African slave trade to ecological problems in the loss of the rain forest.

On the other hand, I remember the major health crises when we thought, for sure, that Henrietta was going to God. When she was hospitalized in Sheridan just before her doctor was en route to Colorado for a ski vacation, her heart seemed to be in a state of mutiny. Reaction to a drug and compromise of the lining of the heart made her look so white and miniature in her hospital bed. We were as upbeat as we could manage, but on the way home we spoke our fear that Henrietta wasn't going to be able to beat this. And then she rallied, a little more fragile, but her soul leant its strength to that too tender heart and she was back in the saddle - the only person we knew who could poo-poo Don's shall-we-say-optimism-challenged perspective on the world or get him to be still in the midst of a long dissertation.

We have a lot of experience with preparing to give Henrietta back to the One who created her. I remember . . . when Don came back from their sunbird escape to warmth early, far too early, in the midst of wintry chill. [While in the deep south] Henrietta [had] developed a bad cold that degenerated into pneumonia. And the terms of Don's and Henrietta's retirement health insurance demanded that they make use of an HMO that would not agree to her being admitted to a hispital for treatment. Don argued -as only he can - for this woman who has been his friend and lover and companio for almost 60 years, but to no avail. He packed her up and brought her back to the cold. While Henrietta stayed in the camper to keep warm, Don lit the wood stove and waited for the house to be safely heated and comfortable. The health care restrictions made it impossible for them to have the mobility to escape the winter very easily, but it did give them back to us and to the weekend liturgies whenever Henrietta could negotiate getting to the Sunday night mass.

I remember all their joy in preparing to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. The liturgy was uppermost in their minds - like those who think the wedding is secondary to the marriage.

I remember . . . the exquisite joy of anticipation in her face when she shared with us the news of granddaughter Dorothy's pregnancy. "Well, now I'll be able to answer that question when everyone else starts ticking off the numbers of all the great grands they have," she said, as recently ago as a long phone conversation in August [2006]. [As of September 19, 2006] Dorothy is within two weeks of delivery and can't travel to the funeral today, but she thought so much of her grandparents and their wisdom that she [recently] spent one week of her vacation from her job as a physician . . . with them. I an easily imagine the older and wiser one sharing with her granddaughter all the things the medical and psychological textbooks might not include about the birth experience of the earliest days of motherhood.

"Generous" is a word so fitting for describing the life of this kind woman. So many years she sat through Mass alone in her pew so that Don could use the gift of music God gave to his tenor voice.

It is somehow so fitting that this woman of such deep, compassionate care and concern go to God at the time when the Church celebrated the feast of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows. Henrietta carried the heavy and jagged cross of physical suffering much of her life. . . Don, ever the attentive spouse, has been her chief caregiver for much of their life together. Recently, when Don and Henrietta sold their home here [in Edmore] and moved to a senior apartment about a mile from their daughter's Tess' home on Grosse Ile, Henrietta and Don enjoyed the daily visits of a daughter who was as unselfish as her mother in looking to the care of the other. With all the sadness of the departure from deep friendships renewed week after week, year after year, at church or Eucharist Potlucks, or dinner-and-cards get-togethers, the two of them were so pleased to have so much quality time to spend with Tess. But the profound physical pain has had its last day, its last hour. And Henrietta, after a living purgatory, can only be in the company of all those other holy men and women who ran the good race and have found life eternal with the family and friends gone before.

Click for bigger photoSome years ago, Don and Henrietta gave the monastery a remarkable gift in the middle of our own struggling questions with what God intended when we were called to this place and this community. As a symbol of hope and permanence, they gifted us with 50 trees, almost all of them planted by Don's own hands and watered by Henrietta. "It's a memorial grove," the couple said. "We want you to remember us. And every time you look out at those trees, say a prayer for us." Many of the trees were transplants from their own property on County Line Road. Don wanted the grove to be a celebration of diversity, and in his own intellectual way, he researched the names of the trees that were native to North America. "Diversity," he said, "is a celebration of difference." Most of the trees in the grove you encounter before you reach the front door of the convent are the original ones. A few have succumbed to cold or drought, but whole rows are almost as tall as we are. Someday those trees will add to the sense of forest around us. Don and Henrietta promised they would insulate us from noise should our farm neighborhood change. When the time is appropriate, we will make a beautiful sign that names the site "The Don and Henrietta Race Memorial Grove." For now we hold Henrietta in that place in our heart she has always occupied, asking her now to care for all of us from her place of union with God. And we pledge to take care of her beloved Donald for as long as God continues to gift us with his dry Scottish wit and his fidelity to relationship.

Updated 09.21.2006

All content copyright(c) 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 by Paul D. Race. All Rights Reserved

Note: Creek Don't Rise (tm) is Paul Race's name for his resources supporting the history and
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