My dear sweet grandmother completed her time her on earth recently. She lived an amazing life of faith and endurance. I am honored to give the eulogy at her memorial service tomorrow, and I thought some of you might like to read it.
So here is the abridged version of the life of Mary Weber. Enjoy.
Marichen “Mary” Harder was born September 30, 1923 into a German Mennonite area of Ukraine called Tiegenhagen. Mary was the fourth child out of the five children of Margaretha Reimer and Peter Harder.
In 1925, the Reimer side of the family immigrated to Canada (these were Mary’s grandparents and at least 10 of their children!), but Mary’s parents chose to keep their family behind with the Harder side of the family.
In the early 1930’s Stalin introduced a system of forced famine and Mennonite genocide called collectivization and de-kulakization. To paraphrase Mary’s words, “they thought we were rich people because we had farming equipment.”
So as a result, Mary watched her father die of starvation under Stalin’s tyranny. He was one of around 7,000,000 deaths in Ukraine at this time.
After that, the Russians came and kicked them off their farm. They moved to the nearby city of Melitopol, where Mary’s older sister was already living with her husband.
Mary’s older sister and brother-in-law were then sent separately to Siberia by the Russians. Then her brothers were taken by the Russian army and then the German army. They were never seen again.
This left teenage Mary and her mother to fend for themselves without a home to call their own. They went to Berlin but were separated. We know her mother was eventually sent to Siberia as well, but Mary saw her mother one last time, in Germany near Hannover when the Russians came. News came to them that “they were raping all the girls.”
So her mother said to Mary, “You better leave. I’ll go with you to that little bridge,” she said. And when she got there, she turned to her daughter and said, “Where will we see each other again? Here or in heaven.” And that was the last time Mary saw her mother. Mary stayed two days in the woods, sharing bread with the other girls who had escaped. She was around 22 years old at this time.
Now Mary was left alone, so she took a train to eastern Germany. She was one of the lucky ones who made it all the way. There she worked on a farm with a girl named Katie and Katie’s mother. Even in their poverty, they had a regular habit of standing by the road with boiled potatoes in their aprons to serve to American POWs when they came by.
One day they tried to cross the border at night but were captured and held in the basement of a house. They convinced the guard that they had to get something and would be back if he let them leave. They did and, of course, had no plans of returning.
While they were walking they met a man. He looked straight ahead while speaking. He told them there was a train leaving right then where they could cross LEGALLY! They went immediately and sure enough, the train was there. They went up to the man and he put their names on the list, but said they needed their own rations. Katie’s mom opened her apron, showed him the bread and said, “we have this and, (patting her butt), schenken!”
Mary made it to West Germany where she worked very hard and was very poor. At that time, the Mennonite Central Committee was relocating Mennonite refugees. Most went to South America but Canada was accepting some refugees who were sponsored by a relative.
Meanwhile, Mary’s uncle, Henry Harder, in Canada got a new post office box. He received a piece of mail that wasn’t his, but he opened it anyway. Inside was a list of Mennonite refugees needing a home, compiled by the MCC, and had the name of his niece, Mary Harder, listed on it as a Mennonite refugee in Europe. He sponsored her and she made it to Canada.
She made it. She survived. She was the only one of her immediate family that survived. When Mary arrived in Canada in 1948 at age 25, she joined her grandmother and at least 10 pairs of aunts and uncles whom she had never met. Tante Tina and Tante Nut picked her up. At the sight of Tante Nut, Mary broke down sobbing. Pale skinned and very thin, Tante Nut bore a striking family resemblance to Mary’s mother, whom she would never see again.
She eventually settled in living near her grandmother on Uncle John’s farm in Port Rowan, Ontario.
Mary was baptized as an infant. Some of her relatives in Canada pressured her to be baptized again by immersion, but not Uncle John and not her grandmother, who always used to say that the name of the church doesn’t get you into heaven. Mary always remembered the kindness and acceptance Uncle John showed her and treasured it always.
In 1951, Mary served cake at a wedding when Waldemar Weber, another displaced refugee, noticed this pretty girl right away. They met again later at a German club where she was taking tickets. That night he asked to take her home, and in May 1953 they were married. They built their own home, and in 1955 their daughter Rita Angelica was born.
In 1963 they vacationed to California and fell in love with the place. They visited Santa Barbara and Walt was hired as a waiter at the Biltmore Hotel. They were impressed that he was a highly trained European waiter. They returned to Canada to get their immigration papers and in 1964 they moved to California for good.
Santa Barbara didn’t work out for them. Their friends the Hüberts convinced them to move to Gardena where Walt could work as a cabinetmaker. They lived in Gardena from 1964 to 1974 and attended the First Southern Baptist Church of Gardena. Their marriage became stronger in California. Walt said, “We were so dependent on each other to support and uplift each other when we were low.”
In 1965 when Walt went forward in church to accept Christ, Mary followed with Rita at her heels. Even though she already had faith in Christ, she followed her husband in his profession of faith and into the waters of baptism on July 4th, 1965.
In 1967 they bought their first California home, within walking distance of their church and Sierra Electric, where Mary got a job making light switches. She loved her job.
During this time and for years to come, Mary and Walt travelled often to Germany and to Canada to visit all their family and friends.
In 1974 they bought a new home in Cerritos. They managed to buy it outright, no mortgage. The only problem was that this house was too far from Mary’s work, and she could not drive. They were doing well financially, and so for the first time in her life since she was a very young girl, she stopped working and decided to focus instead on her family and home. Life was good.
Rita & Bill married 1976 and Mary and Walt’s granddaughters, Lana and Jennifer came along in 1979 and 1984. After I was born, my mom Rita went back to work and Grandma took care of me during the day. We immensely enjoyed spending our days together. The only problem was that I would learn to speak English the German way. Whenever my dad would try to correct me, I would say, no that’s not right, Grandma does not say it that way. And what Grandma says, is right.
During this time, Mary was an expert seamstress. She sewed all her own clothes, and all of her granddaughters’ school dresses. She taught us both how to sew and crochet.
Mary and Walt were also exceedingly generous with their money, especially when it came to their kids and grandkids. They anticipated all of our needs. You didn’t even have to ask. They gave to their church, and gave their time and talents to the church as well.
They lived in Cerritos until 1989 when Walt retired. In 1990 they bought a beautiful new home in Murrieta and attended Rancho Community Church in Temecula.
During this time they also often visited Redding, where Walt’s mother Natalie lived. Natalie was the only mother that Mary had in her adult life, and she was a faithful daughter to her. In 1999 Natalie was dying. Mary and Walt were there caring for her when Mary contracted shingles. She continued to care for her ailing mother-in-law even as she suffered under the pain of shingles. She was always one to put the needs of others above her own.
In 2003 they bought a home in La Habra to be near Rita & Bill. They lived there until June of 2016.
Mary was an ardent prayer warrior. She prayed faithfully for everyone in her life, and everyone in their lives! Mary was one who would go to bed early, but go to sleep late. For years by her bedside you could always find her Bible, a word search, and some squeaky clean German romance paperback novel.
Mary was the last of the Mennonite women in our family who could speak and cook in the old ways. She and Grandpa are the last native German speakers. Rita, Jennifer, and I learned from Grandma how to cook some of the favorites such as pfann kuchen, cabbage rolls, and borscht. Some dishes simply got adapted for west-coast living, such as Wareneki, which is close enough to raviolis, but Americans might have found it odd that Mary and Walt ate their raviolis with sour cream and sugar.
In 2003 when Mary was 80 years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. By the grace of God, she survived that too.
One thing about Mary that probably you all already know. She was a woman of incredible faith. Mary was willing and able to endure anything, as long as she knew she was in the center of the Lord’s will.
A couple of fun facts about Mary. She never learned to drive. And that didn’t seem to hold her back at all. She was a total worrywart. She worried about everything, everyone. Except herself of course! She was a person who spoke her mind. Sometimes her remarks were inappropriate, but old ladies can get away with that! If she ever offended anyone close to her, she was very remorseful. The amount of apologies always exceeded the offense by far!
In 2015 Walt’s Parkinson’s disease took a turn and he required more care. Mary cared for him at home far more than a woman of her age should have been able to. Even at age 92, Mary was physically assisting her husband of 64 years, even at night. This woman who seemed so frail, could get around her home remarkably well without a walker or wheelchair, and care for Grandpa as well.
On July 23rd of this year, Mary fell and broke her hip. She immediately had surgery and was in recovery at a rehabilitation facility when she contracted an infection. The infection worsened and Mary peacefully met her long-awaited Savior on September 10, 2016. She was almost 93 years old.
She was preceded in death by her mother, her father, one sister and three brothers, her dear mother-in-law Natalie and sister-in-law Alice, her sweet Uncle John, and all too many others.
She is survived by her loving husband Waldemar, daughter Rita and son-in-law Bill, granddaughters Lana and Jennifer, and six great-grandchildren, Peer, Rylee, Jacob, Leif, Brooklyn, and her namesake, Mary Joy.
To have the kind of faith Mary Weber had is a true gift. It is easy to wonder if one must suffer the way she had to achieve this. But lately as I watched her wait patiently for the Lord’s timing to take her home, I realized that some things simply take 93 years.