My Tribute to “Aunt” Mary
by Leane VanderPutten
Two months ago, little did I think that I would soon be writing a tribute to my dear friend, Mary.
We’ve known Mary for a long time…many years. But we really got to know her about fifteen years ago. What a blessing that was for our family!
Mary had never married but she considered herself an “Aunt Mary” to many of the young people in the area. She became Aunt Mary to my older girls, too. You would often see their vehicle at Mary’s quaint little home as they ate lunch with her, chatting, laughing, and sharing stories over Italian sodas.
Movie nights with Mary, watching good old movies from days gone by, were a highlight for my girls.
At that time, Mary had many piano students. She loved working with the young people. She had a winning way with them.
I remember going to visit her around Christmas time. Her house was decorated for the children…she had many of those dear little lit-up cottages in a beautiful scene that she knew would capture the hearts of her piano students. Of course, her Nativity Scene took precedence and the charm of those days gave insight into Mary’s artistic nature.
Mary and creativity were synonymous. She made beautiful Ladder rosaries, she was a photographer and took many pictures of my oldest daughter, Virginia’s, wedding and made a beautiful scrapbook as a wedding gift. She had a thriving Ebay business where her descriptions for her interesting, vintage items and her rosaries were unsurpassed.
One year, with the Talent Show coming up, Mary, my girls and I put our heads together and decided to do a dance/singing skit to a song from My Fair Lady. We worked and worked at it, meeting often to get the choreography down. Mary sparkled during those times. Her laugh was infectious and her enthusiasm overflowed! How happy she was after the play was a success and rated the best act of the night!
Mary was a writer. She had written many articles in the past for Catholic periodicals. She had many ideas budding in that resourceful mind of hers. She told me not to tell anyone but she was one day going to write the sequel to Jane Eyre. And Mary could have done it!
But it was not meant to be. Mary’s father got sick. Her family meant much to her. She always talked of her parents, the impact they had on her. She has all their love letters they wrote to one another when “Daddy” was serving in WWII packed neatly in a much-worn box.
Mary and her mother tended to her father and took care of him until he died.
At that same time, her dear mother began to get dementia. Mary diligently looked after her for the next several years. It was trying for Mary and she felt very alone in this battle. Many of her dreams were put aside so she could do what her love for her mother and God ordained her to do….
When she finally had to admit her mom into a nursing home, the staff could not believe that she had looked after her as long as she had…considering how advanced she was in this disease.
Mary, in her loving way, helped me through a very hard time. She was my mentor at that time and I will always be grateful. She became to me an “Aunt Mary”, too. The kind of aunt that you knew would always be there for you.
We have heard of those amazing Catholic women in the past that remained single in the world, to serve the Church and to serve others…their great influence felt in many circles. This was Mary.
Mary and the Catholic Faith went hand-in-hand. Her faith was the underlying thread that ran through everything she did…unobtrusive yet confident.
She was a beautiful soul. She loved God, she loved her dear parents and she spread her love to those who became her friends….and there were many.
She became a big part of our lives and will always live on in our hearts as one who was big-hearted, witty, generous and full of vibrant faith.
Then we heard that Mary was sick….very sick. In a whirlwind of hospital visits, prayers and trying to wrap our heads around how sick she really was, Mary declined rapidly.
Six weeks after she had been diagnosed, Mary went to her eternal reward.
She is gone but I know she is still there for us…and we will be there for her…offering Masses and praying for her and to her.
Dear Mary, rest in peace. We love you. You will be missed.
A Very Beautiful Tribute to Mary by Mary Ann Tardiff
MARY ELIZABETH GENTGES
Rosary Crusader in the Front Lines
Those of us old-timers with the good fortune to have subscribed to Father Fred Nelson’s excellent newspaper THE MARYFAITHFUL remember a regular feature written and illustrated by a Mary Elizabeth Gentges. These articles introduced a wide assortment of little-known Chaplets – beautifully drawn in ink, and explained the method of praying each of them.
In the fall of 1981, this same Mary Gentges came for a visit to St. Mary’s campus, and fell in love with it. As she was leaving to go home, her new friends told her, “You’ll come back… you belong here.”
Mary visits Campus in fall of 1981
And so it came to pass. Shortly after, Charles and Florence Gentges and their daughter Mary (whom they always called “Bitzi”), closed the small-town Ben Franklin store they had run as a family for years, and migrated to Mary’s town – to the picturesque Victorian house that would be their home for the rest of their lives.
Mary Elizabeth enrolled in St. Mary’s College. While a student there, she lived on campus and worked hard at her studies. After graduating she began a career of service to St. Mary’s, above and beyond the call of duty, in numerous capacities: on Crusade magazine – as editor, writer, photographer, puzzle maker, etc., on St. Mary’s magazine (she had previously contributed to Angelus magazine), including writing a chronology of historic St. Mary’s Mission and campus, as the ubiquitous Campus Photographer for all occasions, as the typing teacher, and in countless special projects requiring her special talents – as well as helping her parents at home, making rosaries, giving piano lessons, etc. etc…
Mary’s College portrait, 1984
Mary was devoted to her parents and took very good care of each of them in their last days. Caring for her mother, who became ill with dementia, was especially stressful and exhausting – emotionally and physically – but Mary found helpers and kept Momma at home for as long as was humanly possible.
Mary with her parents on their 50th Anniversary, 1995
She had never married, and was sometimes oppressed by loneliness after the loss of her parents. But Mary always kept busy, and always had projects and ideas. She had plans for the fall of 2017. Mary was hoping, “if God gives me back my health,” to have a rosary booth in the next Flint Hills Shakespeare Festival. But instead God gave her something more important, more “CRUCial” to do – something to benefit all of Christendom.
Last October a new Rosary Crusade was declared. We were all called upon to be crusaders, saying rosaries and making sacrifices, and Mary was asking herself what sacrifices she might make. As if in answer, her final illness manifested itself in a painful stiff neck, which worsened steadily over a period of months while the excruciating pain spread and became disabling and finally incapacitating.
When hospitalization became unavoidable, Mary left her beloved home, her projects, her plans, her constant cat-companions Shadow and Bootsie, the watercolors painted by her father, the family heirlooms, all her earthly possessions … and never returned.
It hadn’t occurred to Mary to offer herself as a Victim Soul – and she was horrified at being called one by anybody. Yet God knew perfectly well that she would do whatever He asked of her, and do her best. And so she had been drafted right into the front lines of the Rosary Crusade, where she battled bravely, suffered patiently, and ultimately died. Over and over she had offered the pain, anxiety, fear, loneliness, and finally helplessness and humiliation, to Our Lord – particularly for the intentions of the Rosary Crusade.
Visitors to Mary’s hospital room were often consoled to find themselves smiling and laughing at her characteristic dry wit, which she never lost until she lost consciousness. But most consoling of all was knowing that she was so ready for death when it finally came: on March 12th, 2017 – Transfiguration Sunday, in the Month of St. Joseph. We have every reason to hope that she is now on her way home to God, and we can imagine the beautiful reunion with her parents in eternity, but I think Mary E. would shake her head, make a wry face, and insist that we remember she is a poor sinner in urgent need of our prayers.
Mary’s death has left a hole in St. Mary’s that can not be filled, and her friends are heartbroken. But because of our love for her we must pray for her and not forget!
Mary E. a little over a year before she died
Please join us in paying our debt of gratitude to a valiant comrade in this vital crusade: Eternal rest grant unto Mary Elizabeth, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon her. May she rest in peace! Amen.