Remembering Betty Ann Barr Boilesen, October 26, 2000
of the Phonograph will recognize this photograph of my parents
as a take-off from the famous 1905 Edison advertisement "The
Phonograph," often called the "Old Couple." My
mom loved occasions for people to come together and their gift
of this image for one of our phonograph birthday parties still
makes me smile.
following are words I delivered at her funeral on October 30,
loved to tell stories about her childhood and she instilled
in us a sense of pride about the pioneer spirit that her parents
and grandparents epitomized. She was a member of what Tom Brokaw
calls the "Greatest Generation." She lived through the depression,
she saw her true love go off to war, she worked at the Grand
Island Airbase during the War, she had the joy of her true love
safely returning home, marrying him, raising a family, watching
her grandsons grow, and having 54 wonderful years of marriage.
core, she was a Nebraskan. Her grandparents homesteaded in Nebraska
in the 1870's, her parents farmed the land, lost their ranch
in the depression, then continued farming for another 20 years.
My mom's father was a true cowboy who bachelored for many years
before marrying my grandmother. My grandmother had been widowed
much earlier with two small boys and a girl. With nearly 20
years difference in age, her half-brothers Chris and Ray and
sister Fay Vogt would become like an aunt and uncles to my mom
who was to be the only child of my grandfather. My grandfather
was tough as nails but my mom was the apple of his eye and she
could melt him with a smile.
Chris and Ray Vogt, circa 1908 Elba, Nebraska
stories I've heard, I don't think she had to do many chores
when she was growing up. Instead, I believe she was developing
her imagination and appreciation for times when relatives or
girl friends would come to visit. She loved going to school
where she could be with her friends, and she especially looked
forward to trips to the big city - Grand Island. She loved to
be around people, and birthdays and holidays with friends and
family were always special.
farm there was a flat, weedy area close to their house that
my mom always tried to keep mowed. She thought it would make
a great area for playing croquet. Of course, they didn't own
a croquet set and they never did get one, but she was going
to be ready when they did. Years later we had many family games
of croquet and my mom was a great competitor who loved to win.
She and my dad played bridge with many friends over the years.
Many of you here today played cards with her and you know how
much she enjoyed those games. But it obviously wasn't about
playing croquet or playing cards or winning. It was about spending
time with those she cared about. And it was this caring and
the love that she radiated that made her special.
had a unique talent for relating to strangers. She could ride
on a bus or a plane and come home with stories about who she
sat with and a synopsis of their lives. When I go on a plane
I read a book or I sleep. But not my mom. That would be missing
an opportunity to meet someone and find out what they are thinking.
When she was a little girl, she would walk to the railroad tracks
to watch the passenger train go by. She was fascinated by what
she thought those people were eating and talking about as they
zoomed by in their Burlington Zephr cars. I'm sure she would
then interpret in great detail what she thought was going on
in those passing train cars to whomever she was with.
I can imagine
those scenes so well because years later she still had that
knack. We would go to restaurants and you always had her attention.
But if there was a break in the conversation and she overheard
someone at the next table, the phrase that she heard would soon
become part of our conversation and she would speculate on what
they were talking about. But the amazing thing was that it wasn't
gossipy or vicarious. She had a genuine interest in people and
who they are. And because of that attitude, many of you here
today got to know her and be transformed from strangers to dear
friends. To my mom, her friends were like extended family. I
know she always felt your love and always carried that love
in her heart.
mom was selecting her oncologist, one of her first questions
of the doctor was did he have a family. Did he have children?
Did he go to church? She found this particular doctor a bit
cool and formal and she felt it was important that she could
relate to him on a personal level. And despite his initial reluctance
to relate to her in the way she wanted, she decided to go ahead
and select him as her doctor and make it sort of a project of
hers to soften him. I think if you would ask that doctor today,
he'd tell you that she did have a special effect on him.
was in hospital this last time she got to know a lot of the
nurses and staff. But in particular there was a woman who cleaned
her room. She was Egyptian and her husband was at the University
working on his doctorate. She was soft spoken and her English
was somewhat broken, but my mother would always talk with her
whenever she came in and you could see in her eyes that this
young woman genuinely enjoyed answering my mom's questions.
My mom would later say to me, "Do you think any of the staff
here realize what an intelligent and wonderful woman they have
working here cleaning these rooms? It bothered my mom to think
how lonely this woman might be, living in a foreign country,
doing a job she was overqualified for, and potentially not talking
to anyone all day. It was typical of my mom's concern for others.
There was no judgement in her soul, simply love and caring.
care is what my mom practiced to perfection for 54 years as
wife and mother. For her, family was what it was all about.
My mom wanted all holidays and all family birthdays and even
the purchase of new china to be occasions for the family to
gather and share. Even her transition from life in a sense became
a family gathering. For us, not a day will go by that she doesn't
enter our thoughts.
poem entitled "My Legacy", the last stanza reads:
there might be a little money,
a few trinkets from my past,
I'd really prefer instead to give them,
blessings that I know would last.
that trinkets and material things don't matter. But trinkets
can be used to remember someone. Some of you might have something
that brings my mom to mind: You might have a recipe of hers,
or a birthday gift or a photograph or a quote that you know
she liked. Today, my sister is wearing the sweater that my mom
wore when she came home from hospital after she gave birth to
my sister. My wife is wearing my mom's turquoise necklace. There
are pink roses on the table with her urn recalling the pink
roses of her wedding. This church itself has an unbelieveable
number of connections to her life.
have things or associations we can link to her. But in the end
LOVE is her greatest legacy. And it is truly the most precious
blessing anyone could give.
I'll leave you with the image of my mom as a little girl standing
beside my grandmother in the parlor of their farmhouse. At the
end of each day, my grandfather would be walking in from the
fields, and the sun would be setting, and my grandmother would
sit down at the piano and start singing "Evening Prayer". It
I have wounded any soul today
I have caused one foot to go astray
I have walked in my own will power's way
the secret sins I do not see
the sins I now confess to thee
guide me, love me, keeper be
those words echoed through my mom all of her life. In the last
weeks of my mom's life she spoke of dreams and visions of her
parents and Christ waiting for her in a doorway. In her new
role of guardian angel, I know she has now joined them and is
singing those lines again with her mother, as her father quietly
say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes
for love, joy and celebration.
delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere,
every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life's