I extend my thanks to all of you who have expressed such kind thoughts and remembrances in the past couple of weeks. I appreciate your reaching out more than I can describe and will write more later about “the long good-bye,” as Nancy Reagan aptly termed it, we said to my mother over a period of several years.
In tribute to her, I share here the eulogy that was read at the celebration of her life, a worship in memoriam, on October 19, 2005:
Ethel Hickok, 88, of Lodi, died October 13, 2005, in Lodi, following a lengthy illness.
Ethel Josephine Haverly was born November 8, 1916, near Kidder, South Dakota to Norwegian immigrants Joe and Anna Haverly. She was raised on the family farm there and graduated in 1934 from Kidder High School where she was proud to have been the class Salutatorian.
Ethel’s biggest regret in life was that she was unable to continue on to college. That fact drove her to want her daughters and grandsons to complete their educations.
She married Kenneth Hickok on March 18, 1941. One year later, Kenny received greetings from the U.S. Government and was drafted. Ethel returned home to the farm to live with her parents while Kenny served in the Pacific Theatre. Following the war, they resided in Britton, South Dakota. They moved to Lodi in June 1957. In June 1959, they moved into the home they built on Crescent Avenue.
When writing an obituary, the tendency is to look for tangible markers of the person’s life: Memberships in clubs and organizations, community groups, career milestones, etc. But Ethel was not a “joiner.” Ethel was a homemaker, meaning that her life was devoted to taking care of her home and her family.
Ethel was always busy. She was a fabulous cook who leaves few recipes because they were mostly in her head. “Oh, I don’t know . . . a little of this and a little of that,” she’d say when asked what the ingredients were. Ethel spent a lot of time in the kitchen canning peaches, cherries, and apricots. She made a bunch of varieties of pickles. She made homemade cinnamon rolls, buns, and donuts, and, at Christmas, there were lots of different kinds of cookies and other goodies. The Norwegian treats were the best: Krumkakes, sunbokkels, lefse . . . She and Kenny got a griddle during a trip back to South Dakota, Kenny made a special turner from a yardstick, and they had a lefse assembly line going. They also put together a mean stuffing for the turkey every year that can never be precisely duplicated.
Kenny and Ethel worked together on projects around the house all the time. Sometimes Ethel would have the idea and Kenny would execute it. It was that way with much of the storage in the house: Ethel would say, “Do you think we could put a __________ there?” That would get Kenny started thinking about it and figuring out how to build it . . . Before you knew it, it was finished and Ethel was painting the new shelf or cabinet. Because of their teamwork, Janie was the only kid who had slumber parties in the garage: They worked together to build shelving, put tile on the floor and ceiling . . .Kenny even installed a furnace. Janie had several birthday parties there in December! (Of course, installing the heater was probably also about self-preservation. They couldn’t hear Janie, Robin, Lynette, and the rest of the giggling girls – or the stereo — from their bedroom!) It was also much like that when they decided to enlarge the house in 1982. They had an idea, called the contractor and by the time Janie arrived home from Los Angeles for Christmas that year, they were sitting in the new family room.
Ethel also had a green thumb. Her roses and camellias bloomed richly and fully. She had a recipe for that, too. She would go out into the garage, whip up a concoction of plant food, and the red roses by the front step would survive yet another winter.
Having grown up on a farm, Ethel had a strong affinity for animals. Whenever she was near, the family animals would run straight for her, jump up on her lap, and settle down contentedly for the duration of her visit. Richard had to start saying “Regular and Ethel” when referring to Kenny and Ethel because Sandy, the cocker spaniel, understood “Nana and Papa” & would run sit by the front door to wait for them. Ethel was probably the only person who could practically morph an independent, stubborn housecat into a well-trained dog: TC’er really didn’t care if she ever went home again or not after staying with Nana. She followed Ethel around the house contentedly, responding to commands, much to Janie’s horrified amusement. And then there was Barney. Let’s just say that Barney was very well cared for.
Ethel was an accomplished seamstress. When the girls were young, Ethel sewed most of their clothing, as well as her own. They had beautiful dressy dresses, sometimes with identically matching versions for their dolls. Ethel made herself fully lined, tailored suits and whether it was wallpaper or fabric, you could not find the seams. “Tinkle,” Judy’s favorite doll, had a specially designed satin wedding gown and the remnants from Judy’s white lace confirmation dress became a wedding dress for Janie’s Barbie. But Ethel didn’t stop with just the dress: Barbie also had a veil, bouquet that fit into her molded hand, and even a tiny blue garter, complete with artificial flowers attached.
In later years, Ethel took up crocheting, making afghans for the whole family, including special white ones in which to wrap each grandson as he was baptized.
But most of all, Ethel enjoyed her four boys. When Paul, the oldest, was born, Kenny and Ethel were completely transformed. Janie laughs that, at first, she would go over to their house, watch them doting on Paul, and think, “Who are you people and what have you done with my parents?” Soon enough, it was also Robert they were ecstatic about. Kenny would greet the boys at the door –- no need to ring the doorbell — and then say, “Go find Nana!” They’d run through the house looking for her. Judy and Janie laughingly remember that, after the boys were born, their father barely said hello to them any more! Naps were frequently taken in Nana or Papa’s lap because after the little one fell asleep, they would continue holding him, rather than allow him to be laid on the bed. Paul was notorious for begging to go home with them when they came to visit, one time even running after the car! Papa stopped & Judy relented.
All four boys spent a lot of time at Nana’s. As you will see at the luncheon, there was one type of food Nana always had on hand for them, but she stocked the cupboards with other treats, as well. They were what mattered most to her, and what kept her going after Kenny’s death. She would tell people, “Sure, it’s hard, but I have four grandsons and two daughters to live for.”
Ethel was a life-long church member, baptized and confirmed. And the things she learned growing up in that little white church stayed with her and comforted her to her very last hour. Even as her memory and eyesight were fading, and her grandsons had to assist her to walk in and out of the sanctuary, Ethel didn’t need a hymnal. Sitting next to her in church, she was amazingly still able to recite the Lord’s Prayer or Apostles’ Creed, or sing a familiar hymn. She didn’t miss a syllable, even long after other memories had faded.
In March 1991, Kenny and Ethel celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Ten months later, on January 18, 1992, Ethel was preceded in death by her husband. She was also preceded in death by her two older brothers, Melvin and Selmer Haverly.
She is survived by her daughters, Judy (Richard) McKelvey, and Janie (Robert E.) Siess, as well as those four cherished grandsons who are carrying “Nana” to her final resting place beside Papa today: Paul Richard and Andrew Kenneth McKelvey, and Robert Kenneth and Matthew Joseph (short for “Josephine,” Ethel’s middle name) Siess, as well as two sisters, Gladys Doyle and Alma Anderson, both of Britton, South Dakota.