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Ferne Toms leaves a legacy of caring for family, others

October 09, 2005|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail will run "A Life Remembered." The story will take a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Ferne Virginia Michael Toms, who died Sept. 29 at the age of 89. Her obituary appeared in the Oct. 1 edition of The Herald-Mail.

marlob@herald-mail.com

When Arthur M. Toms Sr. announced his marital intentions to 15-year-old Ferne Michael back in 1931, he swept her off her feet with a very "romantic" proposal, according to her daughter, Karen Shifler.

"Dad said he was getting married on Sunday and if she was, too ... to get her things together," Karen said. "And she did."

Ferne Toms, who died Sept. 29 at the age of 89, was married to Arthur until his death in 1981. They had five children, all born at home with her husband's assistance, Karen said.

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In addition to raising her children, sewing their clothes, cooking hot meals and doing the laundry, Ferne worked a variety of jobs, including a 40-year stint at Fairchild Aircraft that began during World War II.

When Fairchild laid off workers, Ferne picked up jobs at Londontown, Community Action Council in Boonsboro or worked as a hairdresser.

"Mom worked all the time ... she was always busy," Karen said. "And remember those were the days when there were no microwaves and no automatic washers."

Born in Boonsboro, Ferne always explained to people that her name had an "e" on the end because she wanted to be different from the plant, according to her last surviving son, Richard Toms.

"She was married at 15, so there would be one less mouth to feed in her family," Richard said.

Because her family was poor, Ferne only was able to finish the eighth grade, partly because there was little money for school clothes or school supplies.

Karen said even though her mother's formal education was cut short, she was a very bright and accomplished lady.

"She was into women's lib long before it was popular - a very spunky and determined woman," Karen said.

When Ferne's youngest child, Richard, was born, Karen said she didn't even know her mother was having another baby.

"When I was 8, we were sent off to church on Easter Sunday and when we got back, dad said to go see what the Easter Bunny had brought us," Karen said.

Ferne and many other female aircraft workers in the 1940s were dubbed "Rosie the Riveter" for filling the jobs formerly held by men who instead were off fighting in the war.

A timekeeper and parts handler, too, Ferne worked all along the assembly line, Richard said.

"In the 1970s, Fairchild sent mom to another plant in the Carolinas so she could teach her job to workers there," Karen said. Ferne ended up staying down there longer than expected, so Fairchild paid to fly Arthur down to keep her company.

Arthur had worked on road construction jobs for years until he got a job at Fairchild.

"Sometimes, mom and dad would be working on opposite sides of the same airplane," Karen said.

Later disabled, Arthur retired in the 1970s, while Ferne stayed at her Fairchild job until 1982.

"Mom loved the A-10," Karen said, referring to a plane Fairchild built in its later years. "My son bought a big picture of an A-10 and had two pilots sign it for mom."

Ferne's brother, Earl "Ike" Michael, said he was the oldest boy in their family of six children.

"I was an ambulance driver with Gen. George Patton in World War II," he said.

The military background of the Michael family was so strong that Clopper-Michael American Legion Post 10 in Boonsboro was named in part after Ferne's late uncle, Austin Michael.

"Uncle Austin lied about his age and joined the service in World War I at the age of 17," Ike said. "He was killed when he was 19."

Ferne's survivors are not only mourning Ferne's passing, but also the death of her younger brother, Richard L. Michael Sr., who died the same day as his sister in nearby Chambersburg, Pa. He was 78.

What will be missed the most, Karen said, is her mother's legacy of caring.

"Mom cared for a lot of 'birds' that weren't in her nest," Karen said, referring to her mother's history of taking in relatives and their children when there was a need.

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