Daughter is proud of her spunky mother's legacy

October 07, 2007|By KATE COLEMAN

My mother died Sept. 25 at her home in West Long Branch, N.J.

Eighty-nine years old, in failing health the past several months, her passing was not unexpected, yet I can't believe she's gone.

We had wonderful gatherings of friends and family. Mom's seven grandchildren participated in the service. It felt perfect. I wrote a eulogy, which my daughter delivered.

Now I'll share some of it with you.

"Oh, honest!"

That was one of Mom's trademark expressions, and probably what she'd say if she knew we were going to eulogize her. She never liked the limelight.


Katherine "Kaddy" Mielke was born in 1918 and grew up in Long Branch with sisters Mary and Alice, and younger brother Henry. Their father, Otto, was the son of German immigrants; their mother, Margaret, had come to America from County Kerry, Ireland, when she was 17 years old. Otto died when Kaddy was 10.

She was smart - had the highest average in the commercial course in her high school class of 1935. She was a whiz-bang typist and took shorthand with ease.

She always thought she'd be a "career girl." She often said her favorite job had been in the 5&10, but she also worked in a real estate office, then commuted to New York for another job and later for the federal government.

In 1946, after The War, she married our dad, Frank Ronan, another Long Branch native. She continued working as executive secretary to the director of Camp Evans, a U.S. Army Signal Corps base. After 14 years, when twin baby girls joined her 3-year-old daughter (me) in 1953, Kaddy turned her considerable energies to full-time motherhood. We moved to the three-bedroom split-level house on Throckmorton Avenue, where she lived for the rest of her life.

There were wonderful long summer days at Cramer's Pool on Ocean Avenue. She watched and applauded every handstand and cannonball. She put on and took off snowsuits and rubber boots and mittens and scarves for three little girls in and out and in and out on snow days. Before we got carpeting, she let us roller-skate in the living room.

She could always be counted on for cupcakes for school parties. She made wonderful costumes. My sisters, Patti and Eena, took the grand prize in the town Halloween competition one year as "Table for Two." Their heads, wearing upended baskets of flowers, served as the centerpiece of the fully set tablecloth they wore with arms outstretched.

Mom knew every nursery rhyme and sang many wonderful old songs: "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder," George M. Cohan's "For It Was Mary" and "Old Dog Trey" among them.

She made up a little song of her own and sang it as we sat on her lap or snuggled next to her on the way home from frequent family parties in the pre-seat-belt, pre-car-seat days of big Chevrolet sedans:

"We're going homey homey, we're going homey home."

"We're going homey homey, we're going homey home."

In 1957 or '58, the "career girl" took a part-time job working evenings and Saturday mornings for two busy physicians. She rarely got home before 10 p.m. - usually after 11 - but she'd wake us, as promised, to set our hair so we'd have the desired curls for school the next day.

She continued to work - her tenure totaled more than 30 years - for Dr. David Falco. He was her physician, but that didn't stop her from hustling him out of her hospital room last March: "Don't you have office hours?" she asked.

Mom took care of her family and many others. "I love old people," she'd frequently say, and she lived that love helping several elderly friends and relatives over many years.

She loved young people, too. When her brother and his wife were posted in Belgium, their kids spent college breaks with Aunt Kaddy and Uncle Frank.

When we had kids of our own, "Mom Mom" was there - always happily available. She sewed Little Orphan Annie, Dracula and witch costumes. She was the enthusiastic audience for disco dance shows (with Pop Pop twirling flashlights in the darkened living room). She listened to her youngest grandchild, Jim, read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" in its entirety over several months, with dictionary in tow, and of course she sang the songs again.

Mom lived at her Throckmorton Avenue address alone since Dad died in 1988.

She spent her last few months in a hospital bed, but she was home - "homey homey" - and that was important to her.

Less than a month ago, she told me, "I'm an old lady, but I've still got a lot of spunk."

Yes, indeed.

That same weekend, she told the three of us "I'm proud of you girls."

And we're proud of you, Mom.

Kate Coleman writes a monthly Lifestyle column and covers the Maryland Symphony Orchestra for The Herald-Mail. She can be reached via e-mail at

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