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For Alma O'Toole, family was first, last and always

January 20, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes 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 Alma Tomlinson O'Toole, who died Jan. 8 at the age of 91. Her obituary was published in the Jan. 10 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Born in Moundsville, W.Va., Alma Tomlinson (O'Toole) was a mountain girl through and through.

Her family said that meant she knew from an early age what was important in life, and that was family - both present and past.

Alma's son and daughter both were born in nearby Wheeling, W.Va., and they remember how much fun their mother had with them while growing up there.

That's not to say there wasn't a lot to do.

"We both had chores," said daughter Carol Divelbiss of Hagerstown. "I did laundry and a lot of ironing."

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Older by five years, Alma's son, William "Bud" O'Toole III, said he was in charge of cutting grass.

"I also remember my first job was delivering newspapers," he said.

An accomplished seamstress, Alma was fond of making mother-daughter dresses, Carol said.

"She also made christening gowns for her great-grandchildren, all hand sewn," she said.

Family history was a big source of pride for Alma, who was a direct descendant of the couple who in 1770 discovered the 2,000-year-old Grave Creek Mound in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle.

Joseph Tomlinson Jr. was the very first settler at Grave Creek in Elizabethtown, W.Va., now known as Moundsville. While hunting one day, Joseph discovered the mound.

A museum built adjacent to the mound contains documentation of the discovery by Alma's ancestors 238 years ago.

Alma left her beloved hometown in 1958 to follow her husband to Hagerstown with his business, Potomac Dyeing and Printing, which used to be on Florida Avenue.

They lived in an apartment on Potomac Avenue at first, and moved to Cherry Tree Circle in 1963, where Alma resided until her death Jan. 8 at the age of 91.

"She took care of her house and her family," Carol said.

Alma also worked tirelessly for her church, John Wesley United Methodist, and volunteered at Western Maryland Hospital.

Diana Gray said her grandmother was a very strong person who spent eight years caring for her husband prior to his death in 1987.

"She lifted him in and out of the car and did whatever it took to keep him from having to go into a nursing home," Diana said.

Diana's sister, Sally Rogers, conveyed her memories of her grandmother in a letter. "She was an incredible woman," Sally wrote. "She makes me want to be strong. She makes me want to strengthen my faith."

Another granddaughter, Erin Moroney, said by telephone that her grandmother once flew to Cherry Point, N.C., to be with her two weeks after the birth of her second child.

"She was 75 years old then, and she came down and helped me drive up to Maryland," said Erin, who now resides in Georgia.

Maureen South was the youngest grandchild, so she said she had grandmother all to herself for a while. Now a physical therapist, Maureen said she understands how strong her grandmother was to have taken care of her ailing husband in the years before he died.

"I learned a lot from her - how to be a good wife and mom and how to be a lady," Maureen said.

Bud O'Toole IV, who lives in Bethlehem, Pa., described his grandmother as a real sweetheart.

He also remembers how she took her grandchildren to visit the graves of their ancestors in West Virginia on a trip home.

"Her birthday was on Dec. 7, 1916," he said. Alma and her husband were headed for a restaurant to celebrate her 25th birthday when they noticed people crowded around a shop to hear radio reports of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Granddaughter Colleen Kessler said by telephone from her Bethlehem, Pa., home that she never will forget how her grandmother traveled to her home to help her when Colleen's children had serious health problems.

"She would listen to me as I wondered why my kids were sick," Colleen said. "Sometimes, I would question God."

But then Alma would comfort her with her own steadfast faith.

"Grandma would say, 'He's there ... he's there' and then she'd smile," Colleen said.

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