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Anna Jane (Rudisill) Wolber

July 17, 2010|By MARLO BARNHART
  • Anna Jane Wolber and her husband, Paul Wolber, are shown in this picture taken on their wedding day in 1943 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hagerstown.
Submitted photo,

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in 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 Anna Jane (Rudisill) Wolber, who died June 24 at the age of 88. Her obituary appeared in the July 7 edition of The Herald-Mail.

While Anna Jane Wolber's three children had heard vague stories of the existence of some letters sent to her during the war years by her new husband, Paul, they didn't know the scope, the number or especially the depth of emotion contained in those long-ago love letters until they surfaced a few days after her death.

Each letter is five pages long, written in long hand on formal vellum stationary. So far, the number of letters is 336 and counting, said Gwen Wolber Hattersley, the couple's oldest daughter.

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"They were all written between 1944 and 1946," Gwen said. "For the past 63 years, they have been in a trunk we found at the family home on The Terrace."

Paul Wolber died May 21 at the age of 95. Anna Jane followed a month later, passing away June 24 at the age of 88.

"I was surprised by the romance in those letters," said Dr. Greg Wolber, a clinical psychologist in Richmond, Va.

Greg said his father was not what one would describe as an affectionate kind of man. But he hastened to add that they were dedicated to each other throughout their long lives together -- and apart.

Anna Jane Rudisill was an only child, born to her mother when she was just 13 years old, Greg said.

Paul and Anna Jane met on a blind date at a Fort Ritchie social function. They married in 1943 in a military ceremony at Trinity Lutheran Church.

Lt. Paul Wolber had joined the Army a year earlier and was, for a time, assigned to Fort Ritchie. In 1944, Paul was assigned to the headquarters of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific, where he remained until the end of the war. It was during this period that the letter-writing blitz began and continued on a daily basis.

On July 11, Gwen, Greg and their younger sister, Paula, gathered with friends of both of their parents to share stories and experiences. Gwen brought along many of the letters so they could be read by the couple's friends.

"These letters literally revealed a mother and father we knew nothing about," Gwen said.

Also uncovered was Paul's extensive collection of famous headline newspapers saved over the years. Pearl Harbor, the end of the war and other landmark events all had been preserved, Gwen said.

Home from the war, Paul opened a men's clothing store in 1946 with his father-in-law, Kenneth Rudisill. The business venture ended in 1950 when Paul enrolled in the pre-med curriculum at Ohio State University on the GI Bill. He and Anna Jane moved there with their three young children in tow.

While Paul was in school, Anna Jane ran the household on a shoestring.

"Mother was the freezer queen," Gwen said.

Gwen said her mother froze everything -- even potato chips, dividing them up in individual packages. With the fish and game Paul bagged on his hunting trips, Anna Jane filled the family freezer.

"When the Chef Boyardee pizza mix came out, she would make it so thin you could see through it so it would go further," Gwen said.

Greg said his mother often would pop some popcorn at night for her children and they would settle in for an evening watching television. An obsessive housekeeper, Anna Jane never was what Greg would call a great cook, but she did have some favorite recipes that pleased her family.

"There was a lot of gravy on bread to eat," he said. "She always made sure we had enough to eat and that we were clean."

Those characteristics were common among parents who grew up during the Depression, Greg said.

"Mom never bought things like paper towels when she could use something else that could be rinsed and used over and over again," he said.

While in Ohio, Anna Jane put up a swing set for the children all by herself.

"That was the first time we ever heard swear words," Gwen said.

No slouch in the education department, Anna Jane had earned her degree in education from Duke University in 1943. When the family returned to Hagerstown after Paul completed his medical training, Anna Jane substituted at North Hagerstown High School for a while. She later took a position at the Washington County Free Library. But her family always came first.

Gwen said she was in junior high school when Hagerstown again became the family's address. For 50 years, the Wolbers lived on The Terrace.

"Dad was strict, but fair," Gwen said of family discipline.

Still with his practice, Paul wasn't around a lot.

"I remember hearing her tell us that we would have to wait until our father got home," Gwen said.

Anna Jane once told Gwen that the 65-year marriage lasted so long because there were times of separation. And though the passion of those World War II love letters might not have lasted all those years, the glue that held the family together was as strong as ever until the end.

Youngest daughter Paula Wolber left for China right after her mother's memorial service so she could visit her son, Gwen said.

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