Kathleen V. Newcomer

July 07, 2012|By JANET HEIM |
  • Kathleen Newcomer poses for this church directory photo taken in 1995.
Submitted photo

Kathleen Smith didn’t know how to cook when she married Richard “Dick” Newcomer in November 1938, but after living with her in-laws in the Newcomer farmstead for several months, she learned from her mother-in-law.

Since those early cooking lessons, Kathleen became known for her generous hospitality and the pleasure she derived from feeding a crowd.

“She always had oodles and oodles of food,” said oldest niece Catherine “Cate” Smith of Hagerstown. “When she told you she’d have a little bite, she had enough for an army.”

She has another fond memory from the 1950s. Cate’s family lived in the Beaver Creek area, and got a television set in March 1953. She remembers Dick and Kathleen and their daughter, Ruann, coming over every Sunday night to watch a preacher, which was followed by Roy Rogers.

“Ruann wanted to watch Roy Rogers with us,” Cate said. “Of course, all the kids wanted to watch Roy Rogers.”

Kathleen was the fifth of Harry and Sadie Smith’s six children. Harry worked for Brining Undertakers and was 33 when he died of the flu in 1918, Ruann said.

The youngest, George, was born on Christmas Day 1918. Harry died the next day in the same bed his son had been born in a day earlier.

With Harry’s death, the children were split up among the family. Kathleen lived with an aunt for about two years.

Sadie got a job as a housekeeper for the Lemuel Toms family in Benevola and kept George with her. When George was 2, Sadie was doing a load of wash and told George not to pull the plug on the washing machine. Sadie turned her back briefly, just long enough for George to pull the plug, and he was scalded with the hot wash water and died.

Kathleen was the next youngest child, and after George’s death, went to live with Sadie. When J. William “Will” Stine divorced his first wife, he and his son moved back in with his mother in her stone house on Old National Pike. He worked at the mill, and when he learned that Sadie was working in the area, they started playing cards together. They married in 1923.

“She could not have asked for a nicer stepfather,” Ruann said. “He really treated her as a daughter.”

Kathleen worked in the store the family ran out of the stone house. She would have graduated from Boonsboro High School in 1934, but she missed too much school one year due to kidney stones, so graduated a year later.

She attended Harmony Hill school and Benevola United Methodist Church with Dick, both active in the Christian Endeavors youth group. They married on Thanksgiving Eve 1938.

As the wife of a farmer, there were no vacations, Ruann said. She attributed her mother’s longevity to her work ethic and staying busy.

Kathleen rarely ventured far from her home, but she traveled around Maryland with Ruann during the first two years of Ruann’s three-year term as Maryland state regent for Daughters of the American Revolution, which ended June 30.

“She enjoyed being with all the girls,” Ruann said.

Kathleen Newcomer liked her routines. There was the spring and fall cleaning of the Newcomer farmhouse in Benevola, where she lived for 73 years since her marriage to Dick. Kathleen did her seasonal cleaning until she was almost 95.

For years, there was the Friday outing to Hagerstown in her freshly washed 1985 Chevrolet Impala to get her hair done.

“That was her day,” Ruann said. “She enjoyed that.”

The family were longtime members of Benevola United Methodist Church, where Kathleen played organ and piano for many years, until Ruann took on the role. Kathleen made countless apple dumplings and helped prepare oysters for church oyster feeds. Whenever there was a potluck, Kathleen would prepare her signature sweet potato casserole, Ruann said. 

Great-niece Susan McGinley of Hagerstown said she grew up in Staunton, Va., as “a city kid” before she and her husband moved to Hagerstown 33 years ago. She and her siblings always looked forward to visits to the Newcomer farm, where they were introduced to butchering, as well as country hospitality.

“She had a tremendous gift of hospitality. If we were coming for dinner, it was like a farm feast. It was all good home cooking,” Susan said. “She was a very open-arms kind of lady. She thought so much more of other people than herself.”

Ruann had a feeling that her mother was going to die on Father’s Day this year. It was exactly a year ago, on Father’s Day 2011, that Kathleen had admitted to her daughter that she had fallen two days before.

An X-ray showed a broken collarbone and despite Ruann’s daily visits to check on her mother, Kathleen, then 95, no longer was feeling comfortable living alone in her Benevola farmhouse.

Kathleen eventually ended up at Somerford Assisted Living and settled into life there, making new friends. She was doing well until testing to discover the cause of bleeding revealed a vaginal tumor.

Ruann was not sure her mother was up for 25 radiation treatments, but the bleeding finally stopped after the 11th treatment. It was taking such a toll on Kathleen that the doctor finally agreed with Ruann that 15 treatments was enough.

Kathleen knew it was her 96th birthday on June 12, acknowledging the cake and cards. Five days later, she went to sleep and didn’t wake up.

Ruann said she doesn’t remember her dreams much anymore, but on Sunday, June 17, Father’s Day, she woke up to the memory of a vivid dream.

“I was in my house in Leesburg and a car pulled up and there was my father,” Ruann recalled.

As Ruann struggles with the loss of her mother, she is grateful for her love and support. Since 1988, when Ruann and her husband, Jack, moved back to Hagerstown, Kathleen packed her daughter’s lunch every day for 12 years before Ruann headed down the road for her teaching job in Leesburg.

Besides physical nourishment, it also included food for the soul — in the form of a quote handwritten on a small slip of paper. Kathleen found these nuggets of wisdom in country magazines, and Ruann said her fellow teachers looked forward to the day’s quote as much as she did.

Ruann had come across the paper-clipped collection as she sorted things in her mother’s home recently, sayings such as “Why can’t all life’s problems happen when we’re teenagers and know everything?” to “Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine” to “You’re getting old when everything either dries up or leaks.” 

Ruann said Kathleen always was waiting to bring her home from Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., on the weekends Ruann could get away from her studies. Her parents always got her to Hagerstown Municipal Band practices and went to the concerts when Ruann played with the band during high school and college, followed by ice cream stops at Superior Dairy.

“My parents were always there for me,” Ruann said.

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 Kathleen V. Newcomer, who died June 17 at the age of 96. Her obituary was published in the June 19 edition of The Herald-Mail.

The Herald-Mail Articles