Eulogy for Ruth Marie Hagnauer Krieshok
September 7, 1923 - July 31, 2007
My name is Tom Krieshok, and Ruth Krieshok was my mom. Over the last few days our family sat around and re-told hundreds of stories about mom, her life, and her world, a very big and friendly world for a girl born in Granite City, Illinois, who lived all but a few hundred of her days within a few miles of that birthplace.
Mom was born by a midwife on Benton Avenue, and grew up in the "old neighborhood" on East 23rd Street. She was very fond of the "old neighborhood", and many years later still loved to drive around and point out which family lived in which house as she was growing up. Family was one of the driving forces in mom's life, her family of origin, the family she created with my dad and their five children, and the extended family of relatives, friends, and one-time strangers who all felt at home with her. She never met a person she didn't like. When I teach about personal strengths, I often talk about mom's ability to meet people. She would get on an elevator, and by the time it reached the bottom floor, she knew the life histories of everybody riding with her. But she never claimed that as a skill, because to her it was as natural as breathing itself. People were drawn to her because they could tell right away that she was a truly good person, someone they could trust, someone who really wanted to hear their story. She was a great best friend.
Mom's dad died when she was just 10 years old, and she and her sister and four brothers were raised by their mom, Cecelia Hagnauer, with some help from her Grandpa Hagnauer and others. She was very fond of her Grandpa, she loved her siblings, and she loved being a Hagnauer. As a kid she spent a lot of time at Wilson Park, where her mom worked for part of her life. Even though they were quite poor in those days, they were some of richest days of her life, swimming at the park, playing with her siblings and friends, and getting into only occasional trouble.
She was quite the athlete, what we then called a Tomboy. She was so good at playing ball that the boys made her bat left handed. And she was the fastest runner, winning most every race, though legend has it that she slowed down just once to let our dad catch her.
She was able to spend her first two years of high school at a Catholic boarding school in Arcadia, Missouri, a time and place that took on idyllic properties for her. In part because it is in a beautiful place, in part because she was recognized as an outstanding student, and in part because it might have been the first time she was able to sleep in a bed she did not have to share. She ended up graduating from Granite City High School.
One Sunday a few years after high school, mom went to church at Sacred Heart, and one of her high school classmates, Pete Krieshok, was at church while home on leave...in his Navy uniform...looking very handsomeÉand the rest is history. Mom and Dad got married in February because they figured it was a dreary month and it would give folks something to celebrate.
Being an only child himself, my dad loved being in the Hagnauer family, and he really was in it. They treated him like a brother, and family get togethers were always loud, and usually joyful. Many of those took place at JacobsmeyerÕs tavern, just a block from where mom grew up.
Mom worked at the Commonwealth for five years, and most of the time walked home. She told many stories about that experience, and seemed to love working. When she started having kids, she turned her attention to working at home, and raising five kids was more than a fulltime job. Dad worked rotating shifts, and mom would pack his lunch and get him off to work no matter what time of day or night that might be. Later on she volunteered as a Pink Lady at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, where her favorite duty was to give tours of the hospital. Go figure.
Mom's other real loves, in addition to her family of origin and Pete Krieshok, were her own kids and eventually her grandkids. Contrary to what I said about her never meeting anyone she didn't like, if she believed someone threatened one of her family or friends, well, she had a side of her that was not quite as angelic. She was extremely proud of being a Hagnauer, and avidly read the Press Record, to make sure nobody was saying bad things about her family, especially those running for office. She was proud of her Uncle Milton Worthen and the work he had done with the park district, especially since she had spent so much of her youth there. Her best friends were her sister Celie Rose, her brothers Ed, Bob, Nellie, and Chid, her sisters-in-law, Fuzz, Kassy, Bernie, and Janet, and Olga Mink, Betty Thompson, Pearl Tharpe, Maxine Green, Dolores Cozart, and a few others.
Throughout her life she continued to love learning, reading, and education. Later in life she took classes in psychology (with Ginger), typing and data processing, and drivers ed (riding in the same car with Aunt Fuzz and Aunt Cassie; their instructor, Ronnie Dillard said he'd never had a carfull quite like that before or since). Once I got my license I took her out driving some, and learning to drive was a huge accomplishment for her.
She always had a very quick and dry wit, and was great with words, going back to her high school Latin. In addition to the crossword puzzles, She could spot an editorial mistake a mile away, and sometimes, if there were no such word, she would just make it up. She liked to give nicknames, and we had many for her, Rudy, Rough House, Mik, Meeken, Butsy (only Dad used that one). And when she was upset with one of the kids, she would run through the whole litany of saints until she hit on the right name, Pete.Miss.Joe.Ging...Tom, get in here! Sometimes she would even revert to using some of her brothers' names in that list.
She loved music, and she was always singing...always. She would hum a tune for a while and then unconsciously add lyrics, often lyrics that had no relation to the tune. A favorite was singing lyrics from a church song to a jingle from a TV commercial. We would just shake our heads in amazement, and she would be unaware that she was even singing, let alone inventing a new genre. She loved having us kids doing dishes in the kitchen, singing three or four part harmony, just like something out of the Sound of Music. And when her boys would get their guitars out and sing, she would melt, especially when we sang Bridge Over Troubled Waters, it was like she was cutting up onions...guaranteed.
A favorite image for me is mom cleaning up in the kitchen, humming away, always with a comb in her hair. Once she went to Saturday confession and straight to the church bazaar. It wasn't until she got home that she realized she still had a comb in her hair. She loved telling that story, I think in part because she loved being human. She didn't like it when people put on airs and acted like they were better than others. She was proud to describe herself as "shanty Irish" as opposed to "lace curtain Irish".
Another skill that mom had was her creativity, one piece of which was her ability to make an adventure out of nothing. A sheet over the table created a tent for "camping out" in the dining room; a sheet over a branch in the backyard created a tent for camping out on a hot summer night; running through the sprinkler, what she called taking a shower bath, was really as much fun as going swimming, and we always had a pool in the back yard, even though it was maybe only four feet across.
Her creativity also surfaced in the kitchen. A regular MacGyver with being able to rescue a near disaster, one time making Chicken a la King into Beef a la Peanuts when she found she didn't have quite the right ingredients. Sometimes she was downright brilliant. For breakfast she would often make soft-boiled eggs (the ones that sometimes have little pieces of egg shell still in them), what we started out calling cuppie eggs because she served them in a cup, but eventually were known as puppy eggs. She had a rule that for every piece of shell we found in them we would get a dime. Think about that. We ate our soft-boiled eggs, hoping we would find a shell, or maybe even two. And we would be jealous when one of the siblings found a shell and we didn't.
Her Granddaughter Amy, who is in Germany and cannot be here today, remembers the empathy her grandma felt for anyone and everyone. She wrote, "No matter a person's background or past mistakes, Grandma could find something good in everyone. It was her empathy that earned her the reputation as "Defender of All". She never spoke ill of anyone, and if anyone else did in her presence, she gently presented arguments from the opposing side". I myself remember growing up in an earlier time when racial prejudice was a way of life, but not in our house, not out of our mouths. She was the eternal optimist, finding not only the best in people, but the best in situations. Last night one of her nephews said "Aunt Ruth loved you no matter what. It didn't matter what trouble you had been into or what you were doing in your life, you always knew that Aunt Ruth's love was unconditional."
And she loved extending the reach of those she considered family. For all of my growing up years, the big Thanksgiving family gathering was at our house on Pine Street. As many as 80 people would eat at that house every Thanksgiving, always with just one bathroom. Lots of food, fun, family, it seemed like we had a hundred cousins; and if any of the kids wanted to invite friends, so much the better. Ginger and I were involved with the CYO choir for a couple years in the late 60's, and our advisor Jim Reinhardt, remembers everyone coming over to the Krieshok house after Mass, and how welcoming my mom and dad were. One of my brothers-in-law said of her that he always felt so welcome in the Pine Street house.
Many of our friends became like family members, Denny Kelahan, Tim Moore, and Rick Halvachs. I picked up a hitchhiker once, and my family took him in for a day. But once when I got stranded on the side of the road in a snowstorm I myself hitched a ride with Lanning Melville, who ended up spending several days with the family and to this day sends us cards every year. Two years ago he brought his wife and daughter to Granite City from Los Angeles, just to re-connect with my mom and the rest of us, so strong was the connection.
There were lots of other things Mom loved:
- big family outings to Sandy Beach and Cobblestone, where in Crazy 8's, though rarely in life, diamonds are a girl's best friend
- the crossword puzzle, though she had to fight dad for it
- the Cardinals...sometimes
- making birthdays special
- eating sweets (she always had a secret horde of candy somewhere in the house)
- downtown St. Louis
- gabbing on the phone, especially with her sis and sisters in law
- bread and butter
- Joe flying his model rockets
- listening to the radio, especially Jack Buck, the Cardinals, and hockey games
- playing bunko, or going to "club" as she called it
- re-decorating the house, mostly by just moving things around. That was one of her therapies - though it didnÕt seem to be quite so therapeutic for Dad.
- growing sweet potato vines
- Pete and Paula being twins--most of the time she loved that...
- garage sales. She was a bit of a garage sale junkie, and we still have a basement full of garage sale...stuff. Though to this day the boys have not forgiven her for giving away our coveted baseball card collections.
- playing Cootie with Katie. Or playing any kind of game with any of the kids or grandkids she could talk into it.
- being Irish.
A few years ago, before Dad died, the family found a guardian angel in the person of Bonnie Papp, who allowed mom and dad to stay in the home even though they needed significant care. For Bonnie we are eternally grateful. Mom broke her leg back in October, and for all but six weeks since then, has been living in hospitals of one sort or another. She rarely complained, and her healthcare providers described her as "sweet", with beautiful, sparkling eyes. Those eyes were particularly communicative in the last month, when they had to do all her talking. But even then she still had that sense of humor.
What do I really want you to remember about my mom?
In the movie, Mr. Holland's Opus, the main character (Mr. Holland) is a lifelong high school band teacher who longed to be on the big stage, composing grand symphonies played by renowned orchestras. Spending his life as a high school teacher at times seemed small to him, but in the end, it was the lives he touched in his day to day work, teaching students, raising his own children, and being a role model, that was his greatest accomplishment, his magnum opus. Ruth Hagnauer Krieshok's magnum opus is alive in this room, and alive in the hearts of the countless people she touched. Today we celebrate your life Ruth Krieshok, Defender Of All, we, your magnum opus.