On May 7, 2013 I flew from Chicago to Nebraska to give this eulogy for my dear old Grandma Wilma. It was one of, if not the most important things I’ve been able to do in my life. She was without exaggeration the most loving, classy, beautiful and warm person I have ever known. I’m thrilled to have been able to help memorialize her life.
Good Morning. I’m Sophie Vodvarka, the youngest of Wilma’s 17 grandchildren. My mother Rose was Wilma’s youngest of six children. It’s hard to believe we are here celebrating the life of this wonderful, loving, inspirational woman. Because as one of my friends recently pointed out, “Czech women never die!”
We all have our own memories as her children, spouses of her children, her grandchildren and great grandchildren, and her friends and neighbors. However we knew her, Wilma’s kindness and strength shone always. Wilma was a caretaker, a motherly figure to us all.
Wilma lived on the farm she and Swede build when they first married. She gave birth to her first child, Kathleen, in the farmhouse and she lived there until she was almost 90 years old. She also mowed the lawn herself until she was about 85.
A central memory to my grandmother’s life was how cool her old farmhouse was. When we grandkids weren’t building forts in the ditches we always took great pleasure in playing with the central vacuum system which she would use to suck up all the flies upstairs, and the laundry chute where any number of toys and household items were sent sliding down into the basement.
There were plenty of fables of the farmhouse that were before my time, like Bill’s alligator that lived in the basement bathtub and the time some of the grandkids and Wilma sewed Swede to the couch while he was sleeping. I think we all must have memories of her in the kitchen though, filling the house with wonderful healthy meals followed by extremely rich desserts. As Matt Harre mentioned, “She was always making a lot of noise in the kitchen!”
Wilma’s Czech heritage showed in her kolaches, which were a staple in the kitchen. She spoke Czech when she was growing up, learning English in school. I asked her a few years ago before going to study abroad in the Czech Republic if she remembered any words. She told me that she remembered “pivo” which means beer, and *“Hesky holka dej mi ho bitchka” which means “hey pretty girl come give me a kiss.”
In her later life Wilma began to travel with Swede and her siblings Vivian and Bill. They took trips to Spain, Morocco, **China, Hawaii, Scandanavia, Nova Scotia and other parts of the US. She kept a sand collection from all of the beaches she went to around the world. The family has continued to contribute sand along from their travels.
Wilma was healthy in mind, body and spirit. She kept a daily journal and attended exercise classes until late in life. She was a devout Catholic and taught her family the kind values of the Church. Wilma was also an excellent multi-tasker, and when she walked laps at exercise class she kept track of the number of laps on one hand and on the other, the number of rosary prayers she was saying.
Her exercises certainly showed in her daily life. I remember her climbing ladders to go mulberry-picking on the farm and going on hikes with us on Murphy Girl trips. I also remember the late Terry Henion, husband of Wilma’s daughter Kriss, laughing about how Wilma and Vivian were always several steps in front of everyone else.
I think we all remember Wilma as the kindest of women, who had a gentle sense of humor and always delighted in everyone’s accomplishments. She was easy to laugh with, especially when she was beating you at canasta or bridge or pinochle.
She was wonderful at remembering everyone’s birthdays and Valentine’s Day. Her cards were always beautifully written in cursive, the message on the card always simple and loving. And I don’t know about the rest of you but I still have a stack of $2 bills from her.
Wilma lived at the Exeter Care Center for the last 5-6 years but it never took away her spunk. As we all know, her room was always stocked with multiple types of chocolate and she always had ice cream bars in the freezer in the common room. She took care of the flowers outside and watched the birds and knitted things for the family and played cards.
What not everyone knew though is that she and Vivian also always had a secret little stash of booze in their room. Our cousin Rachael used to laugh about how they must be having a ball living together, and that it was “just like living in the dorms!” Additionally, Wilma also kept the priest’s vestments in her closet for when he came to say mass once a week.
Wilma was stunning to me throughout my life. As a little girl I used to listen to stories of her riding her horse Pearl to teach in a one-room schoolhouse, and how she would play in the hay bales out on the Votipka farm just like my mother did, on the Murphy farm.
She was a wonderful grandmother, giving me a taste of the farm life from an early age. One of my earliest memories was when I would go out to visit at the farm and sleep in her bed with her, and get up in the morning and take milk out to the stray kitties who lived in the old grain silos.
I can’t imagine a better person to look up to than my grandmother. She lived every day with love and integrity, taking care of her children and her grandchildren and great grandchildren and any other child that came into her sight.
Wilma was a beautiful woman inside and out. I can’t help but mention one of my favorite stories told by Vivian. Vivian took great pride in the Votipka sisters being well-known in Filmore County for having long, attractive, shapely legs. “You know they call us the legs sisters!” Vivian said to me. (I think we’re all going to have to fight over that cardboard cut-out of Vivian at the beach that was in Grandma’s room!)
Grandma, I am sad to have you gone but there’s a part of you living in all of us—the Votipka clan lives on with your inspiring love as an example of strength and how to live with such dignity, grace and kindness.
My grandmother was a gem, loved by all who knew her. It has been a pleasure to speak with you about her today. May God bless her, and all of us.
*This Czech translation is half-correct and half-what-the-phrase-sounded-like that my Aunts told me.
**Apparently she didn’t go to China. I was told this a day later after delivering the eulogy. It was just Vivian that went.