Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Georgia On My Mind 2.0

In March, I posted a blog describing the scourge of Alzheimer's and the way it was taking control of my mother-in-law, Georgia Kolb. Having then recently dropped my crystal ball, I had no way of knowing what the future held for my bride's mother.

Sadly, Georgia passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly on Tuesday morning, the day after the 29th anniversary of my biological mother's passing. Georgia died in her sleep, succumbing to a stomach flu bug that a healthier incubator might have outlasted. We were blessed that Mom maintained a level of cognizance with family and friends that enabled us all to avoid the anguish of losing our close personal connections. She never suffered. She merely left us much too soon.

I thought I would publish the obituary I just wrote as a tribute to Mom. She was a part of my life for more than 30 years, 12 years longer than my biological mother, especially significant when one considers that I could walk and talk from the day of our initial meeting.

The obituary does not go into much detail about my personal relationship with this remarkable woman. She welcomed me into her family, and gave me her daughter, notwithstanding the differences in our faiths and notwithstanding the importance of faith in her own life. She respected the fact that her grandchildren would be raised in a non-Christian home; she made a commitment not to interfere with their religious upbringing and she was true to her word. As a result, Phillip and Ellie have a deeper respect for their grandparents' faith, grew up without being conflicted and understand that there is room in the world for many traffic lanes to God.

The obituary does not go into much detail about the mischievous times we shared. When her health allowed, we made regular trips to Mystic Lake casino during her visits to the Twin Cities. She loved the fact that she could sneak away with her son-in-law, smoke her Virginia Slims without getting busted, and brag to the doorman that she was the kind of mother-in-law that I wanted to spend time with. During a family trip to Cancun, we over-sampled jumbo margaritas one night, much to the chagrin of my bride and my father-in-law and much to the amazement of Phil and Ellie, who had never seen Dad and Grandma so "happy".

I know that at nearly 58 it's my turn to start saying "goodbye". I just don't want to get good at writing obituaries. I tried to avoid responsibility for this one. It was too difficult to write and do sufficient justice to its subject. The draft received from the well-meaning scribe from the funeral home, and the look in Deb's eyes when she read it, made avoidance impossible.

Many thanks to my Facebook friends who discerned from my status and the resulting comments what had transpired and expressed their condolences. We've lost another great lady and it is comforting to see how universally that truth is accepted. Here's what I came up with:

Georgia Marie Kolb died Tuesday, December 15, succumbing peacefully to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. With her passing, Big Stone Lake-area residents have lost their Grand Doyenne, a woman with an unbridled passion for life and commitment to serving her family, her church and her community.

Born to Elmer and Ruby (Gagnon) Hamm in Odessa, South Dakota on November 19, 1936, Georgia lived nearly her entire life within a 10 mile radius of her beloved Big Stone Lake. A graduate of Ortonville High School, she and sweetheart Kenny Kolb were married on January 8, 1954.

She and Kenny raised their three children, Kim, Deb and Mark, while Georgia held down various jobs, including positions at the Hilltop CafĂ©, the restaurant at the Big Stone Canning Factory and Auchstetter’s Drug Store. Georgia’s warm, embracing personality made her a natural retailer. For nearly 20 years, she operated Georgia’s Apparel in Ortonville, bringing the latest styles personally selected from Fashion Market in Minneapolis to her neighbors on the prairie. For more than 50 years she and Kenny ran Ken’s Fireworks in Big Stone City, becoming one of the largest independently owned fireworks merchants in the State. Customers drive for hundreds of miles each year to reconnect with Georgia and the relationship she established with all of her customers.

Georgia was also a devoted and energetic volunteer on behalf of a number of causes. Not surprisingly, she was a real “firecracker” in her work with the Big Stone Lake Area Tourism, promoting the hosting of the MS Society’s TRAM and professional walleye fishing tournaments on Big Stone Lake. She and Kenny served as Grand Marshalls of the Ortonville Corn Fest Parade. Her efforts were memorialized in a granite monument offering thanks permanently installed at the foot of Big Stone Lake. Her love and support of Tabor United Methodist Church, where she and Kenny were married, resulted in years of devotion to the church’s choir and Fall Harvest, Flower Show and Christmas celebrations. Active in Eastern Star, Georgia rose to serve as Worthy Grand Matron of the Minnesota Chapter.

Of all Georgia’s loves, none were more important than her friends and family. Whether holding court at her weekly Friday Lunch Bunch or warmly embracing her lifelong friends from church, business and the community, all who knew Georgia were blessed with her special sparkle and camaraderie. Luckiest of all to have shared her presence was Georgia’s loving family. Georgia gave unselfishly of herself, showering her children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, brothers, sisters and in-laws with love and devotion throughout their lives. Georgia set an example for her family by walking the walk of selflessness, a strong work ethic, dedication to the community and a spiritual moral compass.

Georgia is survived by her husband Ken of Ortonville, MN; children, Kim of Big Stone City, SD, Deb (Sam) of Independence, MN, Mark (Karen) of Rockford, MN; grandchildren, Kyle and Shawn Kolb, Phillip and Ellie Stern, Kelly and Kristi Kolb; brothers and sisters in-law, Bob and Marge Kolb and Arlyss and Luane Welde; many nieces and nephews, and special friend, Mary Ann Ulrich. Georgia is preceded in death by her parents, her brother, Robert Hamm, and her sister, Ruth Hamm Wollschlager.

The family wishes to express its thanks to the caregivers at the Golden Living residence in Millbank, South Dakota, and to Golden Living’s resident cuddler, Boots the Cat, for the loving care extended to Georgia over the past months. Memorials are preferred to the Department of Neurology at the University of Minnesota for the support of Alzheimer’s research. Donations may be sent to the Minnesota Medical Foundation, P.O. Box 64001, St. Paul, MN 55164-001.

A celebration of Georgia’s life will take place at Tabor United Methodist Church in Big Stone City, South Dakota at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, January 2, 2010. Visitation will be held at 12:30 p.m. prior to the celebration.