Perpetuating Fine Arts
I started this blog with a tale of my care-free years during my early childhood in the Buchenstrasse. It is now high time to write about the person who was responsible for making my adult life a time of extreme happiness and great love: Mary Alice Schaper, my best friend and loving companion, the mother of my six children and truly the foundation of the great family we raised in the USA. I hope you enjoy reading this biography of a role model mother.
How the Schaper Family moved to California
In Glendora, California, at the Oakdale Cemetery, there is a family grave site which has the Schaper name on it. This site stands as a monument to the great love which exists between Mary Alice and Peter Wolfgang and to the family they raised in the USA. It also proclaims that it is dedicated to the idea that the grand tradition of being supporters of the fine arts is, and has been for almost two centuries, a trait of the Schaper family. By now the “fine arts” concept also has grown from painting, sculpturing and music to include such arts as computer graphic design and digital photography. The traditional arts were certainly practiced by Schapers in the “old world”, in Berlin, Germany during the 19th and 20th century and this tradition is noted by the Schaper honor grave (Ehrengrab) at the Jerusalem Cemetery in Berlin which Fritz Schaper and his wife Helene dedicated as their family grave site in the 1920ies. It was during the 1940ies that political events in Europe gave rise to the need for the heir to the Fritz Schaper family tradition to move to the freedom of the USA and to re-establish the Schaper name in the new world. Such a feat however required the cooperation of family members in the present and future. It is to that aim that the following biographies are written, so that the trend set in motion in the 19th century on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean may continue in future generations!
Biography of Mary A. Schaper
On August 25, 1932 the third child, Mary Alice, was born to Mary and Joseph Rausch in Lafayette Indiana. Mother and father were delighted to have a sibling to Ernest and Betty even though times were hard in the middle of the Great Depression and both parents had to work to earn enough money to support the family. Through much hard work Mary and Joe did manage to purchase a house on Greenbush Street, where little Mary spent most of her happy childhood. This was only marred by her father’s succumbing to alcoholism as a result of a serious accident which left him in constant pain throughout the rest of his life. During her early childhood Mary Alice spent a lot of time alone at home when she got out of Saint Lawrence grade school, until mom came home from the Duncan Electric Company or dad from the Clark’s Coal Yard. But Ernie kept an eye out for the two girls, bossing them around a lot, as the eldest of the family should. One typical childhood incident during that time has been recalled by Mary quite often: she and her sister would be playing with their much cherished doll house, furnishing it carefully and even dressing up their pet dog, Twinkle, in finery. Ernie then would come along, making sounds like a fire engine’s siren and yelling: “Fire” and throw out all the things the girls had assembled. When the three played, it was always what Ernie wanted to do. Mary was a good student, partially due to her tendency to do her homework diligently and her love for reading. So she had no problems in getting to enroll in Saint Francis High School where she excelled in her studies and was chosen as the valedictorian of her graduating class. Friendships were formed that continued for life time and the “Saint Francis Girls” communicate regularly even at the time of this writing.
After graduation, Mary decided to get a job at Purdue University to earn enough money for a college education, not necessarily at Purdue. She worked in the Residence Halls Office in the Administration Building as a bookkeeper and was well on the way to start a career in accounting, when she met Peter Schaper at a dance in the Columbia Park pavilion in Lafayette. Peter and his Purdue roommate, Jim Plemel, both seniors in the Aero School, double dated with Mary’s friend and classmate, Joan McKinney, for almost a year before the realization set in that a more serious relationship was in store for Mary and Peter. They started more serious dating, mostly going to basketball games and having frequent lunches at the Sweet Shoppe in the Student Union. Sundays were also special occasions when the two would have dinner at one of the local coffee shops, followed generally by a movie. At one such evening, Peter proposed marriage, not a complete surprise to Mary, got turned down but not discouraged. There was a memorable visit to New York City in the summer of 1951, after Peter’s graduation with a BS degree. Mary got to not only meet Peter’s family, she also took in most of the popular tourist sites of the metropolis. Finally, after a year -, in 1952 -, Mary accepted Peter’s long standing and oft-repeated at almost every date, proposal of marriage; this during a date when he forgot to ask and needed to be coaxed! They were married at Saint Lawrence Church on June 7, 1952.
The plan for the couple was to have Peter continue his education at Purdue, aiming for a Master’s Degree and then to move to California where Peter’s job opportunities were more abundant. There were several rental apartments which housed the two newlyweds, including a short stint at the married housing huts along Airport Road, but as the birth of Michael approached in the winter of 1952, Mary and husband accepted the offer of housing from her parents. She supported the young couple financially until regulations forced her to quit her job. In March, 1953 Mike was born at Saint Elizabeth Hospital and Mary officially started her new career as mother with a one week stay in the hospital, the usual routine in those days! Peter finished his studies at Purdue and in August, 1953 the new family of three headed West in a grey 1950 Olds 88 to start the California Schaper family in Altadena, CA.
While learning how to be a mom and housekeeper, her training as bookkeeper came in real handy. Over a period of about five years and several rented houses, she managed to not only feed and clothe the growing family – three more children: Peter, Liz and Janet – but to assemble furnishings for the home and put healthy food on the table, but also save some money for a house of her own. Peter’s salary at JPL was not very high, but careful budgeting allowed the Schaper family to enjoy life in California and even to make a couple of trips back to Indiana. Finally in 1958 the first house was purchased, in part thanks to the kind-heartedness of the selling agent who provided financial help to the young family in the form of a second mortgage. Life on Highview Avenue in Altadena was very comfortable for a while, and there were ball games on the street with some of the neighbor children and evening entertainment consisted primarily of a little TV and, now and then, a trip to the local drive-in theatre on family night. Mary would provide a bed in the back of the station wagon, load up on popcorn and soda and then have all the children asleep by the time the movie was over. Music was not forgotten in the Schaper tradition: A piano was purchased with the money Peter received from the German government as “reparation” for injustices having been suffered in the old country. Music lessons were arranged and Mary supervised regular practice times daily as each one of the youngsters grew up. Michael showed a particular talent and was entered in children’s concert in the Pasadena area. While the children attended elementary school at Sacred Heart, Mary volunteered to work in the school library, enabling her to keep an eye on her young family during the day and providing family dinners in the evening.
As the children grew older, they started to swim at Caltech on the age group swim team and Mary spent her days sitting on the pool deck during hours of team work-out. On weekends she could be seen at swim meets, volunteering as a timer or a judge or working at the desk. As her daughters entered into Catholic high school, she joined the parents club and eventually was elected president. So there was not much idle time.
It was in the very early 1960ies that Mary noticed that pain in her joints never seemed to stop. Dr. Sacassa, a noted rheumatologist in Pasadena soon diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis. This slow crippling disease did not deter Mary from her life’s work as a mother of five children (Paul arrived on the scene in 1961), and eventually six (Mary was born in 1971). Surgeries followed first on one leg, then a knee replacement on the other – which eventually had to be redone; all attributable to the arthritis. In spite of all this, Mary ‘s days were spent driving the children to and from school, driving them to swim practice, attending swim meets where Mary and Pete volunteered as timers or judges, and on some evenings teaching religious education at the church. It seemed to be a life blessed by happiness all around. But the turmoil of the 60ies caught up with the Schapers and racial unrest forced them to eventually sell the house on Highview Avenue, even though it had been added on to providing enough room for the family of eight. Mary and the youngest of the children, Mary K., were on a visit to Lafayette when Peter found a house in Glendora which he thought might fulfill the housing needs of the family. Upon her hasty return the house was indeed purchased and the happy days of the family life returned, although by now Michael had graduated from high school and was beginning to enjoy his independence. The main effect of damping a happy family life was always Mary’s disease, which she bore with grace, not having much choice in the matter.
[It is at this juncture that the biographer needs to say that seldom does a “housewife and mother” get enough credit for the tremendous responsibility placed on her for holding a family together or, for that matter, creating the home environment which keeps the family together. It is usually the “breadwinner” who gets the credit when in reality it is the mother who devotes all her life to maintaining a clean house, making sure that there is food on the table, making the money that is available last and still provide for savings for emergency and the future, and last but not least, making sure that there is time and money for vacation trips and family outings. The past has shown that Mary excelled at this task!]
Life in Glendora continued at the same hectic pace as the older children began to plan their college education and the two young ones occupied Mary’s time to re-live the swimming and PTA work, this time in the public school system. There was now enough extra time however for her to join the church choir and thus spend more evening time with Peter, who had volunteered to direct the choir. Both of them now looked forward to Peter’s retirement and what they hoped would be time for traveling and seeing the USA. When the retirement arrived in 1994, Mary had the house in pretty neat order and the couple began enjoying the pool and Jaccuzi as well as the remodeled home and yard. There were trips to the fall colors in New England and to Hawaii as guests of Liz and Don. The turn of the century was appropriately observed with Janet at their home and plans seemed to be working out pretty well. Eventually the crippling effects of her arthritis did catch up with the Schapers and in 2008 traveling became too much of an ordeal to be enjoyable. The year before marked one of the last official family gatherings which Mary attended on her 75th birthday celebration when the family – now consisting of 24 members – sat for the official portrait in Rancho Cucamonga, CA near Mary K.’s new home.
Trips to the doctors’ became more frequent and stronger medication was prescribed to alleviate arthritic pains. Then, in 2008 an automobile accident caused problems which severely limited Mary’s ability to move and walk unaided resulting in her almost total confinement to a wheelchair. Invitations to spend time in Hawaii in the Rhodes’ condominium had to be turned down as well as trips to Northern California to visit with Liz’s family or Janet were no longer and attendance at local family gatherings at Christmas time were limited to brief appearances by the grandparents of the now 11 grandchildren. Attempts to improve Mary’s condition by an extended stay at a rehabilitation facility in San Dimas for physical therapy provided only temporary relief and had to be repeated after a hiatus of about three months. The year 2010 was ushered in by Mary being confined to a hospital bed in the den of the Schaper home. In the summer of the year a small improvement was achieved and Mary, through great efforts of her own and with the dedicated help of a Visiting Angel assistant, she managed to get back into the wheel chair once a week and to tour her house and yard. But by November this was no longer possible and, mercifully, the end came on the 20th of January 2011.
Throughout the last year of her life Mary continued planning for the future. She directed improvements to the looks of the family home’s front yard and worried about the upkeep of the backyard. Gardening had always been her favorite hobby. Although being essentially confined to one room in the house for a year, Mary continued to remain quite cheerful. Her radiant smile was always noted by her visitors, family, doctors, hospice nurses and aids as well as friends who came to visit. A cheerful hello as the visitor entered her room was always returned with a “infectious” smile. At her funeral services the many friends who came to say farewell commented on this personality trait and the concept was born;
Mary – Mom – being the foundation of the American Schaper family!Share