Frances Mae Resik Rottman joined her many departed family members and friends on April 24, 2022. She received an appropriate and well earned send off on April 30. Four generations of relatives and friends mourned and celebrated together. It was a stunning turnout for someone who lived 95 amazing years.
As often happens at such times, an unexpected event comforted those attending. A poem/prayer she read each day was found by her daughter. The poem and the origin of it follow the eulogy delivered at her service. Her life was chronicled in her Road Less Traveled, The Last Dreamer, which appeared in AroundKent magazine in fall, 2018 (vol.16.)
Eulogy from requiem mass at St. Anthony of Padua church, Lorain, Ohio. April 30, 2022.
We are here to celebrate and remember the life of Frances Mae Resik Rottman. We all have one thing in common right now……our love for her and the example she set for us.
She played many roles in her life. I’ve identified over a dozen. You may know a few more. She was: Mother, Homemaker, Wife, Aunt, Grandma, Great Grandma, Sister, Daughter, Mother-in-law, Employee, Citizen, Parishioner and Friend. And she played all these roles very well.
She and I spent a week together a few years ago while Sue, Amy and other family members vacationed. I was blessed with the opportunity to listen to her talk about her life and the important people in it…..the many people she loved so dearly…her big family and her many friends. She talked so fondly and proudly of her life, her family, of Lorain, and her churches; St. Mary’s and St. Anthony’s.
I was struck by two themes in our conversations that week.
First, the many small ways she showed her love for everyone in her world. The many small things she did for each of us for a very long time. Fifty years in my case.
Baking was one of the many ways she showed her love as she prepared nut rolls, nutty horns, pies and always a birthday cake on the special day. And, there was always an extra seat at the dinner table. She and her husband Bob helped when grandchildren were born, in our case two in Virginia, one in Pennsylvania and one in Georgia. She was a lifelong volunteer at church, always doing something for someone else…..never asking for anything in return. Unconditional love.
Her life reminds me of the words of St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta who advised us to “do small things with great love”. She spent her life doing small things with great love for all of us. Those small things had a big impact and each of us can take comfort in them.
A second theme from our conversations that week was how happy she was with the life she led. No grumbling or complaining that she missed this or that, needed more of something, wanted to be someone else. Totally happy with who she was, where she was and what she did. She phrased it this way saying, “we had no idea what would have been better”. What a wonderful way to live life; happy and content with everything.
All of us can reflect on those themes when we think about her. And, if we are fortunate, we may be able to live a life as fulfilling as hers.
She loved her church and faith right to the end. She was a very prayerful woman. Many of us recall visiting her when she repeated over and over…..thy will be done…..thy will be done….thy will be done. At other times she would repeat…Amen… Amen…. Amen…... which means “so be it" or “let it be”.
She, Sue, and Amy alway sended their conversations with “I love you bunches and bunches”. A few weeks ago she replied to Sue’s ending with …..I love you bunches and bunches too…..forever and ever amen.
She was also a Cleveland Indians fan for about 85 years…..few people can make that claim. She slept a lot the last few weeks of her life but on Opening Day she woke and asked, “Is the game on yet?”
As we are sad on this side let’s all take comfort in knowing there is great joy and celebration on the other side. She has joined all those in her big family and her many friends she loves so much…..and those who love her. We too will be part of that big celebration one day. Now she knows there really is something better.
Her RLT included the quote, "courage is the presence of faith rather than the absence of fear". The Last Dreamer had strong connections to a place and people like this. Her version was captured on the card below. The story behind the poem follows.
By Jane Bartlett Walter
In a large city in Alabama in 1945, some of us "war widows" set up a canteen for officers in one of the city's hotels. One afternoon a General came in for coffee, music, and perhaps a game of bridge. He was a big man -- tall, greying, and full of confidence. The younger officers seemed to gravitate to him, as if drawn by a magnet, for his strength was most compelling.
After a while they drifted off to dance and I got a chance to speak with him. He had a wonderfully direct way of looking at you, an easy sense of humor, and a contagious chuckle. We discussed war, with all its horrors, its rigid discipline, and so on, and I asked him how he had come through it all and still kept his humor and wits about him. Almost shyly he took out a well-worn slip of paper from his uniform pocket and handed it to me. "This," he said, "has pulled me through quite a few seemingly insurmountable problems. "I read the little poem -- almost a prayer -- and then reread it. This huge man, leader of many men, lived in war and in peace by these simple words:
I am the place where God shines through,
For He and I are one, not two.
He wants me where, and as I am,
I need not fret, nor fear, nor plan.
If I will be relaxed and free
He'll carry out his work through me.
Now I could understand his clear, direct gaze, his confident bearing, and the magnetism the junior officers felt when he entered. I never saw the General again, but had I been fighting in a war I should have liked to have had him as my commanding officer.
This Road Less Traveled is about a woman who is the last of a group of seven women who were friends, confidants, and support for each other for some 60 years. They called themselves the Dreamers, forming a bond in high school in the mid 1940s. They were “there for each other”, from high school to weddings to baptisms to funerals and everything in between.
Frances Mae Resek Rottman is the last living member of the group. She is the Last Dreamer. Her Road Less Traveled is a story of friendship that was once common, but has since become so rare. It is also a story of a place and time that were once very common. It’s a story of jobs, people, families, and communities that were homogeneous and where churches, playgrounds, and schools were full. Where people were members of unions, ethnic clubs, and service groups and looked out for each other; a place and time when men worked and women managed the home; a time when mom saw kids to the bus in the morning and waited for them when the bus dropped them off; a time when there was no day care and families gathered around a radio in the evening to listen to programs such as the Lone Ranger, Fibber McGee and Molly and The Shadow, or, maybe a few families had a small black and white television and watched programs the parents wanted to watch.
It was a time when parents were in charge and kids did what they were told. A time when phrases like “wait til your father gets home”; “children should be seen and not heard”; “no whispering at the dinner table”; “because I said so”; and “a woman’s work is never done” were common. This is the story of the Last Dreamer and of the time and place where she lived.
The story begins in 1943 when four high school girls in Lorain, Ohio formed a social club called the Dreamers. In the next few years, they would add a few more members, but kept the group small. They created a constitution and by-laws for the club and even a “club creed” which was recited at the first club meeting each January and at the initiation of new members. They supported each other over the years … community, home, church, and families. Weddings, baptisms, showers, birthdays, graduations, first communions, funerals, and going away parties were all celebrated together.
They all grew up in the Depression and WWII, so they were used to saving and getting by with little. Hand-me-down clothes were common and stretching the budget was an art form. All were Catholic. It didn’t take a lot to make them happy … just good health for all, a nice home, and friends and family to share life together. Cooking, cleaning, and sewing were a constant. Baking was a special art to be enjoyed by all. Literally dozens of nut rolls, cookies, fresh-baked bread, cakes, and pies were prepared to share with all family and friends, especially on holidays. Every dinner meal concluded with a dessert of some sort … always made from scratch. Every birthday was celebrated with a special birthday cake for the child, parent, relative, or friend. All religious holidays were respectfully observed; no meat was eaten on Fridays, and pork with sauerkraut was served on New Year’s Day to ensure good luck for the coming year. Family reunions and union picnics were common. Life was good. “We had no idea what would have been better,” Fran once commented for an article on the Dreamers. The Dreamers were a microcosm of their community.
Initially, all members were called “Miss”, including new member “Miss Franny Resek”, welcomed in May of 1946. In just a few years, all would become “Mrs”. Six of the seven were married between 1947 and 1948. Miss Franny would become Mrs. Robert Rottman in May of 1948. She served as Dreamers club president in 1950.
Some 50 years after they formed their club, a newspaper story chronicled their friendship. This touched a nerve with many, many people. In fact, the Dreamers became somewhat of a national story. They received quite a bit of attention, and there was talk of a possible television movie to be made about them. Some organizations wanted to acknowledge their story, so they were invited to a number of special luncheons, programs, and events. They were a bit uneasy with all the attention as they just preferred to go about their daily lives with little fanfare.
Lorain, Ohio was like other working class towns in America, up to and after WWII. Places like Flint, Michigan; Gary, Indiana; Erie and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and others shared the same story. Men came home from the war, went to work, and started families. Women left the workplace, returned home, and became homemakers. The people of Lorain, like many similar towns in the Great Lakes region, made their living and livelihood from manufacturing. Thousands of men worked in steel mills, factories, and other plants. Many were first generation Americans with parents who emigrated in the early 1900s, mostly from Eastern Europe.
Joe and Anna Resek were typical of the people living and working in Lorain. There were many ethnic social centers, such as the American Slovak Club, the Polish Club, the Italian American Society, the Croatian Club, and others. There were also many churches (29) of all denominations. The world of the working class people of Lorain revolved around family and friends, their work, their church, their ethnicity (though all fiercely loyal Americans), and their community. Most of the families were large and all lived near each other. A 1956 photo from the extended Resek family is a good indication of the size and closeness of families of this era.
After WWII, many immigrants came from Mexico and Puerto Rico and were joined by workers from Pennsylvania and West Virginia to work in auto factories. They followed the pattern set by the first wave of workers in Lorain and organized ethnic clubs, joined churches, raised their families, and celebrated their heritage in America. As such, Lorain has always been a city of many nationalities. There are approximately 55 different cultures living there. Even today, Lorain celebrates its ethnic roots with an annual International Festival (68 years in 2018) each summer. The population of Lorain was about 50, 000 in 1950 and peeked to 81,000 in 1975. At one time, there were as many as four high schools (Frances graduated from Lorain St. Mary’s in 1946). Today, the population is about 65,000 and there is one high school.
Disappearing Small Downtown America
When Frances Resek was a teenager, the downtown stores of Lorain were full and people shopped them. National chain stores, such as JC Penney, Sears and Roebuck, W.W. Woolworth, and S.S. Kresge (later K-Mart) anchored both sides of Broadway. Mixed in between them was a hearty assortment of independent stores. Small local chains like Neisners, Hough Bakery, Sutter’s Shops, and Fanny Farmer candies were there. Men and women’s clothing stores, shoe stores, restaurants, and repair shops were common. And movie theatres were a primary part of any downtown entertainment district, attracting hundreds to see the latest movies Hollywood created. In 1944, Lorain had eight movie theaters: Palace; Ohio; Tivoli; Dreamland; Lorain; Pearl; Grove; and Elvira. The Palace is the only remaining theatre, offering a limited entertainment schedule. Next to three of those theatres were the small shops owned by Mr. John Sutter.
John and Janet Sutter had five small stores in downtown Lorain. Mostly, they were snack shops offering nuts, candies, and ice cream. They catered to movie goers as well as teenagers looking to meet up with their friends. Oddly enough, the Last Dreamer worked at the store next to the Dreamland theatre which was destroyed by fire in 1947 and reopened in the spring of 1948.
Mr. Sutter and his shops would play an important part in the life of the Last Dreamer. Frances and her sister Agnes (WWII Navy veteran) worked the counter for Mr. Sutter. She and her sisters, Josephine (WWII Navy veteran) and Beatrice actually met their husbands (Bob, Leo, and Eddie) at Sutter’s snack shops. The Kent State University Fashion Museum recently had an exhibit on the clothing fashions of the 1940s. During a visit, Frances saw the women’s military uniforms from WWII, commenting “those are the exact uniforms my sisters wore!”
Mr. Sutter was well respected and revered by all employees, including Frances. He took good care of his employees and was well-known for it. In fact, if any of the employees (mostly high school girls) needed a ride home after a late shift, he would take them home. Even though it may have only been a few city blocks and trouble was nowhere near what it is today, he would take no chances with their safety.
Mr. Sutter and his wife were known for their generosity. They hosted all of their employees and their families to an annual company picnic. And, on July 25, 1948 John Sutter gave free candy to over 2,000 children attending “Kids Day” at Cleveland Stadium. The Indians won the World Series that year. Fran and all her family and friends have been life-long Indians fans … maybe this is where it all started? Fran’s love of the Indians really soared when she got to meet the Indians in the mid-1990s. It turns out, one of her special Dreamer events was lunch with the Cleveland Indians. She and the Dreamers had a wonderful time, and she got to meet her favorite player, Omar Visquel.
After high school, Frances worked at the Lorain Telephone Company until she married. Some years later, she worked both inside and outside the home as a supervisor for girls at the Lorain County Detention Center for 11 years.
The Dream Continues
Change was rampant in the 1960s. From bobby sox to bra-less, from the optimism of the Camelot White House to the despair of dead and wounded college students in Ohio and Mississippi (one of the students shot at Kent State University was an Eagle Scout and ROTC member from Lorain). The dream starts to erode with the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, followed by race riots across the country. Later in the 1960s, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. The Vietnam War was raging, and Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974. It must have been difficult to be a Dreamer in the 60s and 70s. The world they knew and loved was quickly fading away. But they remained loyal friends and supported each other through these turbulent times, just as they had through other life events.
Though many people have moved away, those who remain in Lorain are hopeful the city can regain its vitality. The waterfront along the Black River and Lakeview Park (on the Lake Erie shore) are once again popular gathering places for families. The historic Lorain Lighthouse remains a beacon, both literally and figuratively.
The downtown is nothing like it once was, but there are glimmers of economic opportunity. The Palace Theatre remains a centerpiece for downtown entertainment. Clubs like the American Slovak Club and others continue to thrive and the fish fry of wonderful Lake Erie yellow perch is always available …especially during Lent. Some churches and schools have closed, but many remain.
The essence of the Dreamers is also still alive, although like everything, it has adjusted. Frances will be 91 years in January, 2018 and will begin her 72nd year as a Dreamer. In addition to being the Last Dreamer, she is the last of the six “Resek girls”. Her beloved “baby sister” Bea passed away in 2016. She will miss her husband, Bob, of 63 years.
She will spend her birthday as she has for pretty much all of her life … with as many of her family and friends together as possible. She has four children, eight grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren. Most will be able to join her. Perhaps they will all celebrate Mass together at St. Anthony of Padua Church on the east side of Lorain; her home parish for almost 70 years, where her children went to grade school and her daughters were married (including Sue and I).
She will still be in the kitchen, though in a more supportive, supervisory role. As she has for all her life, she will cherish those around her and celebrate the good times family and friends are blessed to share. She will also fondly recall the many birthday celebrations she had with her Dreamer friends and the Lorain they all loved. Most likely, they will remember her, as well. She will probably feel the same way she always has, “We had no idea what would have been better.”