Over the past few years, one of the things that I would share with my Mother would be what flowers were blooming in our garden and the types of plants that we would see on our hiking/camping trips.
Once I told my mother of a dream I had that was full of sacred significance. After I was done she told me, “You must never tell anyone about special dreams because, when you do, they lose their power”. As a young man in his twenties who was fully immersed in a new age exploration I was a little stunned by this; Mom was a Methodist converted to Catholicism, I never imagined that she would have such insight into spirituality on this personal level.
I recently had a dream about my Mother. I won’t share the details as it was a wonderful gift and I dare not risk losing its power. Less than a week later I was informed that she had entered the last stage of her dying.
Mom has been in steady decline from Parkinson’s for the past few years. We were able to visit twice last summer. Most of the time she slept, occasionally surprising us by interjecting something into the conversation. When we left she hugged me, looked me in the eyes and told me how much she loved me and how much she appreciated our visit. I wept.
She earned her BS degree in Dietetics at Iowa State University. It was at a dance there that she met the love of her life, Bill Zmolek. After graduation, she became a lieutenant in the Army Medical Corps at Camp Butner, North Carolina, where she married Bill on December 8th, 1945, leading to 68 years of love, companionship, marriage, 5 children and many nights of dancing.
Jean loved the outdoors and prodded her often reluctant husband to pack up the kids and the car and head to the mountains of California to see her only sister, June. When her sister passed away over 40 years ago, she honored her promise to be an “other mother” and grandmother to her sister’s children and grandchildren. She was also a master in her own kitchen, and would always set an extra plate. No one ever wanted to miss an opportunity to eat one of her pies, cinnamon rolls or poppy seed rolls. She loved to grow and arrange flowers. Her grandchildren have many happy memories of her attempts to protect her garden by chasing rabbits.
Never one to sit still, Jean launched several careers after the children started to leave home. Among those were school librarian and author, researcher and publisher of two family histories. She served as the President of the Faculty Women’s Club at Iowa State. When her mother became ill, she became a senior citizen advocate, spending time as a hospice volunteer and leading memory activities at nursing homes. She also served on the national board of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) Alzheimer's Fund.
She constantly sought out ways to help others. In her church, she tutored foreign students in English, administered communion to shut-ins, and volunteered at soup kitchens into her late 80s. She welcomed strangers, old and young, into her home from all around the world and accepted them as family. She didn’t let age slow her down. She performed and danced on stage into her late 80s. She was a voracious reader and maintained a love of learning and an undying curiosity about food, culture, history, travel, languages and computers.
Jean is survived by her loving husband, Bill, her children, Steve (Dee), Gary (Beth), Gloria, John (Jerry), and Paul(Josephine). She is also survived by her 7 grandchildren and her 4 great grandchildren. Toward the end of her life, as Jean began to lose her ability to talk, her most often repeated phrase was, “I have a good family.” In her, we had a good wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, and citizen of the world. She touched so many lives. We’ll never forget her beautiful smile, or how great she looked in a hat.