Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Mother’s Life

Dolly Denman was born to a Nebraska farm family in May, 1924 shortly before the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression hit the Great Plains. Her legal name was Dolphine (doll feen), named for Adolph, a family friend, a name she hated and changed as soon as she was able. (I won’t mention her middle name). She had a younger brother, Robert Dean Wilmer Herman, who she called Bobby. He died in a car accident during World War 2. Her younger sister, Sandy is here today. 

Her parents and grandparents were farmers; she plucked corn and herded cows during her youth. Her parents taught her to love music and ballroom dancing, activities that remained her passion during her life. In grade school, she was active in singing groups and participated in spelling contests at the local, county, and state level. She lived with her grandparents during her freshman year of high school. She returned to the farm for 10th grade, but left for good, working as a baby-sitter to pay for her room and board, during her junior and senior years at Fremont High School. Once away from Nebraska, she never again wore jeans because they reminded her of the farm.

Dolly worked as a secretary during her early years of employment, first for an engineering firm in Fremont, where she earned enough money to escape Nebraska. The United States had entered World War 2, creating many more jobs for women; Dolly took the bus to Portland, Oregon where she found a job with a ship builder. A few months later, she travelled by train to San Diego, California where she worked first for an aircraft manufacturer, and then as the secretary to the Assistant Director of the US Department of the Navy Electronics Lab.
After the war, Dolly moved to Columbus where her sister Sandy lived. She became secretary to the first director of the Columbus Zoo, and enjoyed city life in Columbus as a single woman, bowling and dancing. At a birthday party in Chillicothe, she met Chuck Denman. They were married in 1954, and purchased their first home on the west side of Columbus. Two years later, Dolly she gave birth to her only child, Diana. They remained in Columbus for 7 years. During that time, they started the Astronaut’s Club, a church club for teenagers and young adults, and sang in the church choir.
They next moved to Cleveland for 4 years and were active in church and para-church organizations. A 1-year stint in Zanesville, gave Dolly the opportunity to take classes at Ohio University.
After that year in Zanesville, they moved to back to Columbus, now on the north side, where Dolly finished her degree in Education at The Ohio State University and was hired as a reading specialist at Eastmoor and Walnut Ridge High Schools. While there, she took night and summer classes, receiving a Master’s degree in Special Ed. She was the reading specialist at Rosemont School for Girls, and then finished her teaching career at Dominion Middle School.
Dolly was active in several churches and para-church organizations including Cursillo, Marriage Encounter, Evangelism Explosion, Cum Christo, Healing Crusades, Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship, Women’s Aglow, and others. She travelled to Europe and Hawaii and returned several times to San Diego to visit her friends.  During her later years, she sang with the Gillie Center G-Clef Chorus, the Whetstone Chorus, and her church choir.
Growing up during the depression made her frugal. She never bought clothing or furniture at full price, always watching for sales. She also had an eye for home décor and decorated her home like a skilled designer, but on a tight budget. She had her own victory gardens, digging a pond at every home, and designing and planting flowers, fruiting and blooming trees, and shrubs.
Dolly’s early tenacity, perhaps fueled by her desire to leave the farm, was strengthened as she navigated life with an alcoholic husband who later developed dementia. She cared for him faithfully to the end. Her strength was also evident as she read and adopted faith tenets and decided on a course of life that included strict diet and exercise, leaving room, of course, for chocolate. She often bicycled to the church for exercise classes and Bible studies.
One of Dolly’s greatest attributes was her sense of humor. When her 8-year old daughter was sick with chicken pox, the 3rd grade teacher sent home cards made by the students. One showed a well-drawn crayon picture of a tree, a flower, and a boy. It read “Get Well Soon.” As she opened the card, the scene changed. The tree, the flower, and the boy lay on the ground and the caption read “Everything’s Dying.” Dolly burst into laughter that bubbled up and filled the sickroom. She would laugh at herself and at objects and situations in a way that made everyone laugh with her. Her laughter dissolved tension and brought joy.

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