We’re going to miss her.
We had her for almost 100 years, and it wasn’t nearly enough.
She left us at about 9:15 a.m. Friday morning, with her hands in ours and her beloved yellow Lab sitting with his head on her bed.
It was the peaceful ending to her life that we had prayed for.
And now we’d like to try to tell you about her, this radiant, glowing, curious, courageous, and principled human who loved her daughter, adored her granddaughters, and worshiped her great-grandchildren.
We know that these few words cannot possibly express to you how much she meant to us, how much a hole she will leave in our lives, and the legacy that we are so very blessed to call our own.
Born in 1923, she was Eunice Mae Worden, nee Frey. She was the wife of the Rev. F. Donald Worden. The daughter to Gertrude and Harry Frey, the older sister to Sherman, and the mother to Pamela Sue.
She graduated from Marshalltown High School and attended Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. She and Don married in 1943 and Pamela Sue was born in 1945.
She was our matriarch. Our Oma. A “choice piece” who covered her couches with ratty peach towels “to keep it nice” and cut the toes out of her shoes because her feet felt tight.
In her 90s, she fought with her daughter about who got to mow the lawn on the John Deere. She wore a floppy bucket hat with daisies on it and donned a Spider Man mask when the situation called for it (two years ago).
When we took her keys away, she decided that the motorized cart at the Target was the next best thing and took her great-grandchildren for enthusiastic rides and let them drive until they crashed.
She grew up in an isolated German Baptist farming community in rural Iowa and knew little of diversity, but when she acquainted herself over her lifetime with other people of colors and creeds, she couldn’t get enough of them.
She collected people. You could leave her on a bench at the shopping mall, and if you came back an hour later, she’d have met a new best friend. She’d tell you all about the journey they had taken to get where they are, and how much she admired them.
But if you were a politician making life difficult for anyone, she’d track down your personal cell phone and badger you to death.
She loved her husband Don and served at his side faithfully as he pastored conservative Baptist churches throughout the Midwest, often playing the piano for every service.
She loved politics and parades, fireworks and fish fries.
Before it was a thing, and it definitely wasn’t a thing in her culture, Eunice worked outside the house, usually in banks or as an executive secretary. She survived two bank robberies, during those years. When church boards complained about her employment, she reminded them they could pay her husband more.
In her retirement, and after her husband passed away, she began teaching piano again, and there are dozens of children and adults in Elkhart County who benefited from her persistent and patient insistence on excellence.
As she aged and moved herself further away from the fundamentalist Baptist pastor’s wife’s life that had constrained her earlier years, her smile got wider and brighter. We know Grandpa Don would have approved.
She became her granddaughters’ biggest champion – Rebecca Knight of Albion, Erin Haywood of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and Martha Bryant of Wheatfield. Eunice took the role of grandma very seriously, especially after her daughter’s divorce.
And as the years passed, she grew more radiant.
You could see it in how her face glowed when she held a new great-grandchild for the first time. Those great grandchildren are Lincoln Bryant, 13, Amelia Mae Bryant, 10, Gabriel Haywood, 9, Elena Haywood, 7, and Elias Bryant, 6.
She laughed alongside them as they grew–donning costume mustaches, baseball hats, and teaching everyone croquette.
She insisted we focus on gratitude when the whole pack of us was together for a holiday. She read Scriptures, and she made sure we knew that we were what she loved.
And though her mind slipped away from us over the past few months, her eyes still twinkled as she sat in her recliner and watched them race around the house. She hollered occasionally about the noise and confusion, but when one would run up and give her a hug, she’d melt.
She loved her grandsons-in-law–Aaron Knight, Scott Haywood, and Robert Bryant–and their parents.
And we have to tell you about Rocky.
This woman who never liked dogs, argued vehemently against their necessity, fell in love with the giant yellow Lab who kept her company, kissed her every morning and night, and sat with her as she passed.
Rocky is sad, and we join him in mourning the loss of this extraordinary woman.
This is getting long, and we’re not terribly sorry about it because it was 99 years after all. For those of you who knew her, who had the unbelievable privilege of being in her orbit, you know what we are talking about. And you could add to this list.
We hope you do, actually.
She is also survived by her brother, Sherman Frey, 93, of San Diego, CA; nieces Cynthia (Gregory) Fisher, of Point of Rocks, Maryland, Suzanne (Jay) Lichter of San Diego and a nephew Greg (Jade) Frey of Arlington, VA.
Calling will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, April 21, with the funeral service following at 1:00 p.m. at Hartzler-Gutermuth-Inman Funeral Home, 403 W. Franklin St., Elkhart. She will be laid to rest immediately following at Prairie Street Cemetery in Elkhart.
Memorials may be made to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Eunice Mae (Frey) Worden, please visit our floral store.
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
501 St. Jude Place, Memphis TN 38105