GRACE LORENE WEBSTER
August 4, 1911 July 6, 2008
10:00 A.M., July 21, 2008
First Christian Church
Rev. Keith Purscell
North Lawn Memorial Park
Warner Funeral Home
Grace's family would like to invite everyone in attendance to join them for coffee and a time of fellowship following the graveside services.
Grace Lorene Webster, of Spencer, Iowa and Merritt Island, Florida, passed away Sunday, July 6, 2008, at Cape Canaveral Hospital following a brief illness. She was born in Beloit, Kansas, August 4, 1911, the first child of Orville and Mona Roberts (Hamilton). She was preceded in death by her two brothers, Orwin ("Stork") and Kenneth Roberts, her sister, Margaret Roberts Fena, and a grandson, Todd James Webster. Her husband of 60 years, Earl Stanley Webster, passed away May 1, 1996.
She is survived by two sons, James Stanley Webster and Steven Earl Webster, and their wives, Beverly (Olson) and Avril (Polson), as well as three grandchildren, Terri Ann Webster, Cindy Jo Webster Fry, and Amy Webster, and one great-granddaughter, Meghan Fry.
She will be greatly missed by friends and family, who nicknamed her "Amazing Grace," a tribute to her spirit, independence, charm and determination. She was able to live independently, running her own home and business interests until the day she left us.
Her parents were poor and at times, desperate. They moved from Beloit to Spencer, Iowa in search of better work shortly after Grace was born. But, her father, a carpenter, was injured on the job and could not continue working. Her mother took in laundry and worked as a short-order cook to feed and clothe her children. Grace often remarked she never knew how her mother managed all that, an apparently inherited ability that defined her own life.
After graduating from Spencer High School, she received six weeks of "normal" training to earn a teaching certificate. At the age of 18, she was assigned to a one-room rural schoolhouse, grades first through eighth. She remembers that some of the students were bigger than she was!
On the way to school one day, she met Earl Webster, who had recently moved to Spencer from Carrolton, Ohio, and was working as a farmhand while looking for work as a plumber. The Great Depression had just begun. It was six years before they finally could afford the trip to Ohio to meet Earl's family and tie the marriage knot, which they did on September 14, 1935.
Earl and Grace returned to Spencer, where she continued to teach. Earl found work as a plumber's assistant helping rebuild Spencer following the Great Fire. But, married women were not allowed to teach, on the theory they would become pregnant. Therefore Grace and Earl, living together, kept their marriage a secret for five years, until Grace became pregnant with her first child, James (Jim) Stanley Webster, born December 30, 1940. A secret marriage (or "living in sin") was one thing, but for the school system, pregnancy crossed the line. Although she was a wonderful teacher, her teaching contract was not renewed.
War followed Depression.
World War II caused all kinds of shortages, teachers among them. The school superintendent tossed out the old policy and offered Grace her job back, which unfortunately paid less than the cost of hiring a sitter for Jim. Therefore, with the superintendent's support, Grace brought Jim, in his crib, to the schoolhouse, where her students took turns babysitting. Today, it's tough to imagine the standards of the time. Grace was one of the first, if not the first, married teacher in Iowa.
During the war years, Earl was turned down for enlistment. He was too old (32), married with a single heir, and in "essential services" -- war or not, the plumbing must function!
The only work was defense work and Earl moved across the Eastern US from job to job, sometimes with Grace and Jim, sometimes not.
These were hard times and the family was often separated for months. Grace recalls Earl returning from a project in Macon, GA. "He was thin as a rail and sick as a dog."
Finally, better times.
Post-war, Earl and Grace had saved enough to open their own plumbing shop, Webster Plumbing & Heating, in Spencer. They purchased the old Spencer Hotel at 2nd and Grand, running the business downstairs while living on the second floor. Post-War reconstruction was in full swing and business grew steadily. In the early 1950s, they bought their first home at 124 E 3rd Street in Spencer, which they remodeled. Grace gave birth to their second son, Steven Earl Webster, on September 20, 1954.
They tore down the old hotel and built a brick and steel masterpiece with heated sidewalks (no snow shoveling necessary), wheelchair friendly curbs, and a US Government stocked bomb shelter in the basement. In 1963, they purchased a lake home on Pocahontas Point, West Okoboji, which they remodeled into a then "state of the art" all-electric showplace. Or so the promotional literature said. They eventually replaced the electric heat with hot water baseboard heating.
The former farmhand and his wife purchased two farms near Everly, Iowa, several buildings in Spencer, and some Florida property, as the family now vacationed there annually.
Grace remarked that she never would have done any of these things on her own, but "Earl would come home and say he'd bought something, and I had to figure out how to pay for it." She was completely happy with that arrangement.
So much of their success is because of Don Mushrush, George Harleman, and, especially, Faye Willert, and all the people who worked hand in hand with Grace and Earl for decades. Grace and Earl retired in 1983, with son James taking control of the business. They purchased a home in Naples Park, Florida and wintered there, spending summers at Lake Okoboji, and they enjoyed travel, especially the annual fishing trip to Lake Wabigoon, Ontario. Following Earl's death, Grace moved from North Naples, Florida, to Merritt Island, near the home of her younger son. She sold her house in Naples, scouted, bid and bought a home on Merritt Island, in about a week. The then-85 year old said, "If I was 20 years younger, I'd open a real estate company." Some months before she kicked the bucket (her favorite phrase for the inevitable), Grace finally agreed to have a housekeeper come by every other week to help with the chores. Wednesday, July 2, Grace enjoyed lunch with her housekeeper (Anna), then said she was going to write a few checks. She sat at the dining room table and collapsed. She had suffered a severe stroke and she never awoke, passing just a few days later. Grace Lorene Webster had many friends. The wonderful lady closest to her these past few years has been her next door neighbor, Jytte Laundrup, a Dane who winters on Merritt Island, and whose own husband, Helge, died just two years ago. Jytte and Grace have been quite a pair.
Amazing Grace loved gardening almost as much as she loved her family. In lieu of flowers (or in addition to, as she always lit up when a bouquet arrived from her sons on Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and her birthday), please consider planting a rose in her name in your yard or a local park She also would look kindly on donations to the Heart or Kidney Foundation in her name.
Aside from that, the family asks that you Be Like Grace.