Return to Seward Diary, August 2001

The Grace Pearl (Hageman) and Orin Seth Fosler Family
Standing: Evelyn Hoy, LaVerne Garber Bjorback, Wayne Fosler, Helen Wallick, Eleanor Vogt

"Return to Seward Diary, August 2001, Entry #8"

Because They First Loved Us


                  ST. JOHN LUTHERAN CHURCH

Thursday, August 9, 2001, twilight

At 8:30 it became too dark to continue my family search in the sprawling Seward Cemetery, so I walked back to the car and awakened my patient, napping brother. "OK, Big Boy, I'm ready to go to dinner, finally!"

"The restaurant closed at 7:30," he mumbled sleepily. Oh, of course, I thought, and apologized guiltily for having forgotten about the time. We decided to proceed directly to the Super 8 Motel where LaVerne's son Jim GARBER and his family were staying. Hopefully, there would be a coffee shop or something there where we could eat.

We drove south of Seward on Highway 15 and found the Super 8 Motel among open corn and other fields at Progressive Road. We were relieved to see Pagelo's Steakhouse and Sports Bar Restaurant in front.

As we checked into the motel, we talked to our recently bereaved cousin Jim on the office phone, and expressed to him our heartfelt sympathy. The understanding motel manager gave us a room right next to Jim's.

We soon met Jim, his girlfriend Debbie, and his family in front of our motel room. His warmth toward us, even in this moment of his great grief, immediately struck me. He introduced us to his three handsome, sturdy sons Jeff, Joel, and John, their wives and children, his daughters Angie and Sherry, and other family members of our mother's first cousin LaVerne, including her step-daughter Nancy ANDERSON. "Are you the cousins from California?" they all asked.

I was surprised to learn that Jeff's wife was Amy (VOGT), LaVerne's grand-niece. "But that's OK because they're not related by blood since I was adopted," Jim explained. This mildly surprised me since I hadn't remembered that Jim was adopted, as was his sister Bette, who tragically died ten years ago of diabetes.

To a genealogist like myself, adoption just means twice as much fun and work, with two sets of ancestors to research if the adoptee is so inclined, the adopted ancestors and the birth ancestors. Jim proudly explained that he and his children were in turn adopting children of their own, passing down LaVerne's loving tradition. I was deeply impressed.

Nearly faint from lack of food, we excused ourselves and walked over to Pagelo's Steakhouse to see if they were still serving anything. Thankfully, they were, and the waitress sat us in the bar area at a large wooden booth. Remembering that my Seward genealogy friend Lila Garner once referred to "our good Nebraska beef," I decided to order a steak with baked potato and salad. Brian, never a heavy meat eater, asked tentatively, having been luckless in this regard at the Corner Cafe, "Do you have corn on the cob?"

"No, I'm sorry, we don't," the waitress replied. Disappointed after a full day of photographing enticing fields of corn, he ordered a side of mashed potatoes and a salad. When the mashed potatoes arrived far too salty to eat, I gave Brian half my baked potato.

Friday, August 10, 2001, morning

By the time Brian and I emerged refreshed from the motel room at 9:00 in the morning, Jim and the others had already left for the funeral. As we put our bags in the car and locked the motel room, the rich, vibrant notes of Liebestraum #3 by Liszt flooded my head.

"Brian," I said softly, "I can hear Mom playing the piano very clearly." As if to comfort me in her own elegant way, our mother had serenaded me non-stop during the three-hour drive to Sacramento from my San Jose home that dismal Tuesday in November 1995, after the devastating phone call that she had passed from this life. Now, on this morning of her favorite cousin's funeral, Mom was once again with us, pouring beautiful music into me and filling me with her support and love, far too strong to be stopped by the mere physical parting of death.

In about fifteen minutes we pulled up in front of Merle's Flower Shop on Seward Street at the Square to collect the flowers I had ordered the day before after hearing the sad news of LaVerne's passing. Roses, I had specified, and roses I got, of every color, sweet smelling, and gorgeous. I wrote, "With love, from Aunt Alice's family," on the card. As Brian helped me secure them in the back seat, I thought of Grandma tending her beautiful flower garden in San Bernardino, and of Mom as a girl in Nebraska collecting wild flowers on May Day to leave on neighbors' porches and run away. Flowers open our hearts to the sweetness of life in a way nothing else can. Today, they had a sympathetic and healing force.

Following the florist's directions to St. John Lutheran Church, we left the car in the parking lot and entered the church a few minutes before 10:00. We were greeted by the staff of the Wood-Zabka Funeral Home, who would impress me throughout the proceedings as sensitive and alertly helpful. A lady took our roses and placed them right next to the guest register on the little table.

As I waited my turn to sign the book, the nicely dressed white-haired lady in front of me put down the pen and started for the chapel door. I glanced at the book and immediately saw that she had written "Esther Imig." I whirled around and addressed her before she had made it more than a few steps. "I noticed you're an Imig, too," I said, "I'm Alice Imig Stipak."

"I'm Leo's wife, son of Otto," she whispered pleasantly, and continued slowly into the chapel. Otto was a first cousin of my grandpa George Imig! Perplexed at meeting yet another Imig cousin with a coincidental connection to my Hageman cousin LaVerne, I again experienced the special magic that Seward holds for me.

That was the first of many moments I would pull back on the reins and remind myself that I was at a funeral, not a family reunion, and must let go of pursuing lengthy discussions with long-lost relatives. Each time this happened, I felt even closer to LaVerne, who as a fellow genealogist would surely have understood my desire to reunite our family. As I alternately experienced the grief of our loss and the joy of our oneness, I could feel LaVerne smiling down on us all, glad to have given us a reason to finally come together again.

After I finally signed the register, the attentive facilitator asked, "Are you the cousins from California?" and said the family had invited us to join them for the pre-service meeting. She took Brian and me down the elevator and ushered us into a room filled with our second cousins and other close relatives, listening to the comforting remarks of Rev. Mark G. Cutler. We sat on folding chairs next to Jim, who thanked us sincerely for being there.

I marveled at how readily he embraced us now, in spite of the decades and great distances that had separated us for so long. Jim drew us without hesitation into his inner family circle, and we clicked into our place, bringing with us the spirits of our grandma Alice, our mom June, and the many members of our California Hageman/Imig family, both living and departed.

We rose together and filed up the stairs, into the chapel, and onto the pews in solemn procession. LaVerne's closed casket was wheeled forward amidst the many beautiful bouquets offered in her honor and in remembrance of the great love she had for all of us. In his opening remarks about LaVerne's blessed life, the preacher mentioned her gift of genealogy research to her family, to fulfill her wish that they know their ancestors. He also spoke, among other things, of her church membership, her 4-H and community work, and her Chinese-style art.
LaVerne's Funeral Program Cover
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As I followed the sermon and prayers, and wiped away my tears, I melted into the kinship of blood and soul shared by everyone in the chapel. I felt particularly close to my brother on my right, and even to the as yet unnamed dark-haired woman on my left, later identified as LaVerne's niece, my second cousin Judy Wehrbein. I took comfort in her brave and beautiful voice, as it lifted and harmonized with mine in "Amazing Grace" and other transcendental hymns.

The service concluded, Brian and I got in our rental car and joined the long funeral procession led by police cars to Seward Cemetery north of town. Having just been there the night before searching to no avail for LaVerne's family graves, I was now taken directly to them, in a part of the vast cemetery I had not yet walked, on the south side.

We watched solemnly as the pallbearers, grandsons Jeff, Joel, and Jon Garber, son-in-law Bob Anderson, and nephews Larry Fosler and Don Vogt, escorted LaVerne's casket to the waiting company of her husbands, brother, sister, and daughter. Dozens of family members and friends assembled in prayerful sorrow under a canopy shielding us from the glare of the sun as the preacher trustingly delivered our dear LaVerne to her place of eternal rest.
Grave of LaVerne (Fosler) Garber Bjorback

After the committal at Seward Cemetery, we returned to the church for a buffet lunch served by cordial volunteers in the Fellowship Hall. At the entrance a small table displayed photos of dear LaVerne and her two husbands, Elmer GARBER and John BJORBACK. My heart warmed at the sight of our roses placed next to them. Two long rows of banquet tables, one for family and one for friends, had been dressed with white table cloths. LaVerne's son Jim asked us to sit near him, and introduced us to more of our cousins and their families, many of them asking the now-familiar question, "Are you the cousins from California?"

I was particularly eager to meet Eleanor, the sister and last surviving sibling of LaVerne, who had looked forward to introducing us. I recognized my mother's petite, sophisticated grace in Eleanor, and instantly felt very comfortable with her. Eleanor's son Don hit it off with my brother like two peas in a pod, one a lawyer, one a professor, both athletes and outdoorsmen. Perhaps, I mused, their genes are echoing the adventurous lives of their famous granduncle Daniel Boone and his fellow longhunter, our ancestor Benjamin Cutbirth, the first white man to reach the Mississippi River from the East.

I also wanted very much to meet Lawilda, the widow of LaVerne's only brother Wayne, who had just passed away in December of 2000. She was kind and friendly, and had obviously been very close to LaVerne. I also met her daughter, and at one point while I was describing my long, frustrated search for her father's grave the night before, she suddenly broke open and hugged me, saying I didn't know how much that meant to her.

Since photographs were of course out of the question, I decided that I could perhaps at least trouble people for their addresses, so I wrote "LaVerne's Relatives" on the top of my notepad and asked nearby cousins to please sign it. Once started, it made the rounds by itself, giving me contact information for future family reunions and information sharing, including my upcoming Seward Diary.

Brian and I thus moved among our cousins, sharing fond memories of LaVerne and also news of our lives, homes, hobbies, and jobs. I much enjoyed getting to know them in spite of a couple of bouts with choking grief when it hit me again how LaVerne had passed away just three days before our long-anticipated visit from California. In the voices and faces of all of these relatives, I could hear and sense that indescribable, precious quality we call "family," and I absorbed it hungrily into the depths of my being.

Lunch ended and people started to disperse to their cars, so I released my heart's grip on their welcome company. But in that moment, much to my gratitude, Eleanor invited Brian and me to come to her house. It touched me very deeply that she would want us, in some ways strangers whom she hadn't seen in so many years, to join her at her home after the funeral of her beloved sister.

As we walked out of the church where we had gathered to honor and to say a reluctant farewell to LaVerne, one of our oldest and dearest family members, I remembered the beautiful Bible passage inscribed in German on the gravestone of Brian and my great-great-grandfather Friedrich Imig. We had seen it for the first time the previous afternoon in Greenwood Cemetery, "Let us love Him, because He first loved us."

That's it, isn't it? I realized, marveling at this simple yet profound truth. That's why we love her so much. That's why we came together from all over Nebraska, and from all over the country -- Kansas, Iowa, Colorado, Virginia, California, Oregon -- today to be together with LaVerne as she surrendered this world for the next. That's why she adopted us, wrote long letters to us, patiently taught us, cared about us, and about her parents, and their parents, and all of those who came before us, so much. LaVerne understood all along: it's because they first loved us.

[Coming next: Return to Seward Diary, August 2001: "Old Hageman Farm by the Big Blue"]

      Alice Imig Stipak, a grateful granddaughter of Seward


LaVerne (Fosler) Bjorback was born on April 27, 1910, near Milford, Nebraska, to Orin S. and Grace P. (Hageman) Fosler. She was baptized on May 16, 1910, and confirmed on May 10, 1936, at St. John Lutheran Church in Seward. LaVerne was a 1927 graduate of Seward High School, and following graduation she taught in Seward County rural schools.

LaVerne and Elmer G. Garber were married in 193 1. They were the parents of two children, Bette and Jim. Elmer passed away in 1978. In 1981, LaVerne was married to John C. Bjorback. John passed away in 1986.

LaVerne was a member of St. John Lutheran Church and Ladies Aid; past president of Seward Women's Club; past District 4 president of N.F.W.C.; member of the Goehner China Painting Club; and member of the Leahey Extension Club. In addition to these activities, LaVerne taught adult sewing classes for several years and was a long-time 4-H leader.

LaVerne passed away on August 6, 2001, in Seward, at the age of 91 years, 3 months, and 10 days. LaVerne was preceded in death by her parents; her husbands; her daughter Bette Garber; her brother Wayne Fosler; and her sisters Evelyn Hoy and Helen Wallick.

She is survived by:

her son,
                  Jim Garber, Prairie Village, KS

her grandchildren & their spouses,
                  Jeff& Amy Garber, Virginia Beach, VA
                  Joel & Michelle Garber, Glenwood, IA
                  Jon & Madeleine Garber, Robinsville, NC
                  Angela & Scott Taylor, Alliance, NE
                  Sherry Mittan, Alliance, NE

her step-daughters & their spouses,
                  Nancy & Bob Anderson, Duluth, MN
                  Joan & Don Perdue, Rapid City, SD

her great-grandchildren

her step-grandchildren and step-great-grandchildren

her sister,
                  Eleanor Vogt, Seward, NE

her sister-in-law,
                  Lawilda Fosler, Seward, NE

other relatives and a host of friends

To this obituary we add our many thoughts, prayers, and memories of life shared with LaVerne.
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Updated 25 Sept 2001
Copyright Alice Imig STIPAK 2001. All rights reserved. Commercial use of this material is strictly prohibited.