November 6, 2022
Obituary Oct 25, 1926 – July 29,2022
Delivered by Timothy Woudenberg at Memorial for Patricia Wood10AM Nov19, 2022 Unitarian Universalist Fellowship 333 Meridian Ave, West Lafayette, IN
With my brother, sister, and extended family; we are here once again in the Lafayette area. This time to celebrate the memory of Dr. Patty Wood, my mother. She had a way of overcoming hardship by setting forth on new adventures.
I want to take a few minutes to explain the amazing life she built. I can only give it to you from my perspective.
Jordan Family Seat
The farm that Homer and Lucy Jordan built out in Shadeland, to me is the Jordan Family seat. It was the final home of my grandparents. It was the destination for countless family reunions over the sixty some years since it was built. Memories spring forth here. My brother and sister remember stories from our childhood. The crisp fall weather and the Purdue Campus remind me of my youth. Even the sound of the train rolling through town brings back memories.
We are here once again to remember my mother, the people in my mother’s life, and the interwoven paths. I invite you to come up and add your memories here. There is time, and this is a good moment for sharing.
Though my mother’s life did not start there. She grew up in Fanwood, NJ. The farm in Shadeland was a retirement project of Homer and Lucy, my mother’s parents. In New Jersey, Homer was an Electrical Engineer at Bell Labs. Patty spent her youth there. After completing her B.S. at Cornell and a masters at Columbia in Public Health, she married Richard Woudenberg, my father, a Dutch American from Prospect Park, NJ.
Home in Wayne, NJ
This was in 1955. At that time it was possible for a high school teacher and a public health nurse to scrape together a down payment and get a loan to buy undeveloped land in Wayne, NJ and build a house. In this house I spent the first eighteen years of my life. To me it was magical.
The house was designed by an architecture student from Cooper Union, a friend of the family. It was designed to take advantage of the sloping property. The half acre property ended at a creek. Across the creek was a seemingly endless forest, owned by the county. The basic idea for this house was imitated in the design of the farm house in that Homer and Lucy built in Shadeland.
My parents built much of the house with their own hands. It had terraced gardens flowing from the front yard downhill to the back, framed in hedge rows of hemlock or in some places burning bush. In the forest near the creek, my mother planted daffodils They created a path in the forest by driving the family sedan repeatedly over the forest floor. They built a foot bridge over the creek with railroad ties.
This was my playground, my stage for uncounted adventures. As children we explored this place unsupervised. We built tree houses and had sleep outs in pup tents. Picture if you will, a summer night sky filled with fireflies, accompanied by an orchestra of crickets. We had names like ‘flat rock’ ,’cave rock’, ‘the quarry’ (a dangerous place with a >100ft. sheer drop). We had maps and hid our treasures in secret places.
School, motivation, and discipline
I remember once in grade school, I was caught drawing a map of this forest when I should have been paying attention to the lesson. The teacher asked me to stand up in front of the class and explain what was so interesting. I jumped at the chance to share it with the class. I was not humiliated, though I did get interrupted by the teacher before I got very far.
Patty and Richard must have had their hands full, both with full time jobs and three children to raise. Yet I always felt supported. My early education was world class in spite of my teachers. My parents were always posing interesting puzzles. Mom would get us involved in projects including gardening, and Halloween costumes. Dad once demonstrated a siphon he set up between the bathroom sink and tub, demonstrating that water does in fact flow up hill.
From school, I was bringing home notes from the teacher that I was tuned out and staring out the window for most of the day. I rarely did homework. Maybe this was a concern for my parents but they never forced heavy handed discipline on me. I think they believed in me. Maybe more so than they believed in my teachers ability to inspire.
Mom was fully behind us following what inspired us. I wanted to try SCUBA diving. She encouraged me to start taking lessons and save up for the equipment. As a paperboy, this takes some time. But when the time came, she said she’d match my savings. which made it possible.
Later as an adolescent, I was motivated by my brother’s interest in technology. He was building radio controlled model airplanes. He was heavy into telephone electronics. This made clear in a language that an adolescent could clearly understand, Knowledge is Power. I became yet more hungry for knowledge.
In High School I had gotten involved with the computer club and made many friends there. Learning how to program was useful and fun. Even though it was not part of the curriculum, I approached these projects with the zeal my parents instilled in me. There I developed skills I have used throughout my life. I guess you could say I was a nerd. But we felt like we were where it’s at. We were the cool kids. I didn’t matter what others thought.
Marriage of Patty and Richard was ending
But this was not a good time for Patty. Her marriage was ending, her children were in various stages of preparing to go off to start their own lives. She struggled a bit to hold it all together. One might ask why I bother to bring this up, as it was a sad moment.
I bring it up because it illustrates something very special about my mother. When faced with overwhelming troubles she will find a way to overcome in a dramatic way. In the years that followed mom rose to meet the challenges in a way that was by no means the path of least resistance
- She sold our home in Wayne
- She left a successful career at the Paterson Board of Health where she was director of nursing and a Health Officer.
- She moved into the cottage on Lucy and Homer’s farm in Shadeland to care for her aging parents, and her aunt Helen
- She enrolled in a Ph.D. program at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and graduated.
- She married Edgar Wirt they lived together in the cottage in Shadeland, which had bloomed into something more than the outbuilding in once was.
Mom liked projects. Before her parents died, she had bought the cottage and a five acre parcel from them. Through mom’s hard work she turned the this two car garage with a rudimentary kitchen and bathroom into a home where she lived comfortably through both winter and summer.
She added a bedroom we called the atrium, with glass walls and a high ceiling. She had a well equipped workshop with a radial arm saw, and a drill press. She and Edgar designed and added the aviary, an outbuilding where she would raise quail, pheasants, and other wild birds. Think of a chicken coop which was not only tall enough to stand up in. I think a giraffe would also be able to stand up in it. She also added a pole barn and a gazebo.
This gazebo, was an octagonal building. Mom designed it with demountable windscreens so that a half dozen or more people could comfortably overnight even during a thunderstorm. Mom was planning to entertain guests, and she did.
Her children had started their own families and together with her grandchildren would come to visit. Sometimes all at once. We have had countless family reunions at the cottage, mom’s place in Shadeland. Camping out in the Gazebo, making homemade ice cream, and seeing the chicks hatch.
Patty’s husband Edgar died in 1989, which left a big hole in Patty’s life. This was yet another difficulty for Patty to overcome in a dramatic way.
I remember she told me that she wanted to do something that would piss Edgar off. Now I believe she and Edgar had a loving relationship. This was my mother’s way of overcoming. So,This time she decided to learn to fly.
Patty took flying lessons at Aretz airport and earned a VFR licence. Together with another pilot, she bought a Piper 180, a single engine plane. She later took aeronautics classes at Purdue University, which enabled her to make repairs on her own plane.
She flew that plane cross country to the EAA Airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and many other places. I remember her telling me that she was stuck in Akron, Ohio. Grounded by bad weather for several days. So, she started taking classes to get an instrument rating that would enable her to fly in bad weather.
Once, when I came to visit my mother, she was eager to show me her latest project out in the barn. I was surprised to see her plane in pieces there. The wings had been removed. Mom was in the process of drilling out some of the rivets holding the body together.
She explained that the plane had failed its annual inspection. Apparently a previous owner had taken a hard landing which buckled one of the bulkheads. The inspector told Patty that the plane was clearly airworthy as is, but the rules require him to fail the plane, which meant she could no longer fly it.
I was a little concerned that mom might be getting in over her head. She explained to me that planes are like quilts, many small pieces of material fastened together into one unit. It’s just that with planes you use rivets instead of thread. She also explained that her instructor would be checking her work.
I guess she knew what she was doing. She continued flying the plane after it was repaired.
We have good evidence that my mother was abducted by a UFO. It is entirely true, though perhaps ‘abducted’ is the wrong word to use. It would be more accurate to say she applied and was accepted. Also here UFO stands for the United Flying Octogenarians. In order to be accepted, one needs to be the pilot in command after they turn eighty years old.
My father, Patty’s first husband died in 2003. After his cremation, many of us in the family took portions of his ashes to spread in meaningful places. I asked mom if she would be willing to join me in spreading Richard’s ashes on her farm in Shadeland. She agreed.
When I arrived, I saw that mom had already prepared a hole in the lawn and had a new tree she wanted to plant there. I appreciated mom’s effort here.
Together we lowered the root ball into the hole with the ashes and packed the dirt around it. As mom was patting down the earth over the surface she said, “There! You’re not getting away this time”.
Into her eighties and beyond
Mom once told me that in your seventies you figure out what is going to kill you. You then spend your eighties staving it off. She was not keeping to this schedule. She lived well into her nineties and didn’t suffer the major maladies that claim most of us. She even survived Covid at the age of 93.
Mom remained active in both flying and quilting. She made so many quilts, no one really knows how many there are. These quilts involve hundreds of pieces in a complicated pattern. Apparently it is the custom that every quilt should have at least one mistake. It seemed that mom carefully planned these mistakes in a way that added value to the quilt.
Mom was strongly against living out one’s life in a nursing home. Both her mother and her Aunt Helen went this way. She was looking to avoid it for herself. The problem was that she lived alone with her dog. Her children were living hundreds or thousands of miles away.
She addressed this problem by enlisting support from her friends, most notably Alisha Burke and Frank Helms. As mom aged, she handed off many of the chores like shopping and laundry to them. Eventually she handed off her financial matters to me.
She had a big comfortable easy chair which would lean back with the aid of an electric motor. I remember once she had trouble getting out of it during a power failure. When mom turned 90. Alisha and I discussed getting a nurse’s aid to help out as she was starting to have difficulty moving around the house. There were times she would get stuck in the middle of the night and have to call the fire department.
I got to know Dan, the firechief in Shadeland. We were on a first name basis. He didn’t mind sending his people out in the middle of the night to rescue my mother. He did warn me that caregivers can become over committed and burn out. He was concerned about Alisha.
We had a contract with BrightStar, we quickly got to a point where there was a nurse’s aid at mom’s place 24/7. This worked, but it was very expensive. In about fifteen months, mom had burned through most of her savings. We had a meeting with mom about the idea of moving to assisted living.
She accepted that there weren’t better choices. Mom agreed if she could bring her dog Emily. This complicated the search somewhat, but we did find Aster Place in Lafayette. Mom was the only person living there with her dog.
The farm house was sold. Mom moved to Aster Place, but the family reunions continued. In fact we started having weekly Zoom meetings when she eventually moved to Saint Anthony’s. It was following one such Zoom meeting this July that we learned mom had died shortly after the meeting had ended.
Mom lived a good life and gave me a great opportunity to do the same. With our final farewells comes the realization that with my brother and sister, we have become the old guard of the family. I hope that we can do as well as our mom. We have big shoes to fill.
2 thoughts on “Eulogy for my mother, Patty Wood”
Your Mom sounds amazing. I’m so sorry for your loss.
This is a beautiful eulogy, Tim. We are sorry for your loss.