Friday, December 9, 2011

Eulogy for Ruth "Nonny" Setters nee Wagner

Susan Jacobson & Nonny
My mother, Susan Jacobson, delivered this beautiful eulogy for my grandmother, Ruth "Nonny" Setters in Buffalo on Dec. 7, 2011. 

Nonny led a long and happy (and irreverent life) for 97 years. In delivering the eulogy, my Mom had the added responsibility of closing the chapter on the Wagner family -- what the rabbi called "the biggest family I have ever seen." 

Nonny was the end of the line for 8 Wagner sisters -- "all with great legs and not one of them a tramp." The cousins, friends and other relatives enjoyed the celebration of Nonny's unusual life. 

Please share your favorite Ruthie memories in the comments section below. Note that you don't have to include your contact info. Just click the option for name/URL and enter your name. 

I have posted a photo album of the last two Buffalo reunions on Facebook, plus lots of golden oldies. Still working on captions, and figuring out how you guys can do the same. Click here for photos.


Eulogy by Susan Jacobson
When my father died in 1994, I gave his eulogy.  When I was finished I rejoined my mother in the pew. She patted my hand and whispered, “That was so beautiful.” 

I leaned over to her and whispered, I’m really glad you liked it.  I’m only sorry you won’t be around for yours.  I’ve got something really special planned.” 

She couldn’t contain herself and started laughing so hard she was shaking—you know that silent, forbidden “temple” or “church” laugh.  Fortunately it appeared as though she were crying.

I begin with this because it illustrates probably the greatest legacy my mother left me—and others: a sense of humor.

My mom was fun, funny, and fun-loving--with an exceedingly irreverent sense of humor. The aides that cared for her over the past 7 years—in particular Trisha Chibani who was with her for all those years and Denyse Sirianni who came on a little later—they adored her.  And she wasn’t always easy. (continues)

She was also extremely charitable, involved in both Jewish Federation and Temple Beth Zion.  She was very proud of being President of Temple Sisterhood.  And one of my early memories was her being involved in something called “the Aid Club” which helped WW II Jewish refugee families.  I remember clearly some of the families she brought to our home on Parkside Ave. to give them clothes, food, pots, pans, linens, books to get them started.

They will be retiring Ruthie's no.
Most of all, though, my mom’s greatest pride was being a Wagner—“the baby” of 8 girls as she described herself throughout her life.  

When she was born my grandfather called her Patrick for several weeks.  According to my mother, he would say in Yiddish, “8 girls, not an easy thing.”  “8 girls” so the saying went, “all with great legs and not one of them a tramp. “

 She is the last to die, and I feel a huge weight of responsibility to be the one to close the chapter on the Wagner girls.  This is a eulogy for my mother—in a way—but in another sense it’s a eulogy for the Wagner era and the rich and enviable legacy they left their 14 children, 13 grandchildren and countless great-grandchildren.

All of the sisters grew up in Buffalo, and all but Miriam stayed to raise their children.  All but Amy and Tillie lived within 2 blocks of each other on Sterling Ave.  Every month they convened for Sister’s Club—all preferring to meet at Lillian’s because she was the best baker.  Why they had to formally meet, I don’t know, because my recollection is that they each spoke to one another nearly every day. 

Can you imagine what a gift it was to all these cousins, most around the same age, growing up within 2 blocks of each other? We were and still are like sisters and brothers.  And that goes for the cousins-in-law as well.

The most wondrous thing of all for us is that we had moms for all seasons:

8 Wagner sisters & husbands (Ruth Setters at right) - Click to enlarge
  • Grammar questions and all things intellectual went to Aunt Sylvia.
  • Hugs and kisses came from the sweetest—Aunt Tillie.
  • A glum mood could be changed by Aunt Charlotte’s rose-colored glasses.
  • Aunt Amy—the self-appointed family boss—always had a treasure trove of gifts in her bottom dresser drawer for us to take whenever we wanted or needed something.  In the tradition of the great intellectuals, her philosophy was, “You buy, you got.”
  • Aunt Ruthie provided the comic relief.
  • Aunt Ethel wrote clever songs and poems for all of our rehearsal dinners.  She also hosted an annual faux Christmas.
  • Not so Aunt Lillian, but if you wanted great hamantashen she was the one to go to.
  • We missed out on not knowing Aunt Miriam well, but I can attest that she was definitely the most liberated.  When she came to SA , well into her 70’s, for my son, Andy’s bar mitzvah she checked in and told the receptionist “It’s MRS. Szerlip, but if anyone asks I’m not married.”
I will end by thanking you for coming and for indulging my family memories.  And thank you for loving my mom.

When she and I shared a particularly irreverent laugh, I’d say, “Oh, Mom, I am really gonna miss you.”

I already do.

Please share your favorite Ruth Setters memories in the comments section below (Just click on "name/url" to enter your name.)

More Wagner Family pics!
Also, check out the photo album of the last two Buffalo reunions here. We would appreciate it if you got yourself a Flickr account in order to create captions, titles, descriptions, details, etc. to the images. It's simple to do (I'm sure Seena can show you how!).

8 Wagner Sisters (see album for more)
Nonny holding court, Buffalo reunion 2006
Nonny with kids, nieces, nephews
Nonny and me
Nonny with great grandson Ian Jacobson
With great grandkids Jake & Allie Schachter, Ian Jacobson
Lots more pics including golden oldies in the Wagner/Setters photo album (click here)


Anonymous said...

Awesome, Julie. Thanks so much for doing this. Love, your mom and her daughter, Susan

Andy Jacobson (Grandson) said...

At Ruthie's funeral, the Rabbi said of the Wagner family that he had "never met such a large family in all my life." The Wagner Girls of Buffalo--such a great legacy.

Andy Jacobson (Grandson) said...

This summer, Ruthie ("Nonny") told me of an encounter her father Elias had with Eddie Cantor (famous entertainer) who used the fact that he had five daughters as fodder for his acts. Ruthie states that Elias told Eddie (pardon the Yiddish transcription), "Acht tekhter ish nisht keyn gelekhter"--loosely translated as "Eight girls is not a laughing matter."

Had anyone else heard this story?

eileen said...

Julie- I am moved by your Mom's great eulogy and loved your photos. I am sorry, I could not be with you. My thoughts were at TBZ on Wed. morning.

A good friend called me at 11:30 to say the service was a terrific celebration of the life a wonderful aunt, mother, grandmother, etc. We all loved her. Love, Eileen

Julie Jacobson said...

Eileen ... we were thinking of you, too (and missed you, of course). Hope you're recovering nicely.

Lisa Zeena said...

Love the eulogy...It is no wonder where you and Mosie get your wonderful sense of humor. I hope all these wonderful memories keep your family smiling or better yet, laughing :-). Love you all! Lisa(a virtual Jacobson at heart!)

Julie Jacobson said...

Thanks, Lisa (the daughter my mother never had!)

Robert Fine said...

It is hard to come up with one story about Aunt Ruth...she was such a piece of work! But my favorite is the phone call I made to her on, I believe, her 82nd birthday. I wished her happy birthday and she said, "I am now 82 years of age and I am not going to hold anything back." I replied, "How does that change things, Aunt Ruth?" She replied, "I think we have talked long enough" and promptly hung up on me. Oh, how we loved Aunt Ruth!

Julie Jacobson said...

Bobby, she was just sensitive about your phone bill.

Andy Jacobson (Grandson) said...

Phone calls to Ruthie were brief...but lucrative. My one-minute calls from college yielded $20 checks a week later for "a cup of coffee." [Sorry your calls were less lucrative, Bob.]