Obituary of Harriet Wecker
Harriet Ann Hellwig Wecker partook of her Last Great Adventure On This Side when she died peacefully at home on May 13th, surrounded by her loving family. Only four days before, you would have found her playing golf on the 18th green at Centre Hills Country Club.
She was an adventurous, loving, generous and fun one-of-a-kind who had an enviable outlook on life and almost as many shoes as Imelda Marcos. Harriet always wanted a light-hearted obituary and we shall try to please her; but it should be remembered that beneath her glittering surface she was a kind person, a beloved mother, and a fierce friend who was always a class act. Her children, her grandchildren, her "out-laws" and her friends will miss her terribly.
Harriet's First Great Adventure occurred on February 28, 1927, when she was born to John and Mabel Hellwig in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. To her gentle German-Norwegian/Lutheran parents it was an adventure as well, for she was an energetic first-born. Her easy-natured sister Helen followed a few years later.
As a little girl, Harriet was drawn to art and spent hours drawing and painting. This was encouraged, as it kept her occupied. She showed a precocious talent and especially enjoyed making her own paper dolls and designing clothes for them. At the age of four she learned to sew on her mother's treadle sewing machine; before she entered her teens she began to dream of going to Paris and becoming a fashion designer. She did not doubt that this would happen.
Harriet eagerly looked forward to going away to college, but to save money she lived at home her first year and attended LaCrosse State Teachers College. In the fall of 1945 she finally and joyously packed up and headed off to the University of Wisconsin… Badger Country!
At Wisconsin Harriet found her wings. She majored in Art Education, joined the Delta Zeta Sorority, and discovered dating. Formal dances were especially delightful opportunities for making and wearing fabulous dresses, and Harriet never missed an opportunity. Life was good, and Paris was on the horizon. To top it off, the end of the war and the return of our servicemen, who flocked to college in droves, added to the excitement on campuses everywhere. More men, more dates, more opportunities to dress.
Harriet graduated cum laude in 1948, a day made more memorable by her graduation gift: the newest model portable and electric Singer Featherweight sewing machine! Machine and Fashion Maven bonded on impact and enjoyed a long, fond, and fruitful relationship. Though Harriet would have many sewing machines in her lifetime, none would hold the same place in her heart.
Her first job out of college took her to downtown Chicago where she worked with the design team at Carson Pierre Scott Department store. Someone had to dress the mannequins and accessorize them tastefully. She greatly enjoyed the company of her co-workers, who shared her creativity, vivacity, and not infrequent hilarity. Life was good and had shoes to match.
Though she loved working at Carson's, Harriet's next adventure was calling, so she returned to Madison, Wisconsin to teach art at the Washington Grade School. She enjoyed inspiring her pupils and dressing well for work. Paris was on hold, but only temporarily.
On a bus trip home to LaCrosse, Harriet was minding her own business when one of our returned veterans, Bob Wecker, asked if he could sit next to her. He could. Bob was a talkative fellow who thought all young attractive women would be fascinated by a detailed account of his favorite sports of hunting and fishing. Fish, however, do not wear clothes, and when Bob asked for a date, Harriet only lukewarmly assented.
Lukewarm fanned into flames when Bob came to pick Harriet up for their date. Later on she loved to tell the story of how he came through the door in his Air Force uniform, bold and broad-shouldered, and right then and there she discovered something she wanted more than Paris. Bob was feisty, wicked smart, and ambitious man with a dash of bad-boy glamour who had flown a P-38 in the Pacific during the war. Chemistry was his major in college, and chemistry blazed between them.
Bob and Harriet married August 24th, 1951. They spent an idyllic honeymoon—well, pretty idyllic—on a fishing trip. A fishing trip. Clearly Harriet was in love. As the newlyweds settled in, she continued to teach art while he pursued his graduate studies in business at the University of Wisconsin. Their first child and very energetic daughter Christine was born shortly before their first wedding anniversary. Four more children were to follow: Ellen, Debora, Bradley, and John. They were energetic as well.
During these early years, the Weckers never lived more than six years in any one place while Bob climbed the corporate ladder. From Minneapolis to Kansas City to Detroit to Chicago, Harriet would pack up her growing brood, her sewing machine(s) and her paint box, and follow her husband on their next adventure.
In 1972 Bob accepted the position of CEO of Nease Chemical Company and the family settled in State College, Pennsylvania. Here Harriet came in touch with her "inner jock," and enthusiastically took up golf, tennis, and skiing. For many years the entire Wecker family would pile into Bob's white Cadillac, plop in the 8-track cassette that included numbers such as "That's What Happiness Is" and the "Thunderball" theme from the James Bond movies, and head off to Oregon Hill on skiing trips. Later when their brood had flown, the couple bought a condominium in Breckenridge, Colorado, where they skied for many more years. Often they visited their sons Brad and John who had moved to the Colorado mountains, and sometimes they skied together. And she loved to golf, to talk about golf, and to watch golf on TV. She treasured her golfing buddies and her times on Centre Hill's greens.
When Nease Chemical was sold to Reutger's, a German company, Bob's work began to take him to Europe and Harriet would happily accompany him. She went to Paris many times. Though their adventures together sadly ended with Bob's death in 1988, Harriet remained an avid traveler throughout her life. In Thailand she rode an elephant; at the age of 70 she climbed to the very top of the steeple of Saint Christopher's Church in Copenhagen; in China she witnessed the amazing terra cotta soldiers; still climbing, she ascended the stairs to the top of an ancient Roman amphitheatre in Turkey. Since 2002 a bright spot in her week was Friday Happy Hour with her daughter Ellen, and she delighted in her friends at the monthly "Ski Bunch Lunch" and regular bridge games.
All the while she continued her passion with fashion, sewing and designing her fabulous wardrobe. She stole the show when she appeared as "Scarlett O'Harriet," complete with full skirt, hat, and fabric wig, at a Scarlet Women themed Girl Party hosted by her daughter Ellen. Harriet and her daughters delighted in giving each other large and outrageous costume jewelry. And we've already mentioned the shoes.
For years Harriet entertained her extended family at "Hotel Harriet," her home in Toftrees, on Holidays and special occasions. Christmas at Harriet's with the five grandchildren was always a joyous (and energetic) event. And the woman could make a mean Yorkshire pudding.
Harriet's death was as classy as her life, and her children are amazed and grateful for the outpouring of care and support from everyone during her last crisis. Special thanks go to the Penn State Hershey Medical Center Neurological Unit and social worker Emily Kraus who worked together against the odds to get Harriet home. Special thanks also go to 365 Hospice for their accommodation and excellent care. Harriet is survived by her children, Christine Kalkavage, Ellen Slingerland, Debora Foster, Bradley Wecker, and John Wecker, and their respective spouses Peter, Rudy, Charles, Sandy, and Kathleen. Also surviving are five grandchildren: Max and Mason Slingerland, and Matthew, Sophia, and Michael Kalkavage. One great-granddaughter, Allison Marie Kalkavage, also survives. Harriet will be greatly missed by all who loved her, but her vivacious, loving soul lives on in our memories. Friends and family are invited to a Life Celebration for Harriet at Centre Hills Country Club Grill Room on Saturday, May 20, from 4:00 to 6:00. Flowers are nice, or memorial contributions may be directed to the Hershey Medical Center Neurology Department; mailing address: Development and Alumni Relations, MC HS20, 1249 Cocoa Ave, Suite 115, PO Box 852, Hershey, PA 17033; checks payable to Penn State University; memo line: Neurology Department in memory of Harriet Ann Hellwig Wecker.
And by the way, Harriet parred that 18th hole.
Arrangements are under the care of Koch Funeral Home, State College. Online condolences and signing of the guest book may be entered at www.kochfuneralhome.com or visit us on Facebook.
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