4.13.17 1

A Life Well Lived

Grandmother's Eulogy



It’s been a week since my grandmother passed away. It’s strange how a week can seem so long, but yet pass so quickly. We spent last weekend in Minnesota celebrating her life.


I was honored to give my grandmother’s eulogy at her service. She was fun, tough and smart. I’m grateful Lawson was able to meet her a few times. I’ll always regret that she didn’t meet Sybil, but I’m comforted by a story my aunt told me last weekend. She said my grandmother loved Sybil’s name. She had a friend named Sybil when she was young and called her Sybie. We do the same. I love knowing my grandmother thought of her as Sybie too. Is it weird to miss someone you only saw once a year?


Bernice Zelenka

Hi, I am Erica Kartak, one of Bernice’s nine grandchildren and mother of two of her 16 great-grandchildren.


When I think of my grandmother, two of the first words to come to mind are strong and selfless. She exhibited these characteristics throughout her life.


Born on a farm in Lonsdale in 1925, Bernice was confronted with some of the toughest moments in our nation’s history early in her life. When recalling the difficulties of living through the Great Depression though, she said it wasn’t much different than other years. Her family was already used to working hard on the farm, growing their own food and making clothes.


Farm life isn’t easy and there wasn’t any task that she didn’t help with. She worked from sun up to sun down: growing fruits and vegetables in the garden, cooking meals, assisting in the field, washing clothes. The list is endless. It must have been exhausting. And yet she never complained.


She would continue to live on a farm her entire life. After meeting at a local dance hall, at the age of 19 she married my grandfather and moved to the Zelenka family farm where she spent the next 73 years!


Bernice gave birth to her first child, a son, in 1945. Robert was born with a spinal cord deformity and passed away after only seven days. As a mother, I cannot imagine the heartache she must have felt losing a child. With her husband, George, she went on to have three wonderful daughters, Julie, Joan and Non. And if you know Julie, you know Bernice had to be strong to get through some of those teenage years!


My grandmother was a gifted seamstress. She made everything from potholders to everyday dresses to the wedding gowns for each of her three daughters. Every Christmas she would make a pair of pajamas for each of her great-grandchildren. Eventually that got to be too much, but she still continued to make each great-grandchild a blanket when they were born including her last great-granddaughter less than 8 months ago.


Bernice was also a remarkable cook. I’m still amazed at how she didn’t use a timer and yet never burned anything. She worked at the KC Hall for 40 years, retiring at the age of 88. She had numerous specialties, including her famous potato salad, rolls, dumplings and sauerkraut. We looked forward to her cinnamon rolls and smorum on Christmas morning. And her kolacky’s were award winning. Honestly, she won a blue ribbon at the Le Seuer county fair just 2 years ago!


Not only physically strong, her mind was exceptionally sharp (perhaps rivaled only by her husband). On one of our visits last year, we were talking about her family history. She was rattling off key dates about her great-grandparents like it was yesterday. I was so impressed with her memory! Meanwhile I have a hard time remembering my own kid’s birthdays and my oldest is two.


If you were to ask 10 people to name their favorite memory with Bernice, I guarantee at least nine of them would mention playing cards. Euchre was her game of choice. There aren’t too many people in their 80’s outside a bar waiting for it to open. But there she was, outside Miller’s and then City Club, meeting friends for cards 2 days per week up until last year. In euchre, you choose partners and I always wanted to be hers. Not only because she was a great player, but also because she was fun. When she scored an improbable trick, the grin on her face was priceless, especially when it was against my grandfather. And she was competitive! She didn’t even let her great-grandchildren win!. And I’m pretty sure I caught her giving a little peek at her neighbor’s cards a time or two!


There’s a quote I’ve seen recently about strong women. “May we know them, May we be them, May we raise them.” Grandma, I may never be as strong as you, but I am grateful to have known you and would be honored to raise my daughter to be just like you.


Selfless until the very end, some of her last words were “I just want you all to go on with your lives and enjoy it. Enjoy the best of it.” So that’s what we’ll do. For you Grandma. We love you.


photo by zack kartak

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  1. I’m so sorry for your loss. Grandmothers fill such a special role in our lives. Sounds like yours was a pistol– working till 88! I hope the warm memories offer comfort in the difficult time. Lovely eulogy.

    Published 4.13.17