by Laurence Rossi
Special to The Leaven
In the spring and summer, she dedicates most of her days to tending her expansive garden, made up of wildflowers and a diverse range of produce. She can feed herself almost entirely on what she grows.
Her son Bob drives her to Mass frequently. She could drive herself, but grew tired of the hassle of car ownership and sold her vehicle not long after her 99th birthday.
Laverne turned 100 on Feb. 3 and took a moment to talk with The Leaven about her three passions: family, gardening and her Catholic faith.
Born to a Catholic family in Mooney Creek, just south of Atchison, Laverne moved at the age of 8 a mile down the road from her parents’ home and in with her grandmother Mary Meier. There she would assist her grandmother, keep her company and learn everything her grandmother could teach her.
Laverne spent many days with her grandmother in the garden, learning how to prepare the soil, cultivate produce and even shoot the pesky rabbits that would often terrorize their gardens. (Laverne only recently hung up her rifle for good — and only because it became too hard for her to hold it steady.)
She also learned how to sew, a skill she would later use as a young parent to provide clothes for her children.
Perhaps most importantly, however, her grandmother showed what a truly dedicated faith life looked like. Well into her 80s, Grandma Meier walked by herself to Mass at Corpus Christi Church in Mooney Creek.
“She would walk that whole mile with just a stick to go to Mass during the week,” recalled Laverne. “I could never!”
Laverne lived with her grandmother until getting married in 1942, but moved back briefly while her husband Robert was serving in World War II as a medic.
After his return, the couple moved into the same farmhouse outside Nortonville that Laverne still lives in almost 75 years later.
Together, they farmed, gardened and raised six children: Jane, Marlene, Bob, Terry, Dennis and Carol. While they took great joy in raising their family, it did not come without its share of difficulties.
For the first two years on the farm, the Weishaar family lived without electricity.
Years later, the couple’s daughter Carol died tragically young.
But they always had their faith. And that’s where they turned in times of trial.
Not long after the birth of her daughter Jane, Laverne fell ill with a severe case of pneumonia.
Initially given little chance to survive, she was hospitalized for over a month at St. John in Leavenworth. Sickly, bedridden and worried about her family, Laverne turned to God.
“I like to say I bargained with the Lord and won,” Laverne said with a twinkle in her eye.
“If you let me live so I can raise my own kids,” she remembers promising, “I will say a rosary every day of my life. That’s what I told the Lord.”
She recovered shortly thereafter and now, almost 70 years later, Laverne has not missed a single rosary. Some days, she even says two rosaries, and she keeps rosaries all over her house so she can always find one when she needs it.
The practice even became a tradition for the whole family, as she made a habit of saying her daily rosary with her children before bedtime.
Laverne lost her husband Robert in 1983. But his loss did not defeat Laverne; she quickly taught herself everything she needed to know about finance and taxes so she could remain entirely self-sufficient.
Through it all, Laverne has always gardened. What was once a Depression-era necessity became a passion that she passed on to her children.
Daughters Jane Dodd, a member of Mother Teresa Parish in Topeka, and Marlene Weishaar of Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee, became master gardeners in their own right. Some of her grandchildren have even taken to the practice.
Today, in the dead of winter, she passes time playing cards with her family and baking, but is always looking forward to the first signs of spring, when she can begin planting her first seeds in little pots and start growing them in her oven by the warmth of the pilot light.
“Her garden is her happy place,” said Marlene. “She has aches and pains, but she’ll go out in the garden for a few hours and forget all about them. She gets so absorbed in raising things.”
With all her experience in the garden, Laverne has been able to draw parallels between her garden and her life and faith. With a garden that can often lie at the mercy of the elements, Laverne has learned that “you can only do so much. God takes care of the rest.”
She plants enough tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, beets, strawberries, sweet potatoes, onions and melons that the fruits of her labor can feed her for the whole year.
In much the same way, she has found that in raising children with faith and strong character, they have finished growing and can now take care of her.
“I took care of those kids when they were little, and now they want to take care of me,” she admitted.
And while still fiercely independent, Laverne is beyond grateful to have children who want to care for her.
“What would life be without them? I can’t imagine,” she said.
Nor can she imagine where she would be without her Catholic faith.
If she were to give just one piece of advice to young people, she said, it would be simple.
“Trust in the Lord,” she said. “See that you live the right kind of life that you get to heaven.”