Velna Steiner

 

A Tribute to the Amazing Life of Velna Steiner (1915-2021)

 

image of Velna Steiner

Velna Steiner

Beginning on June 6, 1915 in Monroe, Washington, Velna Steiner led a life full of hardship and joy, the darkness turned to light, and the difficulties turned into opportunities. At the base of all was her undying faith in God, and her belief that kindness and love are transformative.

As a small girl, one of her earliest and fondest memories was when her father William, took her blackberry picking. She was four or five, and he would set her down comfortably in a small clearing surrounded by blackberry bushes. She remembers the warm sun and smell of blackberries on the vine, as her father would pick berries all around her. They also played dominoes together. “I would tip one over and they would all fall,” she said. “He was very patient and kind.”

Otherwise, her home life was pretty bleak. Her mother, Lemira, was confined to a wheelchair, and she was “bitter and disappointed with life.” Her older sister Bessie’s behavior became more and more erratic until she was diagnosed as mentally ill and needed to be hospitalized. Her brother Bill was the oldest and left home early. This was all during the depression years, where they had very little money for basic needs. When she was seven, after her father left once her parents separated, they lived in a “small shack without electricity or plumbing,” receiving only $1.05 a week for food. She would read the catalog and dream. A teacher helped her by buying her a pair of shoes to wear at her graduation, where she left as soon as she arrived at the party. “No one was there for me,” she said.

Yet, with all this, she was on the honor roll, only two girls and two boys, out of 90 students. She was very lonely during much of her childhood, but said, “As soon as I could read, I realized the world was mine. What a wonderful feeling.” She read Anna Karenina in third grade living through the characters’ “balls and rides in carriages through the snow.” Her faith got her through too. “I faithfully attended the Methodist church, all my life and as a child too.”

After high school, she became lifelong friends with Dorothy Wade (later Barnett). “Dorothy was in sports and active. I was the serious person she needed, and she was the fun person I needed.” They were friends all their lives. They enjoyed many happy times together, supporting each other over the years.

Through a group of six friends that got together, she met Gustave Steiner, her husband of 43 years. Her mother came to live with them for ten years and later left to live with her brother Bill in a little house he built for her. Velna went over every week to do dishes, change sheets, and clean her place.

Once she married Gus she had a “new life entirely.” She gave birth to Ann on November 9, 1937, Bob on July 15, 1941, Dorothy on October 8, 1944, and Steve on April 14, 1955. She loved her children and her new life. She said, “I overcame a good many problems. I really didn’t know how to be a mother, but I think I did pretty well.” Her children say she did very well.

She had a wonderful sense of humor. She was pregnant with Dorothy when a funny thing happened: “Our house was warm as long as you kept the inside doors opened. On Sunday afternoon, Gus loved to listen to Leo Lassen, a sports announcer for baseball, on the radio. In another room, Mother listened to an evangelist, who had great fervor in his sermons. It was a war of the radios: Mother’s would get louder, and then Gus would turn his up too. ‘We will now rise and pray!’ and ‘Hang onto your rocking chairs!’ I sat in the kitchen and laughed until tears ran down my face.”

Her children were a great source of pride. When Ann was a year old, she was “a party girl from the day she was born. By the time she was three, she would sing for the family. When she was a teenager, Ann, her girlfriend, and nine boys would come over after school. They called it 7th period.”

Bob had eczema when he was a baby, so he only had his first bath when he was seven months. She slowly lowered him in. “When he realized he could splash, the dining room was all wet. He was so happy!” His teachers said he was very smart, but schoolwork was a challenge. He joined the navy, went into cooking and loved it.

Dorothy was a “joy as a baby. A sweet little doll. She would always come to me for hugs.” She was a quiet girl and loved to pretend she was a cook. She met her husband through Ann’s husband, Bill. Velna’s two daughters became best friends.

Steve was “a quiet little boy like he is now. In junior high, he had some good friends. Billy was his best friend. Every creek they’d drive over, they’d say, ‘Fish on!’ They were fish crazy!”

Velna and Gus had four children, nine grandchildren, thirteen great grandchildren, and six great-great grandchildren, who spent quality time with their grandparents. Velna used to read poems to her children and grandchildren from a favorite book, Two Hundred Best Poems for Boys and Girls. She also taught the children how to make toys like walnut and pea boats and button-on-a-string.

Velna, Gus, and family had many happy times at their cabin on Port Ludlow. “I loved the country, fresh air, beach, the smell of the water. Walking along the beach was a joy.” Gus and Velna shared many happy weekend trips in their trailer too. They also bought some riverfront property in Index, WA. “Index was an investment. You put money into a piece of property and you have to keep it for a while. It pays to put money into property.”

Velna was very smart and exceptionally good at saving money. She took a job at the Federal Reserve Bank when she was 54. She worked there 12 years. In that time, she took a modest paycheck and through monetary awards for numerous suggestions to improve service and quality control, and investments into bonds, did very well. With Gus’s pension and her savings, she was able to support herself all through the rest of her life.

Gus worked at King Street Station at the railroad for over 40 years, ending his career as a Stationmaster. He had a heart condition and died of heart failure on his riverfront property, where he often fished in his later years. Both of his boys loved fishing, and do so to this day.

Velna moved into her “happy little home” in Des Moines, WA in 1979.  She happily lived there, across the street from the Des Moines Methodist Church, for 25 years. There, the family enjoyed delicious family dinners at holidays. She loved to garden, and kept beautiful flowers and a vegetable garden. She canned many of the foods she grew like “Grandma’s green beans,” a holiday favorite.

Her home was a comfortable place for family to visit. She always made her guests feel right at home. While in college, three of her grandchildren, Linda, Tony, and Jeff, lived with her in her basement apartment. She didn’t charge rent, just a few odd jobs here and there. She would often call down to join her for dinner. “Just plain food” she called it, but it was more than that. These meals were filled with so much love.

She was sweet, but also strong and protective. One day, as she was coming in from gardening, she was greeted by a man coming toward her from inside her “happy little home.” She threw her hands up, filled with fury, yelling, “You get out of my house!!!!” She chased him down the stairs and out into the yard. That was that. When Ann called a bit later, asking, “What’s going on?” Velna replied, “Not too much. I just chased a man out of my house.” Very matter of fact. Ann came right over and called the police.

During these years, quilting was a passion, but her whole life was dedicated to giving to others. She worked at the Des Moines Food Bank and her quilting group, through the Des Moines Methodist Church, made more than 500 quilts over the years that she gave to charity, including the food bank, Pregnancy Aid, Habitat for Humanity, and Pediatric Care. She made over 100 quilts that she gave to friends and family. Countless loved ones and strangers were kept warm through her hands.

She became very ill and recovered, but she needed to leave her home in 2004. She moved to Wesley Gardens in an independent living apartment when she was 89. Twelve years later, she moved to Assisted Living, and her last month was in the Health Center. During those 16 years at Wesley, she made many friends and won countless games of Scrabble. A voracious reader all of her life, Velna read mostly non-fiction in her later years, saying “I want to keep learning.” She also loved listening to classical music, finding it helped her go to sleep at night. After she began losing her sight and was unable to read, this music was a real joy to her.

Velna had such a strong will she pushed through several serious illnesses and injuries. She did everything doctors and physical therapists recommended and then did more. Her will and positive outlook was unmatched. At the end of her life, at 105 years old, she even beat pneumonia. Yet she was ready to go “home to God.” Velna Steiner died peacefully on April 12, 2021.

Her legacy is one of service, humor, positivity, acceptance, hard work, faith, and kindness. At the center of all this is love, which she gave with open hands and an open heart. She will be greatly missed, and of course there are many who are grieving this loss, but what she wanted most was her loved ones to be happy. One of the last things she said was, “Choose happiness,” which is a pretty good recipe for a wonderful life.

 

4 Responses to “Velna Steiner”

  • Carol Lee Davis says:

    I have known Velna for decades as we met at church and she was very active with many supportive projects including her beginning the Quilters. She also was available in gathering other members to help me designing the 23rd Psalm in the large memorial banner at Des Moines United Methodist Church. There were hundreds of scripture letters and Velna chose to cut out the lower case “e”. She said there were 62 of them, and indeed there are 62 “e”. Velna was love in action and spread grace to everyone she knew and welcomed into her life and home daily. I think of Velna many time throughout the day and saw her days before the Pandemic. Velna was deeply loved.
    Carol Davis

  • Lester M. says:

    Aunt Velna was an amazing woman. I helped her with stripping of materials for her quilting. While my mom was only a half sister to Velna, she always treated us all like family.

    I will miss her.

  • Richard Koob says:

    There were 3 young Luxembourg sisters who immigrated to the USA at the turn of the 20th century. One was already married with a child … Gus Steiner. Father Tom Steiner was the first to leave Luxembourg, in order to find work. In turn, the others would later follow. It took tremendous courage to leave home, and travel across a great ocean, with almost no financial resources. The three sisters would locate in the Pacific Northwest to start their new lives; their madden name soon forgotten … Sprunk. Anne Steiner, Jeanne Koob (my grandmother), and Elizabeth Schroeder. These women laid the foundation of my fabulous childhood. I have countless memories of the many large dinner parties at the Koob’s house in the Greenwood district; Luxembourg picnics at Lake Martha near Everett, and trips to Enumclaw/Kent to visit the Steiner farms. Christmas dinners at the Schroder’s beautiful home in Magnolia. Excursions on Lake Washington in Eric Gidlund (Jean Steiner Gidlund) boat(s). The Koobs (3 generations) and Gus Steiner served the Great Northern, Northern Pacific, and Burlington Northern railways with hard work and pride.
    For me, Velna’s passing is the last chapter in the book. She is the last of my Luxembourg childhood connection. Although my memories have dimmed, they will never be forgotten. They are the foundation of my life!
    Richard Koob

  • Linda Cooper says:

    It would have been Velna Steiner’s 106 the birthday today. I miss talking to her nearly every day and visiting her in her little room at Wesley Gardens. She was the most positive person I know, taking life’s lemons and making lemonade. I loved our talks, she was so well-read, intelligent and wise. We played so many games of Scrabble and shared a love of books and nature. She inspired me in so many ways, and daily I discover the many ways she has touched my life. I hope I am 1/10 as good a person as she was as I journey through life. Happy heavenly birthday, my beautiful grandma.

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