Virginia Adele Eagles Umberger
May 28, 1909 – October 29, 2017
Memories of a Beloved Lady
Our family moved (back) to Elgin in October of 1992, renting a small house on Glenwood Avenue. My earliest recollection concerning Mrs. Umberger is from the spring of 1993. I had completed a day of homeschooling our 8 year old son, Jonathan, and left him in the house to finish up an assignment as I donned my gardening garb and set out to till up some ground for a small vegetable garden in the back yard. I had not been working very long when Jonathan bounded out of the house “all done” for the day and ready to mount his bicycle. I called out the standard motherly injunctions to “be careful” and then returned to my messy work as my young son began his tour of the neighborhood. Little did he or I know that this particular afternoon would mark the beginning of an unimaginable blessing in our lives.
I doubt I had been working outside for longer than an hour when Jonathan returned to the back yard in obvious excitement, eager to tell me about “the nice lady” he had met at the end of our street. Apparently he had spied her working in her garden, too, just as he turned the corner. Being a friendly sort of youngster – and snoopy as well – he walked right in and began asking her questions. What a ‘lucky’ day for him that he met up with a busy grown up who was patient with his questions and careful with her answers! Excited about this special new acquaintance, he returned to me to suggest I, too, come over to meet his new friend. I later wished I had done as he had asked, but grown-ups aren’t as free and easy about meeting new people as are 8 year old boys. And I was wearing grubby clothes, and I needed to start cooking dinner, and . . . and . . . and . . . I told him I’d like to do that, but I needed to wait for another day.
Many days were to pass before I met Jonathan’s new friend. Meanwhile, he continued to look for her when he was biking through the neighborhood, eventually just dropping in to visiting her in her house. A genuine friendship was developing between my 8 year old and our 83 year old neighbor lady. As it did so, he brought home many “Mrs. Umberger” stories from his frequent visits. My husband and I could easily surmise that Jonathan’s new friend was very interested in his interests and his own tales of derring do.
Periodically we included Mrs. U. in some of our homeschool tasks. Occasionally she read his written assignments. One time she invited Jonathan and me to her house to meet one of her special lady friends – someone who had grown up out west alongside an Indian tribe to which her parents ministered. She told us about her native American playmates, and she brought a number of arrowheads to show us (some of which she gave to Jonathan outright).
We read quite a bit of poetry in our homeschool, and Jonathan memorized a goodly number of poems, so perhaps it was not surprising that he decided to write a poem about his special friend:
Mrs. Umberger followed Jonathan’s journey through grade school and high school and college. Even though in 1997 we moved away to a different Elgin neighborhood on the other side of the Fox River, Jonathan made a point to return regularly to the old neighborhood in order to visit with his “dearest neighbor lady.”
When he graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2009, Mrs. Umberger – then 100 years old – with her daughter, Nancy Rascher, attended the ceremony in DeKalb and also the open house afterward at our home.
When Jonathan became engaged to Elizabeth HarriSon, he took her to meet Mrs. Umberger (and to get her blessing). Meanwhile, Mrs. Umberger had moved from her “encampment in the trees” to Oak Crest Atrium on Elgin’s west side.
Friday, September 23, 2011, was the day Jonathan and Elizabeth married. We and the wedding guests staying at our house were all getting dressed in preparation for the drive north to St. Mary Catholic Church in McHenry for the ceremony. Jonathan had gotten dressed ahead of the rest of us, and then he disappeared. I noticed he was missing and hoped all was well with him. When he returned, I inquired softly where he had been. “I went to see Mrs. Umberger!” Since she was no longer able to attend his wedding ceremony, he took some of it to her on that significant day.
Virginia Umberger’s long life has been a source of much blessing to so many, and we are supremely thankful to have been graced with her own spirit of gratitude and good cheer. She will be missed more than mere words can tell.
Farewell for now, “Mrs. Umberger” – go with God!
November 20, 2017
Sheila Wilson Brennan