Life Story / Obituary
Though tiny in stature, Mary Anne Gemmell was as tough and resilient as they come. She rolled with the punches, but she stood firm when it came to the happiness and wellbeing of her family. She was a wonderful mother and wife who demonstrated her love every day in the warm, nurturing home she created and maintained for her family. She never missed an opportunity to send the perfect card to her children and grandchildren, just to remind them how much she cared.
The 1920s, or the Roaring Twenties, saw many technological advancements that made everyday life a little easier. Refrigerators, automobiles and frozen foods changed the way many family lived their day-to-day lives. In Chicago, construction boomed through the decade until the Stock Market Crash of 1929 put many projects on hold. However, Edward and Agnes (Bartkowiak) Hellmuth's thoughts were focused on more important things like the birth of their first child. On a hot summer day in Chicago, they were blessed to welcome their daughter, Mary Anne, on July 29, 1929. The family would grow to include three more girls, Dorothy, Rita and Lucille. Edward supported his family working as a truck driver and Agnes cared for her family and kept their home life running smoothly.
Mary Anne, or Toots as her family fondly called her, enjoyed an idyllic childhood growing up on the southwest side of Chicago. She and her friends spent many happy hours at the roller rink skating to the latest music. If she wasn't skating, Mary Anne could be found at a dance hall. She made friends easily and the times that she didn't have a boyfriend were rare! After attending local schools, Mary Anne graduated from Visitation High School, a Catholic, all-girl school in the Sherman Park neighborhood in 1947.
After graduation, Mary Anne found work in an office as a secretary. Though Mary Anne never seemed to have problems meeting boys, she agreed to go on a blind date with a young man who just got out of the service. Fate intervened when she met Alexander "Sandy" Gemmell and they hit it off immediately. They dated for a few years and were happily married on June 23, 1951 at Visitation Church. Since Sandy worked for the railroad, the happy couple took advantage of free train fare and traveled to Florida for their honeymoon. Upon their arrival home, they set up their home in Chicago, in a brownstone three-flat in an Irish Catholic neighborhood.
Once the new couple was settled in their home, they started a family soon after. Their daughter, Sandy, was the first to join their family, followed by their three sons, Jim, Bill and Bob. Mary Anne stayed home to care for her growing family and manage the household. She was a wonderful mother who took great pride in providing a warm, loving home. Each morning she walked her children to school and each day at noon the children would come home to find a delicious lunch waiting for them. They knew that they could also look forward to her wonderful, traditional dinners made from recipes that were handed down to Mary Anne from her Polish and German ancestors. The times were few and far between, but the children knew that they were in trouble when Mary Anne started waving her finger at them. That was the time to stay out of her way!
Mary Anne was a huge sports fan and she was thrilled that her boys shared her passion. She was a Chicago Cubs fan from the time she was a young girl. The family often quipped that they were the only Cubs fan living on the Southside! Nothing was better than watching her Cubs while enjoying an icy cold seven ounce beer! When it wasn't baseball season, Mary Anne could be found following her beloved Blackhawks. For 20 years, from 1958 to 1978, the family had season tickets to the Hawks and twice a week they were at Chicago Stadium cheering on their team. Mary Anne was thrilled when her sons took up hockey as well.
Even though Mary Anne was not a big fan of water or swimming, each weekend in the summer the family would haul their boat to Pine Lake in LaPorte, Indiana. There they would spend their days on the water, boating and skiing, and their evenings camping and enjoying meals that Mary Anne had carefully prepared in advance. While other campers made do with grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, Mary Anne's family feasted on delicious meat and potato dinners, just as they would at home.
Mary Anne had quite a sweet tooth. She loved her Fannie Mae milk chocolates and turtles. In fact, you would always be sure to find a "candy drawer" at Mary Anne's home!
In 1967, Mary Anne and her family moved from the Chicago home to the suburbs in Calumet City. Wherever Mary Anne was and no matter what she was doing, you would usually find her accompanied by her beloved dog, Max "the mutt". Needless to say, he was just a little spoiled. They remained in Calumet City until 1978 when Mary Anne and Sandy moved to Dallas, Texas. Luckily, Mary Anne's job as sales clerk in the boy's department at Sears transferred to Dallas and Sandy worked as a painter and wallpaper hanger. They remained in Dallas for 23 years, making some very dear friends and enjoying many visitors to their home. Mary Anne and Sandy were thrilled when their niece, followed by other family members, moved to Texas. It meant so much to them to have family close by, especially for the holidays. Each year, a huge Thanksgiving feast was held at a nephews home, and Sandy and Steve would come and visit.
Mary Anne's love of dancing continued into adulthood. She and Sandy were wonderful dancers and they spent many evenings, sometimes three or four nights a week, waltzing or doing the jitterbug. They could also be found enjoying a swim in their backyard pool or grilling dinner while enjoying a Manhattan or rum and Coke with a lime. After retirement the couple spent time traveling around the States, eventually visiting 45 of the 50 states. One of their most memorable trips was spent exploring the west coast but they were content anywhere they could watch a beautiful sunset.
After leaving Texas, Mary Anne and Sandy moved to Michigan to be closer to Sandy and Steve. They lived in Douglas for three years, eventually moving to Kalamazoo where they would spend many Sunday nights enjoying their daughter Sandy's delicious dinners. Luckily, she had inherited her mother's love of cooking.
In her leisure time, Mary Anne spent her time reading her favorite author, Danielle Steele, or pouring over homemaker magazines and cookbooks. She would often find recipes that she would set aside for Sandy to make or file for later in her unique filing system -- underneath her cutting board.
Though Mary Anne's life was filled with love and happiness, it was not without its trials. She was stricken with a brain tumor and esophagus condition but as always, she rolled with the punches. She had an uncanny ability to recover, surviving several operations beyond expectations.
Mary Anne often said that she and Sandy lived a good long life and she had no complaints. She was blessed to have been married to the love of her life for over 65 years, to have raised a family that meant the world to her, to see her family grow to include grandchildren and great grandchildren and to see her beloved Cubs win the World Series this year. In Mary Anne's words, her life was "out of sight!"
Sadly, Mary Anne died on November 10, 2016. She will be deeply missed and never forgotten.
She was preceded in death by 2 sons: James Alexander Gemmell and Robert Michael Gemmell; and sister, Rita Smith. Mary Anne is survived by her husband of 65 Years, Alexander “Sandy” Gemmell; her children: Sandra Anne (Steve) Kinney and William Edward (Gail) Gemmell; and 7 grandchildren: Jess, JoElle, Jaimie, William, Danny, Amanda and Elizabeth; 4 great-grandchildren; 2 siblings: Dorothy (Joe) Phillips and Lucille Roth; nieces and nephews. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Wednesday (Nov. 16) 10:30 AM at St. Monica Catholic Church, with viewing one hour prior. Following the mass, food and fellowship will be shared in the church hall. Please visit Mary Anne’s personal web page at www.BetzlerFuneralHome.com, where you can archive a favorite memory or photo of her and sign her online guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to the charity of your choice. Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes, 6080 Stadium Drive; Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900.