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Life Story / Obituary
“Do you have anything that would lock my helmet to my motorcycle? An old keyed padlock and cable? You’re pretty sure it’s in the pole barn on the work bench? Is this it? Great! It’s perfect. Thanks, Mom!”
It was a rare occasion that Marian Straka could not offer something she had waiting to be reused. A master of recycling, she was happy to share whatever she had extra to help out. From containers, tools, clothes, coupons, paperclips, rubber bands, plant startups, curtains, and tablecloths -the list goes on and on. She was clever like that, and in other ways too.
While reading through her monthly Connections paper she would get to the recipes on the last page and say, “Mmmm, this looks like it might be good to try”. Naturally, I would make it at home and bring it back for taste testing and joint evaluations. The Irish Soda Bread, Pumpkin Curry Soup, Zucchini Quiche and Corn Bread muffins were some items that turned out pretty good. “I was always glad when she picked a recipe out of the paper.”
On February 17, 1930 Marian was born at her home in Berrien Springs, MI, the middle daughter of father Christian Ruppel, mother Hertha Ruppel, between sisters Marg and Marie. Growing up, she wanted to play violin. However, the opportunity to learn ice skating quickly became a reality. She practiced ice skating- dreaming of becoming an Olympic figure skater. Marian was also a cheerleader at her high school, and she graduated from St. Joseph High school in 1948.
To help her parents, Marian got a job as soon as she could. This began her life working various jobs: the counter at the drug store in her senior year, worked at Ridge and Cramer in Berrien Springs, MI, cashier at Fred’s Supermarket in Coloma, MI, owned and operated a bar with her husband in Powers Spalding, MI, stayed at home as a homemaker in Rock, MI, a representative at Voice of Music Manufacturing in St. Joseph, MI, a receptionist at a doctor’s office in Three Rivers, MI, and she went on the road with her husband while working office remodeling and construction for All-Phase Electric all over the United States.
Marian met a handsome Marine at a restaurant in Benton Harbor while he was on leave, and she married Chester Earl Straka in her hometown of St. Joseph on June 21, 1952.
They had two children, Chris and Deborah. She loved them dearly. Marian told us “Deborah was the only one that truly understood her.” Chris was a telephone call away, where in a playful voice she’d say, “Hello, Sonny! What are you up to today?”
As Marian’s children grew up, she was very active in their lives. From sharing her faith while being a Sunday School Teacher, shopping for yearly school clothes, being a den mother for Cub Scouts and a Brownie mom, supporting and listening to the years of music lessons and practicing from both kids, sewing beautiful dresses for winter dances and teaching her daughter how to sew, teaching baking skills with an Easy-Bake Oven (specifically on a Christmas night with a chocolate cake), the list goes on and on.
Something very special between mother and daughter was ice skating. Up north, at the same age as Marian learned, she taught Deborah how to figure skate. Always, she passionately and faithfully watched figure skating, and they went to the Ice Capades whenever they could.
In the evenings, especially on weekends, Marian loved to play games with her family. Dominos, Monopoly, Yahtzee, Checkers, etc., and various card games, she socialized, laughed, and had a good time. Her favorite, when playing games, was to gang up on her husband by working hand-in-hand with her family members to ensure Chet wouldn’t win, sometimes she would. In the evenings she would play Solitaire to keep her mind sharp.
Holidays were always special. A Christmas looked something like this: Chet in the kitchen cooking, Marian at the table cutting up buttered carrots and mashing potatoes. If the family was lucky, she’d bring out pistachio pudding where everyone would “ohhh” and “ahhh” over the delicate, green pudding. Everyone would sit down at the dinner table, bow their heads, and Chet would say “Grace, let’s eat”. “Was it five pounds… or ten pounds of potatoes? Yeah, there were no potatoes left after dinner.” Another would say, “Is that raisin pie? Eewwww.” And then we’d run into the living room where stockings with personal Santa notes were hanging on the wall for grandkids. Marian always sat in her chair, smiling, enjoying the sounds of her family.
Mother and son also shared in the trials and pains of hip replacement surgeries together. While Chris recovered from double hip replacements, she drove every day to care for him and his dogs, five days a week, from May until June- until his wife could be there to take over full time. The deal was, he was to do the same thing for her when she got her second hip, which she did- and he kept his word.
While recovering from her second hip replacement Marian opened her home to her Grandson’s family: Cliff, Corinne, Cole, Cody, and Caylin for a short time to help them relocate to this area. “We are forever grateful.”
After her grandchildren left, she continued to be independent, strong minded, stubborn, and able to care for herself. She always liked working outside and caring for her flowers. She remained kind and compassionate throughout her years, especially when it came to giving good advice to her family when asked.
In the evenings when relaxing she would usually watch a football game. While watching the game, she’d make a phone call sounding something like the following, “what’s on the tv schedule tonight? That’s the lineup? Oh… well, is Michigan State winning? Oh good. Love you!”
May 2016 brought a short, eight-day hospital stay to put some health issues back in order. Just before Labor Day weekend, mom said “I am sorry we didn’t have a chance to organize the summer yard sale… we’ll plan to run it during the week of the fair.” With health issues returning, that Wednesday she was admitted to the hospital directly from her doctor’s appointment. She had several procedures ridding her body of the excess fluid.
While in the hospital, one of her joys was having the ability to speak with her granddaughter, Amy, from Florida- that she had the opportunity to see a couple months prior, along with all three great granddaughters. Good conversations helped keep her spirits high, and she was discharged thirteen days later from the hospital to come home. On the ride home, her daughter made the statement “I’m glad you are coming home tonight”, and she said “you and me both.”
The next two days were filled with family trying to help her get back to normal. Friday was the follow-up appointment at the Heart Failure Clinic at Borgess, and in a combined effort, family members Deb, Shirley, and Cliff got her there. Her family nurse practitioner delivered in the best way possible “the news isn’t good”. Long time cardiologist to both Marian and Chet, Dr. Alicia M. Williams came to check on her. With warmth and care she sent her on to the emergency room with a kiss and a hug goodbye, as well as many other hugs and kisses from staff members.
From the emergency room with Deb, Grace Hospice came on board. Chris and Shirley continued to ready the living room while Marian was delivered by ambulance to her home in Three Rivers, MI. She gave everyone a wave “hello; it’s good to be home.” The rest of the immediate family: Cliff, Corinne, Cole, Cody, and Caylin were able to come to her bedside and spend precious time with her. As they were with her, the doctor and nurse continued to assess her condition. The Chaplin’s spiritual assistance rallied her strength.
She remained clear of mind, resting peacefully, until she left us on Saturday September 24, 2016, with her beloved daughter Deborah and granddaughter Jennifer there, in the early morning hours.
At Fort Custer, she will lay side by side with the love of her life, her husband, Chet Straka. When we remember her “our hearts will be warmed because we knew her… and we knew we were loved by her.” That will last forever. “Until we meet again, love you.”
Marian’s family includes:
Children: Deborah Straka, Chris & Shirley Straka
Grandchildren: Amy & Dave Meggison, Cliff & Corinne Straka, Jennifer Straka
Great Grandchildren: Paige, Cole, Amber, Cody, Natalie, Caylin
Sister: Marie Maki
Several nieces and nephews