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Wilma Lois Stoffer (1914-2005)  

 

Wilma Lois Stoffer was born with her twin brother Willard on May 18, 1914 in the small town of Mantorville, Minnesota to John and Laura Stoffer, who owned a farm there. 

Mantorville, known for its limestone, is located in the southeast part of the state, along the South Branch of the Middle Fork of the Zumbro River, in a landscape of rolling hills amid the prairie farm land of Dodge County. Founded in 1854, the town is one of the oldest in Minnesota. It's known for the limestone quarried there.

 


Laura, Clinton, Wilma, John, and Loren (Red) 

 
Wilma

Wilma contracted tuberculosis when she was an infant from drinking unpasteurized milk, and her mother took her by train to Florida, where the warmer weather helped her recover more quickly than she would have in the north. Her twin died in infancy.

She was called Carrot Top as a child, because of her curly bright red hair, and was mortified by it. She thought of herself as a fraidy-cat, and was nervous and shy in school. She was not a natural scholar like her older brothers Clinton and Loren. She long remembered her embarrassment when she brought baby mice to school in her pocket, and was scolded by the teacher. And she was particularly terrified of water.

But she was also a determined person and did not give up easily. She graduated from high school without a hitch. She eventually learned to wear her red hair proudly. She learned to swim as a teenager, almost drowning when, as part of the swim test, she had to retrieve a 25-pound weight from the bottom of the pool.

And she accomplished all this against a backdrop of a family is decline. For it is sad but true that the history of John and Laura Stoffer’s marriage as revealed in the U.S. census is a chronicle of marriage going down. 

In 1910, John and Laura were prosperous farmers who owned their property outright and employed a servant named Rudolph. 

By 1920, John was working for himself as a hardware merchant in Mantorville village, and Laura was running a tight ship at home, as one might expect of the daughter of German-Swiss immigrants. Laura still had Wilma and her three brothers – Clinton, Loren, and Richard – to look after. 

Then came the crash, and by 1930, they had lost the hardware store and were renting a place in Rochester. John, who was employed as a movie theater houseman, began running with the wrong crowd and developed a drinking problem, even though (or perhaps because) Prohibition would remain in place until 1933. The Stoffers were struggling to make ends meet, even with the two older boys out of the nest, and Laura took a job as a head pastry chef at Zumbro’s Hotel.

Yet they were ambitious and talented people too. Wilma's brothers, Clinton and Loren, went to college, by no means a common educational path at the time.

Wilma Lois Stoffer 1920 Census
Wilma Lois Stoffer 1930 Census

Wilma herself was a friendly and warm person, with a commensurately active social life. She later described herself as a bit wild when she was a young woman. She especially loved to dance. Once the young men who were driving her home from a dance -- Charlie and Bill -- crashed their car because they'd had too much to drink. Wilma suffered a big gash on her head, and it's likely this incident made her cautious about alcohol ever after.


Called the Mantorville Opera House in this 1976 photo, this might have been
the theater where John worked in the '30s. Mantorville had fewer than 2000 people,
so it wouldn't have had multiple theaters

The couple divorced in the early years of the Depression, and Laura and Richard made their way to Seattle. There Laura invested all her savings in a small cafe near the Cascade neighborhood south of Lake Union, and with remarkable energy and drive built a going concern, only to have her business partner take all the money and abscond after only a few short weeks. After that she worked as a cook for various University of Washington sororities and fraternities. She was still at the job at age 82.

Wilma followed her mother and brother west in 1935, the same year the Burnses made their way across the prairies in their Ford Conestoga. She drove with girlfriends -- with no license needed, of course -- and they stopped to see the sights along the way, collecting a great many photographs of themselves posing in front of natural landmarks. 

Wilma was nanny to the well-to-do Pym family when she married Dave, and she continued to work and live at the Pyms' house until her promised year was up. This integrity was not karmically rewarded, however, for in a particularly cruel twist of fate, especially considering Wilma's fear of the water, Joanne Pym, her young charge, drowned on her watch. This was a tragedy that must have haunted her the rest of her life.

 

 
Wilma Lois Stoffer


Wedding Day!

Wilma and Dave did not actually live together until the spring of 1938, just before Patty was born.  But this was not out of any prudishness! Even though she was a Pentacostal – on the first night of their brief honeymoon, Wilma requested a change from Room 666 – she was still an enthusiastic dancer who liked movies and enjoyed an occasional glass of wine! The couple met through friends at a firemen's dance at the Spanish Castle.

For a while they lived in the back of the old shop over Rodgers Tile Shop on Yale, but then moved to the Sylvia Court Apartments several blocks north. Patty was born in 1938, Linda in 1941, and Davy in 1945.

Dave and Wilma were married for 68 years and died only one year apart.