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Life Story / Obituary
She didn’t care for cats.
Outside of that, you’d be hard pressed to discover Patricia Rademacher complaining about anything else in the 91 years she graced this earth.
Born Patricia Catherine Bechtold to parents Jack and Gertrude on July 11, 1927, “Patsy” -- as she was known early on -- grew up at 321 Garfield Avenue NW. A younger brother Bob and older siblings Richard and Virginia rounded out her family.
As a youngster, Patsy enjoyed her time at Lincoln Park across the street from the family, as well as time spent at nearby John Ball Park, where she golfed on the now-defunct three-hole course, and learned how to ice skate.
All four Bechtolds attended St. James Catholic Elementary School, then graduated from Catholic Central High, Patsy in 1945. During those formative years, Pat took dance lessons and joined a troupe of three. If she ever had any plans to dance professionally, they were curtailed by her father, who frowned on her desire to perform in a large-scale way.
For dampening those dreams though, Jack more than made up for it by purchasing a lot on Memory Lane in Grand Haven, and constructing a two-story cottage dubbed “The House Jack Built.” Pat and her sister and brothers thrilled to staying there all the summers of their youth, and eking out entirely separate lives among wholly new gangs of friends. Pat fell in utter love with the wind and waves and sand that graced the Grand Haven beach, finding poetry in those elements that sustained her throughout her life.
Her times in Grand Haven were enhanced by a job she took over from Jinny during her high school years, writing “society news” for The Grand Rapids Herald. Weekly, Pat would trek the lakefront homes, knocking on screen doors to determine who was entertaining whom. She recalled getting maybe “a penny a line,” which motivated her to pad her work “with a lot of initials and such.”
Pat flourished at what then was Michigan State “College,” earning a teaching degree in 1949. She didn’t skimp when it came to making friends, as dozens of pictures survive of those years alongside boyfriends whose last names are lost to history. She used to say that “I kissed a lot of frogs before I found my prince,” and her early dating prospects weren’t hurt any by her membership in Michigan State’s Alpha Phi sorority.
She discovered the “love of my life” at a yard party where both she and future husband Tom arrived there with different dates – but ended up smooching out behind a garage. After a two-year courtship, they were married on July 25, 1953 at St. James Church, followed by a formal reception at the Peninsular Club, and later a party at the stately ranch home her parents now owned on a hilltop setting on Lake Michigan Drive NW.
Of all the suitors to court Pat, Tom arguably came from the most modest means. His first job while married was working in a factory, just a step up from the job he’d formerly held as greenskeeper at a golf course in Lansing.
For several years, “Miss Bechtold” taught English and dance at Godwin Heights High School, but traded in her chalk for maternity gowns and wore them out over the next dozen years, giving birth to what the couple enjoyed calling their “six rotten kids.” Tom came in 1954, then Dan in ’55, Joe in ’57, Mary in ’59, Molly in ’62 and Matt in ’65. They went on to grace her with 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
By 1956, they were living in the home that Pat would grow to love until the day she died – at 320 Ball Park Blvd. NW. Pat found great joy in realizing that she would be moving in next-door to her dearly beloved childhood friend, Mary Ellen Siegel.
The family’s time on Ball Park was full of joy, predicated on simpler times when people spent their hours outside instead of on screens. Front porches were for congregating, and the Rademachers found sweet respite in friends like the Siegels, Davisons, Grays, Morans, Smiegels, Kuneckis, Friskeys and more.
While Tom worked in sales for Haviland Products Co., Pat busied herself with the needs of those six rotten offspring. Much of the family’s activities revolved around their faith, and the bulwark provided by St. James Church and school, where the kids endured feisty nuns, competed in sports, participated in music, and worshipped not only on Sundays but weekdays before the start of school.
Summers were glorious affairs, with Tom using his two weeks’ vacation to cram everyone into the Ford Country Squire station wagon to spend part of every August at the Bechtold cottage. When not there, you’d find Pat driving the kids to pools at the Elks Club or the O’Brien home, where the kids learned to swim.
In rare moments when Pat and Tom had time together, they enjoyed golfing in a league with the O’Briens and others at Lil’ Acres in Marne, and later on, trips to both coasts, often alongside Jinny and Bob. If mom was alone, it was to work out at Ansorge’s or the Y, or to serve a pregnancy resource center, Meals on Wheels, March of Dimes, the Mary Catherine Guild – or delve into reading, knitting, sewing, crocheting, painting, birding, ceramics, gardening or cooking.
As the kids left the house, Tom and Pat spent quality time with other couples – the Siegels, Fritzes, O’Briens, Kriegers -- and their gang grew to more than a dozen, with “Sal’s Pals” meeting weekly at Salvatore’s restaurant.
Patricia never tended toward fancy. As far as fine wines go, she preferred a cheap red clogged with far too much ice. She never pined for a new car, or enjoyed a dishwasher, central air, granite countertops, or cupboards that closed all the way.
As long as Pat could stand, she could dance, and that included wowing relatives at parties where she would lace on a pair of combat boots Tom had given her, fitted with taps. She sang, too – everything from Irish ballads to whimsical ditties like “The Old Family Toothbrush” and “Pull Your Shades Down Mary Ann.”
Tom died of congestive heart failure in 1996. Pat’s mourning was compounded by the long battle she herself waged with both ovarian and uterine cancer, and by the loss of son Joe, who died at 50. She grieved for a dozen years before meeting Claude Travis, who served for a decade as the sweetest companion until he died shortly before Pat’s death.
Pat was diagnosed with dementia in her late 80s, and died after a brief illness on April 28, 2019, amid a vigil maintained by her five children and their spouses.
Patricia Rademacher will be remembered for a lot of things, but most of all her quiet faith, and the many subtle kindnesses she rendered until her dying day.