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Columbia Missourian

From Readers: A daughter remembers her mother's life

October 8, 2012 | 7:12 p.m. CDT
Gertrude Lavera Dawson was born July 10, 1911.

Gertrude Lavera Dawson was born, July 10, 1911, the fourth of 10 children, to Daniel William (D.W.) Abraham Aufranc and Mary Johanna (nee Carl) Aufranc in a two-story white framed farm house just off a muddy Road No. 63 in Callaway County.  The home looked up at the Missouri State Capitol, which was built high on a limestone cliff overlooking the Missouri River bottom. 

The land was D.W. and Mary’s to raise corn and alfalfa to feed and/or sell at market. They also raised some livestock, chickens and goats. Mary had a sixth-grade education and D.W. a second-grade education. Mary taught D.W. the skills in math and reading to allow him to build a solid living off of the land. Gertrude would frequently mention she had a happy childhood and was raised by loving parents.

When Mary’s mother, Fredericka Louise (nee Bruening) died, her family left an estate to her only child her that allowed the family to move closer to the state university and add acreage to a new farm. She (Mary) was in her seventh pregnancy when the family moved to Deer Park, just seven miles south of Columbia in Boone County. Both parents were determined to make a college degree available for each child who wanted to take their studies that far.

Gertrude attended her grade school years in a one-room schoolhouse just across from the gravel entrance to their farm.  She then spent weekday nights at an aunt’s home in Columbia until her graduation from Hickman High School in 1928.

After the flu pandemic of 1915-18 and the outbreak of malaria and polio, Gertrude decided to attend the new College of Nursing at the University of Missouri because it was free. After graduation, she accepted a grant to Peabody State Teachers College at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., to earn a master's degree in public health education in 1934.

She then worked in St. Louis as a surgical nurse at Barnes Hospital for a year before accepting a public health nursing position to serve the childhood victims of polio.  The state trained her to fly a Cessna aircraft that she used regularly to serve children on the remote farmsteads around the Lake of the Ozarks. Two years later, she accepted a promotion offer from the Iowa Public Health division in Iowa City to visit the remote farms in that state.

On her 90th birthday, her son and spouse arranged a 45-minute glider flight over Boulder and the Denver area. She deplaned and never touched the ground until she reached the car! The October 2011 issue of the MU Sinclair College of Nursing newsletter featured Gertrude and her many years of service to her communities.

While living in Iowa City, Gertrude became reacquainted to Carl Dawson through her brother, Clarance, while both worked for the state department of agriculture. She had known Carl while they were undergraduates.  Still paying off her student loans, she delayed a proposal of marriage until mid-June 1941. She and Joseph Carl (J Carl) married on June 29, 1941, and made a two-bedroom home in Midland, Mich., where J Carl had a job with Dow Chemical. 

Gertrude gave birth to her first child, a daughter, Betty Jean, on Dec. 26, 1942. Jeannie quickly became her family name. A son, James Carl, was born on Mother’s Day, May 11, 1944. He became Jimmy. Then, on Sept. 7, 1948, little Joan Kay completed the family circle.

Both parents had spent much time dreaming and strategizing on building a business of their own. J Carl already had patents pending for fumigants that he had been able to gel, thus making them products that would go from a solid state to a gas where it was applied.  Application equipment patents were quickly being designed to apply to the product(s).

So they packed up and moved to Florissant, bought a small home and began the steps to build the fumigation business they wanted to offer the grain businesses of the Midwest. 

After Joan was born, the little home was bursting at the seams, so a move further into the city to Ferguson allowed them to stretch out in a two-story, four-bedroom home. Gertrude involved herself in the local school district as additional registered nurses were needed to apply the new polio vaccine. She became active in her children's PTA groups. She started to refine her skills in tournament bridge and became a member of the PEO Sisterhood, and all the time attending to and documenting material for their two businesses. She also qualified as a Realtor. As the children moved through school and on to college, they reduced their living space to apartments. 

Jean’s bachelor of science degree was in hotel and restaurant management and what now is known as human resources. After Jean’s graduation, she married Dick Husted, a high school classmate. They raised four children: Robert Rex, David Dawson, James Richard and Elizabeth Jean. 

Jim was awarded a bachelor of science degree in business. Jim and Pam's son, Joe, was awarded a business degree from the University of Northern Colorado at Greeley and now lives in Boulder, Colo. Joan completed her college studies in education at MU and met her husband. He then earned a law degree, and they moved to Bettendorf, Iowa. Ken’s career was to be with John Deere; and he just recently retired. Their elder son, Chad, is married to Stacy, and they have a son and daughter and are expecting their third child in March 2013. Joan and Ken’s younger son, David Dawson Huhn, is studying architecture in Savannah, Ga.

J Carl died at Lake Chipala, Mexico, on Jan. 13, 1973. Gertrude remained in their retirement home in Las Cruses, N.M., for 15 months then moved to Rancho Bernardo, Calif. Two of her brothers who were retired doctors were spending the winters there, and Gertrude joined the two couples for outings, golfed with the wives, joined a PEO chapter there with one of the sister-in-laws and was active in the local Presbyterian Church.

Her oldest brother died about 18 months after Mother moved there. Then his widow and Gertrude started to roam the world, visting the Panama Canal, Alaska, England and Hawaii. 

Mother was about to celebrate her 75th birthday when she decided to move closer to her elder daughter in Littleton, Colo. She built a ranch home in the Ken Caryl community, about half a mile from Jeannie, Dick and their four children. Jim and Pam were also close and at that time had a son, toddler Joseph (Joey) Patrick to enjoy. Gertrude spent 15 years in that home before understanding that a retirement community would be better.  She eventually arrived at the Life Care of America in Littleton, so she was still close to some of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She joined her daughter’s PEO, Chapter GZ, in Littleton and just last year received her 50-year member recognition pen.

Gertrude died peaceably Monday morning, March 19, 2012, at the age of 100 1/2. Mother’s death leaves behind one sister, Dorothy, two sisters-in-law, Helen and Bonnie, and numerous nieces and nephews, plus her three children, Jean, Jim and Joan and their spouses, Dick, Pam, and Ken. Dick and Jean have Robert Rex, David Dawson, James Richard and Elizabeth Jean Husted (and their children’s spouses: Leslie, Addison Ann, Jennifer Suzanne and Scott Brian). Jim and Pam have a son, Joseph Patrick Dawson.

Joan and Ken have Chad Abraham and spouse, Stacy. Her great-grandchildren are Evan David, William Richard, Samuel James, Grace Elizabeth, Sophie Mabel, Greta Lynn, Alexander Preston, Emily Grace, Kathryn Renée, Cole Joshua Robert, Benjamin James Abigail Ann, Cole Dawson, Dillon Scott and Drew Samuel.

Her family truly believes we were raised by an angel. Our parents were part of that Great Generation that Tom Brokaw described. May we perpetuate the love, values, service and religious walk and be productive citizens to our country.

The family will scatter Gertrude's ashes on the burial plot designed for her and her husband, Joseph Carl between 10:30 and 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20. Accommodations are pending if the weather is not conducive to a graveside gathering.

Gertrude is preceded in death by her parents, D.W. and Mary; her husband, Joseph Carl; her siblings, William Henry, Ethel May, Otto Elmo, Clarance, Emmett, Evalyn, Curtis and Mary Jo; a niece Peggy; and two nephews, James and Otto.