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The Dash Between: Schlathers were married nearly 67 years, raised 13 children

The Schlather brood attracted lots of stares on their Sunday drives through Lorain, Cuyahoga and Geauga counties in the 1950s and ’60s.

“When we’d come to a red light, you could see the people next to us counting us in the car,” said Jeanne Frey, the 4th-born of Bernie and Virginia Schlather’s 13 kids. “We only had one car at a time for all of us — always a Ford and always a nine-passenger station wagon. We were all together for only one year.”

More than a year, really. All 13 kids lived under the same roof from January 1961, when the youngest child, Mary Agnes, was born, until September 1962, when Sister Mary Seton, a.k.a. Mary Rita, the eldest of the Schlather clan, left home to enter the convent.

More photos below.

The number of Schlather children at home in Elyria decreased as the kids graduated from high school and went off to college.

Numerous vehicles driven by Schlather offspring, grandchildren and friends filled the parking lots at Reichlin-Roberts Funeral Home and St. Jude Church in recent weeks for Bernie’s and Virginia’s funerals.

Bernard P. Schlather died May 21, 2010, and H. Virginia Schlather followed on June 26, 2010, both at age 90.

The Dash Between:

About this feature

The Dash Between is an obituary feature written by Alana Baranick about regular folks from Lorain County and adjacent areas.

Baranick wrote her first obit in 1985 when she was a reporter for The Chronicle. She wrote obituaries for Cleveland’s Plain Dealer from 1992 through 2008.

She is the chief author of “Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers” and director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers. She won the 2005 American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award in the Obituary category.

Today, Alana Baranick examines The Dash Between the dates of birth and death of Bernie Schlather and his wife, Virginia, who shared their respective “Dashes” for more than 60 years.

The Dash Between is scheduled to appear in The Chronicle every other Sunday.

To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com.

Read more:

Both were born in Olmsted Falls: Bernie on Aug. 4, 1919; Virginia, whose maiden name was Bilskey, on Jan. 28, 1920.

Bernie, whose father ran a dry goods store, was the youngest of six siblings. Virginia, the daughter of a carpenter who built houses, was the second of five.

Bernie was born with club feet and had several operations on his legs in his youth. He used crutches until he was a teenager. Yet he managed to participate in athletics.

“He played baseball, but he was all-time pitcher because of his feet,” daughter Jeanne said. “He bowled, played tennis. With his feet, we were surprised that he played tennis.”

As a child, Virginia helped her maternal grandparents on their farm in Columbia Township.

The future Mr. and Mrs. Schlather may have known each other casually from St. Mary of the Falls Church, from Olmsted Falls High School or from around town, but they bonded as members of the Marian Club, a Catholic youth group.

After graduating from high school in 1936, Bernie lived with his aunts on West 41st Street in Cleveland, worked at Addressograph-Multigraph and attended night classes at Spencerian Business College . He began selling insurance in 1941.

He tried to join the military for service in World War II but was rejected because of his feet.

Virginia remained at OFHS as a school secretary from 1937, when she graduated, until 1944. She later served as bookkeeper for Bernie’s insurance business.

“She always told us that she thought she should be a nun, but Dad persuaded her to marry him,” daughter Jeanne said.

Bernie proposed on Christmas Eve 1941. They were married on July 5, 1943, at St. Mary of the Falls.

Virginia’s father built their house at 718 Gulf Road — not far from St. Jude Church and School — as a wedding gift. It was finished in 1948, and they moved in with their first four children that December.

“The story goes that Mom and Dad had a smaller home in their plans,” Jeanne said, “but Granddad made it bigger” to accommodate their growing family.

Bernie liked to say that they chose the location for its proximity to St. Jude.

“The Catholic faith was so integrated into our lives that we just expected to pray together at morning prayer before breakfast, meal prayers before each meal, and to interrupt our play in the evening and say the Rosary together,” said Sr. Mary Margaret Ann, the 3rd-born.

The Schlathers used weekly visits to the Elyria Public Library and read to their kids to encourage them to read.

Bernie, Lorain County Deanery Holy Name Society Man of the Year for 1960, kept the kids coming back for more with the clever use of cliffhangers at the end of each reading session.

“Dad would tantalize us with his expressive way of reading classics out loud, seeming to relish stopping at some of the most exciting parts of the story,” Sr. Mary Margaret Ann said.

Virginia and Bernie raised assorted vegetables, fruit trees and flowers in a garden the length of their yard. They set aside sections for which each child was responsible.

They cleared out a “postage stamp” diamond in the woods behind the house, where they played baseball and other games.

Bernie’s love of live Christmas trees led to his helping start Christmas tree sales to raise money for the church and the Boy Scouts. Virginia baked apple pies for church and East Elyria Kiwanis campaigns and events.

“She swore by Gold Medal flour and Crisco for the lard,” 1st-born daughter Sr. Mary Seton said.

Following their parents’ example to contribute to good causes, the kids organized backyard festivals as fundraisers.

They charged pennies for lemonade, cookies and games that promised prizes from cereal boxes to game winners. They donated the proceeds to missions in India connected with the Notre Dame Sisters, who taught at St. Jude’s school.

Two of the Schlather daughters, Sr. Mary Seton and Sr. Mary Margaret Ann, went on to join the order. Daughter Jeanne became music director at St. Jude, and Mary Agnes works in the marketing department of National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Bellville, Ill.

Son Raymond, the 6th-born, at one time began preparing for the priesthood, but ended up becoming a lawyer like his brother Robert, the 2nd-born.

Sons William and David, children No. 5 and 10 respectively, purchased the Schlather Insurance Agency from their father in 1985.

Child No. 7, Paul, is a retired accountant. Donald, No. 8, is a landscaper. Roseann Brown, No. 9, works for the U. S. Postal Service. Kenneth, No. 11, is the Cornell University Cooperative Extension director, while No. 12, Patrick, is an engineer.

A story about all the Schlather children going to or having completed college was published in The Chronicle in June 1979 after the last Schlather child graduated from Elyria Catholic.

A few days later, an editorial writer observed, “One can only guess at the sacrifices required for this kind of achievement — the scrimping, the scrambling to keep everyone organized, clothed and fed, and the energy involved in supervising such a large household.”

When asked then about raising and educating 13 kids, Virginia said, “We sort of went along with the idea that the Lord will provide. And somehow He has.”

Contact Alana Baranick at (216) 862-2617 or abaranick@chroniclet.com.

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