Rosie Wenzl Klozenbucher, gentle soul, good neighbor, and an endlessly patient mother and grandmother from Greenleaf, died Feb. 3 at the Linn Community Care Home. She was 88.
She was born Rosemary Frances Fiegener, in Clay Center in 1934, to parents scratching out life in the Depression. They were getting divorced, and her mother Rose was mortally ill but did not know it; Rose died when Rosemary was two. A visitor to the house had found Rose unconscious on the floor and Rosemary crawling happily around her.
Her father Pete was a poor, shy man who lavished love on Rosemary until he got drafted into the U.S. Army. He was killed during the 1944 battle for the German city of Aachen.
Rosemary, nine years old, refused to believe he was dead; this was a fib, she told herself -- told in a family that nurtured grievances and fibs. She didn’t cry until three years later when Pete’s coffin came home.
After he was drafted, Rosemary would use either a stump or a wooden fence rail to climb barefooted and bareback onto Tony, a gentle horse kept at the Fiegener family ranch. She was all of five or six years old when she first rode Tony. She had two loves, Dad and Tony. And on Tony’s back she would trot through the Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County, Kansas, with Tony, wildflowers, birdsong and pollinating bees as companions. When she fell off, which was frequently, Tony would stand still as a gatepost, then find a stump for her climb.
But then Pete died, the family lost the ranch, and Rosemary lost Tony. Her three never-married aunts took on her care. They’d grown up in a family unfamiliar with affection. They didn’t dislike her; they fed, clothed and ignored her. “I might as well have been wallpaper,” she told us later. “Or a chair.”
When she reached high school age, the aunts sent her to Mount St. Scholastica, the Catholic girls boarding school in Atchison, where Rosemary knew no one. She studied mostly alone, never went out, kept a little unplanted seed of love close to her heart, pollinated by hope but not yet planted. And because it was a girls school, no boys noticed that shy little Rosemary Fiegener was drop-dead gorgeous -- dark hair, thoughtful dark eyes. And that she radiated kindness.
Her seed, her plan for sowing love, was simple in design, as she told us: “It was that if I was ever lucky enough to find love and kids, that they would get all that I never got: Hugs, attention, love, attention, toys, attention.”
And by and by, a handsome farmer came along, to help his sister move into the dorm on the first day of school. He did a double-take in the hall when he saw Rosemary. “Oh, WOW,” he said.
“Be nice,” his sister said. “She’s the nicest.”
Gene Wenzl dropped his sister Joan’s bags and patrolled the halls until he found Rosemary.
“Hi,” he said.
Gene was a talkative, bright guy who farmed and played trumpet in rural dance bands. He sang all the time at work, liked jokes and telling stories. He called her Rosie, because he liked nicknames, and she liked the name because it made her sound fun, and because it bothered her aunts, and so for the rest of her life she was Rosie to many and Rosemary to a few.
Rosie told her aunts she would marry Gene. Her aunts told her she would do no such thing because they planned to have Rosemary keep house for their family, as they had done, loveless and childless.
And for the first time ever, Rosie declared out loud that she would do as she darn well pleased.
They were upset; she was liberated.
Gene’s parents showered her with love and attention, which startled her at first. And soon after she married him in 1954, she and Gene made one baby, and then another, and eventually five boys in only nine years.
He sang while he plowed fields; he played trumpet. She showered her boys with attention, not just love but attention in the finest of details.
She read to her sons every night for many years, no matter how tired, or how annoying the little boys. She brought plastic alphabet letters home when Roy, the eldest, was six, so he could read by the time he started school. Tom set multiple fires; she put them out. She read and read and read stories, while Gene told them stories from history. The little boys became entranced by books and so went off to make adventures of their own. None of them became lawyers or Hollywood celebrities but they all became adrenaline junkies – cops, newspaper reporters, paramedics, EMTs, foster parents, mountain climbers, foreign exchange student sponsors, nurses.
Rosie got this started while also doing laundry and cooking and gardening and burping babies and helping with homework and running them to church, Catechism classes and school, rubbing their backs and putting wet washcloths on little faces when they had fevers. She hired a babysitter, Pat Lewis, who became a daughter-friend. And when girlfriends Sheryl and Sandy and Judy and Carol and Missy showed up, they became daughters before they married her sons, and Rosie gave them attention and hugs, affection and attention, kindnesses and attention.
Rosie led the Red Cross recovery program after a 1973 tornado destroyed much of Greenleaf. She stayed with her church’s Altar Society for decades.
Gene died early (1981 at age 50), leaving her with one son still at home and a farm on the edge of dissolution. She kept the farm in the family, and the sons came to keep it going.
Rosie took EMT training and spent many years crewing ambulances to scenes of accidents, injuries and illnesses. And at the end of her aunts’ lives, when they got lost in the house of mirrors of dementia, she showered them with attention and love and all the things they had not been able to give to her long before. But when in their house she found letters her father had written home from the war -- letters her aunts had hidden from her -- she cried.
She married Kimeo farmer Ed Klozenbucher in 1986; they spent 27 years together until his death in 2013. Gene had loved her dearly but was an edgy and impatient spouse; Ed treated her as a princess, as a gift, and she who lacked love early in life now cherished that love.
Sixteen grandchildren came, and they and their spouses showered love and affection and photos and attention on her. That little seed of love, nurtured in her early secret solitude, had grown her a garden of happiness. The grands gave her 22 great-grandchildren (so far), and she put photos of the grands and great-grands on her walls where she could look at them every hour of the day.
In the nursing home she was hands-down the staff’s choice as the nicest and sweetest resident. Grandson Gene was with her when she passed.
Her last words were, (to Larry): “I’m so glad you’re here.”
She was preceded in death by her son, Gary.
She leaves her sons, Rich (wife Judy), Almena, Kan.; Tom (Carol), Canon City, Colo.; Larry (Sandy) Greenleaf; Roy (Polly), Wichita; and daughter-in-laws forever Sheryl Wenzl, Wichita; Missy McLain, Wichita; daughter-friend Pat Lewis, Inman, Ks; 16 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.
A Rosary will be said at 7 pm, Friday, March 24, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Greenleaf.
A Memorial Mass for Rosemary will be held at 10:00 am, Saturday, March 25th, at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Greenleaf with Father Joseph Kieffer and Father John Wolesky as co-celebrants. Carolyn Osborne will be the organist. Hymns are to include ”Ave Maria”, “How Great Thou Art”, “Amazing Grace” and “May The Angels Be Your Guide”. Bearers are Eugene Wenzl and Don Wenzl. Burial will follow at the Sacred Heart Catholic Cemetery, east of Greenleaf.
The Christie-Anderes Funeral Home in Waterville is handling the arrangements.