Althea Leona Edler Rausch

Honored by:Peggy Huppert and Beth Stuchel
Brick location:B:20  map

My sister, Beth Stuchel, and I decided to honor our mother, Althea Rausch, by purchasing a brick in her name for the Plaza of Heroines. I am pleased to try to explain why we wanted to honor her in this way.

My mother has lived both an ordinary and extraordinary life. She was born Althea Leona Edler in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on August 7, 1923. After her father, Herman, was killed in a truck-train accident when she was a baby, my grandmother Hilda remarried a dairy farmer, Otto Boll, and moved from the city. They were poor, but my grandmother scraped together enough money for violin lessons for my mother at a very young age. By the age of 10, she was playing at teas at the nearby Kohler mansion, owned by one of the wealthiest families in the state.

My mother was very bright, and graduated from high school at age 16. She attended the University of Wisconsin at Stout earning a degree in home economics and dietetics. In 1943, at the age of 20, she graduated and left Wisconsin for the first time to serve with the U.S. Army as a registered dietitian at bases in Kansas and Colorado. At the Fitzsimmons base near Denver, she helped care for German prisoners of war learning first-hand the humanity of the "enemy." I believe this experience helped shape my mother into the compassionate, tolerant person she is.

After the war, she returned home to the farm to recover from an illness before starting a plum job with General Foods in Minneapolis. She never made it to the Twin Cities. Fate intervened in the form of a fast-talking, attractive, door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. My grandmother, a born matchmaker, thought the salesman was perfect for her daughter. After some initial disinterest, my mother agreed. She and my father, Robert Conrad Rausch, were married on July 26, 1947, at a Lutheran church in Sheboygan Falls.

My mother taught high school while my father continued college on the G.I. Bill. After my father graduated from college with degrees in history and German, my parents moved around the state teaching school for a while before my father decided he would never make enough money teaching. He went back into sales selling several different products before deciding to try used furniture in Watertown (Wisc.). The used furniture store became a new furniture store and it became my parents’ business for the next 20 years.

My mother, like many women of her generation, subverted her own career and personal interests to those of her husband and family. She had five children; the first two, twin girls, died shortly after being born prematurely in 1951. My mother, who had severe toxemia, nearly died herself. For six years my parents assumed they would not be parents. Then, my mother became pregnant with me in 1957. With special medical care this time around, the pregnancy went fine and I was born full term and healthy in July 1958. My sister, Beth, followed in April 1960. Finally, my brother Mark, was born in 1965 when my mother was 41. My mother says she remembers very little of the 1960s. She dropped her membership in virtually every club or group she had belonged to and devoted herself to her family.

When my brother turned two, my mother went back to work, but not as a home economics teacher or dietitian. My father needed her at the furniture store, so she took my brother to a home day care provider (virtually unheard of in 1967) and worked in sales. My mother had more of a head for business than did my father, but she decided to concentrate on interior design. She did home shows and in-home consultations. She went with my father to all the furniture shows. Although I didn't realize it at the time, she was a full partner in the business. But of course she also had a full-time job at home. She continued to run the house and do all the things for us that she always had done.

My father died suddenly in 1977 at the age of 54, leaving my mother a struggling business and three kids to care for. Within several years she turned the business around then sold it to a furniture chain in 1980. She then worked as a dietitian at a county hospital, a job she did not enjoy. But she was the sole support of her son, who was the only one still at home then, and had to work.

In 1984 my husband and I had our first child -- my mother's first grandchild in Des Moines. She decided to move to Des Moines, since all three of her kids lived there at the time. Within the next seven years, my sister and I would have four more children, giving my mother five grandchildren to enjoy. Until my sister and her family moved to Illinois in 1993, all the grandkids were close to my mom and did many things with her.

After working in both dietetics and interior design in Des Moines, my mother retired in 1988 at the age of 65. Retirement has been a wonderful time for her. She is probably busier than ever, but only doing things she enjoys. She has plenty of time for bridge (four or five times a week!), which she is very good at. She has the trophies to prove it! She is a culture nut, attending nearly every convert and play presented in the metro area. She has played the violin in the Des Moines Community Orchestra for 10 years. She belongs to book, travel, and investment clubs. She has traveled extensively, taking big trips to Australia and New Zealand, Europe, Hong Kong, Nova Scotia and Alaska, as well as many smaller trips.

What I am most proud of is her volunteer work. She has worked for the Symphony and Methodist Hospital Guilds for years, helping with many fundraising and other projects. She is active in AAUW, OWLS and AARP, fighting for the rights of older women. Tom Harking and several other political candidates have benefited from her dedication. She serves on a state advisory board to the Department of Elder Affairs that deals with caregivers. She organizes programs for the retirees group at church (St. Mark Lutheran) and is serving as the new church librarian. She has many friends and makes new ones with ease. It is often hard to keep up with her, because it seems every day is a new adventure.

My mother is a kind, patient and compassionate woman. She has devoted much of her life to caring and working for others. Our family is proud of all that she’s done, and all that she’s doing. We are grateful for this chance to honor her.

Submitted on 5/16/95