A Family of Strong Women

This week’s prompt, I believe, comes from the March 8 National Women’s Day and how we must salute not only strong women of today, but those who came before.

In my family – the Becks and Shanes – there are generations of strong women. They were – and continue to be – assertive, determined, driven and smart.

They raised families during the American Revolution, the Civil War, both World Wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, changes in farming, during the Industrial Revolution and during present times when our future seems uncertain.

Some I know, some I knew, many I heard about and others are only a name with vague information because women weren’t important to the history books. They, and their stories, are certainly important to me and my daughter.

I have to start with the current generation of strong women, and I only speak of a few specific ones in the current generation.

My role models include my sister, Catherine Jean, my mother Donna Jean, my late maternal grandmother Marian Page Beck. , her mother Orpha LaBelle Page, my other maternal great grandmother Emma Lydia Zimple Beck.

I speak of Catherine because of her immeasurable strength during times that would truly cow less strong people. She struggled in school with undiagnosed disabilities and barely made it. Despite medical issues that have almost killed her, she has spent her career educating and serving children. Her “kids” still stop in an see her today. They are in college, in the military, in the healthcare profession and every other aspect of society. She survived the public school system in Chicago where people attempted to beat her down when she demanded better education for her students.

She pushes, prods, advocates, educates and challenges everyone to be their best, including me. She also a raised a daughter who is a fighter in the education system.

We do not see ourselves as heroic or strong, yet we see it in each other, so we have to turn the mirror to ourselves.

At 56, I am strong, resilient and a fierce advocate for those veterans who cannot speak for themselves. I retired from the military after 20 years and now serve in post and district leadership roles of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Missouri. I am surviving medical diagnoses as well, and I have refused to let them define me, but I do have to manage them or they will kill me.

How did my sister and I develop this resilience? This strength? This determination and drive? It is simply in our DNA.

It came from our mother, who became a single mother to three teenagers in 1977. She graduated from college, worked at least 2 or 3 jobs and gave us a love of books and education.

It came from Marian Page, who raised three children while her husband, John Beck, was off to war and traveled from place to place while the Air Force tried to find him a job. She ended up at Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota where they retired and then moved onto 80 acres near the base and helped my mother raise us kids. Her mother, Orpha, was born in Rimouski, Canada and emigrated as a young woman to the United States. She married John Page and had several children, including some who died. They lived on a farm in Nadeau, Michigan.

Pages on Farm in Nadeau, MI6

In the 1920 census, the family is in Shawano, WI, near the Menominee Indian reservation. By 1930, they were in Milwaukee, where Orpha had moved the family so John could work at the Harley-Davidson plant.

John Beck’s mother was Emma Lydia Zimple, the daughter of immigrant August Wilhelm Zimple and 1st generation immigrant Hermina Burghagen. Emma Lydia married Henry Christian Beck, a farmer whose family hailed from Ohio. The Becks were farmers in Wisconsin, raising children near Ladysmith. A family story relates the family had worked to save $800 to pay off the mortgage to the farm and when they had the money in the bank they went to town to pay it off. When they arrived at the bank the doors were closed – it was Black Friday.

1929 on the farm

I believe Emma Lydia became ill and the family had to move to town. I cannot imagine what life must have been like for Emma Lydia, raising six children on a farm. Not unlike many other women of her age, but these were the women from whom our strength comes.

But our strength comes far deeper than just these first generations of women. My family line includes the women on my father’s side who raised families during the Civil War when they housed soldiers in a new barn on the farm of George Miller. Alice Sarah Miller was born in 1854 and was just 9 years in 1863 when Gettysburg was up close and personal in her family. Her mother, Elizabeth Buckley Miller, would have been in her early 30s during the war, raising seven children. She lost one daughter – Mary Ellen , at left – in 1885 at 18 in a horrible accident on the train tracks. An older sister, Annie, was severely injured.

Mary Ellen Miller Annie Miller

Mary Ellen                                        Annie

My paternal grandmother, Alice Louise Jones, raised 7 children on farms from 1926 through World War II. I didn’t know her well. But her children have strong children of their own who work in education, the military and national government.

Through many generations of many women, we somehow end up at today, March 10, 2018.

We are as strong as the sum of our parts and my parts are the women who came before me. They raised children, lost children, lost spouses, lost everything in economic disasters or wars, kept their faith in God or their own higher power, and raised smart, driven, resilient and assertive women.

Thank you – to all of you





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