Mary Elizabeth “Liz” Lucey, retired dietician, World War II veteran and a woman who worked, raised a family and wrestled with life’s problems on her own straight-forward terms, died Friday (Sept. 28). She was 92 and lived in Oelwein, IA.
Liz Lucey was as hard but as beautifully grained and unvarnished as a piece of hickory. The former Mary Elizabeth Godden was born in the first third of the last century when the nation was still forested by men and women of her timber. She had helped to build the world that the boomers boomed in and their children micro-chipped, micro-waved and digitalized.
It is often a male image when the term “Greatest Generation” is mentioned. There were plenty of women in the front ranks of that generation and Liz Lucey was one of them. She could be blunt, funny (ribald at times), short on drippy sentiment, driven by a powerful work ethic, and open-minded enough to give and take the toughest criticism comfortably. When you left the room you always knew where you and Liz Lucey stood.
She was fun-loving, fearless, compassionate and extremely independent. She could hold her own in any conversation.”
Liz also held her own quite well in life.
Born in Algona, IA, she was the daughter of Harry Godden who owned and operated the Godden Monument Works in Algona. She was a 1938 graduate of St. Cecelia High School and a 1942 graduate of the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts Degree where she was a member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority and where she was also on the synchronized swim team. All three of Harry Godden’s kids got college degrees from the University of Iowa. Her sister Joan Rabun survived her. Her brother Bill predeceased her. A daughter, Mary Lucey said, “The college registrar recommended her going for BA in Food and Nutrition which would be more helpful in getting a job. She took the BA. But, to tell the truth, she never could tolerate any ‘BS.’”
She did her internship at Harper Hospital in Detroit, MI. It was right after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. So Liz did what they all did, try to find a way to get into the “War Effort.” She joined the Army. A licensed, registered dietician, she was posted to Torney Army Hospital in Palm Spring, CA. The El Mirador Hotel had been converted to a hospital.
“I thought I had walked into hell with the staggering heat of 128 degrees,” she would tell her family decades later. A short time later she was sent to the 83rd General Hospital in Wrexam, Wales. It was there she would meet the man she would marry in 1945, Dr. Robert Lucey, a member of the Army Air Corps. He died in 1961 of a heart attack. Single mom Liz and her five children ages five to 14 moved in with her Dad in Algona, Iowa, and she went to work at nearby St. Ann’s Hospital, later to moving to Oelwein, working at Mercy Hospital.
Most of the boys from her class at St. Cecelia High School and many from her college had gone to war. Many young men who were classmates died in Europe and in the Pacific war. She saw the war up close while on leave in London during “The Blitz” and a German V2 rocket exploded nearby. A few years after the war, like so many others with her experiences, she missed the wartime camaraderie and joined the American Legion and was an active member for more than 30 years.
She enjoyed organizations and groups of people but didn’t depend on them. She loved being with family and friends, but valued her privacy. She also didn’t waste time or have patience with phonies. Liz was an extrovert who enjoyed conversation and had enormous empathy for others while keeping personal feelings to herself.
She would not hesitate to get involved in local issues but in a way she thought appropriate. And she was a thoughtful and articulate advocate for the unborn.
Liz, an attractive brunette at five-foot-eight wasn’t vain or a clothes horse but always dressed stylishly with a sense of color and was always in fashion. She was a great cook and encouraged her sons as well as her daughters to learn how to operate in a kitchen.
“Grammy liked to set a nice table, presentation was important as were table manners. She was very knowledgeable of etiquette. She loved to have us come home to the smell of good cooking after school; she had homemade treats to welcome us home. She insisted we eat dinner together, a tradition we passed on to our children,” said her daughter Denise.
Granddaughter, Meghan Daniels, said, “Grammy hadbeautiful hand writing. She was very quick to send a hand written thank you card, no matter what you did.” Meghan and Grammy would send holiday cards back to each other. This year in early September Grammy sent Meghan a Halloween card. Liz called her daughter Denise to say she finally beat Meghan in sending a card first. Meghan said, “She was my best friend.”
She read the paper daily, watched news and politics on TV closely and stayed current. Liz greatly admired the advances that women had made in the professional fields as one glass ceiling after another broke. A voracious reader, mostly non-fiction, the last book she read and loved was – appropriately – a biography of Catherine the Great.
The Lucey kids had a Mom who led by example. As a working Mom she allowed latitude for the kids to be “self-governing.” But, they followed her ways of being self-organized and pursuing knowledge and education. Tim looks back at Mom’s hands-off style and muses that with any of the kids or adult children, in the final analysis, “she was always there to lend encouragement.” They also came to learn and indelibly remember her ethics and values. She was not only a straight-shooter but also a straight arrow. Her moral compass never wobbled. Her Catholic faith was the center of her life, and she always had a strong sense of duty. She was a patriot.
As with most in her generation and many in the generation that followed, she pushed her children to go farther than she did. She encouraged and challenged them to live their lives fully. They knew she had high expectations. Her son Tim is a former Marine Corps Officer and with a defense contracting firm, son Robert E. (who died in 2005) was a lawyer. Daughter Kathleen is a Social Worker and Special Education teacher, daughter Denise is employed at Winnebago Industries, and daughter Mary is retired after a 37 year teaching career. All of her children pursued higher education. While she took great pride in this, she cared more about their character, and delighted in hearing of good deeds done in service to others.
She stayed in very good health. In her youth she enjoyed sailing, camping and other sports. Liz also followed sports and was a loyal fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes. She loved golf and was still playing until the age of 86. In her younger years Liz Lucey liked to relax with a glass of wine which she used to say “went down like silk.” She reveled in music, her brother played classical piano, and she loved modern and classical music. She would snap her fingers and dance to a good tune in her children’s homes and recount how she danced to Glen Miller and Tommy Dorsey at the Roof Garden, Lake Okoboji, in Iowa.
The hickory didn’t soften or rot with age, it only cured. At age 90 Liz got into a property line dispute with her neighbor. It escalated to the point that the local police arrived on the scene to talk to the ladies and calm them down. “Eventually my mother realized she not only had overreacted but that she had been wrong. She knocked on her neighbor’s door and offered her some locally picked sweet corn. I do not know what was said but her neighbor graciously accepted,” said her son Tim.
When the end drew near Mary Elizabeth Lucey dealt with it as simply, forthrightly and honestly as she had with a million other issues she dealt with in the past 92 years.
She had lived independently until two weeks ago. After a week of tests the doctor told her she was not responding to treatment and must consider hospice. “I am 92. I have done everything I wanted to do. I could go just like that,” she said, snapping her fingers. She went to hospice.
When Tim went to see her just before she died he said she appeared “as happy as I have ever seen her and at peace. She did not fear death. She knew God would take care of her.”
A dietician for more than 55 years, she was a member of the American Dietetic Association and American Legion Post 9. Mary Schuchmann, a long time friend, said after learning of Liz’s death, “I got the better end of the friendship.” Daughter-in-law Anne Vonderhaar said, “Liz was the strongest person I have ever known. She survived so much and never lost her faith. She persevered through it all - quite a legacy for her progeny.”
In addition to her son Tim, daughters Mary, Kathleen and Denise, she is also survived by: her grandchildren, Robert, Michael and Elizabeth Lucey; Christopher, Meghan and Patrick Daniels; Mary, Sarah and John Powers; and great grandchildren, Rebekah, Emmet, Declan, Jacob and Sarah Lucey.
A Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11:30 amFriday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church 628 S Frederick Ave Oelwein, IA. There will be a graveside service at 11 am Saturday atCalvary Cemetery Algona with full military honors.
Arrangements by the Geilenfeld Funeral Home, 309 1st Avenue NE, Oelwein, Iowa
Point of Contact: Tim Lucey (son) Phone: 619-757-7844