I miss many great gals: Deborah, Gertrude, Margie, Jackie, Tavy and so many more. They’ve gone, as my mom (another great gal who’d have been 94 last week) used to say, “to that great golf course in the sky.” Now I miss someone I didn’t know—but wish I had.
I met Eve Lahti through the eyes of her son, Bill Schlecte (shh-lec-tee). Being the mother of two (fabulous) boys, I’m partial to mother/son bonds. I hope my sons mention me with half the admiration Bill has for his mother, who died in 2008, at 93.
Eve was one of the first women to graduate from University of Michigan Medical School. She became a practicing physician, then psychiatrist, and—oh, by the way—raised six kids in the process. When his mom first arrived at med school, Bill says, the dean took her into his office. He told her, “Eve, you should be home making babies.”
That did it.
Eve’s Finnish parents, who immigrated to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the early 1900s, were equally determined. They ran a rooming house. Though “poor as church mice,” Bill says, they put 3 kids through med school. Eve’s brother, Dr. Ted Lahti, was a general surgeon at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, MI. He was featured in TIME magazine in the late 1960s for starting the trend to outpatient surgery. (Ted’s daughter is actress/director Christine Lahti.)
Eve and Carl Schlecte worked their way through med school. Eve was seated alphabetically next to John Kitzmiller. She was a “good looking woman” her son says. Both John and classmate Carl wanted to date Eve. Carl, nicknamed the Silver Fox, won.
Still in med school, Eve and Carl married. Eve became a resident at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Pontiac, MI, then opened a G.P. practice in Rochester, MI, with her husband. In 1943, Carl left to be a doctor in the army, in Italy and North Africa. He became a Major.
Eve kept the practice going while raising 2 children. Later, when Bill was born, he says according to family lore, “My mother delivered me, put on her make up, and did her rounds.”
After the war, Carl rejoined Eve in practice. A smoker, he suffered a major coronary at 39. Practicing medicine would be too taxing, he realized. In the ’60s, the family moved to Ann Arbor. Carl joined the faculty at U of M Med School. They had 6 children, all of whom attended the U. of M. Carl died in 1978, at 64.
In Ann Arbor, Eve went back to school to become a psychiatrist. She practiced in Ann Arbor for several years. Bill calls his mom, “the only sane psychiatrist I’ve ever met.”
In her early 60s, Eve moved to a retirement community in Green Valley, AZ. There she met Jim Coogan, a widower. They wed and lived happily together about 15 years until he died.
When Eve was in her early 80s, Bill landed his Mooney plane at Antrim County airport in northern Michigan. Shutting the engine down, he noticed his mom walking hand in hand across the tarmac with none other than her early admirer, John Kitzmiller. Bill’s wife said, “I bet they get married within a few weeks.” They did.
Bill told his thrice-married mother, “You’re going around collecting fortunes.”
Eve and John bought a condo in Pelican Bay, Naples, FL near his kids. John died 10 years later.
Eve’s romantic life wasn’t finished. She reconnected with Bill Chapman, a long- time friend from Rochester. She ordered a dual control mattress, and Bill moved in. At 94, Bill was 6 months older than Eve.
Eve did water aerobics every morning. One morning soon after her new sweetheart moved in, Eve was about to serve eggs and toast when she collapsed. A DNR (do not resuscitate order) hung on the refrigerator door. She was compos mentis to the end.
Eve learned to use email in her 90s to keep in touch with numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren. “She was still giving down-to-earth psychiatric advice,” Bill says. “For years, I called my mom every day. I have her last message saved in my computer. She complained: ‘Why can’t I reach you?’”
At Eve’s wishes, she was cremated. Half of her ashes were scattered in Tawas Bay, MI, where the family had a vacation cottage for many years. Half, in Lake Superior, near where she was born.
Christmas was a special time for his mother, Bill recalls. She’d take a full day off to individually accompany each of her 6 children Christmas shopping. Bill says the highlight was a foot-long hot dog and a soda at Rochester’s Knapps Dairy Bar.
Eve enjoyed 2 martinis or 2 Manhattans every night before dinner. (My kind of gal.) When she turned 85, the family held a reunion to celebrate its matriarch at their home in Tawas. Bill sat on the porch with his mom. As they sipped together, Eve said, “You know, Bill, guilt is a useless emotion.”
The next morning, over coffee, she reconsidered. She told her son, “You know what I said about guilt? Forget I ever said it.”
Bill is married, for the second time, to Laura, an artist, designer and gallery owner. Between them, they have 6 adult children. Bill’s a real estate attorney in Jackson, MI. He conducts continuing ed classes every year for Farbman Group. Turns out Bill graduated from Cranbrook and was a classmate of my sister. “I was a pimply faced nerd,” he says. “I wasn’t in her league.”
What’s the biggest lesson Bill learned from his mom? “My mother was very accepting. She let everyone be who they wanted to be. She didn’t expect the world to adjust to her expectations. She adapted to the world.”
We can all learn from this pioneer and free spirit. Thanks for the introduction, Bill. Thanks for the example, Eve.