Editor's Note: Harbor Springs lost one of its treasures over the weekend. Patsy Ketterer passed away, in peace and feeling the love of her family. She was a staple in this community, and our newspaper for so many years. A memorial service is being planned for December 23 (information in this week's paper). A full obituary will follow next week.
By Kate Bassett, Harbor Light Newspaper
It's a rare gift for a community to have a "town crier" whose kindness, compassion, and genuine spirit not only shared news, but built bridges. A person whose deep convictions, endless stories, and occasional hijinks impacted thousands of lives (and left behind so many smiles). When it comes time to say goodbye, a beautiful truth emerges: laughter comes as often as tears. Memories fill the air, get tangled in branches, flow into the lake. And we know then, just how much a person's spirit remains long after their time on Earth ends.
This isn't a feature article, folks. It's a love letter honoring Patsy Ketterer, who believed in the roots and wonder of this place, whose heart served and guided and connected with every section of our community, and whose weekly columns graced this newspaper for about 20 years.
Patsy grew up here-- her parents owned Wager Meat Market (where Gurney's is today)-- and returned to raise her family along the bluff she held so dear. And while many people will remember Patsy as wheelchair bound, a result of a 50-plus year battle with Multiple Sclerosis, no one will remember her complaining or letting her physical struggles define her. That simply wasn't Patsy.
"For 58 years, she knew she had MS," said her daughter, Kathy Bodzick, in an interview Monday afternoon. "She remembered little signs long before the diagnosis too, like when she was at the University of Michigan at a tea, and looked down to see someone had dropped a teacup. She said she thought, 'what idiot would do that?' before realizing it had been her cup! That might have been the first sign things were not all right with her body, but she never-- not in almost 60 years of having a diagnosis-- let it get to her mind."
And what a mind it was.
Patsy was known for being whip-smart with strong worldviews, and her attention to local, national, and international news never wavered. Many of her columns for the Harbor Light were sprinkled with thoughts on what was happening in the greater world, while always grounding readers firmly in Harbor Springs too-- she'd speak of a bird's aria out her front window before launching into nuggets of wisdom on social justice, current events, and of course, politics.
"It was during the Civil Rights movement that Mom really started to develop her social conscience," Bodzick recalled. "And when that happened, there was really no end to her passions for protecting 'the least of these.' She gave and gave and gave."
Patsy was also an outspoken (and good natured) Democrat in a community filled with folks on the "other side" of the political fence. She had her elected representatives telephone numbers-- especially those she didn't care for-- listed clearly for caregivers to help dial when she was no longer able to do so herself. She wrote letters profusely, both to those who annoyed her (Bush and Cheney topped that list) and those she held in high esteem (daughter-in-law Michelle Ketterer said she just recently saw "write a letter to Nelson Mandela"-- something she did several times-- on Patsy's to-do list).
Although her columns often hinted (quite strongly) at her leftist leanings, it wasn't until the issue of September 2, 1998, that Patsy proclaimed, "I'm a liberal. There....I've said it..." And the following week, she laughed on the page as she recounted all the funny reactions she received, adding, "most comments have been said jokingly (which I like), but at least I learned that I'm not writing each Monday in vain. You are out there reading what I write."
Terry Gamble Boyer, who grew up summering in Harbor Springs, came to live with Patsy-- a dear friend of her parent's-- for a few months after graduating early from high school.
"One of my visual memories of that year (and for years to come) was of Patsy sitting at her counter, leaning toward the television, not wanting to miss a thing. The Watergate hearings were going on, and Patsy was rapt. She knew every character, every issue, every story line," Boyer recalled in an email Monday. "I, too, was fascinated...but more by Patsy than by Watergate, for as far as I knew, I had never met a Democrat. Needless to say, she had a huge impact on my political outlook."
But Patsy did much more than influence the political leanings (or at the very least, let her opinions be known in the kindest manner) in town. She impacted lives for the better, simply by being herself.
"I first met Patsy when I was fourteen or so," Boyer recalled. "I was friends with David (Patsy's son), and we were all big sailors then, and Patsy would help out at Little Traverse Yacht Club events. I really liked her, but she was more my parents' friend until I was 17 and scheduled to graduate early from high school. I needed a project, and Patsy suggested I come up to Northern Michigan and live with the Ketterer family and volunteer in the Harbor Springs schools.
It was my first "real" winter, and I was ill-equipped for the cold, the ice, for being an outsider/summer kid. Consequently, I spent many evenings with Patsy at her kitchen counter at 580 W. Bluff. She was my new best friend, and the timing couldn't have been better for that kind of wise-woman/mentor/confidante to come into my life."
"My mom collected people," Bodzick agreed. She sighed, in a joy-filled way. "It wasn't always easy for us as kids, because we had to share her. But we grew to understand it was a gift. Mom was hard-wired for it, she was geared toward people and people were drawn to her, always. I think about her lifelong friendships, like with Gloria Frank. 83 years of friendship. Very, very few people can say they've had that."
Another long-time friend of Patsy's, Ann Irish, said the charm, humor, and always-in-the-know stories will be terribly missed.
"She was a gift to this town. We were all so lucky to know her, and I'm glad I was able to experience many decades of her friendship," Irish said.
Patsy's love was passed down to the next generations as well, doting on her grandchildren and great-grandchildren with enormous pride and adoration. Called "sit down grandma" by some of her grandkids (and Patsy loved that nickname, even writing it on all the cards she sent Hana and her brother, Cole), Bodzick spoke fondly of experiences like proms and homecomings, when Max Ketterer and Hana Ketterer would show up dressed for dances.
"Hana and her friends would all come parade through for Mom, and she loved it so much. She felt very blessed to have so much family close by."
She was equally touched by the kindness of strangers, and had an 'it' factor beyond belief, Boyer noted.
"Patsy could charm her way through anything. Everyone liked helping her, and no one wanted to say no. One time -- years ago -- I was in Chicago with Patsy and Kathy visiting Gloria. We were at some department store, probably Marshall Fields. Kath and I parked Patsy in her wheelchair by the escalator while we ran a quick errand to another counter.
When we came back, Patsy had disappeared. We looked for her and finally found her at the top of the escalator. Some 'nice man' (her words) had come by and chatted her up and, taking pity on her situation, loaded her, wheelchair and all, onto the escalator to ascend to the next level. Patsy was too kind to tell him that she had no need to go up the escalator, but up she went, the man being happier for having assisted this wonderful lady," Boyer wrote.
It's just one small example of all the love and attention Patsy poured into all people, regardless of how well she knew them.
"Every Christmas Eve Mom would do something called 'Fire in the Afternoon'-- it, ah, involved our punch bowl-- and she'd call anybody and everybody who might be alone to come over," Bodzick said. "We went to church a little tipsy more than once, but Mom never let anyone feel alone if she could help it."
That perfect combination of a little mischief and a lot of heart defined Patsy most. Bodzick couldn't help sharing a particularly amusing story about the time her mother hunted down a bag of marijuana, and hand delivered it, to a teenager-- for his mother, who was dying of cancer and undergoing painful treatments. She made sure everyone she knew was as comfortable as possible, always (even if it meant breaking the rules now and then).
Of course, Bodzick added, when Patsy and Gloria found the leftovers from that bag of Marijuana many years later, they figured "why not?" and went right ahead and smoked it.
"She said to me once that I'd have to tell people about how she'd say to me, 'Kathy, once again I've bitten off more than you can chew. I realize I've done that my entire life.' But the thing is, she was nice to everyone-- even if they annoyed her-- and her actions were always rooted in kindness, and faith. Her faith was so big."
"She was so filled with holy spirit," Bodzick added. "I would sometimes ask her how she kept going, and she would respond, 'it's not me. I'm blessed with a body that works well enough.' And her mind-- now that was amazing."
"Her views were amazing. I always loved to hear what she had to say," Michelle Ketterer noted. Recalling so many moments-- from hand-crafted Christmas stockings to funny missives from the days of young children, Ketterer said Patsy always played such an important role in their family, and the community too.
"She loved Harbor Springs. Oh, my, she loved it," Bodzick said, adding how she loved recalling the people and places and moments that weaved together the fabric of this town.
"She made Michigan and especially Harbor Springs, already magical and wonderful, even more so with her field trips, her inside knowledge, her observations and her wit," Boyer agreed.
Even those who did not know Patsy personally got to experience this through her "Only in Harbor Springs" column.
"For many years in the pages of this newspaper Patsy's weekly comments offered our readers a way to be part of an engaging conversation," said Kevin O'Neill, editor and publisher of The Harbor Light. "Her gentle voice spoke always of her high regard for all who shared life in this special place. All who call Harbor Springs home will long remember her, our small town ambassador of goodwill."
In re-reading many of those columns this week, it was easy to get lost in Patsy's words, her musings, her memories. One such column struck a deep chord. Patsy recalled a recent picnic lunch with her friend Gloria-- it was regatta weekend, too busy to go to the waterfront, and too nice of a day to eat at home, she'd noted-- so they opted to go to the cemetery. Gloria worried if, Patsy wrote this, readers would think they'd been disrespectful. Of course, in true Patsy fashion, she proved they were anything but-- describing with great love and detail how many people she'd loved and held dear were laid to rest in that place, and how she felt such peace and connection seeing the markers of those who had, in some way or another, touched her life and the lives of her family members.
"It was a lovely and peaceful hour, but with one flaw," she wrote. "Did I let them all know how much they meant to me? I hope so."
And now we hope so too. We hope Patsy knew just how much she meant to so many in Harbor Springs and beyond.