Grand Marais newspaper editor, community member dies at 104Bertha Toftey died this week at age 104. Her husband, Ade, also a renowned North Shore artist as well as editor, died in 1991.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
Four years ago, care volunteer Phyllis Parker began reading the newspaper to 100-year-old Bertha Toftey at the North Shore Care Center in Grand Marais. But it wasn’t just any newspaper; it was the Cook County News-Herald. And Toftey was no ordinary woman.
At the time, Parker knew none of Toftey’s past, the one that included more than 35 years running the paper with her husband, Ade. The couple were immersed in all things Grand Marais from the day they came into town after marrying in 1937: Bethlehem Lutheran Church, garden club, historical society, the arts.
Now, a huge store of memory is gone as Bertha Toftey died this week at age 104. Ade, also a renowned North Shore artist as well as editor, died in 1991.
Parker said she had been at Bertha’s side just an hour before she died Tuesday.
“She was a delight,” she said. “An absolute delight. Four years of a wonderful relationship.”
The two moved from newspaper reading to talking about family. She also read Bible passages and helped Toftey keep in touch with distant family members. Toftey had virtually no sight in her final years but wanted dearly to keep up on local news, Parker said.
The special care Parker offered was not lost on her children, who 13 years ago had to make the decision about moving their mother from her home and into public care.
“We wrestled with that,” Tom Toftey said. He lives in Illinois. The closest family member is his sister, Sue Hildebrand, who lives in Rice Lake, Wis., four hours away.
They knew that Bertha needed to remain in her beloved Grand Marais.
“She needed to stay right there,” Tom said. “There have been so many people there for her, to give a hug or say hello. It’s really been a town caring for one of its own.”
Parker, who recently won a state award for her dedicated volunteer work, kept a journal about her visits with Bertha. She would share it by e-mail with Tom, Sue and Joan Schroeder, who lives in Pennsylvania.
In response to the news that Parker was up for the state award, Tom Toftey wrote online that she was “an angel in our midst” for the work she did with his mother.
Bertha Toftey would do the same when she held court at their home, Tom said. She liked nothing more than taking people in for a tea or a meal, especially those she felt needed the company or the nourishment.
“When it came to Sunday dinner, I would say, ‘Can it ever just be us?’ ” Tom said with a laugh, realizing his mother was showing her “strong Christian” compassion and fellowship.
Bertha Kretzschmar was born in Watertown, Minn., southwest of Minneapolis, in 1908. Her father was a pastor and the family also lived in North Dakota and Oregon. He died in his 40s, and that left her mother with six children on a pastor’s pension.
But they all ended up going to college. Bertha graduated from Winona State Teacher’s College in 1930 and taught at schools in central and southern Minnesota until meeting Ade Toftey.
She has one surviving sister, Edna Schneiderman, who lives in Duluth and is 100 years old.
Bertha met North Shore native Ade on a blind date set up by her sister, Doris.
“She was hesitant to go,” Sue said. “Then she heard Dad was a Carleton (College) grad. That was impressive, so she went.”
They married in 1937. Ade had been a part-owner of the News-Herald since 1928 and now the couple took over.
One thing that always stung Bertha, her children said, is that she never got a byline in the paper, though everyone in Cook County probably knew who wrote the stories and columns she produced along with editing, paperwork and print work.
“She did everything,” Sue said.
“She was not pleased,” Tom said of the byline slight. It was the standard at the time when it came to women.
The two gave up the paper in 1971 but stayed active in Grand Marais life.
Parker said Bertha always was hungry for news about her town and helping to make improvements.
“She was very particular about what she wanted me to read,” Parker said. “She didn’t want to hear the history stuff. She wanted to stay on current events.”
Bertha’s journalistic legacy is secure, even today, as current News-Herald editor Rhonda Silence attests.
“When I have to make a difficult decision, I ask myself: ‘What would Ade and Bertha do?’ ” Silence said.
Grand Marais friend Bev Johnson, who grew up with Tom, said Bertha had a way of drawing out the best in people and empowering them.
“She was ahead of her time,” she said. She didn’t get discouraged when society took a turn from the post-World War II era to the disruption in the 1960s, Johnson said. She kept on encouraging young people.
“She had confidence in us,” she said. “She was always positive. She was an inspiration.”
The three children expect a small funeral attendance since their mother far outlived all of her friends.
“It’s the end of an era, for sure,” Johnson said. “But she crossed generations. I don’t think the funeral is going to be as small as they think.”
There will be a service for Bertha at 11 a.m. Aug. 23, at Bethlehem Lutheran, a church where she volunteered thousands of hours during more than 70 years as a parishioner.
Tom recalls the time a neighbor admitted to him that she was picking crabapples from Bertha’s beloved fruit trees and was caught. Bertha invited her in for tea instead of berating her, Tom said. His mother prized her fruit trees and was known for her pie making.
“That was the start of her going over to Mom’s for tea for years,” he said. “A lot of people have stories; it’s remarkable. It’s quite a legacy.”
Parker said Toftey had a sharp mind and, as the former grade-school teacher, still scolded people in the care center about bad grammar.
“I was grateful to know her,” Parker said. “It’ll be strange going in (the care center) and not seeing her.”