LENA A. VERSAILLESLena A. Versailles died peacefully Sunday afternoon, July 1, 2012, at St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth.
Lena A. Versailles died peacefully Sunday afternoon, July 1, 2012, at St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth, with family members holding her hands as she drew her last breath. Just the week before, she was laughing with visitors, telling stories from her past, and singing favorite old songs with a friend long after the entertainment had ended. She lived a good, full life, and would have been 105 in three weeks.
Originally from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, she moved to Duluth in 2001 to be close to her family and start a new life chapter as a widow, residing first at the Lenox and more recently at the Benedictine Health Center.
Her positive attitude, delightful sense of humor, her curiosity and resourcefulness kept her young; her warmth and sincerity endeared her to old friends and attracted new ones; and a simple healthy lifestyle gave her vitality both physically and mentally.
Lena's Catholic faith was a quiet foundation: here, at her apartment at the Lenox in Duluth, she often walked the halls for exercise while saying the rosary; since moving to the BHC at St. Scholastica she attended mass every day.
Lena was born on July 21, 1907, the 11th of 12 children, to French-Canadian immigrants Delia Rivet and Albert Archambeau in Michigan's "Copper Country" where the family had a farm and horses were transportation and prized farm help. She had a wonderful story about her dad and their first car. The youngest of 12, she helped her mother bake, garden, and sew, while her dad farmed in the summer and lumber-jacked in the winter (after deciding the copper mines were no place for a vital Frenchman).
She met her husband, handsome Leo, when he was best man in her brother's wedding and she was maid of honor. Smart man, he brought her May flowers (then and ever after), fragrant trailing pink arbutus that he picked from his dad's hunting camp. Strictly chaperoned and only connecting at family picnics Sundays after church, love bloomed and they married in 1925, making their new home in Lake Linden. Lena's one and only love (smart woman).
They had a wonderful life together, raising one daughter, Katherine, and having a close group of loyal friends. Deer hunting (Leo), making pasties, keeping a big vegetable garden, baking the best French bread, canning, freezing, picking berries and making jam, and having a small chicken coop all served to see them through the depression-era 30's with a sense of well-being. The motto was "use it up, make it do, make it yourself, or do without". It was a good life.
Much time was spent "out at the Camp" at Rice Lake, and many a brook trout got hooked for dinner. They weathered the infamous Keewenaw snows, 300+ inches a season, with equal measures of hard work (plowing, shoveling, roof-raking) and fun (snowshoes, snowmobiles, and Lena sledding with the kids. She was predictably the first person suited up in snow-pants, and test-drove the first aluminum "flying saucer" brought home as a treat for her visiting grand-daughter.)
Lena had canaries, always a goldfish; always had a dog, once a gaggle of geese; even a pair of little pigs (Leo's surprise). She cooked, she mothered us all, she crocheted, made braided rugs, heavy quilts. Entertainment was the great outdoors of the UP - "up at the waterworks" (south shore of Lake Superior), looking for agates, making a fire, roasting hot dogs; lively neighborhood card games; days at the camp and one-day "take-every-first-left-turn" adventures; and regular trips to Duluth to see Kay and her family. True to her loving, affectionate nature, Lena often would put her arms around her son-in-law George and say, Oh, I'm so glad we married you!
After Leo's death in 1987, Lena's life changed. She spent time each winter in Florida, vacationing with Kay and George in Port St Lucie, and then chose to move to Duluth and start a new chapter in her life, closer to her family.
It was different. Grandkids and their kids, out to lunch, new foods, new friends, an apartment overlooking the Duluth harbor (she kept her binoculors on the windowsill), bingo, rolling bandages for the needy, some memorable (96th, 97th, 100th birthday parties), and daily contact with only daughter Katherine that she loved so dearly.
For these last eleven years she made many new friends, experienced many "firsts", had many adventures, and inspired most of the people that met her. In many ways, she became the role model for what it could mean, in the best sense, to be a "senior citizen". She often said she could never believe how old she actually was, and neither could we.
Lena left us all with good memories, a feeling of being well loved, and an abiding gratitude for just how good an ordinary, simple life can be.
She truly was a good human being: a good daughter, sibling, wife, mother/grandmother, friend, neighbor. Ever and always a "good sport" with a welcoming smile and sincere interest in your life and remembered story.
Admittedly, she had her own confrontations with illness and accident, but always rallied to overcome them and beat the odds. Good genes perhaps, good living indeed.
We will miss her presence dearly; no doubt she has gone on to her final reward, united again with all the people she loved, spared any further earthly pain or needless suffering.
Lena was preceded in death by all of her birth family and most of her friends.
Her life continues through her daughter, Katherine Tervo of Duluth, grandchildren Judy Gray and Bob (Nanette) Tervo, great-grandchildren Adam (Kristen) Gray, Kiersten Gray, and Sarah Tervo, two great-great-grandchildren, Aden and Gavin, and the many Archambeau/Belhumer/Versailles' extended families to which she was indeed our "Queen Mum".
Lena's family would like to acknowledge and thank the staff, at all levels, at the Benedictine Health Center at St. Scholastica for making Lena's last years such a wonderful experience and keeping her safe. You became family. Thank you also to the several Duluth medical professionals, including St Luke's Hospital and Dr. Kleinschmidt.
MASS: 10 a.m. Friday, July 6, in the Benedictine Health Center, 3rd floor chapel, followed by a reception and light lunch. Arrangements by Mary Ann Snyder, Director of Spiritual Services at BHC, 723-6416. Condolences, Katherine Tervo, 727-4205.
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