A Tribute to “Aunt Rosa”

Feature Story February 2005
A Tribute to “Aunt Rosa”
By Anne Rush Riley, Dawson, Nebraska
The tragedy that brought death to Mrs. Rosa Heim, 90, on February 8, 1954, took from Dawson, Nebraska a member of the “Pennsylvania Colony” of Germans who settled in Richardson County in the early 1870’s and early 1880’s. Mrs. Heim was also a charter member of the United Brethren Church, only one other surviving her.
Relatives and friends of “Aunt Rosa” will always remember her for her gentleness, her complete dedication to family and home and her keen love of nature. After she and her husband, the late Joseph G. Heim, retired from the farm they occupied an attractive cottage on Main Street. From the earliest spring to the latest blooming season Aunt Rosa’s place was a bower of beauty. After her husband’s death she seemed to find her greatest solace in the care of her garden and lawn. A purple hedge of iris outlined the south boundary. In the west rear there were sturdy and delicate flowers, rotated with the seasons. In deep summer California poppies lent their flaunting color to the landscape. The summer sunset furnished a background to the varied beauty – seeming to vie with this nature lover in making the day’s end a benediction.
Aunt Rosa nurtured another love – love of books. Shortly after the local library was opened she came in one day to select reading matter. The co-founder of the library noted her silence as she stood before the array of offerings. Finally she turned and said, “You women who opened this library are doing a wonderful work for the young people.” Then she revealed that in the strict Pennsylvania community in which she was reared she had not been permitted to read anything, until eighteen years of age, except a book of sermons that was a sort of supplementary to the school curriculum. Now, in her eighties, she would satisfy her hunger! She loved soothing stories like Mrs. Aldrich’s, “A. Lantern In Her Hand”; and the librarian, who makes almost a fetish of satisfying the tastes of her patrons, saw to it that Aunt Rosa never lacked a book – even seeing to it that material was sent to her on the days when bad weather kept her indoors.
Even to the end Aunt Rosa insisted on doing her gardening, mowing and raking the lawn, coaxing young shoot to rear their heads, uprooted offending weeds. It was the last such favorite task that brought death as she burned dead leaves and the winter’s debris from the lawn. The assumption is that excitement over a flaring blaze resulted in a heart attack. Her body lay on the Good Earth she had loved, as neighbors fearfully converged towards the blazing lawn.
Aunt Rosa is survived by three generations of children, nieces and nephews who have excelled in agriculture and the learned professions. They are forever blessed by the deep religious and ethical principles that Aunt Rosa and her kind have transmitted to them. But they will miss the wise and tender counsel of the dear old gentlewoman who made beauty an idol.

The composer of this tribute, Anne Rush Riley, is the wife of our banker, Dan J. Riley, and a neighbor for many years of “Aunt Rosa”. “Dan J.” as he is known to all, is the son of the late Michael Riley, founder of the “Irish Colony from Connecticut,” which settled in the Dawson community much earlier than the Pennsylvania Colony. Michael Riley and his son Dan J. have been financial and business advisers as well as esteemed friends of many generations of the Pennsylvania Colony members.
To Anne Rush Riley, we say “Thank You” for this loving tribute.

This story is taken from the “Folklore” of Pennsylvania Colony in Nebraska Book complied and edited by Elma Heim Larimore in 1955.
It can be purchased from the “for sale” page in this web site.