Shirley Kretschmer Dick, age 101, passed away on April 21, 2016 at Bethany Home in Waupaca, Wisconsin. She had recently suffered a hip injury, which led to a rapid decline in her health.
She was born Shirley Webb Kretschmer on July 21, 1914, on the west side of Chicago, to Edward Kretschmer and Helen (Johnson) Kretschmer. Her parents encouraged education and pursuit of whatever she aspired to be. She attended Beloit College during the years 1932-1936, becoming one of the first women in the U.S. to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in archeology/anthropology. Shirley became interested in Native American Studies and pursued the subject for the rest of her life. She did her academic field studies in 1936 at New Mexico’s Chaco and Starkweather Canyons, and became particularly fascinated with the Navajo and Pueblo cultures. She humorously reflected on the fact that it was necessary for her to get permission from a Dean at Beloit College to spend a semester in New Mexico, due to the fact that she was an unmarried young lady traveling and camping with unmarried men. Shirley always expressed her gratitude for Beloit College, where she received her education and met her husband.
She married Ross M. Dick on June 21, 1940, “the same day as the Nixons,” she would sometimes remind her children. Shirley and Ross settled in Milwaukee at the onset of his career with the Milwaukee Journal. They eventually moved to Whitefish Bay in 1953 and raised three children during their years there: Susan Culbertson of Rockport, MA; Mary Wasserman of Ipswich, MA; and Ross Dick of Amherst Junction, WI. Her husband passed away in 1994. She was also preceded in death by her parents and a sister, Clover Wise, of Vero Beach, FL. She is further survived by grandchildren: Rebecca Wasserman of Longmont, CO; Brittany Dick of Steamboat Springs, CO; Travis Dick of Madison, WI; and Emily Erickson of Green Bay, WI. Shirley was extremely proud of her grandchildren and, given the fact that she did not become a grandmother until she turned 70, always expressed how lucky she was to see them grow to adulthood.
Shirley developed many close relationships in Milwaukee and the North Shore area. She had the reputation for seeing the best in every person and was reluctant to speak ill of anyone. She expressed eternal optimism, even when circumstances were not uplifting. Over the course of three decades she nursed many people back to health, or made their final years much more fulfilling. She was everyone’s “Mom” in the neighborhood and, as the years passed, their “Grandma”. Children caused a twinkle in her eye and they responded warmly to her.
Shirley volunteered her time at the North Shore Congregational Church in Fox Point, WI, where she had many dear friends. She served on the church’s Diaconate Board and was treated as a respected elder. She would refer, among family, to the “Great Spirit that moves through all things” and said her personal beliefs were as aligned with Native American spirituality as western Christianity. She found great satisfaction in the North Shore community and viewed service to others as good for the giver, good for the recipient.
For many years she also volunteered at the Milwaukee Public Museum, where she served as a docent. During the period when the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China were attempting to improve their chilly diplomatic relations, Shirley was chosen as the museum guide who would take around a Chinese delegation visiting the city. She was quite proud that she was entrusted with this. Members of the delegation all gave her a hug when they learned their “senior citizen” guide had to get home to take care of her mother.
She read continually, often books about Native American culture, wildlife, philosophy, natural history, and anthropology. She continued to take classes at UW-Milwaukee into her 70’s. Shirley thought humankind’s diversity was fascinating.
She traveled around South America with her husband on a Wisconsin trade mission in the 1960s, meeting dignitaries and heads-of-state. She later traveled around Europe with her younger daughter’s family. She watched the polar bear migration in Manitoba, taking a little time for a dogsled and helicopter tour. She traveled to the Lakota Sioux reservation and witnessed the buffalo round-up. She spent a week at a primate sanctuary in Washington and interacted with Koko the Gorilla. She traveled to Denali, watched whales and dolphins on both coasts, island-hopped in the Caribbean, and could identify most birds native to the U.S. (or would keep looking at the guides until she did). She went white-water rafting three times ―in Alaska, Colorado and Arizona― after her 80th birthday. Rode on a Harley late in her 80’s (with a Wisconsin Sheriff, no less). She visited Native American ruins in her beloved Southwest. She marveled at cosmic discoveries, our space program and technological advances, often putting them into historical context.
After her husband’s death in 1994, she remained in Whitefish Bay until 2004, then moved to Waupaca, WI, residing in the Bethany Pines community. Although she was nearly 90-years-old when she moved to Waupaca, she bought a four-wheel drive vehicle and began delivering meals-on-wheels a couple days a week.
A special thanks is given to the staff at Bethany Pines and the Bethany Rehabilitation facility, who helped her and cared for her like family in recent years. They were very sweet and respectful to her. Shirley always expressed her gratitude for their assistance, and they seemed to appreciate that their efforts were not taken for granted. The family is also grateful for the attentive staff at Riverside Medical Center, who made Shirley feel comfortable and safe during her stay.