Obituary for Laura Uthlaut
Laura Uthlaut, a longtime resident of Freeport’s Parkview Home, died at the age of 101 on November 3, 2016 . She was preceded in death by her husband of 36 years, the Reverend C.H. Uthlaut, pastor of St. John United Church of Christ on Park Blvd. from 1953 to 1967; her brother, Dr. Ernst Press; and her parents, the Reverend Otto and Laura Press. She is survived by her four children: Carol Krieger (Ed) of Mendota Heights, MN; Kathy Wohlschlaeger (Richard) of Newtown Square, PA; Marty Topel (Tom) of Charlottesville, VA; John Uthlaut (Mindy) of Cary, NC; as well as her younger brother, Dr. Charles Press of Grand Rapids, MI; and her 11 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
Laura was born in St. Louis, MO in the parsonage of the church where her father served as pastor, only a few blocks from the Mississippi River landing. Her baby book noted that one of the first words that she spoke was “Abba,” the first word of a German prayer, “Abba, lieber Vater.” Her knowledge of the Bible began as a child with daily devotions and lessons, with never a break until she went to college. But she added that this regimen was accompanied by a liberality of belief and openness of religious discussion. No subjects were forbidden. She speculated once that she could qualify for Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” for the most relatives in the ministry-
two grandparents, her father and husband, six uncles, a brother,
brother-in-law, three cousins, and looking back farther, a great-grandfather, some great uncles and others.
Outside of the practice of religion, her childhood was filled with activities shared by many of the families of the time: playing games, singing around the piano, trips to the St. Louis Zoo, an occasional movie, picnics, church suppers, playing the Victrola—radio was still in its infancy—vacation visits to relatives and, as she notes in her diary, “reading, reading, reading.” She said she often walked miles to the library to get a new stack of books. She said, “their nourishment is as important to me as food.”….an attitude she held her entire life and that led to her profession as a librarian and teacher.
As one might imagine, education was of the greatest value in Laura’s life. Her memoirs are filled with notes of recognition and pride for those in her extended family who achieved much as a result of their educations. She writes that her great uncle, Dr. Daniel Irion, taught at Elmhurst College for some time and eventually served as president of Elmhurst for thirty years. He was a scholar, historian, astronomer, and administrator and was president during Laura’s father’s student days there. When Laura herself matriculated at Elmhurst in 1932, he was president emeritus. Living in Irion Hall, Laura was one of only eight women on campus at the time; the same time her future husband was one of 250 men studying there. Laura stated in her diary that she blossomed socially almost overnight and had her first date ever on the third day of orientation week with as she described, “this tall,
broad-shouldered, blond, basketball captain.” His name was Chet Uthlaut who became the loving, supportive partner of her life. Laura’s education did not end with her degree from Elmhurst in 1936. Years later while busy as a minister’s wife and mother of four children, teaching full time at Lincoln School in Freeport—one of her many posts as an educator throughout her life—she found time to earn a master’s degree in English Literature. Her subject was James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake.”
After her graduation in 1936, Laura relayed in her diary that she was still idealistic and enjoyed the company of friends, but also had a need for solitude and independence. Laura was only 21 years old when she made that entry in her diary, but the personality traits she described remained with her till her death. It fueled a creative approach to many responsibilities and interests that she undertook. As a teacher, she once devised a system of her own—now commonplace among educators—that allowed different groups of readers in her class to work at their own levels and paces. With the death of Chet, her circumstances of being alone allowed her time to accomplish a number of things. Freeport’s Highland Community College seemed to be her second home as she took courses in painting, stained glass, and simple car maintenance among others. She was devoted to her husband’s ministry and after his death, remained active at St. John Church. She led the Adult Forum for many years, singing in the choir, and using her skills as a librarian to reorganize and maintain the church library. After her voice began to fail, she became a member of the bell choir. Outside of church she attended the Shakespeare Club and was a member of the Embroiderers Guild. As an avid quilter, she created a quilt for her four children and each of her 11 grandchildren. She recorded books on tape for the blind for nearly twenty years, led a local 4-H club for her daughters and their friends and you could often find her toiling in her perennial and vegetable gardens on a warm, sunny day. If you’re a golfer, you may have seen her at Park Hills golf course pursuing that elusive birdie. She often rose at 4 or 5 in the morning to travel with her fellow birders to the Mississippi River to watch the bald eagles soar above their heads. Speaking of traveling, visiting foreign lands was one of her greatest joys. She traveled to every continent except Antarctica including many times to various European countries. And in keeping with her need to be purposeful, she would provide commentary with the hundreds of photos she took to create travelogues for others who might never venture so far.
Laura’s four children have many memories of their mother, the strongest of which may be her facility to lead by example. She was never one to lecture or criticize or utter, “If I were you…,” she merely demonstrated how she expected them to behave and was kind even in the most difficult of circumstances, always earning their deepest respect and admiration with her steadfast integrity. One of the clearest memories for Laura’s children is the aroma of fresh-baked bread wafting from the kitchen every Saturday afternoon where the kneading of the four loaves wasn’t done a cappella.
It had to be accompanied by the Metropolitan Opera broadcast full blast for all the neighbors to endure over the old RCA Victor radio on the kitchen shelf. To this day, there may still be infinitesimal echoes of Maria Callas singing “Un Bel Di” from Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly,” her favorite opera, reverberating in the hallways of her former home on Chicago Avenue.
Her services will be Saturday, January 21, 2017 at 3:00pm at St. John United Church of Christ, Freeport, IL The family will receive friends after the service in fellowship hall.
Her family is so grateful for the excellent care and kindness that Laura received at Parkview Home. The memorial service at St. John United Church of Christ will be announced at a later date.