Today the Story County Genealogical Society lost a great friend in the passing of member Gretchen Triplett. She was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor late last fall and passed away Jan. 9, 2014. Up until her diagnosis, Gretchen was a fireball of energy. She had agreed to serve as an officer for SCGS starting this month, but was unable to assume the responsibility once she became ill.
Let me share a few memories, most of them from the past two years of my association with her:
Gretchen was a wonderful gardener and, I think, had obtained the Master Gardener accreditation. Her back yard was her oasis as she carefully planned, planted and maintained her flowers. She loved the outdoor and creating a beautiful space.
She was an active member of the Iowa Genealogical Society, attending meetings of the German Interest Group as frequently as she could. She was heartbroken her illness precluded her attending their December Christmas party. But she wanted everyone to have a good time! (Typical Gretchen!)
The two of us made several trips to Des Moines together and I never had to worry about finding a conversation topic with her. She had become quite interested in Civil War history, especially as it related to Story County. She could talk at length about the Women’s GAR (of which she was a proud member). And she would talk about the death of her son as a young adult, her being struck by a car (from which she made a marvelous recovery), her personal struggles … but always remained upbeat and forever an optimist. She bore no one any ill-will and held no grudges, speaking freely about her faith in God.
About a year ago I received a late night email message from her asking me what I knew about Jason D. Ferguson, whose name was on a plaque by the Story County Administrative Building in Nevada. I thought this was just a “wild” idea and she was curious about some obscure person. Well, it was never wise to underestimate Gretchen! She took what precious little information I had, did a tremendous amount of further research and began researching Jason D. Ferguson, the first Story County casualty of the Civil War. Then she compiled a list of all the Civil War veterans buried in Story County, then she began the process of putting together a committee to rededicate the Civil War cannon, then she worked with the Story County Board of Supervisors … the end result was a magnificent Flag Day program in 2013. I could not have ever envisioned what she would go on to accomplish from one small email inquiry.
During the planning process for the Flag Day ceremony, she brought up the idea of inviting the governor of Iowa, Terry E. Branstad, to be the speaker. Thinking inwardly to myself, “Fat chance of that happening. He gets far too many invitations for us to have the slightest chance of his coming.” Wisely, I did not utter my comments out loud … I don’t know how she did it, but working with veterans groups and county historical groups, she managed to arrange for Gov. Branstad to attend and speak at the ceremony. Did I say something earlier about not underestimating Gretchen? She totally proved me wrong.
Gretchen had agreed to give a presentation on Civil War veterans to the fall meeting of the Story County Genealogical Society. In preparation for this, she and I spent a delightful day in July touring some of the cemeteries in the county. She knew exactly what type of veteran marker to look for and as she and I walked among headstones she pointed out with fascination what it meant. This is one of my favorite memories of my time with her as we trooped here and there and photographed lots of markers and monuments. She was just totally immersed in trying to gather all the information she could. And when she did give her presentation in September, she spoke for 45 minutes without referring to any notes (not even once). To say she was enthused and interested would be an understatement.
Another favorite memory was her appearance on the television program “Antiques Roadshow.” I don’t recall what item she took to the show to be appraised but she was just thrilled to be chosen to be filmed. When she described the experience later, I think she was about ten inches off the ground, she was that elated!
Gretchen was not able to attend the November meeting of our genealogy society. She called me a week later from the hospital with her diagnosis and told me she was having surgery the next day. I was stunned and probably did not respond in the best manner, so overcome with the sudden onset and seriousness. It was a few days later when I’d regained my composure I called her and we had a genuine visit. And I treasure the conversations we had while she was in recovery care the last few weeks.
She was one of kind and taught me so much. I was truly blessed to have known her and be her friend. She will be greatly missed.