Althea Mae Koerth (1923-2011)


Early Thursday morning, while my Dad held her hand, the best Grammy in the entire world passed away. I made it to Kansas just in time to see her, and talk with her, before she died.

I wasn't sure whether I was going to post anything here about it, but I want something out there, semi-permanent, bearing witness to the fact that this woman was amazing. Grammy was a Maker. She was my inspiration as a bookworm, a smartypants girl, and a Happy Mutant.

Althea was a knitter, who made sweaters for everyone in the family—upwards of a dozen people—every Christmas. She made afghans. She did needlepoint. She made teeny little hats that were donated to premature infants.

She also made toys. In 4th grade, I saved up enough money to buy a Felicity doll, one of those American Girls dolls that came with a book and a catalog full of expensive accessories. Grammy bought a book of dress patterns that Christmas and made all the beautiful gowns that I couldn't afford. She turned muslin and stuffing into whole dolls. She even made knock-off Pound Puppies for my cousins and me, complete with an embroidered logo on the puppies' rear ends, so they looked real.

Up until maybe 6 years ago, there wasn't a crumb of bread in her house that she hadn't made. Grammy bread was incredible stuff. The baked dough formed a texture like dense honeycomb. You could toast store-bought bread. But why would you? The butter just sits on top, even melted. Toasted Grammy bread was something else entirely. Butter infused into it. Peanut butter seemed to become one with the bread. Even in a cold-cut sandwich, Grammy bread was part of the flavor of the dish, not just something to hold the meat together.

Grammy Althea made cookies, too. And cakes and pies. She picked the flavors special, just for the people who would be eating them. Christmas cookies weren't random. When you looked at them all, laid out on the tray, you knew who each cookie flavor "belonged" to. The jam thumbprints, coated in a layer of crushed black walnuts, were mine. The oatmeal chocolate chip were my Dad's. It was always like that. My second cousin, Beth, remembers Grammy making lemon meringue pie every time Beth came to visit. Nobody else really liked lemon meringue. Grammy made that pie because she knew how happy it made Beth.

Grammy went above and beyond the call of the crafty grandma. To me, she was like a third parent. I spent weekends and summer weeks with her and my Grandpa. In grade school, she was often the one to pick me up after class on Friday. When my Mom and I moved two hours away, she still met Mom halfway to get me, and sometimes drove all the way there and stayed with us. In a childhood that involved a lot of new houses and new schools, Grammy was my stability. Together, we spent hours at the library. We watched the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour on PBS. We played brain teasers and board games. We went to the KU Natural History museum, and we went on long walks. I could tell her anything. She would always be there. She would always love me. She was one of my best friends, and I am going to miss her as long as I live.


  1. Grandparents are the most incredible and inventive people. I’m sorry for your loss but touched that you immortalized her. She sounds like an amazing woman.

  2. I feel your loss, Maggie. My Grandmommy was just like that, and it felt like when I was with her, her whole attention was on me no matter what else she was doing. She also knew everybody’s favorite and would make it for their visits. She taught me all my needle skills and baking, and more than anyone else it felt like she loved me unconditionally. All these years after losing her I still find things I want to show her and share with her, and I find her still living within me. I hope you find the same with your Grammy.

  3. I saw this picture posted on BoingBoing not too long ago, didn’t I? The reason I remember is that it struck me then (and now) how much she resembled my mother, who died this past summer. We might bake some bread this afternoon; you’ve ensured that I’ll be thinking of your grandmother when I butter it.

  4. I just created an account to log in and tell you that this made me cry, Maggie. What a excellent and kind Grammy to have had, and to remember.

  5. Sorry to hear this, Maggie; but in reading all you wrote I feel she also had a hand in teaching you how to deal with this, too.

  6. My condolences, Maggie. This is a great tribute to your Grandmother. You’re so lucky to have had so much time and so many good experiences with a grandparent.

  7. Sry for your loss.

    My dad was kinda like that. Someone who didn’t get the attention they should have gotten if the world was a little more right side up. An inventor whos house was always filled with junk, who involved me and my brother in the inventions. Like his laser communication thing or the infamous experiment that started with him asking me “do you know how to make explosives?” when I was ten.

    Its so stupid that people pass on by who could have given something huge to so many but is lost to most of us because they wheren’t born rich or lucky or both.

  8. Condolences to you and your family. She will be missed by all who knew her, I’m sure. Thank you for tell all of us about her.

  9. Your granny sounds a lot like mine… and I am adamant that cool grannies should never die. So, I am sorry for your loss.

  10. Aww, so sorry Maggie. But what a nice memorial to a special person in your life.

    She will carry on in all of those little and big things that remind you of her.

  11. Maggie, we’re truly sorry to hear you’ve lost such a cool, smart and loving/stablizing influence in your life. I never knew my dad’s parents, but my mom’s parents were the coolest. My grampa was a grouchy, crusty old guy on the exterior, but he made sure I knew how to dig potatoes, tie a proper trout fly and he gave the most awesome “beard kisses”. My grandma was such a mountain of strength and a vast island of comfort and wisdom. Who else could teach a ten-year old how to cast on stitches to knit your own socks and how to kill and pluck a chicken ALL IN THE SAME DAY? Yeah – summer vacations at grandma and grampa’s were the best. We’ll think of you and your gram tonight while having a glass of wine with dinner – roast chicken with my grandma’s stuffing recipe!

  12. I am sorry to learn about your loss Maggie. My best thoughts go with you and yours. I am sure her life was full and rich and she went with pride in her heart for you and all that she did for you.

  13. I’m sorru for your family’s loss, brought back memories of my grandmother. I really, really miss her…

  14. Maggie, thanks for telling us about your Grammy. Sounds like the person everyone needs to be their foundation in life. So glad you got to speak with her before passing. Remember to get those recipes and honor her by making something.

    Going to visit my grandparents today who just moved into an assisted living apartment. They are 90 & 91 and adjusting very well to new friends and experiences. Too bad the apartments don’t have full kitchens because of by your description I can smell my grandmothers bread right now. I think I’ll bake her something this time.

  15. I am very sorry to hear about your loss, but it sure sounds like you were very lucky to have such a super grandmother. I think anyone would be proud to be so well remembered.

  16. Maggie, so sorry to hear about your loss. I’m sure through her lessons you’ll make an awesome grammy yourself one day.

    I lost my grandma (who became Nana once the great-grandchildren came along) a little over 10 years ago, but she’s with me every time I make toffee, or crochet something, or play “Yahtzee.” Here’s to Grammy/Nanas everywhere.

  17. I’m sorry for your loss. I lost my G-ma 9 days ago,we just buried her yesterday. She beat breast cancer and then bone cancer but about 5 years ago she stopped taking her meds, she didn’t want to live anymore. But that same stubborness that kicked cancer’s ass wouldn’t let her give up.
    Grandma’s are amazing.

  18. Thanks for writing a little bit about her, Maggie. I’m sorry for your loss.

    I was thinking the other day how it would be nice to stop in and see my grandparents, but they’ve been gone for a while now. Always was the most welcoming place on Earth. Not only do we lose special people, but special “safe” places to go.

  19. Deepest condolences. And can I say–there’s a remarkable family resemblance! Just seeing her fact at the top of BB made me think immediately that it had to be a post by Maggie about her family. Just sorry that it’s under these circumstances.

  20. that’s a truly lovely photo of Grammy. she’s the sort a person really doesn’t forget because she touches hearts in very personal ways. but…she does live on in yours.

  21. Awesome grammys help keep the world from falling in on itself.

    Don’t they just?

    Thank you all so very much, both for your thoughts for my family and for sharing memories of your beloved grandparents. This is an amazing thread to read through.

    It means a lot to me to know that this is what will come up when I Google her name.

  22. I like the picture. She looks like she’s just about to make a wise crack or tell a really funny joke.

  23. So sorry for your loss. The best advice I can offer is this – You will never get over the wound but you do learn to live with it.

  24. Aw, jeez. So very sorry, Maggie. She sounds like my grandmother, inquisitive and loving and constantly crafting. Hugs, condolences, and gentle songs to you and yours.

  25. so very sorry…..Your grammy sounds like such an inspiration. Love the fact that you have taken her lessons in creativity and resourcefulness and applied them to this great website.

  26. I sympathize with your loss, Maggie. What a moving memorial you’ve made for your grammy…a testament to her whole being.

  27. What a lovely testament to an amazing woman. My sincere condolences to you and your family on your deep loss.

  28. As someone who’s had, and lost, two very wonderful – and different – grandmothers, I applaud yours as a great lady.

    I am sorry for your loss, yet gladdened by the memories that will remain with you. Savor them.

  29. As a grandmother, I can say to you that she did all those things with the utmost pleasure. Grandchildren are the most wonderful source of joy to grandparents, and a moment missed is sorely felt. She may have created those everlasting memories for you, but you also created a warm place in her heart where the mere thought of you brought joy. While I am sorry for your loss, I am also very glad she and you had each other.

  30. Sitting in the hospital with my wife’s grandma as I read this. 95 years old and still an incredible woman. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  31. My deepest sympathies, Maggie.

    Your wonderful Grandmother sure reminds me of my own ‘Grand-Maman’. She was a passionate teacher, loved books, nature and science and was the reason why I could read before I entered kindergarten…

    I ache that I didn’t get to give a proper goodbye. Her last few days were in the hospital after a brutal fight with cancer, I was 12 and I only remember a complete state of confusion. But I take comfort in her vibrant legacy. When my daughter was born, I had confidence that I could show her the world with zest, curiosity and joy because I had my grandmother’s example to go by.

    She truly does live on through everything we learn and love because she showed us how to do both so well. It’s more than memories, it’s in our very fabric.

    Love and peace to you and yours.

  32. What a great tribute to a fine lady. I had similar time with my mother’s parents while in middle and high school, and i wish i’d spent more time with them before they were gone in my mid-20s. I miss them even more now that i have my own kids and think of all the cool things i’d like to share with them.

  33. My grandmother visits me in dreams about once a month. Sometimes to give out wisdom, but most often to just stop in and say hello and visit with me for a few minutes. She’s always with me. So you have that to look forward to – she won’t ever leave you. She’s a part of you.

  34. Condolences from someone who did not get along with his own grandmother at all, but was still hit hard by the reality of her passing. Sounds like you have wonderful memories of your grammy — and all the better that you can immortalize them on BoingBoing.

  35. Sorry for your loss, Maggie, but thank you so much for sharing. It’s making me think about my grandmothers, and my mother.

    Oh … and you said something about wanting a semi-permanent remembrance. There’s a permanent one, you know, in the love she gave to you and your family, and the love that you gave back.

  36. Maggie, in my family we believe in celebrating the people who went before us. By writing this you’ve taken the time to do so, and you’ve done your Grammy proud. I’m sorry for your loss, and at the same time I’m happy that you had such a full life with such a wonderful, inspirational woman.

  37. I am impressed with your grandma and with you. It is clear you are hers by the loving memorial you posted. Your grandma was a teacher, unless you didn’t notice: she taught you wonderful things about what was possible, how deep your love of family could be, how complete your life can be by giving to your loved ones, and many, many more things. As lucky as you were to have such a wonderful grandma, I’m sure she was just as thrilled to have such a wonderful granddaughter. She lives as long as you remember her, which will be forever. As one who has lost some wonderful people in his life, I wish you Peace.

  38. We were sorry to hear about your grammy, Maggie. She does sound awesome! Thank you for sharing and our thoughts are with you. Love, Rachel and Austin.

  39. My condolences Maggie, Thank you for sharing your memories of her, it brought back long forgotten memories of my great-grandmother and the wonderful things she did for us as children.

  40. Thank you so much for sharing these memories of your grandmother with us, Maggie. They are inspiring and heartwarming. My condolences to you and your family.

  41. Wow, I’m all choked up and teary. You can tell she was something special from the photo alone. There’s a real spark of life in that pretty face! Condolences to you and your family.

  42. You are fortunate to have a wonderful Althea who was not named after the Grateful Dead song. Glad you had a lovely life with her!

  43. I’m sorry for your loss, Maggie, and thank you for sharing this. My own grandparents died too young, and I wish I had known them better.

    To Althea, grandmother. I never met you; clearly the loss was mine.
    To Flo, who taught me card games and ran the first women’s hairdressers in her city and was charming to all, no matter what.
    To Henry, who showed me chess and logic and stamps and music and why we drive the scenic route, and never showed me how the sweets vanished from the bag (which they did whenever I doubted). Thereby I learned that magic was real, that magic was not real, that magic was not mine, that magic could be learned and controlled and be mine.
    To Trudy, who showed me grace, and how to construct the vanishing point, and gave me the origami paper, and always had the right biscuits.

    I will miss you all.

  44. I’m sincerely sorry for your loss, Maggie.
    It’s so good that you were in time to talk to her one last time. I lost my maternal grandma almost two years ago (can’t believe it’s been that long now that I think of it!!!) but by the time she died she had advanced Alzheimer’s, so I’m not sure when was the last time I actually talked to *her*.
    Grandparents can have such an intense, amazing influence on their grandkids; and if I get to be one – I’d love to be remembered the way you remember your grandma. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  45. I honestly didn’t understand what it meant to “cook with love,” but now I do. Thank you for sharing Grammy with us.

  46. My maternal grandmother passed away last year, and these kinds of things always have the capacity to hurt. We are wired to take loss extremely hard (well, most of us, anyway.)

    But I like to think about what some of the more out-there theoretical physicists are saying now, about the nature of time, and our perception of it. There is a pretty good chance that all events are actually basically happening at the same time, and it is only our 4D experience that leads to the perspective of something happening, then being over, forever. I like to believe that that’s not at all how it works, and the universe and everything within it are folded together, always, with nothing ever truly being lost.

    Might sound like a load of hooey, but I know it rings true to me, and brings me much comfort.

    But your loss is still real, and of course you have many people here sending you a ton of good vibes, which hopefully help just a bit. What a lovely memorial to a person who was (is?) clearly a uniquely awesome soul.

  47. we named our baby Althea. And MY grammy’s name (and my own middle name) is Mae. I think she sounds awesome and I wish you many good memories.

  48. I’m very sorry for your loss, Maggie. She sounds a lot like my Grandma. I never really thought much about it, but one of my fondest memories is her teaching me how to fix the old belt-driven washing machine they had out in their barn when the belt slipped off. She always had books around, which jump-started my love of reading and she out-worked any of the farm hands who were years younger and she’s still going. Here’s to Grandmas!

  49. You have my condolences, Maggie. She sounds like a wonderful person, and I can really see the family resemblance to your picture.

  50. The true measure of a marvelous eulogy is that it makes even strangers feel a loss at a passing. I am sorry I never met Grammy but thank you for sharing her farewell with us!

    Jay B

  51. I’m very sorry for your loss, Maggie. But, I’m happy that you had such a wonderful, loving Grammy in your life.

  52. It sounds like you and I had very similar and very special Grandmothers. My Nany ( sic), just passed away on Valentines Day and I had the honor of being near her as she went on her way.

    Ladies like this are certainly not a dime a dozen… But I’m happy to say that when you have wonderful examples such as these, it’s almost impossible not to take after them.

    Here’s an article about a special time in her life… Sorry it’s so long. My Nany was the office manager, household manager and accountant for the first minister/ambassador to the United States from Saudi Arabia, Asad Al-Faqih (

    Job applicant taken for a ride
    By Donna VanTreese – Appeared in The Duncan Banner on June 9th, 1991
    At the end of World War II, Frances Green (then Stella Frances Ballard) was homesick for Duncan and eager to leave Washington, D.C.  Mrs. Green had gone to Washington in the first place because of the war. 
    “I took a civil service job at the age of twenty and went to work in 1942 for the Interior Department.  When the war was over, many government agencies were being liquidated, including the Petroleum Administration–the agency where I worked.  I had just planned to come back to Duncan, because I had decided I didn’t want to live there.  I said I would stay there until it (the agency) was phased out.”
    Mrs. Green said that during that time, a former employee of the same agency who was then working at the Saudi Arabian legation called the personnel department to see who was left who needed a job.  The personnel director told Mrs. Green about the opening and encouraged her to go for an interview, “just for fun.”
    According to Mrs. Green, the Saudi Arabian headquarters was a legation for about two years before being elevated to embassy status.  The legation had been in existence for only about six months at that time.
    “I called out there and talked to the girl, who was the social secretary – I remember her working in one of the Departments—and she said, ‘Frances, you ought to come out here and interview.  These are the nicest people to work for.  The hours aren’t bad and the pay isn’t bad either.’”  Mrs. Green said she replied that she thought she really just wanted to go home.  But the social secretary urged her to apply, and sweetened the deal by informing her that she would get to ride in a limousine because they would send the chauffeur to pick her up.
    Mrs. Green laughed and said she had never ridden in a limousine and thought that would be fun.  So an appointment was made for the interview that very afternoon, and she was indeed driven to the appointment in the legation’s limousine.
    The minister (who later became the ambassador) was Asad Al-Faqih.  He was Lebanese by birth and had been made a citizen of Saudi Arabia.  Educated at the American University in Beirut and at Oxford in England, his views toward women were not as narrow as those of some Saudis, Mrs. Green said.  His wife, Yacouth, was also Lebanese and not as backward as some Saudi women of the time.
    “I talked to him and said, ‘I really don’t think I want to go to work here.’“  He wanted to know why, and she told him she was just an old Okie who had never worked around any foreign people, and she was afraid there were too many differences.
    “Then I said, ‘I don’t even know whether I’d like you or not.  And you may not even like me.’  He said, ‘That’s right, I may not like you.  But you think about it.’”
    So, Mrs. Green agreed to think it over.
    The very next day the social secretary called with the minister on the line.  Mrs. Green once again told him she wanted to go home, but Faqih convinced her to go back to the legation for another talk.  He told her she was really the one he wanted for the job, but she insisted that she couldn’t go to work for him until she had a vacation—having not been home in almost two years, she was terribly homesick.
    “He said, ‘Let’s give ourselves a trial.  You work a couple of months and I’ll be very honest with you.  If I don’t like you and don’t think you’re the one for here, I’ll be honest and tell you so.’”  He said she was to be as honest with him if she didn’t like it.  Then, if they found that they could work together, at the end of two months he would pay her way to Oklahoma to have a visit with her family.
    So Mrs. Green became the business and office manager and accountant for the legation.  She also managed the household help for the minister’s home, separated from the legation by just a breezeway. 
    At the end of two months, when she was very involved in her job, the minister called her into his office to ask her how she was enjoying her work.  She said she was very satisfied and asked him how he felt about the job she was doing.  He was also very pleased.
    “I looked at him and said, ‘Well, do you like me?’  He said ‘Yeah, I like you a lot.’  And I said, ‘Well, I like you a lot.’”
    He told her he would stick to his bargain, opened a desk drawer and pulled out an airline ticket.  He told her to go home to Oklahoma for two weeks. 
     “I worked for him for nine years,” she said.
    She became friends with the ambassador’s family, was often invited to meals with them, and helped the ambassador’s children better their English.  She said that during their two-hour lunch hours she and the social secretary would sometimes take the children on outings to places of interest in the city, or give them lessons in their home.
    Later, when young men from the better families in Saudi Arabia were sent to the United States for their education, some would stay in the embassy or in Washington for a while to polish up their English.  Mrs. Green set up programs for them and placed them in just the right colleges and universities.  “Some of them couldn’t make the adjustments from that life to this life, and I’d have to send them back home.  It was real hard on them not having their own people around.”
    In the years since her job there, she has heard from a few of those young men.  During an early morning phone call from one a few years ago, she was told that “if you went around the world to all of our embassies, there you would find those that you helped and encouraged.”
    She also become personally acquainted with (then) Prince Faisal, and was saddened to hear of his assassination later.  She remembers the current king, Fahd, coming to the United States as a small boy for medical treatment.
    After nine years, Al-Faqih was recalled and replaced with an ambassador who was not so enlightened.  He made many changes and she was not allowed to go into his office or deal with him directly.  During those years, Mrs. Green had married and had two children. 
    She and her husband decided that Washington was not where they wanted to raise their daughters, so it seemed like the right time to leave.  They each resigned their jobs, returned to Duncan in 1956 and “started life all over again.”
    Mrs. Green said that Asad Al-Faqih and his wife now live in California and she talks to him about once a year.  She remembers her time at the embassy as a “delightful experience—we learned a lot both ways.  It was an experience that’s rare.”

  53. Maggie thank you for sharing your loss with us.
    I am a grandmother and I hope that my grandchildren
    will remember me one day with love as you remember yours.
    I will be trying my best to make it possible.

  54. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful person.
    I am deeply sorry for your loss. It sounds like you have some wonderful memories of her and those will carry you through…

  55. My condolences to you and your family, Maggie, and thank you for sharing your memories of this remarkable woman with us.

  56. Maggie, so sorry for your loss, your post moved me to tears. This was a lovely tribute to your grandmother – she sounds like an amazing woman. Wishing you comfort and peace during this difficult time.

  57. Thanks for sharing her with us Maggie. In the end, its not about the years you lived but if you had a good life and it sounds like she made a wonderful one.

    I am lucky to have had some wonderful grandparents, and some are still enjoying long lives. Life is hard, especialy 80 years ago, and we should really be thankful for those people that make it to the end without losing their warmth and happiness.

  58. Thank you for such a loving tribute to your wonderful grandmother. I’m sure she would have been honored by such a loving statement. Thank you for sharing your love.

  59. Maggie thank you for the glimpse of your grandmother. She sounds like a very great person and reminds me of my grandmother. These are memories that should always be remembered and forever held deep in our hearts. Thank you again.

  60. I was fortunate in having two great grandmothers with whom I shared great moments growing up. I miss them too but it’s the great memories and the bits of wisdom that they imparted that make up for the loss that their passing away brings. Count your blessings that you were able to have such a dear person share their life with you.

  61. I’m so sorry for your loss Maggie!

    Love begets love. It’s something she passed on to you and I’m sure you will pass it on to those in your life so it will never disappear. Her life has added to the grand scheme of our shared human existence. My sincere thanks to your wonderful Granny.

  62. I only hope I can be as good to my future grandchildren as your grandmother was to you – she sounds like a wonderful woman. My heartfelt sympathy to you x

  63. Hey Maggie, so sorry for your loss. Your grandmother sounds like an amazing person, and I’m sure she was very lucky to have you as her granddaughter. It sounds like she was surrounded by those that she loved and loved her in her final hours; I can’t think of a better send off.

    Now, I’m not sure how you’ll feel about this, but would you consider sharing your maker-Grammy’s bread recipe? Your description makes it sound otherworldly and I feel like it would be such a cool way to honor her memory. But of course, I understand the need to keep the mystique around such miraculous vittles, and if nothing else, it will be great to pass on to other, younger members of your own family.

    All the best,


  64. Thanks for sharing the story.
    Those are some great memories. They won’t be lost now.
    What a wonderful woman.

  65. I am you had a wonderful grandmother, too. The sadness you now feel will ripen to beautiful sweetness as the years pass.

  66. So sorry for your loss. She sounds amazing and like she had a big part in making you who you are today. You’re a testament to her (and it’s true that you do seem to look a lot like her).

    I am very lucky to still have two grandmothers, and your moving tribute to yours is a salutary reminder to cherish them while I can. One is an intellectual who always bought me books as presents and wasn’t really interested in children until we could talk to her about the world and she could explain it to us. She bought me a book when I was a little kid called Look Under Stones – about all the creatures you would find if you lifted stuff up and had a look underneath. The other was a spoiling Granny – she made a huge fuss of us and enjoyed our silliness. She used to dance around her sitting room with us doing the Birdy song dance.

    Grandmothers are really important. Thanks for sharing your memories of yours. And again, sincerest condolences.

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