Houghton: What a Town!

To the editor:

You might have met my mother Jerri Gray. She’s about five feet tall and a force of nature.

She and the man she called the love of her life, Bill Leder, moved to Houghton about 15 years ago. Bill was easing into retirement by accepting a part-time teaching position in the civil engineering department at Michigan Tech. They bought a home and were welcomed into the community with open arms.

They quickly became involved in the Unitarian church, local opera and community events.

Every summer my son would visit Grandma Jerri and Grandpa Bill, and paint word pictures of Norman Rockwell-like scenes: fishing, canoeing and popping thimbleberries into their mouths on their hikes. One year Grandpa Bill got out the sledge hammer and goggles and they mined the rocks on his property for copper. I cherish the necklace with the ingot of mined copper suspended on a yarn chain my son and Grandma Jerri crafted.

My son and I talked about the differences between Houghton and his native city of Seattle. Even as an elementary school child he said, “People are friendlier in Houghton. It’s like they’re a big family.”

In fact, Red, the cat of neighbors Sue and Mike, decided he would make his home with my mother. Bill did his part by getting regular allergy shots!

When we went out to restaurants, my mother would ask the waitresses about their family updates.

Slowly, however, two life-altering conditions eroded my mother’s life: chronic pain and dementia. Slowly she cut ties with the community and then the people and things she loved: first me, then my son, then Red. I describe Bill an angel as he lovingly made tough choices promoting the best interests of my mother. Yet, in the end my mother’s devoted partner of 25 year joined those of us exiled by my mother’s diseased brain.

Fortunately, a court-appointed guardian Alyce Hoffman took over my mother’s care. And in the spirit of Houghton, Alyce and her husband became my mother’s family, treating her like a relative.

This week, my son and I made a trip to Houghton to lay my mother to rest. On the long drive my son and I reflected that my mother’s final stages of life were enriched because she called Houghton home. We offer our thanks.


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