Arts & Humanities


 Good things come in small packages
by Pam Christensen

The adage “Good things come in small packages” is true when speaking of Dorothy Boyer. Dorothy was born in September 1910 in Ironwood. She died in Mason at the age of ninety-seven. Despite her diminutive size, she made a huge impact on lives she touched.
I first met Dorothy, an avid Peter White Public Library user, just after moving to Marquette to become library director. She asked to see me, and when shown to my office, politely, but determinedly informed me the library would never be world class until we started to receive the Ironwood Daily Globe. She added “a number of people in Marquette grew up in Ironwood and would enjoy reading the Ironwood newspaper to keep up with their hometown.” The library was short of funds at the time, and recently had cut a number of subscriptions. I explained this to Dorothy, and said that we would try to get the Globe as soon as possible.
Over the next few years, whenever she saw me, Dorothy would smile warmly, say hello and quickly ask, “You haven’t forgotten about the Globe have you?” I delighted when I could tell her we had subscribed to the Globe, and it would arrive soon.
Friends and relatives asked to sum up Dorothy’s personality say a number of things, but determination always is one of the first terms they use. Dorothy had the tenacity of a terrier. Whatever she set her mind to do, it got done.
Dorothy experienced a great deal in her ninety-seven years. She lived through two World Wars and the Great Depression. The Depression seems to have shaped her personality, just as it did many of her generation. She was asked about the Depression by her great nephew Dan in a 1995 interview.
“It was a sad time,” she said. “I hope we never see another one like it. The banks failed, the mines closed and our friends and relatives really suffered. The Depression caused unhappiness, family trouble and severe pain.”
What Dorothy remembered most is how her parents tried to help less fortunate relatives, sometimes to the detriment of their own family. Dorothy said she remembered her father taking out a mortgage on their home in order to help a relative who lost everything he had in bad stock investments.
“The payment was $37 per month, and it seemed like it was paid for a long, long time,” Dorothy said.
This sense of altruism shaped Dorothy’s life and she continued her father’s good deeds until her death. It was during the Depression that Dorothy graduated from Superior State Teacher’s College in Superior (Wisconsin) with a teaching degree. She worked for two years as a substitute teacher, doing whatever was required of her. Her younger sister Jeanette remembers that Dorothy would have to get up early in the morning and travel to whatever school needed her. Despite applying to schools in Wisconsin and Michigan, Dorothy was unable to find a full-time job in education.
The Depression did end up pointing Dorothy in the direction her life would follow for more than thirty years. She started work at the Gogebic County Welfare Department as a Work Project Administration (WPA) social worker. The mines had ceased to operate due to a lack of demand for ore, and times were tough in Ironwood. Dorothy was sent on home visits to certify that families were in need of Aid to Dependent Children as well as other services. She worked in this capacity for one year, until the economy improved and workers were again needed at the mines. With the mines operating again, prosperity returned to Gogebic County, but Dorothy found herself a casualty of the improved economy. She was laid off by the welfare department and went without a job for another year.
It just so happened Marquette County was looking for a social worker to fill a temporary vacancy caused by an employee who would be absent from work for at least a month. Dorothy was summoned and decided temporary employment was better than no employment at all, so she moved to Marquette. Luckily for Dorothy, the employee did not return, and she was offered a permanent position in Marquette. She worked in Marquette from 1944 to 1977.
Dorothy enjoyed her career despite the fact that she often was forced to confront tragic situations with clients and their families. Her Catholic faith gave Dorothy the strength she needed to do what, at times, could be a most unpleasant job. As a social worker, she was responsible for home calls, reviewing nursing homes, certifying old age and dependent children benefits. One of the most rewarding experiences she had was assisting blind individuals. “That was very interesting,” she said. “We would see that they got training, paired with seeing-eye dogs or sent to the Home for the Blind. We would try to get them whatever they needed. In many instances we were really able to improve their lives.”
As soon as she could, Dorothy took the Civil Service exam and moved up the ranks. Jeanette said Dorothy took every opportunity to continue her education. She took classes at NMU and as often as possible, advanced in the Civil Service system. She finished her career as a supervisor responsible for ten social workers.
Co-workers remember Dorothy as a firm but caring supervisor. She had a quick, but dry wit. If you were doing your job, you had nothing to fear, but if you did not earn Dorothy’s respect, you probably were not in the right field.
Dorothy always loved children, despite never having her own. Her nieces and nephews and great and great-great nieces and nephews were her pride and joy.
“Her family was very important to her,” Jeanette said. “She loved all of us.”
Her love and support of her family even extended to the Guatemalan boy she supported for ten years.
“She was the most caring and generous person you could ever meet,” Jeanette said.
Dorothy always took care of the less fortunate. She generously supported the St. Vincent DePaul Society and charitable works undertaken by the Catholic Church. She loved Saint Peter Cathedral and was active in the Altar Society, Prayer Chain and Adoration Hour. Her love of the church and the strength of her faith, were important facets of her personality.
Dorothy was the middle of five children born to parents of French Canadian decent. She had two older brothers, Francis and Lawrence, a younger sister Jeanette and a younger brother Raymond.
Dorothy passed judgment on the youth of today by explaining that children of her era could entertain themselves without adult supervision. They would play jacks or marbles, start neighborhood ball games, ice skate and keep busy. Jeanette remembers the fun they would have erecting a tent in the backyard and camping out. Dorothy also spoke of how exciting it would be to receive a dime to go to the movies as a child.
“We made our own fun,” she said. “Kids today have nonstop entertainment and access to so many activities such as sports, theatre and music.”
Dorothy loved to sing, act and recite poetry. Dressed in a fancy white dress with black ankle boots, Dorothy would recite poetry accompanied by the piano. Jeanette remembers her older sister often was called on to entertain family and friends. Dorothy spoke of visiting area schools with other students to perform musical numbers. Her interest in literature and skill at Scrabble are stuff of family legend. Her grand nephew Dan is the only person to beat Dorothy at the word game.
“Aunt Dorothy may have been enjoying herself too much and lost track of how much wine she was drinking,” Dan said. “Despite the fact that she was not in top form, I still feel I beat her fair and square.”
That joke was shared by the family and good naturedly accepted by Dorothy.
Dorothy was very proud of the Peter White Public Library renovation and expansion project. She was a daily visitor, coming into read newspapers and magazines. She often told relatives she was so happy to live in a community that recognized the importance of the public library. She sponsored a stained glass window in the Dandelion Cottage Room, and the light, streaming into the room in multicolored ribbons, is reminiscent of Dorothy. She never failed to brighten whatever space she occupied.
The Boyer family was athletic. Boys and girls played basketball for St. Ambrose High School in Ironwood. Family history says her father was the only person to beat world famous runner Jack Hahn. Her father often said he was hired for the Ironwood Fire Department due to his running ability. Dorothy and her brothers shared this skill, but her talents were underdeveloped due to a lack of sports for girls and women. Nevertheless, Dorothy enjoyed exercise and attributed her longevity to the fact that she took a daily walk around Presque Isle, the Superior Dome or the streets of Marquette.
Dorothy loved to bake, and the recipients of her goodies always were thankful to receive a delicious pie, cookies or bars. Visiting relatives knew they could expect a big hug and a tasty plate of baked goods when they got to Marquette.
Dorothy loved the Upper Peninsula and was proud of Ironwood and Marquette, but she was not content to stay put. She loved to travel and would take every advantage she could to visit other countries. She enjoyed visiting France, Italy and Greece, but was happy to get back home to the U.P.
Dorothy never sought recognition for her good deeds. After her death, as family members talked about the ways she helped them, they realized how much she had done for all of them.
Jeanette said Dorothy would give little gifts, send money for educational expenses or help out however she could. Jeanette got emotional talking about a time in her life when she was without a job. She and Dorothy were shopping, and Jeanette found a winter coat that she liked. Dorothy urged her to try it on, despite the fact that she did not have the money to pay for it. Later that day, as they met after shopping, Dorothy handed her a large shopping bag—and in it was the coat.
“She was always like that,” Jeanette said. She would do without, just so someone else could have something they wanted or needed. She was a generous person who didn’t want things for herself. She got her pleasure from helping others.”
When I shared my story about the Ironwood Daily Globe, family members were surprised. It is one of the first times they could identify that Dorothy asked for something for herself. Of course, maybe she was just looking out for the best interests of those legions of Ironwood transplants who visit and use Peter White Public Library.
—Pam Christensen

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