[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]CHILTON — Family photographs cover the refrigerator in Rosemary Propson’s kitchen. Most of the faces represent four generations of Propson’s extended family, including her seven children, 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. There is also one illustration of Jesus and a photo of Pope Francis with identical expressions of joy on their faces.
In a nutshell, this mosaic of family and faith sums up Propson’s life. As Mother’s Day approaches, Propson is thankful and mindful that motherhood has been a blessed vocation. In gratitude to God, she continues to give back, even in her eighth decade of life.
Born and raised in Sherwood, one of 12 children born to Ray and Mayme Halbach, Propson said family and faith have always been her pillars of strength.
“We had a very close, loving family,” she said. “We lived right across the street from the church.” While her mother often baked for the priests, she and her siblings would help clean the rectory.
“I had a really close connection with (priests) and the nuns,” recalled Propson. “There used to be like six Masses at Christmastime. My sister and I would sing for all six of them.”
Music was a gift her family shared. “We didn’t have much entertainment, so we sang,” she said. “The neighbors told (her mother) they opened up their door and windows at 5:30 every night because the Halbach family was having a sing-along.”
After graduating from St. Mary High School in Menasha in 1954, Propson began working at Kimberly Clark. She met her husband, Norbert, at the bowling alley in Sherwood and they were married on Oct. 26, 1957. Three years later, they moved to Chilton and Propson devoted most of her time to raising a family.
When her oldest child, Ellen, was old enough to babysit her siblings, Propson began teaching religious education at the former St. Mary Parish. It led to her being named coordinator of religious education, a post she held for three decades. She was also asked to take on other religious education roles, such as helping with the RCIA, assisting confirmation students who needed extra class time and other children who “fell through the cracks.”
As area parish mergers meant more students attending religious education in Chilton, Propson found the classroom to be a greater challenge. However, the
rewards of teaching religion continue to be felt, she said, as former students “come up to me at church and give me hugs. It really makes me feel good.”
Propson has served in many other volunteer roles at Good Shepherd, but it’s the one she began four years ago that has others “singing” her praises.
Every Tuesday (except the first week of the month), Propson visits a local nursing home or assisted living center and spends an hour entertaining residents by playing her keyboard and leading them in song. It brings her back to her childhood days in Sherwood, when she and the other Halbach children sang and played music together.
It was through the encouragement of her children that Propson began the nursing home visits, she said. “This all happened since my husband died. The kids knew how important music was to me and felt that it was therapy for me, too.”
Norbert Propson died on April 1, 2012, Palm Sunday. Because it was Holy Week, her husband’s wake service on Tuesday was led by Rosemary’s sister, Sr. Margaret Mary Halbach, a Sister of St. Francis of the Holy Cross. “There was no priest for the prayer service because they were all at the Chrism Mass” in Green Bay, she said.
Her husband’s illness and death (he suffered from arterial fibrillation and bladder cancer) reinforced the importance of faith, Propson said. “I don’t know how anyone can get through anything without faith,” she said. “There were times when (Norbert) couldn’t go to Mass. He was too weak, so I brought him Communion. We had our special moments that way.”
Today, she shares special moments with her children during the Tuesday nursing home visits. Two daughters, Lynn and Lisa (who drives from Madison), are regular companions on the nursing home visits and others join them occasionally. “The first Christmas (after her husband’s death) they bought me this keyboard,” she said, pointing to the electronic instrument in her living room.
They also created 25 photocopied song books titled “Sing-Along with Rosemary.” The song books, which are distributed to residents each week, began with about 30 songs. As residents requested favorite tunes, Propson added more songs to the song book, which now boasts 67 tunes.
Propson said she finds satisfaction in seeing smiles on the faces of nursing home residents as they listen and sing along to tunes from their youth. “I get just as much out of it as the residents do,” she said. “There is purpose for me since (Norbert) is gone. It keeps me going.”
While her vocation to motherhood grows, like the rows of photos on her refrigerator, Propson knows her Catholic faith requires that she extend that motherly love to all. It’s a practice she’s repeated many times over to young and old.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_message]
Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Rosemary Propson
Parish: Good Shepherd, Chilton
Favorite saint: Blessed Mother
Words to live by: “Try to share God’s love with others through your actions.”