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Margaret Louise Berthold peacefully passed away on April 2, 2018 at the age of 90 at The Kenney in West Seattle where she had resided since 2011.
Her long life began November 8, 1927 in East Orange, NJ, where she was born to her mother Margaret Aimee Guy and father Walter Henry Berthold. When she was seven, Margaret Aimee passed away and she was then raised in the loving care of her Aunt Anne Guy and Uncle Ken Davis until her father married her stepmother—Ruth Riker.
Margaret (more often called Peggy) attended Bloomfield High School in NJ. She then went to Douglass College (formerly The Women's College at Rutgers University), New Brunswick, NJ. In 1948 she graduated with a major in Psychology. This (combined later with a degree in Social Work from Loyola University Chicago, IL, in 1966) gave her the grounding she would need in future years as a social worker.
In college, Peggy formed longtime friendships with roommates Shirley Nottingham and Betty Pickenbach. (In later years she would often reminisce about her post-college travels around the country with them.) If she regretted one thing about her school years it seems to have been that “all the boys were off to war.”
But later she found one of those soldiers-come-home, George Edward Barrs of Canada, and married him. Already born to him were three wonderful children (and later, as adults, life-long friends to the family), Ingrid, Lance, and Kerry.
As Peggy said in later years, George was the one she “imagined rocking on the porch and growing old with.” But it was not meant to be, as they separated in 1973 and George eventually made his way back up to Summerland in British Columbia, Canada. Peggy continued to maintain a loving relationship with George's mother, Vera, even after George's early death in 1978.
Peggy was a force of nature while raising her children Kathy, Valerie, and Casey in Carpentersville, Illinois. She was president of the Golfview Elementary School Parent-Teachers Association. She was also immersed in the Dundee area 4H. Memorabilia rediscovered in later years show her meticulously itemized schedules of 4H project details and deadlines: signs of a mother so very steeped in her children’s growth and adventures. Of course, being overly steeped as a stage-mother risked slippery slopes too, but there will be no mention here of children being coerced into Little Miss Teapot contests (Casey) and Talented Teens traveling show (all three of the Hostage Children).
A cursory look at her activities in those days might also lead to the conclusion that Peggy was an avid consumer of all things political. After all, the family went numerous times to annual Democratic and Republican annual summer picnics. Closer analysis indicates, however, that this display of concerned (and bipartisan) citizenship may have had more to do with the free BBQ chicken and corn. Peggy was a lifelong consumer of bargains!
The only thing she ever splurged on was a regular visit to the beauty parlor for her weekly shampoo, followed by curlers, teasing and lacquering. And that one shockingly out-of-character purchase of a portable TV on which to watch the final episode of "The Fugitive", while vacationing at Bangs Lake in 1967.
In those years, Wilson Avenue was a new community of young homeowners and Peggy was an organizer of block parties. Parents socialized while kids ran in feral packs. But as dusk neared, she would step onto the porch and emit her famous bugle call home: “Kathy… Valerie… Casey…”
The move from Carpentersville down to Alton Illinois (1969 – 1973) marked a hard period for the family. At a time when it was as socially not acceptable to be a single mom, Peggy was the sole support of Kathy, Valerie and Casey. Yet she could stretch a penny like no one else. In this way, she ensured that there was a family vacation each summer (always to a lake), encouraged all forms of creativity, piano, sports, clubs, scouting, dancing, skating, reading, competitions, swimming, visits to the movie theater, etc. In what is certainly the highest tribute to Peggy, she was somehow able to maintain a level of normalcy for her children.
She made sure that the family never “wanted for anything,” but being spoiled was not part of that picture. Chores were a big part of the routine, and there was always a flurry of activity to make sure that the weeding, house-cleaning, ironing, mixing the dreaded powdered milk and cooking was completed before she got home from work.
She managed to do all of this while being the sole provider and also applying her social work skills to help others, both in Illinois and also in when the family moved to New Jersey in 1973.
In Livingston, NJ she worked at St. Barnabas Medical Center from 1972 to 1974. This was followed by years of devoted employment with the NJ State Division of Youth and Family Services in Orange, NJ—next to the town of her birth. To say the least, social work was fairly gritty burnout work. But Peggy brought her meticulous sense of detail and thoroughness to this profession. She received awards and public recognition for her work.
To many reading this brief memorialization of her life, the constant reference to “Peggy” probably grates upon the ear. This is because to most, for the past many years, she has simply been known as “Spot.” That’s right. Spot.
Family lore has it that the name arose in response to a new son-in-law who asked if he should call her “Mrs. Barrs.” Aghast, she replied that made her feel much too old and suggested instead a list of alternative appellations—including Spot—which he might instead call her. It stuck.
What did Spot like?
Card games. Especially Diminishing Whist and Solitaire in the earlier years and, more recently, Casino. She also enjoyed playing Mexican Train with her friends at The Kenney.
She liked scenic byways and made the drives shorter (or longer, depending on your perspective) by pointing out natural and historical roadside sights on the long drive from Illinois to New Jersey, or (according to Keegan) launching “Hip Hip Hooray” callouts every ten miles. And, she most especially liked water: oceans and lakes. Indeed, her ashes shall be scattered over Puget Sound—a view she enjoyed from daughter Valerie’s back deck for many years. The lookout point at the Madame Marcella Sembrich studio at Bolton Landing on Lake George, New York was a favorite.
Another was on the porch of Hugh and Bev’s Sugar Run, PA home, looking out onto the tranquil Susquehanna River. Further back in time were the wonderful visits with the whole family to Asbury Park, New Jersey. Water always had a way of making her smile. Always.
Spot also had fondness for rare steaks, turtles (of the chocolate variety), wind chimes, and "Eggs Ole." Peculiarities? Oh there were a few, but collecting plastic bags and scraping her plate meticulously clean were a few of them…
What did she love?
She loved watching after the grandchildren who were fortunate enough to live just 15 minutes away in Essex Fells, NJ: Daniel and Eric. Grammy Spot was a fixture in their lives. Would that the other grandchildren, in more distant locations and later years, could have seen her as much.
Spot was invariably fun to tease. (What would you expect from someone who happily introduced herself to people as Spot?) She had a gift for gullibility that invited it. For such torment, her son frequently earned the epitaph “You Stinker!” But it risks a bad turn of Karma to celebrate those pranks too much here in her obituary.
There are many memories which could be recounted…
Summer vacations out to New Jersey to visit with her side of the clan, including her brother Walt, his wife Cynthia, and their four daughters Amy, Martha, Wendy and Ann. Many a
BBQ was had in their backyard.
Casey happily remembers her visits to him in London (accompanied by Grandma Ruth) and also in the Philippines (with great Aunt Anne).
Valerie and her family were fortunate to have her live a few blocks away from them in West Seattle since 2011. They remember Spot coming to their first Ugly Christmas Sweater Party. Not one to spend money
that she didn’t need to, she grabbed a red sweatshirt of hers and decorated it by taking ornaments off her little Christmas tree and safety-pinning them onto her sweatshirt.
Daniel and Eric remember Spot’s very gourmet SpaghettiOs…
Her O’Mara grandchildren learned from their Grammy Spot how to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, with green mashed potatoes and milk, much to Michael (O’Mara’s) horror.
There are also many more memories that will ensure a loving affection for “Spot” carries on. But beyond these, certainly she has a lasting legacy in having helped her three young children through some very hard times. They have since become wonderful people and parents—and this would not have been so without her.
Spot is predeceased by her parents and stepmother, and brother Walter Berthold, as well as her Aunt Anne (for whom she once wrote a loving poem, ‘Sweet Annie’) and Uncle Ken Davis. As noted, she lost George in 1978.
She is survived by:
Her brother Dick Berthold (and his wife Cindy of Columbus, Ohio) and by her sister-in-law, Cynthia Berk Berthold of Christiansburg, VA.
Her three children: Kathy Casella (and husband Tony of Scottsdale, AZ), Valerie O’Mara (and husband Michael of Seattle, WA), and Casey Barrs (and wife Elizabeth of Missoula, MT).
By her seven grandchildren: John Casey, Caitlin (and husband Dale), Daniel (and wife Dina), Keegan, Eric, Aelish, and Ennis. She is also survived by one great grandchild (little Tony—born to Dan and Dina Casella) and another dear one on the way (to be born to her devoted granddaughter Caitlin and her husband Dale).
By her four nieces: Amy, Martha, Wendy and Ann and their families.