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Aunt Jennie

Jennie Hackathorn Champion (Photo courtesy of Beth Hartung)

I am Jennie’s fifth granddaughter, which also makes me the youngest one.  If I had to describe her in one word, it would be “Kind”. She had a very hard life and had eight siblings.  Her mother Florence had died fairly early in her life, Grandma’ s dad Thomas became overwhelmed at the loss of his beloved wife and sunk into a deep depression, so Jennie stepped up to take care of her brothers and sisters.

In the time that she was attending school, her high school stopped at tenth grade. She graduated Summa Cum Laude.  The next fall their school added eleventh grade so Jennie who loved school, went back and graduated again, once again the top of her class.  Ironically enough the following fall the school added a 12th grade, Jennie returned finished the school year once again with top honors.

Anyone who had the privilege to know Jennie knew that she never bragged or boasted, in fact, she didn’t even mention this to me until I began my college career in 1979.

She adored her siblings and enjoyed visiting with them.  I can remember a time when Jennie, Elsie, and Lois came to our home for a visit.  The three of them laughed and reminisced. Their lives seemed fascinating to me, but the reality was they had lived very difficult lives.  The sisters shared a story about one of their other sisters contracting head lice as a child.  In those days, the treatment was to cut the hair extremely short and apply kerosene to the scalp.  It sounded awful to me, but they laughed in retrospect.

Jennie was a perfect example of humility and Christianity.  My mother both loved and thought the world of her. Mom told me how lucky she was to have Jennie for a mother-in-law.

I do not know at what age Jennie learned to play the piano, but she played sheet music of the day.  One that was often mentioned by both she and Dad (Dick Champion) was, ” I fall down go boom “. The song was from a child’s point of view and in the refrain he fell again and again.  She also played classical music: for example, Beethoven’s Minuet in G and many hymns.

When she married Joe Champion she became a wife and mother.  She loved her eldest daughter Ruth so much that she ended up living with her in Ruth’s apartment for as long as I can remember. She and Ruth lived in the middle apartment of a home that had been turned into three apartments.

When she attempted to learn how to drive, again I do not remember what age she was at the time, but she had difficulty in steering and shifting and ran into a wall.  I don’t believe the car was totaled, but Jennie decided she would never drive again.  Luckily, when she moved to Ravenna, Ohio, she could walk to church, the Dr.’s office, and all over the small town.

As a married couple, she and Joe had many hardships.  They had very little money, so she took in extra work taking in other family’s laundry and ironing.  This instilled a great work ethic in my father, Dick, her youngest child.  As soon as he was able to work, he did and he was also selfless like Jennie. He bought thread for her with his pay and contributed to the household his wages. Jennie was very proud that Joe had served in both World Wars.

My mother, Vivian Baker Champion, always told me that one of the most important characteristics to use in choosing a mate was to observe how he treated his mother.  My Dad cherished her and held a deep respect for Jennie.

Jennie was a woman familiar with loss and sorrow.  Her daughter Muriel, who resembled her strongly, died when she was only 4 years old. When she gave birth to her daughter Audra, a relative ( whose name was never mentioned) came by to visit the new baby. The problem was this relative was quarantined for whooping cough. I do not know all the details as Jennie was not one to gossip or speak ill of people, but Audra died after she contracted whooping cough. Jennie forgave this person and did not hold a grudge.

Jennie’s first grandson was named after my father Richard. He was a very intelligent boy and she loved him dearly. Richard developed Leukemia when he was just seven years old.  At that time, Leukemia was a fatal illness and Richard died at age 8. Although this was a deep loss for her she focused on encouraging and comforting my parents.

Jennie was an avid reader and voraciously devoured books.  I remember that in her bedroom all of the shelves were full of books and she also had books neatly stacked and sorted by the type of fiction. She was partial to “Who Dunnits” as she called mysteries. She also read many Reader’s Digest condensed books. She shared with me that the year the Reader’s Digest magazine began circulating that they had offered her a lifetime subscription for ten or fifteen cents and she regretted not taking them up on their offer.

She loved to sew, had an old pedal-operated Singer machine that out lasted her. It went to one of my cousins who treasures it. She once made a tiny dress for a doll that was smaller than Barbie and to my wonderment she took out a teeny tiny crochet hook to make her a belt out of embroidery floss.

At Christmas gatherings in many photos, she could be seen sitting by the cookie tray with my sister Denise.

She had a very strong faith and lived an exemplary life. She was a well-loved member of the Methodist church in Ravenna. When I began to teach myself songs on our Magnus chord organ she showed me how to use the chord buttons and shared her music with me.

Grandma liked to keep busy so after she retired she fashioned blankets from wool garments she purchased at Goodwill, then blanket stitched the pieces together with yarn.  She gave each one of us a blanket, she called it her “therapy” and donated dozens of these blankets to the welfare department for the poor.

I was proud to be her granddaughter and I have many, many fond memories of her.

Jennie holding Michael Hackathorn. (Photo courtesy of John Hackathorn)

Jennie holding Michael Hackathorn. (Photo courtesy of John Hackathorn)