Obituary: Marie Birmingham

Marie Birmingham was a Greendale mother and grandmother. She was known as a people person who loved doing crafts.

Marie Birmingham

Birmingham, Marie (Nee Sadler) Born to Eternal Life on August 24, 2012, at the age of 86. Survived by Robert C. her husband of 65 years, her children Robert A. (Nancy) of Madison, James M., Shary (Mike) Whalen, Jeffrey L. (Cindy), Jean (Mike) Coghlan of Greendale. Also survived by 15 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and many relatives and friends. Marie was a nurturer. She always saw the good in everyone. She used her considerable creative talents for the good of her family and her community. As a civic volunteer, she was an active member of the Greendale Bicentennial Commission, the Greendale 50th Anniversary Celebration and the Gazebo Commission. Marie also served as an officer in the Greendale Historical Society. She enjoyed teaching crafts and visiting the schools to show and tell her many antiques. Marie was always positive and joyful, especially through her long illness. She was an inspiration to her family and those who were close to her. Thanks to everyone at Wheaton Franciscan Home Hospice. Visitation on Tuesday, August 28, 2012, at the MAX A. SASS & SONS GREENRIDGE CHAPEL, from 4 to 8 PM. Funeral Mass on Wednesday, August 29, 2012, at ST. ALPHONSUS CATHOLIC CHURCH, 6060 W. Loomis Road, Greendale, at 11AM. Please meet at the Church on Wednesday. Interment Chapel Hill Cemetery will follow. In lieu of flowers, memorials to the Greendale Historical Society appreciated.

Greenridge Chapel
Funeral & Cremation Services


Some might remember a 75th Anniversary column dedicated to Marie Birmingham for this years Mother's Day.

In doing research about important persons in the story of Greendale people kept mentioning Marie Birmingham. I found her associated with an impressive list of accomplishments: Vice President of the Greendale Historical Society, member of the Bicentennial Commission, member of the 50th Anniversary Committee and member of the Greendale Gazebo Commission to name a few.

In anticipation of Mother’s Day I wanted to do a story about a Greendale mom told through the eyes of her children. The name that kept coming up was, you guessed it, Marie Birmingham. So on a recent Sunday morning at the  I met with three of the five children of Marie and Bob Birmingham and I listened while they talked about their mom.

Jim, a village trustee, started the conversation and explained how he admires his mom because she always sees the good in people and is always positive. He’s never heard her utter a mean word. His family, brothers Robert and Jeff, sisters Shary and Jean (Who knew Jim had sisters?)are his best friends. He said that’s because mom spent so much time with them all, showing them how to do crafts, exploring nature, and just enjoying being together as a family.

One of his fond memories is of the backyard March of Dimes festival she organized for years. They would put on a circus and invite the neighbors to raise money for this charity. Jean was a puppeteer, Jeff was rubber man, Shary was a baton twirler, Jim a weight lifter, and Bobby created Irv. Irv was a Martian puppet that only talked through him. Sounds like great fun. A video of that circus would be priceless.

Shary explained that her mother believes in living ‘now’, in having fun and doing the housework and laundry later. She’s a people person, always reaching out to make personal contact with strangers, like when standing in line at the grocery store. Also, her mom is very religious. Shary remembers that the snow could be waist deep, but the family would still go to church.

She was always doing crafts with them all, whether they were 6 or 16. She always had new ideas, and that is why she became so sought after for community projects. But she always kept her priorities straight. When her children started having children she always came for one week to help out.

Jean said that mom sees beauty in the world around her, and loves nature. She thinks kids should have fun. Kids should play and explore first, and do chores later. She would take them on hikes to find rocks and arrowheads. She loved rocks so much that she was always picking them up and dad would have to bring them home. Most of all she is a kind person and treats everyone that way. Because of her example Jean believes her brothers and sisters are kinder, more positive individuals today.

Family may have been #1 for Marie, but the community of Greendale was a close #2. The best example I can give you for her love of Greendale is in her own words. She was a member of the Greendale Bicentennial Commission and wanted to create a quilt as part of the 1976 celebration. In a 1976 letter soliciting participation in the project she wrote:

To all churches, schools, and organizations of Greendale:

“The spirit of achievement is the spirit of America. In days gone by, the building of a barn, the making of a quilt or the canning of food created this feeling. We invite you this bicentennial year, to recapture this spirit of America. Join us in making a quilt with a “heart beat.” All churches, schools and organizations of Greendale are being asked to design and make one patch. This patch will carry your thought, your message….. All so different, but all united in one common quilt, shouting what Greendale is all about.”                                      Marie Birmingham

On that same commission she conceived the idea of planting a prairie, as it was 200 years earlier, with the old grasses and wild flowers. The prairie sits on 2/3 acres of land owned by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation on the east corner of Loomis Road and Grange Avenue.

On June 2, 1976 children from each grade level at Canterbury School planted the seeds of the prairie. Finally she found and purchased a large bell that was rung on the Bicentennial. That bell stands near the , another project she devoted a lot of energy to. I wondered aloud “where did she get so much energy?” They do remember that she drank a lot of coffee. I suspect it was that she loved what she was doing.

I could go on and on telling you what Marie accomplished, what her kids remember doing growing up as a family, but I think you get the idea. Before she aged out of community service, Marie was a ‘supermom’ before that term became popularized.  She was an exemplary woman who enjoyed the traditional duties of housekeeping and child-rearing. Instead of a full-time job, she served the community.

Jim says the family lovingly refers to her as ‘Saint Marie’. Why not? I could only dig up one story out of them that might suggest otherwise. Marie was afraid of lighting the stove and Bob would do that for her. She wanted a new stove but Bob could not see the need. So she threw out the burner and for six months they went stove-less. My suspicion is that with this family it was a fun story, a running joke, another of Marie’s family adventures that she took them all on, husband Bob included.

All of you reading this story have moms that you love, just as much as this family certainly loves their mom. They’re all special, so tell them so on Mother’s Day. For those of you that know Marie personally, and for all of us who have benefited from her service to the community of Greendale, we say thank you Marie. We wish you a wonderful family filled Mother’s Day.  

Thomas H Kowalski, MD September 01, 2012 at 06:02 AM
Dear Marie, Your passing was sorrowful, but you are in a better place. I remember you as a teenage nephew of Anita D'Amico and her family. Your were the smile of Bentwood Lane. Rest in Peace, Your children will survive. Tom Kowalski


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