in memory of dottie meade



By Dr. Benjamin Meade

The earliest memories of my mother were of her tootling around Kansas City in her 1959 Nash, going back and forth between five schools that could not afford their own full-time music teachers. She was a regular traveling show, bopping into the classrooms, loading up her instruments and heading down the road to fill the next inner city Catholic school with the sound of music.

We lived on Forest Street then in a parsonage where my dad was a Southern Baptist preacher, making Dotty, the daughter of two Pottawattamie Indians, the preacher’s wife. And with that role came moving to wherever my father was called, bringing our family to St. Joseph, Mo. when I was in the first grade.

The move also brought Mom’s gifts of music and compas­sion to children who were severely mentally challenged at the Missouri State Training Center. The center, housed in a Catholic church, became my hangout on my days off. It also became a window into another world. Many of these children were shunned by society, but not by my mother. In the short 18 months we spent in St. Joseph, Mom showed me that not everyone is perfect, beautiful or intelligent by society’s standards, but that we were all created by God for a purpose.

Dad was called back to Kansas City and we moved into a parsonage on Brooklyn Avenue in an African American neighborhood. The only job Mom could find was an hour away in Atchison, Kan., again teaching mentally challenged students. Although I was only 8 years old, my mother felt it was time for me to be financially resourceful and earn my own spending money. My brother and I parked cars in the yard at the Kansas City Athletics home games ($1 per car, 13 cars on a good day). And at 11, Mom let me work as a dishwasher.

Mom continued teaching, all while cleaning houses and managing a household with three sons in the inner city. It was the 1960s and we were in the midst of the civil rights movement. Mom and Dad were activists, seeking justice for the oppressed and publicly opposing the war in Vietnam.

On a cold winter’s day, Mom was involved in a serious automobile accident on her way to work. She took a job closer to home. We moved to mid-town. I graduated from high school. Years went by. Things changed. Times changed. Dad died of cancer at age 56. My younger brother took his life in 1993. My older brother died in 2002. My mother and I were the lone survivors. She talked about how parents should not outlive their children.

What remained steady was Mom’s service to others. She continued to teach children in need, retiring from Lee’s Summit public schools at age 70 after working with junior high kids with behavioral disorders. Yet she never retired from teaching. She moved to Shawnee, Kan. and taught four days a week at Sylvan Learning Center. On Fridays, she taught math at the Shawnee County Jail.

Returning home from church on October 31, 2010, Mom was in another automobile accident. It was bad. It was believed that the other driver was drinking. There were no witnesses. She spent the next three weeks curled in the fetal position. On the morning of November 20, Mom looked at me and said, “Benny, please let me go to be with the rest of the family.”

She is missed. And so it was. And still is.

Dr. Benjamin Meade is a CSJ Associate and former Avila University professor. Throughout his life, he watched his mother, Dotty, model the CSJ value of service to the dear neighbor. It is in her honor that he has made a generous gift to the Sisters of St. Joseph and in her memory that he tells her story.  (Adapted by Patricia Cassens and Jenny Beatrice)


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