Who mothered you in addition to or instead of or beside your biological mother?

As we celebrate mothers this Sunday, I invite you to answer this question.

For me, there were many such women. Women in my family; Mary Lauver, our pastor’s wife and a leader in her own right, and many others in my church. My teachers. Then there was summer camp. And this woman.

Catherine R. Mumaw, Director

Catherine R. Mumaw, Director at Laurelville Girls Camp. Photo was included in 1957 or 1958 Shen.

In childhood

Catherine R. Mumaw entered my life first as the director of summer camp at Laurelville Mennonite camp in 1959. I turned eleven years old that summer.

I remember three things about Catherine from my deep memory well:

  • she was a woman in charge.
  • she had a lovely lilting southern accent. Yet she wore a covering like my mother. This combination amazed me.
  • she loved to sing and she led singing with confidence, just like she led the prayers and the announcements.

Catherine showed up in my life again during college. As one of the first women in the Mennonite Church to earn a Ph.D., Catherine taught home economics and fine arts at Eastern Mennonite College. Here’s how she looked in the 1970 yearbook, the Shen. Most of her colleagues were male.

Catherine Mumaw and Homer Mumaw, EMC faculty members, 1970

Catherine Mumaw and Homer Mumaw, EMC faculty members, 1970. The Shen.

Professional model and colleague

I took fine arts from Catherine and remember her as an enthusiastic professor with high standards. She pulled my best work out of me, taught me about the architecture of cathedrals, the vanishing point in classical art, and the structure of the symphony.

Later, Catherine and I both served on the faculty of Goshen College during a time of great change in her field of home economics. She later went on to teach at Oregon State University for several years, making international work her chosen focus. This work became a springboard for the next four years as a volunteer education adviser at Kathmandu University in Nepal.


Catherine and I have become friends again in our post-retirement years. Catherine has been battling cancer. She has neither denied that fact nor wallowed in it. Instead, she continues to mother me by modeling what I hope to do as I contemplate the end of my own life. She laughs. She gives away her possessions to her friends. And she continues to make things.

Catherine stopped by my house with a present the other day. It’s a musical memoir: a CD with an accompanying booklet. It details eighty years of musical education in the family, church, and academy. It begins with “Jesus Loves Me” and ends with Lutkin’s “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.”

Catherine has no biological children. She married Clair Basinger late in life and has become mother to his four daughters who have brought her great joy: Eileen, Carolyn, Darlene, and Debbie. Yet even if she had not become a mother through marriage, she would still be among my mothers.

I have her songs on a CD with this picture on the cover.

Catherine in a role she was born to play.

Catherine in a role she was born to play.

But what I really have are her songs and stories in my heart. Through her work as musical memoirist and storyteller, I can carry her stories. They amplify my alto voice the way that soprano, bass, and tenor surround me in church.

In my mind’s eye I will always see her, in front of all those girls at camp, being in charge, and singing!

 Who are your mothers? Please select one woman who has influenced you and say why and how you remember her below. Or give us one of your own musical memories.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on May 7, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    I too can think of mothers who nurtured and sustained me in times of need. One I remember is Anna Dyck who worked in the printing press downstairs when I had my first job after high school at a bookstore. I was so lonely and far from home. Every Saturday she invited me to her house just to hang out or help her with her baking. On Sunday I went along to church with her family. She alleviated the lonely week-ends until I found my own friends.

    • shirleyhs on May 7, 2014 at 4:35 pm

      What a thoughtful, observant “mother” you had, Elfrieda. My guess is that you passed this favor on many times to other young women.

      Isn’t it interesting that “normal” activities like cooking or talking or going to church can alleviate the anxiety that often accompanies young adulthood?

      Our actions don’t have to be “deep.” They can offer hope just by being simple, undramatic acts of kindness.

  2. Marian Beaman on May 7, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    What a lovely tribute to an admirable woman. Catherine Mumaw was my Art Appreciation professor at EMC. I remember that unlike me she did not favor pink construction paper in my abstract collage.

    I met her again at Homecoming 2013 and now we are Facebook friends. My impression now as then: She doesn’t take herself too seriously, but did and does take her work seriously.

    That’s Catherine, amping up the volume of her life full swell. She is finishing well!

    Who are my mothers? One of them is featured on my blog post today. And I’m telling a secret about my birth Mother on Saturday.

    A musical memory? Hearing the melody to “When There’s Love at Home” before Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus spoke on our Christian radio station. Such a comforting tune.

    • shirleyhs on May 7, 2014 at 4:38 pm

      “That’s Catherine, amping up the volume of her life full swell. She is finishing well!”

      I couldn’t say it better myself, Marian.

      And I’m heading over to your post to see what story you have remembered from your past. They are always worth reading.

  3. shirleyhs on May 7, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    One other thing — we always rolled our eyes when we heard Mother singing “When There’s Love at Home.” She reserved it as a way to remind us that the screams and tears she was hearing were not appropriate.

  4. Karin Larson Krisetya on May 8, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Shirley Showalter, you have mothered me in a multitude of very tender ways, including inviting me to snuggle up with you and Stuart on the couch one Easter weekend to watch a basketball game. Knowing, through physical proximity, that I am loved as a daughter, is a warmth I continue to carry with me to this day.

    • shirleyhs on May 8, 2014 at 8:37 am

      Karin, if you weren’t so far away, I’d hug you right now! I’m so glad to have contributed to your life. As I see you interact so gracefully and easily with your own children, and with the children of others as a teacher, I feel admiration and gratitude for your gifts. You are a mothering mentor to many.

  5. Kathleen Friesen on May 8, 2014 at 11:16 am

    What a wonderful tribute to Catherine. It makes me wish that I knew her. My Aunt Elizabeth is like a second mother to me. Since she married my uncle when I was 8 years old, she has be an important part of my life. She taught me to sew, to understand the joys of exploring the woods and meadows, to love her peppernuts, and, most importantly, has listened without judging or advising (unless asked) throughout my life. I am grateful to her for adding immeasurably to the love and wisdom in my life. And, I am grateful to you, Shirley, for prompting this reflection today.

    • shirleyhs on May 8, 2014 at 4:52 pm

      Kathleen, you have identified the source of strength for many women — a “second mother” who is an aunt. If you follow Marian’s blog above, you will know that her Aunt Ruthie was a huge force in her life.

      Aunt Elizabeth sounds wonderful. It’s so hard for me to listen without jumping into advice-giving before asked. I’m learning, but I need all the Aunt Elizabeth role models I can get. We all do. 🙂

      I think you learned that lesson well and use it every day.

  6. Laurie Buchanan on May 8, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Shirley — I love what you shared:

    “Catherine has been battling cancer. She has neither denied that fact nor wallowed in it.”

    Those words, alone, speak volumes to me of her core; her essence. My hat is off to her amazing ripple effect — clearly it’s far reaching.

    Other than my biological mother (who was amazing and I adored), Mrs. Josephine Gaylor was like a second mom. She lived in the sixth house up the street, had a beautiful North Carolina lilt, and wasn’t afraid to gently steer me in a different direction when I was headed pell mell for trouble. She’s still alive and I visit her whenever I’m in the San Diego area.

    • shirleyhs on May 8, 2014 at 4:57 pm

      Laurie, you have a way of swooping into language like a hawk and plucking out ordinary words that seem extraordinary when you hold them up against the blue sky.

      Ripple effect. That’s what it’s all about.

      And the image of you headed pell mell for trouble makes me laugh. Can’t wait to read your memoir.

      Oh, btw, Radio Lab had a show about numbers you might enjoy. Listen for your special #7: http://www.radiolab.org/story/91697-numbers/

  7. Marty Herr on May 8, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Thank you, Shirley for such a beautiful, accurate portrayal of my cousin Catherine. I share your admiration as I, too, continue to learn from her, especially in her final journey. I also want to pay tribute to my husband’s mother, Ethyle Hershey Herr, a woman who, in spite of difficult circumstances, personified a radiant love and such warm acceptance not just for her family and friends, but to anyone who needed a helping hand. She was a nurse, a child evangelism teacher who drew the neighbor boys in with her ham salad sandwiches, and the best mother-in-law a woman could have.

    • shirleyhs on May 12, 2014 at 10:45 am

      Marty, thanks so much for taking time to comment on this post and add your words of appreciation, not only for Catherine but also for your mother-in-law Ethyl Hershey Herr. The kind of love expressed through action as much as through words is like the value of melted snow. It seeps into our souls and goes deep, sustaining us long after signs on the surface have disappeared.

      May we go and do likewise.

  8. Tracy Lee Karner on May 10, 2014 at 11:14 am

    My grandmother mothered me–she was very young when I was born and died only last year. In addition to teaching me to be kind and considerate, modeling exquisite patience and humility, and telling me stories while tickling my neck and head to put me to sleep, she taught me to love classical music. When I was a preschooler, she would let me choose my favorites pieces from her collection of albums and we’d dance to them. “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Blue Danube Waltz” were among my favorites, but the very best of all was “Flight of the Bumblebee.” When she put it on, I would spin, buzz, and flap around the house pretending to gather nectar, moving as fast as I could so I could get her to laugh, and for the rest of the day, she would call me “busy-busy-buzz-buzz.”

    • Tracy Lee Karner on May 10, 2014 at 11:20 am

      I pushed submit too soon… I wanted to mention that it’s a lovely tribute, and how wonderful that she has been able to give you songs and stories. I have been thinking about how little of my grandmother is left — she didn’t have very much of material value to pass on. I have a few doilies she crocheted, her sewing machine, and 4 tiny knick-knacks I keep for their sentimental value. But, her stories and her songs (the music she played and sang for me) will always accompany me wherever I go, and unlike furniture, dishes, pictures and knick-knacks, what’s in my heart is easy to pack and carry.

      Is Catherine’s musical memoir available to the public? It sounds wonderful….

    • shirleyhs on May 12, 2014 at 10:53 am

      Tracy, I played the wonderful rendition of “The Flight of the Bumble Bee” this morning as I sit in front of an open window listening to birdsong and still savoring the voice of a little fellow on the phone yesterday: “I love you, Grandma. Happy Mother’s Day.”

      Your loss of your own grandma is still recent, and your tangible heirlooms few. But what she gave you can never be taken from you and lives on in your own beautiful tribute.

      As for Catherine’s musical memoir, I think it is available for sale through the Anabaptist Center for Religion and Culture. If you email me: shirley.showalter (at) gmail.com, I will try to get you connected. $5 plus postage, I believe.

  9. Carolyn Rychener on May 10, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Please give Catherine my warm regards. She was department head, mentor and encourager when I majored in HoEc Education at Goshen College. She taught me what it meant to be a professional woman and to be involved in life. I often think of her as I look back on my 30+ years of teaching Family & Consumer Sciences. Thank you, Shirley, for giving me a glimpse of Catherine before she was a professor at GC.

    • shirleyhs on May 12, 2014 at 10:56 am

      Carolyn, you said it so well. Catherine gave many of us a glimpse of “what it meant to be a professional woman and to be involved in life.” Thanks for leaving this comment here and on my Facebook author page. I know Catherine appreciates it also.

  10. Catherine Mumaw on May 10, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Just a few days ago Shirley posted what has become to me a comfort, a source of joy, a wonderful reminder of the good life I have had. I have also been “mothered” by Shirley, with whom it was a great pleasure work for the Spring Arts Festival at EMC in the late ’60s–my first awareness of who she was. It was only in recent years that I realized that she was among the campers in the Laurelville Girls Camp. My Campers Photo and the Campers’ Newsheet confirm it!!

    For all of those who have responded to Shirley’s blog, I thank you for sharing the ways that I and others have been a mother to you. For those of you who were students and friends, please know that you mothered me too in your own unique ways. Happy Mother’s Day!

    • shirleyhs on May 12, 2014 at 11:02 am

      Catherine, I’m glad to know that you have read these other tributes and that you have been blessed by them. You add a dimension in thanking your former students that I want to underscore also.

      In my kitchen is a sign given to me by a friend that says “A daughter is just a little girl who grows up to be a friend.” A student is the same. Mothering can take place with younger women as well as older ones.

      This “mothering” role is just another way of talking about friendship. And friendship is a very special form of love.

      Hope you had a blessed Mother’s Day. Reading these comments was part of a very blessed day for me also.

  11. Jane Pinel on May 14, 2014 at 11:05 am

    Reading your blog, Shirley, it seems you are mothering many others with each blog entry, in such a gentle, positive way.

    • shirleyhs on May 14, 2014 at 11:27 am

      Thank you so much, Jane. You learned to recognize mothering from your own mother. So glad we are on the same journey together.

    • Tracy Lee Karner on May 14, 2014 at 11:38 am

      It’s true, Jane! I’m finding much nurture here….

  12. Priscilla Ziegler on May 19, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    Catherine was a gem back in the early sixties when campus life was on the verge of change. She encouraged drama before it was acceptable. She sponsored the Smiths off campus night of square dancing. You have to know the very early sixties to appreciate what this meant. Wonder if her daddy ever knew!!

    • shirleyhs on May 21, 2014 at 9:03 am

      For some reason, this comment is not showing up. Testing.

    • shirleyhs on May 21, 2014 at 3:05 pm

      Ah ha! I was looking for this comment in the wrong post! Thanks to Laurie for helping me play detective.

      And thanks to Priscilla for this comment showing how Catherine danced to her own beat even in the midst of many tight boundaries. Being the daughter of a college president cannot have been easy all the time. I think I know someone who could identify!

  13. Elaine Mansfield on May 21, 2014 at 11:41 am

    A beautiful tribute. When I was a child, my mother’s friend, I called her Aunt Grace, read wonderful books to me such as Heidi and Anne of Green Gables. I can name a few other influential “mothers,” but will skip to the most recent. Marion Woodman, a Jungian analyst, writer, and leader of BodySoul Rhythms was/is a mentor and a friend. She helped me through the hardest times with her love and ability to look straight at the dark experiences. She recited many poems by memory in her workshops and valued dreams, body, and spirit. She stopped writing letters a few years ago. She is housebound and no longer able to teach. How I miss her.

    • shirleyhs on May 21, 2014 at 2:41 pm

      Aunt Grace sounds like a wonderful person. And so does Marion. I love the idea of memorizing poetry. Such a comfort!

      You gave me an idea for a talk I am giving June 4. I should begin with a memorized poem. The talk is called How Telling Our Stories Can Save Our Broken Lives: Combining Mind, Body, and Spirit. Can you see Marion giving this talk?

      • Elaine Mansfield on May 21, 2014 at 5:47 pm

        Yes, I can. Marion emphasized body in her work because she was an intuitive filled with psyche and spirit. Her workshops were taught by three equals–Marion telling stories and working with dreams, a dance therapist, and a theater coach/mask maker. Marion spoke without notes in all situations after her inner muse demanded it. She was riveting, but then began to lose her way in her 80s and finally stopped teaching.

  14. Elaine Mansfield on May 21, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Enjoyed the other tributes, especially the one to you.

    • shirleyhs on May 21, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      Thanks so much, Elaine.

  15. shirleyhs on May 21, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    I wish I could have witnessed Marion at her peak, as you did, Elaine. She sounds like a powerful influence!!

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