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Epilogue|Mary Mitchell Dohr Sudkamp

With each new chapter of her life, she took a another name

The chapters of her life have different names.

Mary Mitchell: When her mother died of pneumonia, Mary dropped out of school. She was 15. She shared a small apartment with her father, a machinist, and nine siblings at the start of the Depression. As the eldest girl, she fed the household with donated scraps from the butcher, hominy grits and 2-day-old bread.

Mary Smallwood: Her earnings as a telephone operator brought in the household's only money. Her husband drank to excess and beat her. When a thrown table put her in a hospital, she left him.

Mary Dohr: To move her and two children out of the house, she needed help. James Dohr had the truck. He made machine parts. He helped her move into a farmhouse and stayed in touch.

For a time, she supported her own children, plus two sisters and her parents, who all lived in the house. "Nobody had any money," said daughter Shirley Strawder, 58. "And she had a job and was bringing in some money."

In the mid 1940s, she and James married and moved into a converted two-car garage. Dohr got promoted to shop foreman at an automotive plant. They bought a house.

At her husband's insistence, she stopped working. But she kept in touch with a former co-worker at the telephone company and her husband, Ethel and Ralph Sudkemp.

An Irish Catholic with red hair and green eyes, Mary sang lullabies while scrubbing floors and hanging laundry. She was a consummate cook whose children compared her to June Cleaver.

"Her pot roast just fell off your fork," said son James Dohr, 65. "The potatoes had a little crust on them. The carrots had caramelized."

Once a month, the Dohrs and the Sudkemps went out socially. The Dohrs liked the fact that the Sudkemps, who owned a trucking company, weren't pretentious.

Mary Volosin: After James Dohr died of cancer and her youngest son joined the Air Force, Mary was alone for the first time in her life. She did not like being alone and was afraid of the dark, her daughter said. She married a widower.

"I think they got married so they would have somebody to go to dinner with," Strawder said.

Mr. Volosin died a year later. Mary worked at a JCPenney. She grew award-winning orchids and tulips, fertilizing the ground with coffee grounds, eggshells and dishwater.

Mary Sudkamp: After Ethel Sudkamp died, Ralph came calling. They married in 1984. They went on cruises and danced. Mary outlived three of her six children. After Ralph died in 1999, Mary moved in with her daughter. She required two night-lights and an open door to a lit hallway before she could sleep. Despite her Alzheimer's, she continued to dance until the last years of her life.

She died Friday at age 92, and will be buried between James Dohr and Ralph Sudkemp, the men who loved her most.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (813) 661-2431.


Mary Mitchell Dohr Sudkamp

Born: Aug. 14, 1915.

Died: March 28, 2008.

Survivors: daughter, Shirley Strawder; sons, James and Robert Dohr; 18 grandchildren; 29 great-grandchildren.

Services: Funeral Mass at 10 a.m. today at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church, 2405 Philippe Parkway, Safety Harbor. Burial at 12:30 p.m., Garden of Memories Funeral Home and Cemetery, 4207 E Lake Ave., Tampa.

With each new chapter of her life, she took a another name 03/31/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 10:14am]
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