Toward the end, the only thing that really concerned Carol Herget was getting the well dug.
Her death, which had been foretold for 18 months, did not worry her.
"I know where I'm going," Carol would say. If a woman who had brought thousands of children to Jesus Christ could not get into heaven, then who could?
She even had an idea what heaven looked like. It looked like a place she had once called home: a valley in Haiti unfolding before her, a haphazard, lush quilt of sugarcane, pasture and mango trees.
It certainly didn't look like this glorified mobile home park in Hernando County, tidy single-wides with raked gravel yards and illuminated flag poles. This was like some strange way station between her life's work and her life's reward.
She had no interest in relaxing. The horseshoe pit and the golf course held no appeal. What she yearned for was to be back in Haiti, getting that well dug so the little girls with their hair turned red from malnutrition wouldn't have to lug great slopping buckets up a mountain just to have fresh water to drink.
In the countryside of Haiti, where a mother sometimes starves a sick baby so her other children can eat, she was "Mama Carol," the missionary who could make misery disappear. In Hernando, surrounded by middle-class comforts she didn't need, she was Carol Herget, just another retiree counting the days.
In a way, that was more painful than the cancer.
She would spend the day in bed, fretting that her time would run out before this last project could be accomplished. She would wait for bursts of energy that came and went like the electricity in Haiti.
"I can't stop until my last breath," she said.
She would tap out a letter on her computer, appealing for money for the well or for the myriad other expenses of her schools and clinics. Because after more than 50 years as a missionary in the Caribbean, the only thing Carol knew how to do was more, always more.
When her strength would give out and she could only slump back into the pillows, she would explain how she came to be here, between heaven and a well.
+ + +
She was born in Buffalo, N.Y., on Christmas Day 1919. Her father named her Carol. Christmas Carol.
He ran down the street with a turkey leg in his hand and later claimed that she had interrupted his dinner. She was the second of four Sturm children and the second girl. "Nothing special," she said of herself. She thought that she never met her father's perfectionist standards.
The family ran a dairy, which her grandfather nearly bankrupted at the bar. Carol's father saved the dairy just in time for the arrival of the Depression. Mr. Sturm gave away so much milk to poor families that the business nearly failed again.
Sturm means storm in German. That's fitting, because something was roiling inside Carol, a tempest of guilt and fear.
One of her most vivid childhood memories involved cheating at a game at a family picnic. She won a flashlight and was wracked with remorse.
"After a few weeks I threw it in the trash. But I couldn't get rid of the guilt."
Not long after, her church held a revival meeting.
"The minister described what we might feel in hell. Once you're in hell, he said, you're not getting out. The time to do something is in this life."
He called for the sinners to come forward.
"I was the first one down there. I knelt down. "Jesus forgive me,' I cried. I still felt so guilty. "Forgive me for my sins and I will take you as my savior. I will never turn back'."
She came from a family given to extremes. No drinking, no smoking. Couldn't read a newspaper on Sunday. Only the Bible. Her father told her, "Movies are the devil's work."
Carol didn't fight it. "She never wore makeup. She never fixed her hair. She always wore it in a very plain style," her younger sister Adele Hill said.
It didn't surprise anyone when Carol announced at age 12 that she wanted to be a missionary.
Her father was in the habit of inviting visiting missionaries for Sunday lunch. Carol was particularly taken by a man who had just returned from Borneo. He said that his life was incomplete without a wife.
"I wondered if he would wait for me," she said.
She fell in love with a young man named Paul who had a rumble seat in the back of his coupe. She probably would have married him, but he had no interest in the missionary life.
"She really loved Paul," Hill said. "But she had to choose between Paul and Bible college. Missionary work was the most important thing in her life."
During World War II she met Jim Herget. He was a machinist in an assembly plant for B-29 bombers. He had lost an eye in an accident and couldn't serve in the military. She was an inspector at the plant. They went to the same church. Most important, he was willing to follow her wherever she wanted to go. In May 1943, they were married.
Their marriage was not a romance _ there was nothing charismatic about Jim _ but in many ways they were perfectly suited. They were opposites with a shared purpose.
"Two strange personalities God brought together," Alfred Herget, one of their sons, said. "He was quiet. She was aggressive. She was the dreamer. He'd find a way to get it done."
Two years later they entered Atlanta Christian College, a school committed to the "evangelization of the world." Carol wore dresses made from chicken feed sacks. To pay their way, they washed dishes, milked cows on the college farm and roofed the men's dormitory.
"That work was a great asset to us later," she said. "We learned more than Bible at Bible college."
They graduated in 1948. Carol was the valedictorian. It was the standard her father expected.
+ + +
In early 1949, they flew to Jamaica, a country they had chosen for their missionary work.
They had always been drawn to care for children. Carol preferred working with young children; she didn't have to fight through a life's worth of acquired superstition to deliver the word of God. They taught Bible classes for children in the mountains, in small towns and in city slums. But when she and Jim discovered that they couldn't have children, their mission found its focus.
"I was so brokenhearted," Carol said. "But God had a reason. If I'd had my own children, how would I have had the energy to help so many others?"
At first she and Jim took in a 2-year-old boy from a poor German family that had settled in Jamaica during the war. Peter had "shaggy blond hair, skin like sandpaper and sad blue eyes," Carol said. "He couldn't smile."
Two more German boys followed.
One day Carol got a call from a missionary up in the mountains. There was a sickly 5-month-old baby whose mother had died giving birth. His father, a banana farmer, had six other children to care for.
"He looked like he was 2 months old," Carol said. "He was refusing food because nobody loved him. Babies will die of that."
The Hergets' desire to build a family became a full-blown boys home. They registered with the government, forming the Jamaica Christian Boys Home. At any time, as many as 20 boys were living with Carol and Jim. Over the years, 58 boys passed through the home.
"We weren't an orphanage," Carol said. "We were a real home with a mommy and a daddy. We raised them."
As parents Jim and Carol were "quite proper," said Wayne Herget, who was about 2 years old in 1964 when his mother gave him to the Hergets.
"You had to use silverware the right way. It was always "Yes, sir' and "Yes, ma'am.' No slang or patois allowed. You made your bed, you helped clean." Otherwise, "you might get a spanking."
On Saturdays, when the boys got old enough, they worked on whatever project their parents had embarked on. And there was always something, as the Hergets' mission continued to adapt to changing circumstances.
Once, they received a surprise donation of surplus medicine from the U.S. Army, so Carol opened a medical clinic.
They couldn't afford to educate all their boys, so they started a small school of 150 students and ran it on the tuition from wealthier families who enrolled their children.
During the mid 1970s, the Jamaican government began veering toward communism. It became increasingly difficult to operate as a religious mission, particularly an American one.
"Whites were being shot," said Alfred Herget, who was the 5-month-old the Hergets rescued. "It was becoming dangerous."
Around this time, the Haitian consul general in Jamaica, who had seen evidence of what the Hergets had accomplished, urged them to replicate their success in Haiti.
"Carol, my people need you there," she said.
She and Jim made a couple of exploratory trips to Haiti. They saw a dire need for health care and schools. They knew from nearly 30 years in Jamaica that providing medicine and education was the most effective way to spread their religious message. And the people of Haiti, they believed, with their dual affinity for Catholicism and vodou, needed saving badly.
What clinched the deal was a gift from a dictator.
+ + +
Jean-Claude Duvalier was 26 in 1978 when he invited the Hergets to Haiti. He had been named president seven years earlier upon the death of his father. Francois Duvalier, "Papa Doc," was a vicious tyrant who enforced his rule with a private army of machete-wielding thugs, the Tonton Macoutes.
The younger Duvalier's regime was somewhat less bloody, but he was no committed humanitarian, either. "It is the destiny of the people of Haiti to suffer," he once said.
Carol never said a bad word about him. He had promised her 40 acres anywhere she wanted. For the Hergets, it was a stroke of good fortune.
"Love for missionaries or social workers? Oh, no. It was love for his people," Carol once wrote of Duvalier in a newsletter.
But Duvalier was also continuing a long-running battle with the Catholic Church that had begun in the earliest days of his father's regime. Francois Duvalier saw the Catholic Church, the official religion of Haiti and a vestige of French colonial rule, as a threat to his power. He expelled priests and even the archbishop of Port-au-Prince. He encouraged Protestant missionaries to come to Haiti to take their place.
Bringing in Protestant missionaries _ and American dollars _ offered the benefit of providing services that the government was either too corrupt or too incompetent to provide.
+ + +
Carol chose a 25-acre tract near the small town of Gressier, 18 miles west of Port-au-Prince. It was on a hill, a vantage she favored for her projects.
This parcel had been seized by Francois Duvalier in the early 1960s from the family of a political opponent whom he had had executed. The man had tried to stage an ill-conceived coup, and his family had been forced to flee the country. It is unclear whether Carol knew the history of the parcel.
Soon after she selected the property, Carol drove the eight boys whom she and Jim had brought from Jamaica out for a look.
" "Okay, guys, what do you see?' she asked us," recalled Robert Edwards, who was then 17. "All we see is work."
"Think about what you're going to see in 10 years," she told them. "Don't look at things as they currently are. Look at what they can be."
Carol and Jim were nearly 60 years old. Their parenting days were over. They wanted to reach hundreds of children, not just dozens. Carol imagined a vast compound of buildings: schools, clinics and churches.
She gave her vision a name: Christianville.
The name was an unambiguous challenge to the authority of the reigning religious authority in the neighborhood, a vodou priest whom Carol disparagingly referred to as the "witch doctor." She made it clear that her faith and her God were as viable and effective as the medicine she provided. "They go to the witch doctor first and their condition worsens," she said. "Then they come to us."
There was tension between the Hergets and the local vodouistes. A cow was maimed once, a leg smashed with a rock. Another time, "someone carved a steak out of a cow's haunch and covered it over with the flap of skin," Alfred Herget said.
No one at Christianville was too upset when the vodou priest's hut burned down one night. "He was preventing people from coming to Christ," Alfred said.
Haiti is a country of half-built walls. Money for construction comes intermittently, and it may take years for a house to be finished. But the work at Christianville never flagged.
"Every Saturday was consumed with work," Edwards said. "Forty-seven out of 52 weeks we worked."
The older boys helped fence the property. They dug the ditches and laid the water lines. They built themselves a spacious house made from the abundant stones of the area. The house overlooked a valley and the Ti Boukan mountains beyond.
Soon the dirt lane in front of the Hergets' house was filled in the morning with children in bright red uniforms _ girls in gingham jumpers and boys in shorts _ on their way to school. And Christian hymns flowed from the open windows of the church like an answer to the vodou drums of the night before.
Tuition was only a few dollars a year. This paid for school supplies, but more important, it entitled the children to two meals a day, a matter of life and death in a country with one of the highest childhood mortality rates in the world.
The food came from the Christianville farm. There were upward of 1,000 chickens in the henhouse, laying eggs and providing broilers, 20 or more cattle, twice as many goats, maybe 100 pigs.
"We were always butchering something," Carol said.
They had fish ponds full of tilapia and carp that fed on the plants that were fertilized by the animal waste. Two or three times a year they cast great nets into the water and hauled in 20,000 pounds or so of fish to salt and sell at market.
Sacks of rice and beans _ what they couldn't grow themselves _ came from charities, Food for the Poor and CARE, for example.
As she had done so well in Jamaica, where three-quarters of her funding came from local sources, Carol created allies at the highest level of government. Haiti's minister of agriculture offered her electricity and a phone, unheard of outside the capital.
"He saw progress. We had buildings up," Carol said. "They were so amazed at what we had done in just a few years' time. People like to help progressive people."
She built Christianville into one of the largest missions in Haiti. With that reputation came a nickname, "Mama Carol," a subtle comparison to a certain famous nun in Calcutta.
From childhood her eyes had always had a deep-set tiredness to them, but "Mama Carol" was indefatigable. She worked late into the night, writing personal letters to her donors in the United States.
She had a knack for pushing through red tape. A stunned customs inspector would find her standing in front of his desk, and before he could figure out how she had gotten past the secretary, he was signing a duty waiver to allow a donated truck into the country.
"She had a lot of chutzpah," said Robert C. Shannon, Christianville's first chairman of the board of directors. "She was never afraid to ask. And she never asked for herself. Because she was so transparent, they knew that what they gave was going directly for the cause."
Carol understood, too, that the success of her mission depended upon support from the small community of elites in which the island's wealth was concentrated. In a country where the average annual wage is several hundred dollars, it is easy to condemn the people who fly to Paris to shop. But Carol never did.
"I knew the inside story," she said. "Rich people do good work. They just have to trust you."
The money flowed in.
They opened a high school in 1981. By 1984, the enrollment at all 13 grade levels was about 600 and climbing.
"It exploded," Shannon said. "I think she was surprised by how it blossomed."
+ + +
In 1986, when Duvalier's excesses became too outrageous for the starving populace to tolerate any longer, the people rose up and forced him into exile in France. It is estimated that Duvalier, his family and cronies siphoned $500-million from the country's coffers.
His overthrow was only part of the wider dechoukaj, a Creole word meaning "uprooting." Across the country, anyone with connections to the Duvalier regime was a potential victim of violent reprisal. That included Christianville.
One night, the Hergets heard a mob forming in the village below.
They called the American Embassy, with which they had close ties, asking what they should do.
"Do you have a flag?" someone at the embassy asked.
They quickly stitched together strips of red and white fabric and a field of blue and hoisted it at the top of the tallest building. The mob got as far as the gate, but it never went inside.
Carol's next newsletter struck a diplomatic tone.
"A dictatorship promised to relieve the suffering and in the end only made it worse," she wrote. "Haiti became one of the three poorest nations in the world. Once again, Haiti has passed through a revolution and is in the process of becoming a democratic nation.
"We joined hearts and hands in a first response with those of this nation who were willing to face even death for the freedom of their people. We are not in Haiti to be involved politically, but we will continue to strive to be dedicated to the growth and well being of this country."
Privately, Carol mourned Duvalier's departure.
"We never had peace again after that," she said. "When he was there, there was some control. You could go downtown shopping and leave the window of your car rolled down. No one would dare steal anything. There was discipline."
At the edge of a Tonton Macoute's machete.
That was preferable, she said, to being led by the likes of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest whose rousing sermons to Haiti's poor won him Haiti's first free election, in 1990.
"The politics was dirty. There were guys waiting to be president. They made trouble. They stirred up the illiterates _ the masses. You can tell them anything," Carol said.
+ + +
Of all the boys the Hergets had brought with them from Jamaica, Wayne took the most active role in the affairs of Christianville. He had planned to be an architect, but when he saw the nearly limitless needs of the Haitian children, and the positive effect his parents were having, he decided to go to Bible college instead.
He returned to the United States to attend his parents' alma mater in Atlanta. After graduation, he went back to Haiti permanently with his wife, Christine, whom he had met in the United States.
But Wayne and his parents disagreed on the best course for the mission. Wayne moved off the compound to open a satellite church and school. In 1989, the rift reached a crisis.
"There were some things going on that I didn't think portrayed what the mission was there to do," Wayne said. He took those concerns, which he declines to specify now, to the board of directors.
The board voted to remove Carol and Jim from control of Christianville.
"I was sort of the one who was responsible for them leaving the mission," Wayne said.
Robert Shannon was on the board at the time but was in Europe and did not vote during the removal proceedings.
"Some people on the board lost confidence in Jim and did not want him to be involved anymore," he said, though he wouldn't say why. "And she was not going to leave Jim. . . . Carol was never accused of anything."
Shannon said that the board made an "unwise" and "unwarranted" decision. He never lost confidence in Carol or Jim.
But their son clearly did.
"She forgot the main reason she was there because things were going so well: to do mission work, to reach the people," Wayne said. "She was still doing it and doing it quite well, but it became a thing of pride, like, "Look at what I've done.'
"The thing that was her strong point was also her downfall. But that's the thing with extremely driven people. Her drive to succeed sort of became creating a name for herself."
Wayne took over Christianville. His administration lasted three years before he left. Now he is a property appraiser in Atlanta and active in his church.
But while Wayne was in charge of Christianville, Carol remained in exile in her adopted country.
"I wasn't ready to leave Haiti. I cried for four months," Carol said. "Then I said I've got to get busy."
It was a defining moment in her life.
She was 70 years old. She was cut off from the work that had given her life meaning. Jim's health was deteriorating (within a few years he had fully developed Alzheimer's disease). She could have retired, returned to the United States. Yet, she did not leave Haiti.
Instead, she started again.
+ + +
First she called up her wealthiest supporters in Port-au-Prince, men such as Robert Acra.
Acra did not hesitate to offer his backing. "Nous etions toujours a son cote," he said. "We were always at her side."
He helped her negotiate another grant of land from the government, which was by this time under the control of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the man she had accused of being a rabble-rouser.
The parcel was to the southeast of the capital in a dry desert region near the border of the Dominican Republic. It had none of the verdant charm of Christianville, but Carol made sure it was on a hill.
She changed the color of the school uniforms _ blue instead of red _ but in all other ways she followed the formula of success she had developed at Christianville: two meals a day and a chapel service each morning before classes.
And as she had done at Christianville, "Mama Carol" found innovative ways to get work done. One time she convinced some Pakistani troops that were part of the United Nations peacekeeping force to build a playground. That they were Muslim didn't faze her any more than her being an evangelical Christian concerned them.
Jim died in 1997. Completely alone, Carol focused all her attention on Village of Hope.
Working with the Lazarus Project, a group of Lutheran churches dedicated to missionary work in Haiti, she made a connection that would be the most significant of her later years.
In 1998, Bill Roen, a pastor of Nativity Lutheran in Weeki Wachee, took a group of parishioners to work for a week at Village of Hope.
Roen was a thoughtful, erudite man who had first visited Haiti in the mid 1980s. Though some visitors to the country became overwhelmed by the breadth of the suffering, Roen found a place to put his faith into action. No one, he discovered, was as active as Carol Herget.
"Her great genius in life was that she was so determined to do things that she just made them happen," Roen said.
Roen's parishioners continued to make trips to Village of Hope. They stocked the library with books in French _ Madeline and Babar _ that had been disposed of by schools in Ontario, Canada. Roen painted a mural of a black Jesus on the wall of the open-air dining hall.
"The children had never seen a picture of Jesus that wasn't white," he said.
One Sunday, Roen remembered, 160 children were waiting to be fed.
"All we had was a sack of frozen rolls and a jar and a half of Skippy peanut butter," he said. "I said, "You can't feed 160 with just this.' Even she looked doubtful."
"I'll pray over it," Carol said and put her hands on the peanut butter jars.
"The kids kept coming and coming, and we kept spreading peanut butter on those frozen rolls," Roen said. "It wasn't the 5,000 that Jesus fed in the Bible, but it was the same spirit."
By the end of the '90s, some 475 students were enrolled. Village of Hope was so popular and its students so successful in the national exams that a small riot erupted once when parents discovered that there weren't enough spaces for their children.
Village of Hope was thriving. Carol was not.
+ + +
She was shivering all the time, even in heat that hovered around 100 degrees. She had been plenty sick before; she'd had malaria and hepatitis. This was different. She was having trouble driving. A master of details was forgetting things.
In 2001, she called Bill Roen and told him, "I think I should leave here."
He arrived that summer to help her pack. He helped her burn letters.
"She knew she was never coming back," he said.
On one of the last days Carol was in Haiti, they took a drive west from the capital. The road took them past Christianville, a place she had not visited since she and Jim had been forced out 12 years before.
Driving out of the city, they stopped for a soda. Roen pressed her to stop at Christianville.
"We need to go back there," he told Carol. "We all need to close our lives."
"She resisted," he recalled, "but when she got there, I think that was when she really began to be at peace. She was able to let all that stuff go."
They arrived around noon. The heat was so intense, it made everything look "kind of ripply, like you're looking at it underwater," Roen said. But Carol seemed to gain strength as she walked the grounds. Christianville, which then had an enrollment of more than 1,300, was under the leadership of Dr. Jerome Prinston, a former student of hers.
She and Roen climbed the steps of her old home, which then housed a university, one of Prinston's changes she admired the most. On the top step, she turned to face the valley and the mountains rising in the distance.
"This is my view of heaven," she said. "This is what it will look like."
+ + +
Her first weeks back in the United States were itinerant and unsettled. She stayed with her sister in Deltona, briefly with Robert Edwards in South Carolina and then with a friend in North Carolina. She was uncomfortable in the cooler autumn weather, and Roen convinced her to come to Florida, where his congregation could watch over her.
On her way to Florida, she stopped at the Atlanta Christian College to accept a distinguished service award, the second time the award had been given. For Carol, the award was the recognition she had craved all her life. She was not average.
When she arrived in Hernando, she bought a modest single-wide mobile home in a golf community for retirees. It was a curious place for her, given that she didn't golf and she wasn't particularly interested in the social life of the community. But in some ways it didn't matter where she lived. Everything she was focused on doing was happening in another country.
Carol had been in Hernando a few days when she became so ill that she had to be taken to the hospital. The doctors quickly diagnosed cancer. Lymphoma, centered in her throat. The doctors told her that she had eight weeks to live.
"I've got so much to do," she responded.
Thelma Geloneck, an energetic widow who liked sweat shirts that said "Drive for Show, Putt for Dough" had met Carol the day she moved in. Thelma sensed that Carol might be lonely, so she stopped by to visit.
"I've got something to tell you," Carol said.
That's how Thelma came to be in charge of the Village of Hope mailing list, spending a few hours every night at a desk hand-addressing envelopes.
"Carol wanted it personalized," Thelma said. "She didn't wanted it to look like an ad or junk mail."
The chemotherapy lasted from November until April. Carol lost 24 pounds, but the cancer didn't disappear. Only her appetite did.
"I couldn't eat. Oh, that chemo is the most terrible thing," she said.
The doctor canceled her last treatment. No point in making her suffer more. He wanted her to go to a hospice. She refused.
"I couldn't," she said. "I had to do my work for the school."
But she could barely get out of bed.
The parishioners visited her every day, stocking her cupboards with food, taking her meals. The woman who had spent 52 years feeding untold hundreds of children was being fed herself.
A hospice nurse sat with her during the evenings. Carol liked the black woman. She had spent her whole life among black people, and she just felt more comfortable with them.
Roen asked Carol where she wanted to be buried. With her husband in the garden of the home they had lived in after they left Christianville?
"I want to buried on the hill at Christianville where I can see that view of the valley," she said.
Roen called Dr. Prinston and explained Carol's wishes.
"We'll be ready for her," he said.
"They were anxious to reconcile with her," Roen said. "They wanted to heal the wounds."
+ + +
She would write late at night, after a bowl of ice cream and melon, after she had said a prayer for the starving babies she had held in her arms. Then she would swing her legs slowly over the side of the bed that had been set up in the living room and take a few steps to the kitchen table, where Thelma was finishing paperwork. Dressed in a sweat shirt and pajamas, her medic alert pendant hanging from her neck, Carol would sit at the computer and type.
She wrote about the past and about the future.
She wrote her memoirs of the years in Jamaica. She gathered her letters from Haiti, and she bound those together, though there is an unexplained gap of several years between Christianville and Village of Hope. And she continued to write to the hundreds of people, the grandmothers in Nebraska and the former ambassadors' wives in Washington, D.C., who had sent her money every month for decades.
In one letter in early 2002, she mentioned almost as an afterthought that she was getting daily treatments. She didn't explain for what. Then she didn't bring it up again.
"I don't emphasize it anymore," she said. "I don't want to put too much emphasis on me."
She finished her last letter in January. It was the perfect synthesis of 54 years of missionary work. She thanked people for the donations that had paid for new benches and desks at the Marechal School, a tiny school near Christianville that had been started by one of her former students. And she rallied them for the next project, which would be her last accomplishment.
"The most urgent need now is a water well!" she wrote. "At the present time we have to carry water from a quarter mile away."
We. She was writing about children at a school in a remote village in the mountains of Haiti, but it was we. Their ordeal was her ordeal.
"Remember, the weather is very hot and the children need water to drink."
Carol knew where this letter was going: to 4,200 mailboxes around the United States and Canada. It was the middle of winter in Edmonton, Alberta. No one there had been hot in months.
"The cooks need water to prepare the meals, and hands need to be washed."
To boil rice for a meal that might need to last the children all day. To wash their hands so they wouldn't get cholera from the polluted streams of a country with the worst water quality in the world.
"The same mission that successfully drilled all our wells is ready to help us again."
She instinctively emphasized past accomplishments.
"This will cost $5,000. We are trusting the Lord for this next great need, and we believe that God will provide. Oh what a joy that will be!"
Once Thelma had addressed the letters, Carol waited for the checks to come in the morning mail.
+ + +
On a Saturday in March, Alfred Herget got a call at his home in Knoxville, Tenn. It was one of Carol's caregivers.
"They said Mom was "actively dying,' which was a new term for me," Alfred, a structural engineer, said. "They said it meant that her body was in the process of preparing for death."
Occasionally Carol would lapse into French, something she did when she was homesick. She said that she wanted to go home. No one knew if she meant Haiti or heaven.
Alfred drove all day and arrived at exactly 5 p.m.
"She looked up and saw me, and she smiled," he said.
A group of her friends who had been staging a constant vigil stayed for dinner. After dinner they had ice cream.
"Then she went back to bed," Alfred said. "She became unresponsive."
She stopped eating. She stopped drinking. She stopped speaking.
"We put a little water on her lips to keep her from choking," he said.
After two nights, someone woke Alfred up to tell him that his mother was not breathing well.
"I didn't know how to act," he said. "I put my arms around her. I took her hand. I leaned down, and I whispered, "Mom, it's okay to go.'
"She let out her final breath right then. She always thought she was too busy to die."
+ + +
After her death, Bill Roen, as is his nature, wrestled with the meaning of his friend's life. In some ways he admired Carol too much to turn her into a "plaster saint."
"She was a remarkable woman, but she was not perfect," he said.
She had a blind spot about the Duvaliers, for example.
"She was proud and extremely manipulative," he said. And paradoxically, she suffered a lifelong insecurity that, as he put it, drove her "to show them all."
But if she was as ambitious as any corporate CEO, she did it in service of something ineffably noble. Carol Herget fed the hungry. She taught the illiterate to read. She gave medicine to the sick.
And to do it, she gave up love, she gave up her country, she gave up herself.
"As Christians we can't expect to have a perfect life," she once said. "That isn't promised to us in the Bible."
Perhaps Carol's measure of a perfect life was what one accomplished despite the inevitable ordeals.
"The last day she was conscious, I visited her," Roen told the mourners at his church during a memorial service for Carol. "It was no different from any other day. She was giving me orders about what to do in Haiti, and I was saying, "Yes, ma'am.'
"Then she looked at me and said: "Jesus surrendered everything.'
"There was fire in her eyes. Carol Herget lived it. She changed your life and my life because she gave us an example of what we can grow up to be in the Lord. Once we surrender, we find out why we were created in the first place."
+ + +
At the end of April, Roen arrived at Tampa International Airport with four 75-pound plastic tubs packed tight with supplies for the Marechal School, a cross of masking tape on each tub.
Tucked inside one of them was a creamy marble box of Carol's ashes.
On the morning of the memorial service for Carol at Christianville, Roen drove up the mountain to the Marechal School.
The school was a one-room concrete block building with 5-foot-high partitions dividing it into classrooms for the 160 students. Before Carol had gotten involved, the school had been made out of random scraps of corrugated metal and garbage bags.
The children, dressed in sunny yellow gingham, lined up for plates of seasoned rice that had been prepared over an open fire under a tree in the yard. Roen pointed to a corner of the yard where the well was likely to go.
"Only 46 percent of Haitians have access to safe drinking water," Roen said. "That's probably optimistic."
The annual budget for the school is just over $11,000. It works out to about $60 to educate and feed each child.
"That's how much it costs to change a life in Haiti," he said.
At a quarter to 2 p.m., Roen walked into L'Eglise Chretienne de Christianville, and he immediately got a nervous feeling. Hardly anyone was inside. Carol's worst fear had always been that no one would come to an event in her honor.
Slowly, the church began to fill. A pickup stopped out front, and several men and women dressed in their best clothes piled out of the back. The men dusted off their pants legs, and the women straightened their white dresses and strode into the church.
A young woman in white gloves ushered guests down the aisle as if she were escorting royalty. An old woman in a head scarf went in holding a walking stick to lead her blind husband to their seats.
A string quartet, led by Dr. Prinston on cello, played Danny Boy. An overhead fan was clacking like a metronome, struggling to make something out of the breeze that sifted through the open jalousies.
Young men in hand-me-down suits filled the back pews, casually brushing gnats from their ears. On the wall near them a sign read: "Ti mouton jezi yo." "Jesus loves you, little sheep."
Outside the window was a field that had been plowed by hand and a tethered cow, grazing at the roadside under the shade of a few banana trees. Not one detail visible could prove what decade it was.
At the podium the minister mopped his brow and he hadn't even spoken a word.
He began in French, "Je suis la resurrection et la vie. Personne qui croit en moi ne mourra jamais."
The first high school class, the members of which had grown up to become doctors, preachers and schoolteachers, sang Carol's favorite hymn.
A ceramic jar was passed down the rows, stuffed full of limp gourde notes, tithes from people who had nothing to give.
People kept arriving even as the recessional music was beginning to play. The young woman in the white gloves ushered them to their seats. When there is no reliable transportation and you may have to walk a few miles, there's no such thing as being late.
A brass ensemble led the congregation down the gravel road to a memorial garden that had been designed for Carol. Men had worked all night so the concrete steps would be dry in time.
The crowd gathered around a pedestal with an inscription etched on it: "Even when my world momentarily collapses, I am rebuilding castles." It was something Carol said.
A man in his church clothes rolled up his sleeves to mix a last wheelbarrow full of cement. He put the marble box of Carol's ashes in the hollow back of the pedestal. He grabbed a few blocks from a pile that some schoolchildren in red uniforms had been standing on to get a better view. Then he sealed up the small crypt as someone played taps.
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The $5,000 has been raised for the well, and the Mennonite crew has received a down payment. The crew promises that the well will be done by the time the children come back to school in September. Bill Roen has decided to call it "Mama Carol's Well."
Second-grade teacher Gabriel Jerome teaches class at the Village of Hope School in Marechal, Haiti, where partitions divide one large room into classrooms. Carol Herget was still raising money for the school in a January newsletter to supporters of her work. It was her last letter before she died.
Carol Herget, known as Mama Carol, lies in her bed at High Point, a retirement community in Hernando County. After 54 years of missionary work, her favorite bible verse remained 1 Corinthians 15:58: "Be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. . . ."
A student passes through the gates at the foot of Christianville College's front steps. Carol Herget once lived in the building, and she said of the vista "This is my view of heaven. . . . This is what it will look like."
Thelma Geloneck, left, and Carol Herget discuss mission business at Carol's kitchen table in late January. Thelma, who met the missionary shortly after Herget moved to Florida in 2001, was pressed into service to help mail newsletters and write acknowledgements of donations.
Bill Roen, right, pastor of Nativity Lutheran Church in Weeki Wachee, helps Gasnel Anilus, pastor at the Village of Hope School, with a laptop computer Roen brought from the United States. Anilus had never seen a laptop before.
Jean Robert, right, who works at Christianville, takes a moment from cleaning to join a group from Nebraska Christian College in prayer before they go out for a day of mission work.
Shannon Taylor, 19, left center, and Jamie Sweitzer, 19, both from Nebraska Christian College, play with, from left, Klivens, 4, Kasemilor, 2, and Samalideda, 6, who live in the home behind the group with their mother and five more brothers and sisters. Christianville has been building a home for the family, to the left of the shack.
Paulette Prinston, right, wife of Jerome Prinston, president of Christianville College, helps Marie-Olga Kenslie Georges to her seat at Carol Herget's memorial service. "I like to think of Mrs. Herget as the comprehensive missionary," Mrs. Prinston said.
On March 18, Carol Herget died, surrounded by family and friends: from left, Lilo Horeis; Alfred Herget, adopted by Carol and her husband in Jamaica; and Germaine Major. In Carol's kitchen, hospice nurse Millie Hagen; Major's husband, Claude; and Thelma Geloneck make funeral arrangements.
Fanning themselves and patting away perspiration in the heat, hundreds of mourners packed into the Christianville church to say goodbye to "Mama Carol."
Students from Christianville, right, watch as Carol Herget's ashes are sealed in a pedestal after her memorial service in Haiti. Friends of Carol and graduates of the school, rear, also watch her being laid to rest amid some of her notable achievements.