Bob Ingrassia

1,000 Words: A Eulogy for Barbara Ingrassia

April 20, 2012 · Leave a Comment

Here’s the eulogy I wrote for my mom, who died April 15, 2012, at age 79.

One thousand words. I’ll be speaking about a thousand words today. Can you sum up a life in one thousand words?

The answer is “No.” Of course it’s No. You can’t capture someone’s life in 1,000 words.

Yes, you can recite some facts.

* Born and raised Quincy, Illinois. It’s a town on the Mississippi River, 150 miles north of St. Louis.

* Earned a master’s degree in the 1950s. This at a time when it was still unusual for women to achieve that level of education.

* Married a gregarious Italian guy in 1960.

* Moved to Anoka, Minnesota, another Mississippi River town.

* Dedicated her professional career to helping families and protecting children.

* Raised a daughter and 4 boys while working full-time, yet another rarity for women in those days.

Those are facts. Those are great bullet points.

But they don’t express feelings. They don’t capture memories. They don’t describe how Barb Ingrassia, my mom, made the lives of those around her better.

In some ways, we’ll never know the true measure of my mom’s legacy. We’ll never really know the stories of the lives she touched. That’s because of the nature of her profession. She supervised child protection services in Anoka County. That’s a tough job. Every day there are tales of abuse, poverty and family hardship. Barb tackled the job as a caring person and dedicated professional.

In social services, the cases remain private. The public doesn’t always know what social workers do. But the people my mom served know what she did and how she cared. They know how she helped them in their time of need.

Think of it. It’s the middle of winter in Minnesota, 20 below on New Year’s Day. There’s a single mom with small children. They‘re stuck in a run-down rental house in the far reaches of Anoka County. The furnace is broken, the water pipes frozen.

Who will come to their aid? Who cares? Barb cares. Her staff cares. Yes, they’re from the government. But guess what. They really are here to help you. So they’ll give up their holiday. They’ll find a safe and warm place for this mother and these children. That’s what they do. They help people.

Barb was not a desk jockey, pushing papers while others did the actual work. Barb earned the respect of her staff by regularly getting into the field, taking the lead on tough assignments.

Even though she was the boss, my mom took her turn in the on-call rotation. When her turn covering weekends came up, calls came at all hours of the day. A ringing phone would send Barb into action, coordinating the response to all sorts of difficult situations.

I still remember when I was just a kid, running to Mom for something silly – “Mom! Mom!” … and finding her on the phone, dealing with a tough call. She would firmly but gently wave me away.

Those who worked with Barb remember a wonderful leader. They recall a dedicated supervisor who regularly shielded them from political grandstanding and bureaucratic meddling. Edna Hoium was Barb’s colleague and a great friend. Here’s what she wrote after hearing of Barb’s passing:

“Barb had a fabulous way of teaching others how to be better than they thought they could be. She believed in staff and mentored in such a way as to make them learn and grow while she gently guided them, never belittling or criticizing, but always making them be smarter and better.”

I don’t have bullet points about Mom in my heart. None of us do. We have memories, feelings and sensations.

* I’m six years old. We’re on the river, in the old 15-foot Forrester speed boat, the one with the 60-horse Johnson. Mom’s teaching us to ski. I’m too young to jump in the water and then put the skis on by myself, which is what people normally do. Instead, Mom puts the skis on me in the boat. Then she hoists me up to the edge and pushes me in.

* I’m a fifth grade kid at Lincoln School in Anoka. It’s the first day of school. The teacher reads the class roster and pauses after he reads to my name. “One of the Ingrassia kids,” he says. “Does that mean I get a pie?” You see, Mom had a tradition of making pecan pies every Christmas. For two weeks every year, she’d turn our house into a pie factory. Dozens of pies. Teachers, co-workers, my dad’s pals … they all got a pie.

* It’s the 1970s. Mom drives a Ford Country Squire station wagon. It’s the one with the faux wood paneling all along the sides. There’s rust on this thing. A lot of rust. It’s eating through the sides of the station wagon. So Mom, always resourceful, buys some faux-wood shelf liner, the sticky stuff you use for kitchen cabinets. She rolls it onto the sides of the Country Squire … there you go, good as new.

So here we are. 850 words into a life.

We haven’t talked about Barb’s husband John … my dad, also known as Pops. Give me a few thousand more words, and I could share some stories about Pops.

We haven’t talked about Barb’s daughter, Anne. My sister, who died almost 25 years ago. We all deal with tragedies, and that was my mom’s greatest.

I guess it’s true. You can’t sum up someone’s life in 1,000 words.

And even if you could, it wouldn’t really matter. It’s not these few words we’ll remember today.

Instead, it’s Barb the person we will remember.

Virginia, who is here today, will remember Barb as a wonderful sister. Phil, John, Lee and I will remember her as a caring mother who steadily guided us through the trials and tribulations of our youth. Her grandchildren – Kaylee, Sophia, Lauren, Alex, Roman and Tony – will remember “Nana” – who opened her home to us and always seemed to have the perfect basket of toys around.

And all of us will remember Barb and the impact she had – is still having — on her family, her friends and the people she served.

Thank you.

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