Martha Stevenson was artist, granddaughter of prominent mover, shaker Meade Vestal
Wednesday, March 31, 2021 4:00 AM
Artist Martha Stevenson of Noblesville celebrated her 94th birthday on April 17, 2019, with daughter, Anne Stevenson; it was Martha’s last birthday that they spent together due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Services for Martha Stevenson, who died just weeks before her 96th birthday, are today at the First Presbyterian Church in Noblesville.
Artist Martha Stevenson of Noblesville celebrates her 95th birthday on April 17, 2020, with healthcare facility staff and without family due to the COVID-19.
Services for Martha Stevenson, who died just weeks before her 96th birthday, are today at the First Presbyterian Church in Noblesville.
Frank and Martha Stevenson, pictured in May 2018, were married 74 years before he died in January 2019, at age 94, and she died March 25, at age 95.
Anne Stevenson (left) visits with her mother, artist Martha Stevenson of Noblesville, at a healthcare facility on Sept. 8, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, because mandates wouldn’t allow face-to-face visitors.
Frank and Martha Stevenson and their children, Anne Stevenson and Scott Stevenson, pose for a family photo circa 1966.
I remember when Anne Stevenson wanted to wish a “Happy 95th birthday” to her mom, Martha Stevenson.
But Anne didn’t get to see her mom in person nor give her a birthday hug or kiss.
She only got to see photos of her mom enjoying the cake and birthday gift that she sent.
That’s because her nonagenarian mom lived in a memory care unit at a Noblesville healthcare facility that was on lockdown during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) pandemic.
“Due to the virus, I cannot even see her,” Anne Stevenson told me a few days before her mom’s 95th birthday in 2020.
“I was just painfully aware that this could be her last birthday alive, and my heart was so broken,” Anne Stevenson said. “Everyone who reaches that age should be with family. I dropped off her cake and present at the door of Prairie Lakes and they got it to her. Some people say, ‘Why don’t you Skype or see her through the window,’ but she can’t see or hear, so that wouldn’t work. I love her so much and this is heartbreaking.”
That was a conversation that I had almost a year ago with Anne Stevenson, on April 23, 2020.
Mother’s Day 2020 came and went, also, without Anne getting to see her mom.
Then on July 24, 2020, Anne was upset and heartbroken. She was finally able to schedule an outside visit with her mom. But it didn’t happen.
“The facility just called to say there was another positive COVID test in the facility, so at least two more weeks quarantine,” Anne Stevenson said. “I hope to get to see her before she dies. Haven’t seen her since March (2020), missed her 95th birthday and Mother’s Day. In a way, I feel she has already died. I just don’t have the formal mourning opportunity. I hate this virus.”
Then on Sept. 8, 2020, Anne contacted me to say she was “finally” going to get to see her mom, after not seeing her since March 2020.
“I got to see her through the fence.” Anne said.
Anne Stevenson stood outside of the healthcare facility’s fence with her Golden Retriever, Jamie.
But they couldn’t hug.
Anne Stevenson said, “It made me happy to see her, but at the same time, it was heartbreaking. We had to visit through the bars of a fence. She could not see me well, or hear me, since we had to stay 6 feet apart. At first I don’t think she knew who I was. But then she picked up her walker and brought it close to the fence so she could be nearer to me. We were not supposed to do that or touch, but we did it anyway. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to just, for a moment, touch that little hand that spent years caring for me. I brought her a chocolate treat drink, and she did enjoy that. But visiting her through the fence like jail bars hurt. When we had to end our visit, the nurse said, ‘Do you know who that is?” And although she had not spoken much at all during the visit, she told the nurse, ‘Well that’s my Annie!’ She was also so glad to see my service dog Jamie, and sweet Jamie put her nose through the fence bars so Mama could pet her.’
Much more time went by.
And it wasn’t until last Wednesday, March 24, that Anne Stevenson finally got to see her mom in person, being that healthcare facilities are finally accepting visitors again.
But sadly her mom didn’t recognize her. Or at least Anne didn’t think she did.
“This week was hard,” Anne Stevenson posted on her Facebook page after the visit. “Saw mom for the first time in a year. For the first time, she did not seem to know me. She didn’t look at me, didn’t talk and wouldn’t even pet my service dog, which she has always done.”
But that wasn’t the only sad moment that day.
“Then I found my brother’s Marine dress blues. Didn’t know what to do with them. Wanted them to be honored. Took them to the American Legion where they promised to do that,” Anne Stevenson said.
Yes, it was a sad day.
Anne Stevenson said, “I cried missing both of them. Endings are difficult.”
The very next day, last Thursday, March 25, her mom, Martha (Kaiser) Stevenson, “passed peacefully.”
It was as if Martha Stevenson had been waiting and hanging on just to see her daughter one last time.
Anne Stevenson said she later talked to the facility staff, who said Martha had been walking around the halls on Wednesday after Anne’s visit, asking for Anne. “Anne, Anne, where are you?”
Anne told me this weekend, “So even though I didn’t think she knew me, I think part of her knew me and was waiting to see me before she left the world.”
Born in 1925, Martha Stevenson would have turned 96 on April 17, 2021.
Martha’s husband, attorney and World War II U.S. Navy veteran Frank Stevenson, passed just two years ago, on Jan. 21, 2019, at age 94.
Both Martha and Frank enjoyed a life well lived and were married 74 years.
The Stevensons were my former neighbors in Old Town Noblesville.
Martha used to say she was a lot younger than Frank. But he was born Aug. 7, 1924, and she was born April 17, 1925, only eight months apart.
I remember Martha and Frank both had his and hers Cocker Spaniels. And sometimes, we’d see Martha ringing a big dinner bell for a grandchild. One summer in the late 1990s, their son, Scott Stevenson (a 1975 NHS grad), came home and shared a memory about how upset his mom got when he hit a baseball through my front picture window when he was a kid.
They would come and go often. I remember Frank and Martha often departing in one of their two motorhomes and heading out of town, sometimes to a gourd festival that Martha wanted to visit. Frank and Martha would talk about where they were going next, their work on a farm they owned and their farm’s windmills, or about their winter home at Dauphin Island., Ala., they would talk about their kids or grandkids.
Before I moved across the street from the Stevensons, I already knew Martha from her being an artist. She used to paint with Noblesville artist George Elliott in Elliott’s studio overlooking the White River. I would also see her artwork at the Hamilton County Artists’ Association’s annual art exhibit at either the Noblesville library, Carmel library or Carmel City Hall, among the three places I remember the Artists’ Association having annual art exhibits. She painted a lot of flowers. She painted the Courthouse, Potter’s Bridge and the First Presbyterian Church, where the Stevensons were members.
While I hadn’t moved here yet, in 1973, her painting, “Rain Pond,” received the Popular Vote award as the Artists’ Association concluded its 22nd annual exhibit with dinner at the Forest Park Inn in Noblesville. “Formalities of the evening were headed by Mrs. Stevenson,” according to a Nov. 20, 1973 edition of The Noblesville Ledger, where I started working in 1986. At that time, the artists met regularly at members’ homes; the next meeting would be at the home of Floyd Hopper, a well-known Hoosier-born watercolor artist who lived in Noblesville. Martha Stevenson’s artwork was also featured in the 25th annual Artists’ Association’s 1990 calendar, a keepsake that I still own.
“Mom loved Noblesville,” Anne Stevenson shared with me over the weekend. “She loved all the arts, music, painting and photography. She loved nature and all creatures great and small.”
Martha Stevenson’s parents were Frank and Elizabeth (Vestal) Kaiser. Her maternal grandfather was Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Meade Vestal, a prominent Democrat, “a mover and shaker in Noblesville,” Anne said. He was president of the Hamilton County Bar Association in the 1930s and directed the Noblesville Military Band. He was a lawyer, a Mason, past commander of the Noblesville American Legion post, and in 1936 was elected state commander of the Military Order of Foreign Wars. Meade Vestal, had many accolades to his name, including being a part of the three-person reception committee for Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 and introduced Franklin D. Roosevelt when he spoke here in 1920.
“I think my mother got a lot of her from him,” Anne Stevenson, a 1975 NHS grad, said.
Anne Stevenson shared with me a poem that her great-grandfather Meade Vestal wrote about the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 during World War I, during which he was in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps of the U.S. Army.
“How appropriate for the pandemic going on today,” Anne said.
Here is Meade Vestal’s poem:
When your back is broke and your eyes are blurred,
And your shin bones knock and your tongue is furred,
And your tonsils squawk and your hair gets dry,
And you’re doggone sure that you’re going to die,
But you’re skeered you won’t and afraid you will,
Just drag to bed and have your chill,
And pray the Lord to see you through,
For you’ve got the Flu, boy,
You’ve got the Flu.
When your toes curl up and your belt goes flat,
And you’re twice as mean as a Thomas cat,
And life is a long and dismal curse,
And your food all tastes like a hard-boiled hearse;
When your lattice aches and your head’s a-buzz,
And nothing is as it ever was.
Here are my sad regrets to you —
You’ve got the Flu, boy,
You’ve got the Flu.
-By the late Meade Vestal, Nov. 29, 1866-Jan. 7, 1954
Martha Stevenson was preceded in death by her husband, Frank Stevenson, in 2019; and her son, Scott Stevenson, who died within the past year. Survivors include: daughter, Anne Stevenson; grandsons (Anne’s sons), Christopher (Amie) Stevenson and Daniel (Chelsea) Smalley, and great-grandchildren, Owen, Erica and Quinn Smalley.
Martha Stevenson’s memorial services will be at 11 a.m. today, Wednesday, March 31, at the First Presbyterian Church in Noblesville. Visitation begins at 10 a.m. Burial will be in Crownland Cemetery, Noblesville. Memorial contributions may be made to the church at 1207 Conner St., Noblesville, IN 46060, or to the Hamilton County Artists’ Association, 195 S. Fifth St., Noblesville, IN 46060. Read the full obituary in The Times at www.thetimes24-7.com.
-Contact Betsy Reason at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a great story to share, email me.
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