Bertha Marion Wolke
AFRH-G Veteran Highlight – Bertha Marion Wolke
By Lori Kerns, AFRH-G Librarian
Bertha “Marion” Wolke was the first child and only daughter born to an electrician and housewife in Frostproof, FL. The family later grew as her two brothers were born. Most know the running joke of the WWII generation and older having to walk five miles, uphill both ways, to get to school. Well, Marion’s commute to school was quite the opposite. She said she would walk out her back door, cross a stream, and would be right on school property. As a child, she enjoyed playing baseball and touch football.
Living in a small town meant that jobs were scarce. As Marion graduated high school, she had heard about the Navy and decided to join to earn a living. At the time, young women were required to be 20 years old to join. At 19, she lied about her age and persuaded her father to sign the papers. She was sent to New York City for boot camp. The Navy found her best suited to work as a data processor and stationed her in Alameda, CA.
One of Marion’s most memorable experiences while in the Navy was on V-J Day. She remembers everyone in the middle of the street dancing and yelling. She had to take a ferry from Alameda to San Francisco and was excited when she was allowed to pilot the ferry on the way home. While stationed in Alameda, Marion met her husband, Leonard. He was a sailor aboard a ship that came to port in San Francisco. They met in the Pepsi Building in San Francisco, which was a complex for active duty only.
When the couple got out of the Navy, they moved back to Leonard’s home state of Oregon. Soon, their family grew as their four children, three sons and one daughter, were born. Marion continued to work as a data processor but in a civilian setting. The couple moved and ended up working where the first atomic bomb was built. As part of their job, they had to be examined each day to see if they had been exposed to radiation. Marion remembers one day when security escorted her home so that she could shower and give them her clothes and shoes because she had too much radiation exposure.
Leonard and Marion had a passion for riding motorcycles. They had a pickup truck with a trailer that would tow their “his and hers” motorcycles. They enjoyed riding around Washington, Arizona, California, and Florida.
The couple found out about the Naval Home from friends who were a married couple. The wife brought Leonard and Marion to the Home to look around and meet staff, while the husband was living in Long Term Care. Sadly, Marion’s husband passed away in 1997 so she moved into the Naval Home on January 1, 1998. When Hurricane Katrina hit, she was relocated to AFRH-W. When AFRH-G reopened, Marion flew back home with her fellow Residents. She was delighted when she found that they had their own plane and buses to make the trip “home.” She also recalls the ride on the way to the Home as they passed the schools. She said all the students were outside cheering and waving for the Residents. She said it was something she’ll never forget.
Marion has held many volunteer positions while living at the Home. These days, she’s most likely to be found socializing in the halls or in the Art and Sewing Rooms. On occasion, she has had the opportunity to get in a little motorcycle ride when some of the motorcycle groups make a visit to the Home. She is also an avid collector of odds and ends. Her room, almost every square inch decorated with trinkets and memorabilia, could probably be classified as a museum. Seeing Marion in the halls is also a treat because she’s always got her rollator decorated and trimmed from top to bottom for each holiday or happening.