by Cori Hilsgen
Maurice Palmersheim, 91, was named the grand marshal of the upcoming July 4 parade which is organized by the St. Joseph Lions Club.
Palmersheim was nominated by Lions member Fran Court, who has known Palmersheim since he began working with him at St. Benedict’s Monastery in 1952.
Palmersheim said he is humbled and feels there are many other people from St. Joseph who would be deserving of the honor.
Court said he worked in the garden, on the lawn crew and washed dishes at the monastery during his high-school years.
Palmersheim began working at the monastery in 1951 and worked there for 37 years. He began working with the turkeys, was the farm boss for four years and then was a mechanic, which he said he enjoyed the most.
His wife, Rita, said he was handy at fixing things so he often got asked to help.
Palmersheim said he liked working at the monastery and often was able to share jokes back and forth with co-workers. One of his supervisors, Sister Carolinda, became a good friend whom they considered part of their family. She shared holidays with them and they baked her a cake for her birthday for many years.
Palmersheim said he also enjoyed being able to bike home for lunch because he lived close to where he worked.
“Back in the 50s, Maurice owned the only motor bike in the area,” Court said. “You could pedal or use the motor. Several of us high school kids worked on the lawn and in the garden at St. Ben’s and during lunch time we’d be after Maurice to let us ride the motor bike. He was always generous and congenial, and I think he got a kick out of seeing us enjoying his one-of-a-kind motor bike.”
Court said Palmersheim worked wherever his help was needed at the monastery. Court added that he never heard him utter an unhappy or thoughtless word.
Palmersheim was active with the St. Joseph Catholic Church. He was also a Knights of Columbus member, is still an usher, and for many years he ran the children’s car merry-go-round at the July 4 festival.
The sisters at the monastery had purchased the merry-go-round for spring celebrations, and the parish rented it from the sisters until the sisters no longer wanted to use it. One of them asked Palmersheim if he thought the parish would like to buy it for $100. He said for that price they probably would like to, and the parish did.
Palmersheim set up, operated and helped take down the merry-go-round for more than 40 years. He operated it after the parade until about 1 p.m. July 4 each year.
“It was a lot of work, but I always got a lot of help setting it up,” Palmersheim said.
He said the fire trucks were the most popular cars on the merry-go-round, probably because they are a little larger.
Because of his age, Palmersheim relinquished his duties of managing the merry-go-round to another parishioner, Duane Pfannenstein, a few years ago. However, Palmersheim is still planning to help again this year.
“Duane is very good at it,” Palmersheim said.
Several years ago, Pfannenstein’s grandson Justin refurbished the merry-go-round as an Eagle Scout project, which included replacing brackets, hardware, floor supports and painting boards, the cars and more.
Both Maurice and Rita said they loved seeing how happy children were when they rode the cars on the merry-go-round. Many children often convinced their parents they should pay for another ride or two because they didn’t want to stop after just one ride.
Because he was mechanical, Palmersheim often repaired cars, trucks, lawn mowers and more in his garage.
“I know a number of people who consistently took their autos to Maurice for service and repair,” Court said. “He was good at it and reasonable.”
Palmersheim said he favored working on Ford and General Motor vehicles. His favorite is his 1979 green Ford truck, which he still has.
Maurice and Rita enjoy having pets. They especially remember a pet deer they named “Bambi.”
Palmersheim had discovered the deer in the grass before it ran and got caught in wire fencing while he was repairing a cow pasture fence at the monastery. He grabbed the deer by its back hoof trying to free it and it cried out. Palmersheim said he thought the mother would come charging but she didn’t.
A co-worker told him the mother wouldn’t accept the deer back because it now had human scent on it, so Palmersheim brought the deer home to care for it so it wouldn’t starve and die.
He said the day he brought Bambi home, he contacted the Department of Natural Resources and explained what had happened. Palmersheim was told he couldn’t get a permit to raise it, because only parks and zoos could get that.
Bambi roamed free in their yard and she stayed with them from June until April.
They initially fed Bambi from a bottle and said she became like a member of their family.
Rita said Bambi even got in on a family Christmas photo. Rita was taking a photo of their two children, Richard and Mary Lee, when Bambi came and stuck her head in so she would be part of the photo and she was.
“It was almost like she was saying don’t forget me,” Rita said. “She was the nicest animal.”
The Palmersheims also had pet dogs, cats and canaries. They currently have a yellow canary named “Happy.”
Their home and outside yard is filled with signs of their love of many creatures. Their yard includes a wooden, hand-painted silhouette of St. Francis – known to Catholics as the patron saint of animals – which Rita painted.
Rita said she loves to paint anything. She has several very detailed paintings she has done throughout the years and said she has painted many walls, fences and more.
“I was born with a paint brush in my hand,” she said.
The Palmersheims are proud of their yard and many of the trees they’ve planted. One tree that was struck by lightning, other people told them to cut down, but Maurice is proud to point out what a large tree it is now.
Palmersheims like their neighborhood.
“We are very fortunate to have good neighbors all around,” Maurice said. “There’s an old saying – to have a good neighbor, you have to be one.”
Palmersheim grew up in St. Stephen with five brothers and two sisters. He and Rita have been married 66 years. They have one daughter and one son, four grandchildren (three girls and a boy), and six great-grandchildren (two girls and four boys).
In his nomination, Court said Palmersheim represents what the parish celebration is all about. He contributes without hesitation to the parish what he can, whenever he’s able.
The annual parade is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, July 4 in St. Joseph.