(NEWS ARTICLE) Gladys P. Graetz, an owner and operator of beauty salons who with her husband, Robert, cared for more than 400 foster children over 25 years, died Sept. 17 in Avalon Monclova nursing home. She was 81.
She had Alzheimer's disease, her son Patrick O'Riordon said.
She attended beauty school and became a hairdresser at 16.
"It interested her, and apparently she had a knack for it, and she followed through," her son said. She worked in Cincinnati for a time. She had a salon in West Toledo, Salle de Beauty, and later moved to Reynolds Road, where her second and third salons were called Fashion Manor. At least six beauticians rented booths.
"She was taught a work ethic from a young age," her son said, "and she enjoyed the people and enjoyed the work." She retired in 1979.
Two years earlier, she and her husband became foster parents through Lucas County Children Services. The couple took in mostly young children, from newborns to pre-teenagers. Some stayed a few days or less. Some stayed a month or six, some a year or two.
"She had a soft heart," her son said. "If it was a kid needing help, she couldn't say no. She couldn't."
"My mother wasn't raised by her mother," he said. "In my opinion, she could relate to kids who didn't feel safe and secure. There were probably a lot of kids who didn't know her name, but only knew her as Ma. It was Ma and Pa, because it was easy especially for the little ones. She was trying to fill a hole in her heart, for lack of a better explanation."
The couple adopted four of the foster children. Some of the others stayed in touch. Some even introduced her to their adoptive parents. One foster child was with her when she died.
She and her second husband, Emery Elkington, gained national attention in 1963 when they tried to adopt two Cheyenne children, a brother and sister, whom they'd seen living in poor conditions at a Lame Deer, Mont., reservation. Arthur Big Head, a 10-month-old, was so ill that the couple en route to Toledo took him to a Rockford, Ill., hospital, where he died of extreme malnutrition and pneumonia. The girl, Mathilda Big Head, 3, arrived safely, but after a court fight lasting several weeks was sent to foster care in Montana by order of a juvenile court judge at the request of Montana officials. Federal authorities also intervened for her return.
As a result, The Blade sent staff writer Seymour Rothman and chief photographer Tom O'Reilly to the reservation at Lame Deer to investigate the plight of Native Americans there.
"It brought an awareness to this part of the country of what those conditions were like," her son said. "I don't think people knew until The Blade ran those articles. It created a landslide. People were outraged because of those conditions."
Mrs. Graetz in the 1950s and '60s raised chihuahuas and miniature poodles. She regularly took in stray animals. When she and Mr. Graetz moved into a nursing home, they had three dogs, a cat, a parakeet, and a cockatiel.
She was born Jan. 2, 1930, in Bowersville, Ohio, and moved as a child to Toledo. She was reared by an aunt, Becky Bowermaster, and, after Ms. Bowernaster's death, an uncle and aunt, Marvin and Mary Bowermaster.
Her marriages to John O'Riordon and Emery Elkington ended in divorce. She and Robert Graetz married in 1967. He died in November, 2007.
Surviving are her sons, Patrick O'Riordan, Thomas O'Riordon, William Graetz, and Robert Graetz, daughters, Diane Lee Thober, Coreen Floering, Debra Steele, Catrina Cann, Diane Graetz, and Nancy Sanders, brother, Dallas Blanton, sisters, Carol McCormick-Arentz and Mariellen Teeters, 20 grandchildren, and 22 great-grandchildren.
There will be no visitation or services. Arrangements are by the Neville Funeral Home, Reynolds Corners Chapel.
The family suggests tributes to the Toledo Area Humane Society.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.
Published in Toledo Blade on Sept. 25, 2011
Arrangements under the direction of:
Neville Funeral Homes
5052 Dorr Street | Toledo, OH 43615 | (419) 535-0951