With just the right blend of kindness and gentle guidance, an equal dose of sage advice, and (sometimes) stern discipline needed to raise four boys right, Mary Elaine Gonzales, of Greeley, Colorado, may as well have been June and Ward Cleaver of the iconic TV series "Leave it Beaver" rolled into one. Born on December 30, 1931 to Ralph and Ester Slaughter in Lincoln, Nebraska, Mary passed away on May 9, 2020, at the age of 88. "Just like June, mom would take care of the family," said David Gonzales, Mary's second oldest son. "Every afternoon mom would come home from work and prepare a home-cooked dinner for us, even if she were running late. Some meals were fast and very creative, such as one meal which consisted of a grilled hamburger patty, canned green beans, and a lettuce wedge with mayonnaise on top. Yes, I believe mom invented the wedge salad and didn't even know it." Often, cooking family dinners came on the heels of a long day spent caring for patients at St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo, where she accomplished her childhood dream of becoming a surgical nurse and then returning to college to receive her bachelor's degree at the age of 47. Life as a nurse could get demanding, but Mary is remembered for her unwavering spirit to the calling of caring for others--especially when her next to youngest son wound up on the operating table during a procedure that she was assisting in. "I was very scared when they took me in to stitch me up. I must have been screaming and crying pretty loud because this scary nurse with her mask and cap on looked down and told me, 'be quiet and quit your crying,'" remembers Mark Gonzales, Mary's second youngest son. "It was only a while later that I found out the scary nurse was my very own sweet mom was who probably just as scared as I was. Thank God she was there; I was the luckiest kid on Earth to have my mom there in a situation like that." But just as important as being June, Mary embodied Ward Cleaver's calm, thoughtful way of putting life into perspective. Her youngest son, John, remembers how she had a knack for cutting through his constant complaining about high school football practices--telling him and his brother to "just quit." "We looked at her with a puzzled look and said we can't do that. She said, why not? Mom it's football; practice is meant to be hard," John said. "She always had a way of putting things into perspective. Life was not always easy, but if you put in the work you could see the joy in it." From small moments to grand gestures, Mary spent her life helping and taking care of others by being a caring and hard-working nurse, faithful follower of God, and devoted mother, wife, and grandmother.
Published in Greeley Tribune on Jun. 28, 2020.