Madeline Elizabeth Thurnheer. January 12, 1936 – January 20, 2023.
Our Queen is Gone. Mommy took her final breath in her Florida home, eight days after her 87th birthday. Her four children were with her.
Mommy lived by the words she embroidered on her quilts: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Ecclesiastes 9:10.
Mommy was born in Rochester, the daughter of Ralph and Ina (Barnes) Harris. In her teen years the family lived in Slaterville, New York; Mommy graduated from Dryden High School in 1953. A door-to-door evangelist gave them Bible studies, and the entire family was baptized into the Ithaca Seventh-Day Adventist Church. It was there Mommy met her only boyfriend, the love of her life, the red-headed farmer, Mike Thurnheer.
In 1955 they were married and Mommy moved onto the Thurnheeer family farm. When Mommy married Daddy, he was a dairy farmer: up early, long days, hard work and little money. Mommy jumped right in and learned how to farm alongside Daddy. They managed to enjoy the journey in spite of the hard work. Just for kicks, one day they decided to swap duties. Mommy left a list for Daddy that included baking a cake while Mommy went out and plowed fields. When Daddy’s best friend, Edward Hill, stopped by, Daddy asked for help in making the cake.
Together they were able to do anything and they weren’t afraid of tackling any job. Mommy and Daddy worked together and took in all their firewood for each winter. Daddy took the standing dead timber from the farm and Mommy helped split and cut it up on both the log splitter and the bandsaw.
Mommy wanted lots of babies. She had four of her own and cared for many foster children. She believed all things were possible for her children and she instilled determination in them. No matter how extreme the idea: to fly an airplane, build a boat or a windmill, get a monkey or even an elephant—everything was possible. She taught her children to dream and persevere to realize those dreams. She was their biggest cheerleader. She was also the embodiment of willpower and her children
learned from her example as much as from her words.
As happened with a lot of small farms, eventually the milk distributor refused to pick up their small quantity of milk. Daddy sold the dairy cows the next week. Suddenly there was no income. Mommy knew how to sew and therefore thought maybe she could learn to upholster furniture. She did a trial run on one of her living room chairs, and launched an upholstery business that lasted 30 years. They reupholstered household furniture, fraternity chairs in the original Ezra Cornell house, and many restaurant booths around town.
Years later Mommy and Daddy bought two old houses, each within one mile of the farm. In one, they gutted the house, moved the staircase, put up new walls, and redid all the electrical and plumbing. They created two apartments in what was a one-family home, and turned the house into a rental property.
Mommy learned to cook from her mother-in-law, whom she adored. From then on, Mommy cooked for the world. Her kitchen always had homemade baked bread and an open door. Mommy had a huge garden that fed her family all summer and most of the winter. Her cellar had rows and rows of canned goods, each with the year written in permanent marker on the canning lid. Daddy had a big fruit orchard and Mommy canned peaches and pears and applesauce. Each fall she gathered the family around the cider press to help press bushels of apples. She grew and dried herbs and researched and applied natural remedies to her family, often resourcing the book “Back to Eden.”
As Seventh-Day Adventists, Mommy and Daddy worked six days a week and observed the seventh day as a day of rest. It was on this day they attended church, ate lunch, and rose from a nap to set out for a car ride to visit shut-ins. Mommy often brought along a jar of something she had canned, or a homemade doily, or a mini loaf of bread.
Mommy loved crafts. She made dolls, carved, drew, knitted, crocheted, embroidered, sewed and quilted. She especially enjoyed crocheting doilies and quilting. She made a quilt for each of her children and grandchildren and made quilts to replace the worn-out quilts. Only a week before she passed, she finished the embroidery on a quilt she made for her son, Andrew. She left each of her daughters and her
granddaughter one of her sewing machines.
Mommy loved people. For years she hosted Christmas eve parties attended by the neighborhood. In more recent years Mommy took pride in coordinating and organizing all the food at the farm parties, even when over 600 people showed. She was the friend you could call any time; she listened, offered advice and gave freely of her time. She was the life of every party.
Daddy and Mommy did a lot of traveling that nurtured the wanderlust in their children. They piled all four kids in the back seat of an over-heating Buick and went to the Adirondacks or drove out to California, camping along the side of the road. When time and funds allowed, they traveled twice to Switzerland to meet Daddy’s family. In October of 2016, at the ages of 80 and 89, they made their last big
trip, touring Utah with their daughter, Kitty, and her husband, John.
Mommy was a lifelong member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. She was the church organist for over 30 years and played in both the Ithaca and Catatonk churches. She and Daddy physically helped build the Ithaca church. When Mommy was the social director at the church, she created major events, including auctions, hay rides, picnics, hikes, and ice skating and sledding parties. Since Mommy stepped down as social director, there have only been dish-to-pass events. The parties stopped with her.
Mommy lost her soulmate in December of 2021. Daddy was debilitated by Parkinson’s, and Mommy cared for him at home right to the end. She was holding his hand when he died.
Her health deteriorated after Daddy passed. In the summer of 2022, Mommy had three surgeries and five stents inserted. She was in and out of the hospital in Florida. In the last couple of months her children, Andrew and Karen, cared for her so she could be at home. She planned to move back to Ithaca in the spring, but God had other plans.
Mommy is survived by her four children: Karen Thurnheer, Daniel (Veronica) Thurnheer, Andrew Thurnheer and Kitty (John) Hall-Thurnheer; grandchildren Shelly Covert, Branden (Mindy) Bacharach and Stacey (Amy) Becker; great-grandchildren Vanessa Covert, Valerie (Thomas) Knight, Ethan Covert and Samuel Becker; and great-great grandchildren Lillyanne Bacharach and Logan Knight; her sister-in-laws Denise (Leo) Wisseman and Ruth (David) Riedlinger, and one beautiful, long-haired Siamese cat, Meeshee. She was predeceased by her parents; the love of her life and husband of 66 years, Daddy (Mike) Thurnheer; four siblings William, Bethel, Beverly and Ralph; sister-in-law Ursula (Calvin) Dence, and grandson-in-law Daniel Covert.
I love you Mommy and Daddy. – Kitty!
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