Marcella Catherine O'Brien
October 6, 1917 - February 4, 2017
Marcella Catherine O’Brien of Salem, Oregon passed away peacefully in her home of 67 years on February 4, 2017. She was born in Grand Mound, Iowa, the second of five children on October 6, 1917, to Josephine and John Hahn. She married Dan O’Brien, June 24, 1939, and they lived in Iowa, Indiana, Florida and Oregon.
Extraordinary is a word most people would use to describe her, and indeed she was. As a young woman, she worked on her father’s farm in Iowa alongside men. She husked corn, milked cows, and cooked lunch for the laborers. Never one afraid of work, she was often the last to leave. Attending Mt. St. Clare, Marcella played basketball, loved math and sang in St. Augustine’s singing group. She worked her way through boarding school cleaning dishes and polishing floors. In 1936, she became a teacher and taught in a one-room schoolhouse. After walking a half-mile, she was required to build the fire, collect water from the well, and do custodial work after teaching all day. She survived scarlet fever contracted from a student and continued to teach until her marriage to Dan. In addition to being a wonderful mother, Marcella had many jobs in her lifetime: restaurant work for one dollar per day, Hillcrest School for Girls, census taker, vote collector, aid at the School for the Blind and worked beside her children picking every kind of fruit and nut in season.
Family was the priority of her life. Other than Catholic mass and her fierce love of pinochle, little drew her away. One favorite event was her family reunion held on the second weekend every August, for the last 25 years. It delighted her to see her seven children, twelve grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. Neighbors, friends and relatives marked their calendars to attend.
Marcella was known for her quiet grace and warmth that she extended to everyone. Giving came naturally; homemade breads, potato buns, tea rings and pies were regular gifts to neighbors, postal workers, family members and guests who were fortunate enough to stop by O’Brien Ave. It was hard to leave her house empty handed. She lived by, and modeled the unspoken rules of giving more than receiving, and lending a helping hand to anyone in need. She was an observer and a listener rather than the center of attention, and was the person everyone wanted in their circle.
Cooking, gardening, traveling, playing cards and attending Queen of Peace Catholic church were her passions. Everything she cooked was from “scratch,” and she frequently perused newspapers and magazines for new or interesting recipes. Like her mother, she loved gardening and nothing made her happier than getting her hands in the dirt. From her vegetables, she canned and her house always displayed her flowers. She and Dan traveled around the U.S., Europe and Asia and wintered in Texas and Arizona. She loved playing cards of any kind, but especially with family and various pinochle groups. She has been an active member of this church for over 50 years.
When asked about the most impactful event that she witnessed, she was quick to reply, “The day the lights came on”. As a young girl in rural Iowa, it was Marcella’s task to clean the globes on the many gas lanterns throughout the house. Glazing out the window, she fondly remembered watching the electric poles being installed for miles down the road, finally ending up in front of their farmhouse in Grand Mound. “Turning the switch for the first time on that first night, we couldn’t believe how warm and wonderful the house looked in the dark of night.”
Marcella is survived by her sister, Ruth Schau of Lost Nation, Iowa, her children: Jody O'Brien, Maureen Earls, Paul O'Brien, Linda Fowler, Rose Ochs, Jane O'Brien and Lisa O'Brien, grandchildren and great grandchildren and was predeceased by daughter, Barbara Esther, her sons, Patrick John, Michael and husband, Dan.
Her body is now gone from her home that she loved but her spirit is in every view from every window. The smell of fresh bread will linger in the walls for some time but the pure joy in her heart will remain forever with those fortunate enough to share her life. Her modeling of grace, acceptance, and generosity is our gift.
A memorial mass will be held 11:00am Saturday, February 11, 2017 at Queen of Peace Catholic Church (4227 Lone Oak Road SE, Salem).