BY LLOYD GARDNER, contributed
A while back my wife struck up a conversation with a wonderful elderly lady on the famous Clovis trail just north of Sierra Avenue. Amazingly, it turns out she is the mother-in-law of the late Dick Selma, the celebrated major league pitcher from Fresno. Violet was her name and she made her way on foot daily from the Silver Ridge Senior Apartments using he walker. There, she would sit in her walker and enjoy the beautiful view of the Sierras of the east and start conversations with travelers on the trail.
We all have a story, they say, and Violet Kossman has a wonderful story of a rich life full of blessing. She is the sole survivor, and the youngest of six sisters and two brothers. The 94-year-old Violet was born in Michigan and later moved to Milwaukee where she met her husband Otto, who she married in 1945. They eventually settled in Fresno where they raised a family of three children.
Due to drug issues, of the those children gave birth to twin girls but was unable to care for them. At that time, at the age of 50, Violet and her husband took the twin granddaughters into their home and raised them into adulthood. Now, her granddaughter (one of the those twins), has invited Violet to come live near her and other relatives in Rosedale near Sacramento. She is looking forward to her new home close to her granddaughter and others.
Violet is from the generation that broadcaster Tom Brokaw referred to as “the greatest generation.” This is the generation that grew up in the deprivation of the Great Depression and faced the challenge of World War II. But Violet didn’t see herself as deprived. She speaks of taking life in stride saying, “That’s just the way life was.” She is the youngest of a family of six sisters and two brothers who all passed the day as children inventing games to play all day outside where there was no fear or danger. All they needed was a tin can or a ball to throw around and life was good.
Having been born in 1923, she grew up without television, telephone, cars, refrigerator and heated the house with a wood stove. They produced their own food on their farm in Michigan and canned vegetables in lieu of a refrigerator and their evening light came from a kerosene lamp. They sold the cream from their cows for income and ate fresh eggs from the chickens. The family bough needed items through the Sears catalog and Violet remembers her first taste of Crush soda pop, and seeing her first movie, “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch.”
Later, she became a chambermaid at the age of 16 and then a waitress where she earned $7 a week. In Fresno, she worked in the cafeteria as a server at Fresno City College. Violet’s daughter, Carolyn, married Dick Selma, the late renowned baseball player from Fresno who pitched for the New York Mets after attending Fresno High School and Fresno City College. Selma was a contemporary of Fresno favorite Tom Seaver. Quentin Selma is the grandson of her son-in-law Dick Selma, played for national champion Buchanan High in Clovis and now plays third base for Cal. Quentin’s dad, Bart, is an assistant coach at Fresno City College.
Violet lived through the depression and the war but speaks of food rationing and other war regulations as if they were just part of life. She survived by working for International Harvester making fittings for a milk separator while her husband was a painter as they did what they could to drum up business to help the family survive. When asked about why she has lived so long, she attributed it to her sassiness and ability to take life in stride. She says life was easy because it was simple and there wasn’t the busyness and stress we see today. She was happy because she had family and others who loved her.
She hesitates to pass on wisdom to younger people but timidly says that maybe we should slow down and take the time to enjoy each day. Violet has been able to do that and her long and remarkable life is a testimony of the success of the greatest generation.