- Cullman, Alabama

February 24, 2013

Widows find new outlet for social, spiritual needs

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

— Men live an average of five to six years less than women. By the age of 85, there are about six women to every four men. According to those statistics, it stands to reason that there are a lot of women who are still very socially active, still a vital part of their churches and communities, and who have the desire to be with friends, share their experiences and enjoy life.

That’s what came to Myrna Hermetz’s mind one day as she looked out over the congregation in the sanctuary of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Cullman, where she has been an active member since 1965.

In her role over four decades as the wife of the long-time pastor emeritus of St. Paul’s, she was very active, playing a dynamic role in the church family. Along with being a full-time mom to the couple’s four children, she also taught for 30 years at St. Paul’s Lutheran School and served as principal one year before retiring from teaching in 2000.

Her husband, the Rev. Harold Hermetz, died two years ago. Since then, she has been busy serving as caregiver to her eldest son, Tim Hermetz, 54, who has battled two devastating cancer diagnoses the past four years, as well as other family members and responsibilities, including grandchildren and now a great-grandchild. Myrna Hermetz is also a cancer survivor herself.

At any given time, she is also active in a dozen or so church and civic organizations. “You have to give back,” she says. “I’ve been so blessed. I’ve always volunteered to help wherever and whenever my time, talent and resources are needed at church or in the community.”

You might think that she would have little time for anything else, but as with most mothers, she has a tender heart. Looking out over the crowd at church that day she saw many women who had lost their husbands.

The wheels started to turn…she let her friend, Stella Couch, in on what she was thinking.

Stella also felt led to form a Christian-based support group for the many new and older widows she saw each week sitting in the pews of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Cullman, which is her home church.

“Stella is a very kindhearted, compassionate and caring person,” commented Tim Hermetz, a longtime friend. “She has always been involved in church and community projects to help others. Stella has a heart of gold and a spirit of service and is a very giving person — always thinking of others.”

A retired educator, Stella Couch is the loving mother to two adult daughters and the doting grandmother to two grandchildren.

In spite of suffering for years from an extremely painful neurological disease which forced her to retire from her full-time music career at St. Paul’s where she served as music coordinator for seven years, and her second teaching career at St. Bernard Prep School in Cullman, Couch continues to find ways to help others in need.

These two compassionate, concerned and energetic women put their heads together and came up with a plan to unite women who had lost their spouses. That’s how the Merry Widows Support Group started. It’s just getting off the ground, but has already attracted ten members. The ladies started out meeting in one another’s homes once a month, but were recently offered the use of a meeting room at Westminster Assisted Living, by marketing director, Jacqueline Schendel. They meet there on the second Tuesday of each month.

Last year, when the group was in the planning stages, they gave a lot of thought and prayer as to what they wanted it to be. Over a lunch meeting, they talked about needing to get out of the house, about needing someone to talk to who understood what it was like to lose a spouse, and about what they would like the support group to accomplish.

“I just feel like there are a lot of people out there who need this,” said Mrs. Hermetz thoughtfully. After considerable discussion, both ladies believe that it is important to extend this support group outreach to all widows in the community.

Stella came up with a list of fun and sentimental questions to help break the ice. “How did you meet?” and “Do you remember your first kiss?” were some of them.

“We are also open to having speakers,” said Mrs. Hermetz. “This group has a lot of possibilities, but we don’t want it to get too complicated. We don’t want to have to work at it,” she laughed. “We just want to have fun and enjoy ourselves.”

The only stipulation to membership in the Merry Widows Support Group is that you have to be a bonafied widow, no divorcees. There are other classes, groups and clubs for those who are going through divorce. “Technically, you have to be married to become a widow,” explained Mrs. Hermetz.

Age is no barrier to membership. There are women of all stages in life who have lost their husbands in various ways — all are welcome.

“Our intention is to model our group after other successful Christian support groups for women,” Myrna pointed out. Tim Hermetz did some research for them and found several websites that were able to provide great resources and information about such groups.

An open invitation to join is on the table. The ladies ask, however, that they be notified in advance if any prospective members would like to attend because they need a head count for lunch.

For additional information, contact Stella Couch, group facilitator, at 256-962-3470 or Myrna Hermetz at 256-739-0976.