The day after Thanksgiving, my dearly loved grandmother was gathered to her people; her tired and broken down 91year-old body remained here while her soul went on to Glory. I can’t even begin to express how grieved my family is. Some days I can’t make it through the day without bursting into tears. I’ve not felt like eating or even getting out of bed. My sleep has been totally jacked up. I’ve sat with, comforted and listened to my kids tell their favorite memories of their great-grandmother; her kind face, her delicious food, her fun and competitive Swiss Card playing, her zany laugh, her beautiful sing-song voice, the Swiss Nighttime Prayer she used to sing over me as a little girl... It just slays me. I’m so grateful for her life, for her love. It is truly a gift that my three kids actually KNEW their great-grandmother, they loved her and felt loved by her. It is precious, their grief alongside mine.
And so my dear sweet lady, as you have laid down for the final sleep, we’re singing you in until we see you again on the other side:
I ghöre äs Glöggli das lütet so nätt. Dr Tag isch vergange itz gang i is Bett. Im Bett tuen i bäte und schlafe de i. Dr lieb Gott im Himmel wird ou bi mir si!
It was my great privilege to help my grandmother tell her life story in a book back in 2016: “Swiss Miss in America: The Story of Irma Rita Schraner.” I learned things I didn’t know about her. I saw pictures that had been hidden on pages of albums, stored in cabinets for years. It took us nearly a year to complete it but the joy on her face when she got to hold it in her hands was worth everything. I had the honor of writing her obituary. A shorten version of it will run in the local paper on Friday, but I wanted to put the full version out there:
Federal Way Resident of nearly 50 years, Irma (Schraner) Williams passed away late Friday Nov. 26th at the Franciscan Hospice House in University Place. She was 91 years old.
Irma was born May 2, 1930 in the Bronx, NY to Swiss immigrants Ernst Adolf Schraner and Bertha Agatha Muntwiler. She was the fourth of five children born to the family. Upon the sudden death of their mother due to complications during the birth of their fifth child, Ernst and his five children returned to their family home in Oberehrendingen, Switzerland. Ernst remarried and the children grew up close to extended family, helping out in the farm lands, growing vegetables and flowers, raising rabbits to eat and chickens for eggs.
World War II broke out when Irma was 9 years old. Since she and her siblings were US citizens, she recalled in a 2015 interview that the US offered for their family to return to America to be safe from the Nazis. However, her step-mother did not like to travel and so they remained in Switzerland. She remembers that all the school children were tagged so they knew where to go should Switzerland get involved in the war.
At 18, Irma took a job as a waitress in nearby town Wettingen at the restaurant of Hotel Jäegerhaus. After working there for a year or so, she moved to Davos, Switzerland where she worked as a waitress in a tearoom at Cade Trauffer.
It was her older brother Ernie and younger sister Eleanor who paved the way for her to return to the States. When Irma was 23 years old, she joined her sister in Middlesex, England where Eleanor was a nanny for a wealthy family. Over her nine months there, Irma learned the English language and witnessed the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953. On June 30, 1953 she boarded the Liberte from Southampton, England and arrived in New York City on July 6, 1953. It had been over twenty years since she had left the place of her birth.
After two weeks of exploring NYC with her sister, Irma went to visit her brother Ernie who had settled in Portland, OR five years prior. There she took a job as a waitress at the Riverside Golf and Country Club and was able to establish residence in the Jeanne d’Arc Women’s Residential Hall run by the Catholic nuns of the Sisters of Mercy Foundation. She became involved with the large community of Swiss living in the Portland area and joined the Alpenglühn singers, a group dedicated to preserving Swiss heritage through song, dance, group gatherings and events. Irma was even a Song Festival Princess in July of 1954.
Irma met the love of her life at a community dance held at the Portland Club late in 1954. Chester Williams, of Marion, Alabama, was working as a civilian engineer at the US Air Force base in Portland, OR just three miles down the road from where she worked at the Riverside Golf and Country Club. It wasn’t until Chester took an assignment with the US Army Signal Corp in Germany that they were able to be married in a civil ceremony on July 13, 1956 in Mariawil, Baden Switzerland followed by a formal wedding ceremony at the Hotel Heritage in Lucerne.
The couple spent their first two years living in Pirmasens, Germany where they welcomed their first child Michael. In 1959 they left Germany for a position in Methuen, Massachusetts, and settled in Salem, New Hampshire for 14 years where they welcomed two more boys, Daniel and Stephen as well as a daughter, Annemarie.
It was while living in Salem that Irma began bowling. Committed and highly competitive, Irma was a life-long bowler and competed for decades in national bowling competitions taking her all over the country as well as Senior Bowling leagues locally in her later years.
The family of six moved to Federal Way, WA in 1972 where they would remain.
Irma spent nearly 20 years in sales at the Bon Marché Sea-Tac Mall store working in the Houseware Department. Her easy-going and likable personality allowed her to excel in customer service and people found her Swiss accent enchanting.
In addition to bowling, Irma loved to sing, play the accordion, knit and crochet. In her retirement years, she and her husband travelled internationally, making numerous trips to Europe and Mexico, as well as many domestic trips including multiple stays in Hawaii. She loved visiting, playing cards and board games with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Throughout her life, Irma was devoted to her Catholic faith. When growing up in Switzerland her family attended Mass weekly and confession once a month. After settling in Federal Way in the early 1970s, she became an active member of her local Catholic Parish and continued participating and serving her community for over 45 years volunteering in various capacities including serving in the grief ministry, office administration, potlucks, coffee hours and much more.
She is survived by her husband of 65 years, Chester Williams, their four children Michael, Daniel (Rhonda), Stephen and Annemarie; five grandchildren Maggie (Luke) Hemphill, John Williams, Nichole (Jackson) Wilshire, Darrin (Rebecca) Williams and Molly Williams; and twelve great-grandchildren: Hailey and Riley Chess; Daniel, Nicholas, Charles and Madelynn Fierro; Elena Wilshire; Levi, Benjamin and Heidi Hemphill; and Evalie and Ophelia Williams.
A public memorial service will be held in her honor at 11am on Thursday Dec 9th at Saint Theresa’s Catholic Parish in Federal Way. Masks are required.
Irma will be cremated and her ashes interred at the Tahoma National Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance to advance research in Sarcoma Cancer.