On behalf of Dad and my brother and sisters thank you all for being here today, both in person and online. I know Mum would be bummed to miss a gathering like this with so many of her friends and extended family present.
I reflected as I prepared this eulogy, “How do I properly reflect Mum’s life in these words, when she was the largest life any of us ever met?” I hope today I do her justice, though I know I will fall short in communicating the full force of nature that was Rosalee.
These words are crafted from the memories of Dad, my siblings and I, and the many friends who reached out to share their precious memories. Thank you so much.
I’ve learned in my time that you get great insight into what’s important to someone by what goes on their fridge. That’s why on the back of today’s order of service there’s a picture of fridge out on the farm…to give you an idea of some of what was important to Mum, and of course still is to Dad.
These words that follow are but a snapshot of the life of Rosalee Molkentin. Her loves, her lived passions, and her unique devotion to the many questionable hairstyles of her time…
Rosalee Ethel was born in Gilgandra, New South Wales, on the second of February 1951. She was the third child and only daughter of Phillip and Rita Wheaton, with her eldest brother John pre-deceasing her, followed sadly by her older brother Allan whom she adored. He passed the year I was born.
Some of her earliest joys were spending time with her Dad Phil or brother Alan about their farm ‘Astermeade’, or dutifully scoring tennis and cricket for her Dad as he competed about the district. In these two men she found great examples and wise counsel that she would recall for years to come, and she loved them both dearly. Due to her Dad’s interest in the game Mum also enjoyed playing competition tennis in her youth, and one year was runner up in the Castlereagh Junior Tennis Championships.
Mum often recounted the horrors of learning to play piano, traveling into town to be taught by nuns before school. They insisted you never look at your hands when playing, and so early mornings and cold fingers were not a great combination, and every time Rosalee looked down – SLAP! She loved music though these challenges meant Mum would never become a performance pianist, however she never lost her love of music and encouraged all of us kids in our many creative pursuits.
Rosalee’s adventures with her schooling also were a trial however she fought hard. For example, Mum and her high school science teacher had an agreement: she would turn up to class and he would sit her outside, unable to participate. She would do her best to catch up on the school bus on way home, and despite this arrangement Mum managed to secure an A for science that year.
When Rosalee left school, she secured a job as a junior in the then Rural Bank in Gilgandra. She loved telling the story of how the bank manager one day tried to play a trick on her, telling her that at the end of every week that the bank’s ledger–its most precious record of accounts and considered its most secret document–had to be swapped with the ledger of the other bank down the road. So, the ever resourceful and reliable Rosalee, late that next Friday, grabbed the ledger and headed down the street to swap ledgers. It turned out the junior at the other bank was a friend of hers, so the exchange was made without issue by these two innocents, and Rosalee returned with the other bank’s ledger to proudly present it to her bank manager…who sheepishly and promptly had to call his opposite number and quickly arrange a red-faced return swap.
As a part of Gilgandra Methodist church, Mum’s faith was developed early, and a solid foundation was built. As was the custom of the time, a combined youth group night meant the Methos were at an event where the Lutherans were too, and there she managed to catch the eye and heart of a young, Elvis-loving Peter Molkentin.
They married on the twenty-eighth of February 1970, and Peter and Rosalee Molkentin first settled in Gilgandra before moving to Dubbo. This year they celebrated 51 years of marriage…no mean feat indeed. I think you’ll agree Mum looked gorgeous in her dress and veil, flanked by friends and cousins in the bridal party, and was proud as punch to be marrying the love of her life. Their wedding ceremony, however, would not pass without incident.
One of the readings at their wedding was First Corinthians 13 – Paul’s missive on love. When it came time for the Minister, Reverend Linford Smith, to deliver his sermon during the service, he reminded Mum and Dad of the importance of this generous, self-giving love Paul wrote about. Rev Smith wanted to make sure they both understood what would hold their relationship through the many years to come. Mum always remembered this part of the sermon with glee. The Reverend, staring down the newly married couple, turned specifically to Mum and said:
“Love is patient – isn’t it, Rosalee?
“Love is kind – isn’t it, Rosalee?
“Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude – is it, Rosalee?”
Rev Smith had the intended impact, as Mum always thought it a hilarious reminder of what love in a married relationship would look like when best serving God, and I know she did her best to exceed those expectations.
For Peter and Rosalee with marriage came children, and having kids meant stepping out of her role at Skerman Motors in Dubbo – a job she loved. Rosalee, however, took to motherhood like the proverbial duck-to-duckling-filled water.
Mum & Dad started their family while in Dubbo, with Stephen, Bruce, and Julie all being born at Dubbo Base Hospital and brought home to 104 Palmer Street. Helen would join the family as a ‘surprise’ baby in the early 80’s, born in Toowoomba, Queensland, while we were all living at 25 Falcon Street in Dalby.
Rosalee loved capturing memories, and the tubs and scrapbooks full of photos only prove this thesis. I share this example hesitantly…There is a photo of me as a young child, squatting next to the water trough in our chicken coop, looking up at the camera with a filthy face having run my hands through the trough and rubbing them everywhere. Yes, it’s disgusting, and it highlights Mum’s dedication to remembering every moment: instead of intervening and cleaning me up upon this horrific discovery—I had clearly been unsupervised—she walked back down to the house to get the camera and returned to take the photo first. Photos of loved ones would go everywhere with Rosalee, and adorned walls of the caravan, the farmhouse, and her room in the hospital.
I digress at this moment to point out just how hard it was to find a bunch of photos of Mum. She LOVED a photo, though was often never in them because she was the one taking them. Capturing memories and keeping Kodak in business.
When we all moved to Dalby in 1981, little changed for Mum other than location. She was still heavily involved in church life, parenting us, participating in seemingly endless crafty pursuits, including knitting, crochet, and more.
Many in Rosalee’s life have been the beneficiary of these acts of crafty kindness across the years, and no child of hers, friend, friend of a friend, or even passing acquaintance could have a baby without the mandatory booties, outfit, or baby rug being lovingly made and gifted. My cousin Therese reminded me recently that the rug Mum made for one of her kids has become a family heirloom, most recently being used to wrap one of her grandchildren in Germany. To know that something she had made was so appreciated and so well-travelled would bring Mum great pride.
Being a child of farming roots and both her and Dad being practical people meant while we never had the latest and greatest, we as a family were absolutely loved and provided for. We never went without, even if it meant Mum taking at job at night while we lived in Dalby as a part of the catering team at the local RSL. Mum worked hard and chatted harder, and we all benefitted from the leftover desserts and treats.
After many visits to Dad’s brother Barry and his family on the Sunshine Coast, including many, many games of cards, Mum and Dad agreed that also was to be the life for all of us, and after a wonderful trip of exploration from Dalby to Cairns and back we settled in Buddina on the Sunshine Coast at the start of 1984, and promptly joined Kawana Waters Uniting Church (who at that stage was meeting in the local primary school).
Those camping and exploration trips were a highlight for most in the family, especially Mum, as it offered a chance to see new places and meet new people.
In 1987 Mum and Dad built the house at 20 Wyanda Drive, Bokarina—next to the BP service station that no longer exists—that we’d call home for the longest part of our collective lives.
It always was a welcoming, warm, loving house, and the dinner table was always open to everyone, such was Rosalee’s understanding of hospitality
Rosalee loved people, and it was no better exemplified than during her time as Canteen convenor at Kawana Waters State High School from its foundation year in 1986 to December 1995.
Many chicken burgers were made and sold, literally thousands of pies and chocolate milks, and some bizarre treats too. One day while I was still a student Mum heard we were dissecting bull’s eyes in science, so she promptly decided to make a special of the day: Bull’s Eye Soup, which was nothing more than a few peeled grapes in some beef soup. She sold not a cup, and it only continued to grow the myth of the legendary canteen convenor Mrs M.
Just as an army marches on its stomach, so a school looks to its canteen as life support. Rosalee cajoled, convinced, and coerced many parents to get on the canteen roster to assist, with many becoming firm friends. This was vital to the success of a new school, and Mum proudly oversaw hundreds of thousands of dollars raised through the canteen for the work of the P&C and for the benefit of the school. She exemplified the school’s then motto “Grow and Care”.
This connection of hospitality and generosity is best exemplified by the mere existence of Mrs M’s book. It wasn’t enough that Rosalee transformed the canteen into a ‘self-serve’ approach and stood at the end of the line, greeting students by name and the total of the goods in their hands—she was whip quick with numbers—many simply couldn’t afford lunch or had forgotten theirs or…insert your favourite excuse here. With one deft motion she slid her exercise book out from under the cash drawer and would write in their name and the total with the expectation they would pay her the next day, which many did. Teachers of course were extended the same system of credit and welcomed in through the tradesman’s entrance to pick up their goods. Many debts were wiped through Mum’s awareness of each student’s situation (nothing slipped past the canteen when it comes to news or gossip), and many more forgotten or paid in their stead.
Many former students of Kawana High send their sympathies and have recounted their love for Mrs M who did them the great dignity of simply listening to them as they poured out their hearts. Such was Rosalee’s understanding of grace and mercy, even if she found it difficult to extend that those closest to her at times.
Friends were always welcome in our house, even with literal seconds notice before dinner. Mum always found a way to make the food stretch so everyone had their fill, like she had the secret to Norman Lindsay’s Magic Pudding and didn’t tell anyone. It was this practical extension of her hospitality that meant our friends felt like family, and that Mum and Dad were surrogate parents to many. There are literally too many stories to share about this, and some secrets are best kept hidden. The important thing about Mum: When it came to helping others, nothing was too challenging, nothing impossible if we put our minds to it, and everything could be solved with a casserole of mystery meat.
After her role ended at the school, and some of her children started to move out and head to Brisbane for university, Mum took on a job at the local Woolies in the deli team and loved every minute of it. When I mentioned before that Mum loved people I wasn’t kidding – every person she met had value and were important to her, even if it was for only a couple of minutes.
Mum supported all her children through their schooling endeavours, sporting and dancing aspirations, and scouting and guiding careers. Myriad cake stalls, cooking at camps, shouting at the sidelines, hobbytex-ing shirts for the team, fundraising activities, endless sewing of dance outfits and fixing sequins and dressing students…that was Rosalee’s life. Serving and helping others as a by-product of being able to talk with people.
She would be overjoyed that her granddaughter Lily has followed in her crafty footsteps and crocheted a heart for each of you to take home and hang somewhere in your car or house to remember her by. Please take one and lovingly remember Rosalee by it.
Rosalee enjoyed camping with the family, as much for the experience as for the opportunity to meet new people. Many family holidays were spent under canvas across Queensland, with trips to Carnarvon Gorge, Coochin Creek, and Fraser Island being special highlights for the entire family, and that infamous ‘moving’ trip to Cairns and back. How they smuggled Christmas presents for four kids plus tents and clothes in the back of that Nissan Vanette is beyond me. One thing is for sure – her knitting or latest craft addiction were always to hand.
Rosalee enjoyed her role as mother-of-the-groom or bride at the weddings of Bruce, Julie and I, and these celebrations were always a very joyous and cacophonous celebration of family and her extended circle of friends.
Once the last of the kids moved out of their Wyanda Drive home to be married *cough* Bruce *cough*, in 2002 Mum and Dad took the chance to cut and run, selling up and buying a caravan. They quickly and easily adjusted to the life of the grey nomad driving around Australia twice—once one way, and once the other—and lots of places in between. Rosalee loved travelling with Dad because they got to spend time together and it meant her friendship circle widened even further, with more firm friends added to the extensive list of birthdays to be celebrated, cards to be sent for special occasions, and names and addresses to be included in the distribution of the infamous and usually lengthy Christmas letter.
This wasn’t just a list of names, though. Each of these people had a distinct connection for Mum, and she would often update us kids with the goings on of this person or that person’s health long after we even remembered who they were…or even knew who they were. For Rosalee family didn’t stop with her children; it was a much, much wider circle that enveloped Dad’s siblings and their children, friends of friends, her church family, and even people met at a campsite for one night.
Mum wasn’t important because she had the most things, or experienced the most things, or even because she had collected the most friends. Mum was important because she was the fulcrum in the most complex web of relationships you have ever seen. If you were to put in on a pinboard and connect all the people together you’d look like you had pieced together the most complex case in history…and right at the centre of it would be Rosalee Molkentin. For pretty much everyone. At her best, this was her greatest gift: that she made so many feel like the most important person in the world.
Rosalee’s pride over her grandchildren was always apparent. Photos printed and stuck up all over the caravan or house, or in her brag book; and literally thousands of e-mail forwards showing off pictures of all of them. Luke, Lily, Romina, Alek, Dylan, and Jamison were the collective apples of her eye.
Mum took great joy in building a relationship with her deceased brother Alan’s wife Jean and their daughter—her niece—Melissa. This joy grew as Melissa’s daughter Felicity became a much-loved surrogate grandchild.
If you ever pulled into a caravan park and didn’t know where Mum and Dad were, you only had to pause and listen. Within literal minutes you would have heard her cry “God love ya!” and burst out laughing. Rosalee wasn’t just the life of the party; she was the party, and her infectious smile and welcome encouraged everyone to participate in it.
Mum’s faith held her and deepened for her throughout her life. She was very involved in church life, either as a youth leader in Dubbo, Kid’s Club helper or leader in Dalby and Kawana Waters (even playing the melody on a keyboard with one finger, looking down the entire time), and this opened up into many a Know Your Bible (or KYB) groups, and even extended into Women’s Conventions in the Gold Coast Hinterland and beyond. Rosalee knew she was loved by her Lord and Saviour, and that everyone else needed to know it through her acts of service and hospitality.
A special word of thanks to the staff at Gilgandra Hospital and Windmill Acute Care facility. They had Mum as a patient for far too many days in the last years of her life – 197 on the ward this year alone, and offered Mum great dignity and unsurpassed care as they supported her and Dad. Their professionalism shined in the face of great trial – nothing was ever easy with Mum – and on behalf of the family I offer our gratitude and deep appreciation.
Rosalee struggled in her childhood, feeling like she was raised as an only child as her brother Alan had left home to be married while she was young. Her relationship with her Mum Rita was difficult, and so her faith allowed her to reconcile in part the feelings of loneliness and that she never measured up. The addition of cousins living with them on the farm after a family tragedy meant Rosalee felt further ostracised and isolated. I suspect this was part of her motivation for being so welcoming her entire adult life; she never wanted to be alone.
In Peter, Rosalee not only found her life partner and friend; she found her greatest supporter. Her rock. He has loved her with his entire life, and lived out his marriage vows to “love, honour and obey, in sickness and in health” right to the very end. It was important to Dad that he was with her when she passed even though she wouldn’t have known it. His quiet strength and constant presence meant everything to Mum—thank you Dad for your generous and consistent example of love.
Mum always felt like she had more to achieve, more to prove, and wrestled with this in her later years, particularly as her health limited her movement and eventually even her capacity to knit. This frustrated her greatly, as it was so woven into her identity (if you’ll pardon the pun). These same health challenges made her final months very difficult, and so it was a combination of deep sadness, overwhelming grief, and great relief that Rosalee Ethel Molkentin went home to be with her Lord and Saviour on Friday, nineteenth of November 2021, nearly making 71.
Rosalee remains the precious wife of Peter, and much-loved Mum of Stephen, Bruce, Julie, and Helen.
She will always be the challenging yet caring mother-in-law to Michelle, Jason and Kieran; and chest-burstingly proud-as punch Grandma of Luke, Lily, Romina, Alek, Dylan, and Jamison.
She was the surrogate Mum to a wide variety of her children’s friends; and the provider of food and generosity as Mrs M to a generation of students at Kawana Waters State High School.
She was the chatty and dependable friend to so many across the country through her travels; and was a most practical, hospitable, and opinionated servant of God.
Rosalee is no longer in pain, and no longer afraid. She has run her race and been welcomed into the arms of the one who loves us all. The same God that knows and loves Mum, and is now having his ear chewed off by her, also knows us and loves us just as we are.
“God love ya!” indeed, Mum.