Caution: This is not your ordinary obituary, as it is the story of an extraordinary woman…
Besse Elizabeth (Talley) Gherna was the daughter of a coal miner and his wife, who left her tiny hometown of Orient, Illinois in the fall of 1947, the first member of her family to attend college. She left that fall day, bright-eyed and fearless, with $5, a suitcase, and a bus ticket to Southern Illinois University 40 miles away. This was a distance and a goal that seemed impossible, to everyone except Besse. She thought things like this-stretching, dreaming, working, achieving-were normal things to do, and she inspired her family and friends with this same spunk and spirit for 91 years. She thought it was normal to work as a waitress in a diner and go to college, though few from her little town did, just as she thought it was normal to ride 40 miles back home on a hand me down bike to visit her mom and dad and her 5 brothers and little sister for the weekend.
In the aftermath of WWII, and with many of her brothers scattered around the country after their military service, she joined her brother Jim Talley in the South Bay/Los Angeles area, and ultimately brothers Bill, Carl , Bob, and little sister Betty (Swanson), as well as parents Oren and Florence Talley, followed to the LA area, with brother Oren Jr. (“Uncle Jr.”) remaining in the Navy.
She met the love of her life, Edmund Ralph Gherna (d 2011), while working at Northrop in Hawthorne, coordinating sports activities for the post-war space-race production workers, where Ed worked in the Payroll Dept. Legend has it that they met at Hawthorne Bowl, where he was enchanted by the cute little gal across the room, who happened to be carrying around her sister Betty in a chair at the time (Don’t ask!) It was true love. They started their grand life adventure in 1952, produced four happy, healthy, loving and equally spunky children, Edmund Lee (Eddie) and Elizabeth (Liz) Gherna, who both most recently lived with and cared for her in Lawndale, Loretta (Raftery) of Manhattan Beach, and Mary (spouse David Matson) of Torrance.
Besse loved her Ed, her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, her country, and her children and son-in-law, grandchildren Bryce (sp. Staci), Brandon (sp. Catherine), and Brooke Matson, and Tommy, Caitlin (sp. Jack Allison) and Connor Raftery, as well as precious great grandchildren Teagan and Summer, and baby boy Matson due in March, just as she loved her extended family: her parents (d 1982-85), brothers and sister, nieces and nephews, and in-laws. Besse was the adopted “mom” of MANY family, friends and neighbors. She relished her travel adventures with Ed, her work at the Lawndale School District, camping and fishing at Mammoth Lakes, her Dodgers, her travel buddies and Hi-Lo trailer group, her church family, her Lawndale neighborhood of 60 years.
It is hard to describe in words the impact she made in her 91 years. Here are some clues:
Mom had a heart of gold. One could hardly believe a woman could be so sincerely kind and loving. She touched everyone she met and spontaneously prayed with thousands of strangers through the years asking that God meet both their physical and mental needs, and providing the consistent reminder to always help yourself and always help others. She sent handwritten birthday cards to everyone in her sphere, with heartfelt notes and an encyclopedic memory of birthdates.
She was a 5ft.tall ball of energy: a lifelong baseball (Dodgers and Cardinals) fan and player, all-star catcher on many South Bay women’s teams, who would fearlessly throw her body in front of women twice her size to get the out at homeplate. She once made an unassisted triple play-the story is just bizarre enough that it must be true. She played pickup basketball at Hawthorne Memorial Park, and came home with skinned knees, in between being PTA president and driving nuns around so we could get a discount on our St. Joseph’s tuition. We thought that’s what all moms did.
She left bottles of water on the front porch every day for the mail person (up through the day she died) because “they must be thirsty”. She brought little Dixie cups of water to parade participants that passed the house when the Lawndale parade used to go down our street. She flew the American flag outside her front door every day since the Bicentennial in 1976.
She was endlessly cheerful and optimistic, and raised her kids to know that no dream was too big, no task too hard, as long as you were willing to work for it. Waking up in the morning was easier when accompanied by her cheery “Rise and Shine.”
As sweet as she was, she was the ultimate “Mama bear”. A few poor souls learned the hard way that you “don’t mess with Bess”
Her lessons on life were a metaphor from her favorite sport: show up on time, show up ready to play, practice, hustle, get to the ball, hang onto the ball, throw your body in front of the runner so they cannot tag home plate, work as a team, help and support each other, and celebrate!
She was loyal and still in love with her husband Ed of 59.75 years. She loved her special Lawndale home of 50 years on 147th Street. Her wish was to be buried in her backyard. She won’t quite get her wish, but she left us on December 3, 2019 calmly and peacefully in the bedroom she had shared with our dad for all those years. She will be buried, as she requested, wearing sneakers, so she could properly “run the streets of gold in heaven”.
Viewing will be Friday, December 13, 2019, 4-8 PM, at Lighthouse White & Day, 901 Torrance Blvd. (at Prospect), Torrance, CA. Funeral Services: South Bay Church of God, 17661 Yukon Ave., Torrance, Saturday, December 14, at 10:00AM, with a reception at the church to follow, and burial at Pacific Crest Cemetery next to her beloved Ed at 2:00 PM. Donations in her memory may be made to CARS-LA (College Access, Readiness and Success) http://carsla.networkforgood.com.
She was truly special, one of a kind, and we will miss her.