Vera Steinberg: a quiet lamb of God, with the heart of a lion
In the far reaches of Barber Township sits an empty house. That house once belonged to a woman by the name of Vera Steinberg.
This name should be familiar to a large number of Blue Earth residents as their nature park, located on the east corner of the city on East Seventh Street off of Highway 16, is named after her.
Vera Steinberg left a quiet legacy behind her after her death in 2007, showing an entire city how generous one person can be.
Dan Schavey and Marjory Hill, two close friends of Vera Steinberg, sat down with the Faribault County Register to talk of Vera’s unrelenting generosity to those she was close with.
Born to Samuel and Martha (Schrader) Steinberg in September of 1918, Vera was the only child to not only her parents, but the entire generation of her family.
As a child, Vera attended the school house located in Barber Township, just down the road from where Dan Schavey and his wife, Paula, currently reside.
When she was old enough to attend high school, while some young women chose to pursue a family early on, Vera knew the importance of an education and would attend school in town at Blue Earth.
Back then, the now 15 minute drive to town took quite a bit more time, so Vera stayed with friends in town during the week for school, and would return to her country home during the weekends to see her parents and help with the farm.
As she grew up, Vera fell in love with a man by the name of Delbert.
“The two of them were a good combination,” says Marjory Hill. “She was so happy to have him in her life. It is so sad to know she was hurting for so long after he died.”
For you see, Delbert went into the service for World War II, and while he was flying towards Hawaii, not even in combat, Delbert’s plane crashed, and he perished before they were even married.
Hill recalls Vera speaking about the last time she saw Delbert before he died.
It was summer, and Delbert was flying out of Albert Lea. Before the plane was set to depart, Delbert decided to take a canoe out onto the lea with his girl. Vera recalled the warm weather and the moon setting up on the lake. It was a romantic way to say goodbye, though Vera did not know at the time that goodbye would become permanent.
According to Hill, who is actually a distant cousin of Vera’s, the young woman grieved for some time over the loss of her one true love, and was never married.
“For Vera, losing him was the most traumatic thing for her, but like Vera, she eventually moved forward as much as she could,” says Hill.
As Vera’s life moved forward without Delbert in it, she chose to stay at her family’s home and to take care of her parents until she saw them to their death. Her mother, Martha, suffered a battle with cancer and passed away in 1964, and in 1975, her father, Sam, joined his wife in heaven. This left Vera to acquire her father’s land as she was the only close descendant of the Steinbergs.
Vera became well-versed in maintaining her rental properties she acquired from her father, and had a number of good souls and helpful hands to help her with the work.
To both Hill and Schavey, Vera was a crafty and creative woman who made gifts instead of buying them, who sewed her own clothes instead of purchasing them, who reused things that could be reused instead of buying new.
To some, this would be considered thrifty, or tight-pocketed, but to those who knew her, it was so much more than that.
“She was happy with the way she lived and happy with what she had. She didn’t need all of the extra stuff we think we need,” says Schavey. “Maybe that’s a good lesson to take from her.”
Vera would spend time with her loved ones, not money. She would teach her young friends to work, to play, and to pray, instead of giving into a child’s demands.
“I remember when I was growing up, I had two older brothers and I didn’t have anyone to play with,” says Hill. “She said I could come over anytime to play, and I did. In her house was a white cabinet that was chock full of games like go Fish and Old Maid, and we would play and laugh until the cows came home. Before I would leave for my own farm, she would make me a lunch and a big glass of chocolate milk out of Rowley’s chocolate drink mix.”
“Vera was kind, giving, and very patient. She would do anything within reason for those she was close to,” says Schavey.
He met Vera as a young farmer with his own family just forming as he and his wife and their 13-month-old son, now 37 years old, Ryan, needed a home to stay. Schavey rented a house from Vera and helped farm the land around it.
And, so it seems, through her clever use and reuse of clothing and housing necessities, Vera saved quite a few dollars up during her 89 years on earth.
Vera was very passionate about two things: anything outside, and her Lord. Growing up, Vera would help her mother plant flowers in their family garden, and Vera continued that tradition all through her life.
Vera took one vacation a year, and that was during the week of the Faribault County Fair. She would tend to the floral building each summer while spending every minute she could at the fair. She only missed two Faribault County Fairs. On the year she was born, and on the year she passed away.
“She tended to those gardens until she couldn’t anymore,”?says Hill. “But every year, they were just breathtaking to see.”
So breathtaking, in fact, that master gardener, Cindy Lyon, with permission, took a number of flowers from the Steinberg property and replanted them in Steinberg park for all to admire.
Vera’s park was her own idea. According to Hill, Vera had dreamt of creating a park for a number of years. And while walking one of her favorite paths, from the Faribault County Fairgrounds to the Wayside rest, she ran into David Frundt and his family. It was then that she decided to strike up a conversation about the feasibility of creating a park.
“She wanted to have a place for people to walk and just admire nature for what it was. She wanted to have a place where children could learn about the wildlife and flowers and trees. She wanted a place that was good for the soul. A peaceful place,”?says Hill. “She said, ‘this is what I want to do before I die.'” And so, Vera Steinberg got the ball rolling.
According to records, Vera began conversations about the park in 2005 with Frundt, Ben Martig, Blue Earth’s city administrator at the time, Paul Schroeder, and Marjory Hill, who took notes. As logistics became untangled, the vision for Vera’s park started to get clearer and clearer, but Vera’s health was getting worse and worse.
Vera made it known before she died the wishes she had for her park. One thing she wanted to make sure of was that the park stayed as natural as possible, with little development to it. Part of the stipulation to the park property was purchasing a parcel of land that was owned by Hormel, which her father sold to Hormel many years before.
“It’s so funny, as soon as she heard the price of the property, she just wrote the check,” laughs Hill. “Which was quite a thing to see that side of Vera.”
Schavey had grown accustomed to Vera’s generosity. Having seen all three of Schavey’s children grow up, Vera was there to help the young family when they needed it.
“She really enjoyed watching our kids grow up,” says Schavey.
“And I think she enjoyed watching you grow up too, Dan,” adds Hill.
Vera volunteered quite a bit in her days, and spent many hours with her church, and enjoyed spending time with her friends and traveling with them. She took a trip with her friend Gail Petersen, and was even able to travel to Israel to the holylands, one of her highlights of her life.
In July of 2007, Vera passed away from complications due to diabetes and congestive heart failure. Hill remembers the day of her funeral.
“It was such a beautifully bright day, and it was so warm. She would have loved it,” says Hill.
Months prior to her death, work began on restoring her father’s old International truck in order for the Faribault County Historical Society to use it. It can still be viewed in the Historical Society’s building during the Faribault County?Fair to this day. And on the day of her funeral, that truck made it all the way out to her burial site.
“For Vera, everything had a memory tied to it. And that truck was her dad’s and it meant the world to her,”?says Schavey.
“I remember when she got it fixed up, she said she contemplated giving it back because it looked so great,”?says Hill. Larry Prang and Lloyd Koestler were two local men involved in restoring the car. Once it was completely restored, Vera wrote a check for the entire cost of the restoration.
A pump organ that sat in the family home of the Steinbergs was also brought to restoration and now sits in the Episcopal Church in ?Blue Earth across from Juba’s. It was donated by Vera.
Her generosity does not end there. Even after an almost-million-dollar park, Vera’s generosity continued to bleed throughout her home. The pennies she pinched during her life became the gifts she sewed after her death. Vera left behind monetary gifts to the City of Blue Earth, to the Faribault County Historical Society, to the Faribault County Fairboard, to her church and a few other religious organizations, to the Blue Earth Community Library, and enough funds to fund a scholarship for a Blue Earth Area Student interested in studying agriculture or religion for 20 years.
It is roughly estimated that Vera’s contributions after her death totaled over one million dollars.
“She wouldn’t tout on anything,”?says Schavey. “She just did it. That’s the kind of person she was. She didn’t make a big thing about what she was doing and with who, she just did it. She was more generous than some people thought she was.”
“The only wish I have for Vera is that I wish she could’ve been alive to see the park,” says Hill.
For a woman who, for the majority of her life, did not have much family, it seems that she did have a very large, extended family. In the tenants she helped, the farmers she worked with, the church congregation she befriended, the cousins and distant relatives she stayed in touch with, even the city of Blue Earth itself. Vera Steinberg was able to take care of herself most of her life, and after her life, took care of many others. Including a number of Blue Earth Area students who are still benefiting from her scholarships, which are available in the spring.
In the far reaches of Barber Township, there sits an empty house where a woman once lived by her means and no more. Little did people know that while this woman did little with her means, she kept a small fortune and a dream.
That dream has become a reality. Vera Steinberg’s memory will forever live on in her hometown and county not only from the monetary contributions she made, but from the connections she made with her many, many friends that became her family.