Laurel Jean (Kennedy) Streich
June 15, 1933 - Feb. 27, 2015

She was the gathering place of many hearts. Laurel Streich gathered people to her with her kindness, gentleness, compassion, humor, style and transcendently joyful outlook on life.

The tall, striking kindergarten teacher who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1954 captured Art Streich’s heart in the late summer of 1956. On Valentine’s Day in 1957 he proposed to her. She accepted. And, they built a marriage that would last 57 years based on unbreakable love, unshakeable friendship, shared faith, frequent flirting, and the olive in Art’s 5 o’clock martini.

To her five children (John, Mary, Christine, Greg and Julia), she was the very model of love. She was strength beneath the gentleness. She was empathetic, supportive, encouraging, creative and funny but insistent on good manners and always speaking “in low and well-modulated tones.” She insisted that everyone carry at least one tissue in their pocket and wear clean underwear when leaving the house. And, she tucked love notes on paper napkins into brown paper bag school lunches so that each child’s day and heart would stay connected to hers. As her well-trained children grew into the well-mannered adults she hoped they’d be, they were blessed to call her “friend” as well as Mom. They genuinely liked her, deeply loved her and enjoyed spending time with her.

To the lucky people her children married (Gayle to John, Steve to Mary, and Melvina to Greg), she opened up space in her family and made them feel like they’d always been there. She was open, honest, and down-to-earth with easy laughter and a smile that beamed her full soulfulness. She turned her love and gentle attention to each of them, becoming both like a mom and a beloved friend.

To her five grandchildren (Zack, Haley, Rachel, Jacob and Sage), she was the builder of castles from cardboard boxes, the curator of the “dress-up box,” the thinker-upper of fun things to do, the baker of Christmas cookies and creator of healthy lakeside summer snacks, the deep listener, the cheerleader and the encourager of dreams from kindergarten past college.

To her numerous friends, she was a Milwaukee Street girl, a Rummikub champion, an avid Agatha Christie novel reader, a Catholic of Delafield, a Caring House volunteer, a poll worker on Election Day, a warm heart to laugh with, a shoulder to  cry on, an arm to lean on, a hand to hold. With Laurel there were no stories that deserved to be unheard, no hand un-held, no tear un-wiped and no hug un-given.

She ended nearly every in-person conversation with a hug and every phone conversation with “Consider yourself hugged.” Compassion, tenderness and love were more than ideals or goals - they were her way of life.

Laurel noticed life. She often sent the best handwritten notes about some small thing we otherwise might not have taken time to notice like a red bird on a white wintry day, or blinking fireflies in the cooling magic of a summer’s twilight. Or she’d pull us aside and point to some big and wondrously God-given thing like the luminous swirls of pink and purple lifting the clouds at dusk. She’d call our attention to it, and noting how happy it made her, we’d share in her joy.

She believed in using the “good dishes” today, having the red wine and the chocolate (in moderation), letting the little things go, and having faith in God about the big stuff. She grew a garden of many brilliant flowers and lured birds of many bright colors to her feeders with good seed. She invited her family (sometimes by phone) to help her fill out the daily crossword puzzle in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and New York Times to keep our minds sharp. And, she encouraged walks after big dinners to keep our “long muscles” strong. She was an expert Scrabble player who never complained on the few occasions she lost. But, she was a wildly happy winner, who each time performed a gleeful, clapping dance to the tune of, "I won, I won, I won!!"

Laurel practiced such mindful and intentional joyfulness that someone who didn’t know her might have been tempted to think she’d never known hardship or sadness or disappointment. But she had - cancer, the loss of parents, the loss of a child, the serious illness of a  grandchild, and ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s disease). ALS paralyzed every muscle in her body, including her tongue at the end, despite her having lived an exceptional life of diligent good health. But she made choices backed by her absolute faith in God to search the darkness for any glimmer of light for as long as she could.

Even those who cared for her at Lake Country Landing Assisted Living in her final year fell under the spell of her loving heart. They loved her smile and the way she took a genuine interest in other people’s lives, remembering to ask about their children, or their parents, or a date or an exam. And, they admired her positive outlook even as her health declined. On the day she passed away, February 27, 2015, it’s telling that her room was filled with as many health care providers who’d become friends as with family.

Laurel was born to Adrian and Laurette Kennedy (nee Friebel) in 1933 in Antigo, where she grew up, spending many long-legged, barefoot days on her father’s potato farm playing and working with her siblings - Ed (who married the late Mickey and then found love again and married Geneva), Mary (who married Joe), Peggy (who married Bill), Wilma (who married Jim), Mike (who married Kathy) and Larry (who married Jan). She was a beloved aunt and great-aunt to many nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.

Laurel married Art, made a family in Delafield, enriched a community and brightened our world.

She was the gathering place of all our hearts - hearts that now know more about the power of love after her nurturance. Hearts that now sorrow at her passing but rejoice that she is free.

A funeral Mass for Laurel will be held on Friday, March 6, at 12:00 PM noon with a visitation for family and friends to start at 10:00 AM all to take place at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church.

Memorials are suggested to AngelsGrace Hospice, Lake Country Landing Assisted Living or to Lake Country Caring House in Hartland.

Pagenkopf Funeral Home is serving the family. For more information, call 262-567-4457 or visit www.pagenkopf.com.