by Patrice Johnson
Mona (Mills) Moeckel has witnessed the emergence of aerosol cans and movie cameras, of jet engines and radar. She grew up during the Great Depression, kept the home fires burning as her husband trooped off to World War II, and raised eight children. This March, this petite, compassionate woman who was born and raised on the corner of North M-52 and Dexter Trail in Stockbridge will turn 97 years old.
Born to Claude L. Mills of Stockbridge and Florence Emily Collins of Cedar Lake, young Mona Mills played clarinet and oboe in the band and sang in the choir while attending Stockbridge Schools. As a preteen and teenager, Moeckel worked during summers as what was then called a hired girl and is now referred to as a nanny.
“I worked for a wealthy family in Bellevue,” she explained and credited the experience for teaching her how to cook, care for a family, and “to make the best apple pie.”
A major turning point in Moeckel’s life came during her senior year when her mother fell ill and she was called home to care for her. Moeckel graduated from SHS in 1939 but had to give up her dream of going to nursing school to become a surgical nurse. “Sometimes, the fates have a way of choosing your life path for you,” she recalled. “My responsibilities at home foiled my dreams of becoming a nurse. However, I was able to meet and marry the man of my dreams and have had a full life raising my children.”
Moeckel said she met her future husband when he was engaged to one of her best friends, Betty. “Ken was shorter than Betty, and she didn’t like dancing with him, so she ended up eloping with someone else.” Moeckel grinned. It was then that Mona Mills and Ken Moeckel started dating. The two asked pastor Arthur Fockler of the Millville Church if he would marry them. “He said sure!” Moeckel declared with her characteristic smile. “Margaret and Dave Collins were our best man and maid of honor.”
Less than a year into the couple’s marriage, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the US entered World War II. Ken Moeckel volunteered for duty, and Mona Moeckel became a stay-at-home wife and mother to Wendell Moeckel, now of Grass Lake. “I also kept busy with taking care of my father and in-laws,” she said, “as well as doing sewing alterations.”
After the war, more babies followed: Chita Kunzelman, now of Gregory; Timothy Moeckel, Munith; Kim Moeckel, Gregory; SueZelle Nottingham, deceased; RoxAnn Jarrell, Napoleon; Sheri Williams, Holland; and Betsy Lewis of Stockbridge. Throughout, Moeckel loved playing the piano. “We had one in the basement, and I would play in between loads of laundry,” she said.
In 1979 after 38 years of marriage, Ken died and Mona was left with two children at home. “I began working with Evelyn Bowdish in the real estate business,” she said. “I also did sewing here and there.”
“I am proud to say that all eight of my children also graduated from Stockbridge,” Moeckel added. Of her 14 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren, she counts seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren among her roster of SHS graduates, and “I have five currently attending. Go Panthers!”
Moeckel said the most memorable parts of her parenting experience came from trying to teach her kids “the right way to go.” She told them, “Start out on your own and do the right things.”
Asked about her life’s highlights, Moeckel was quick to reply, “My husband. He was the love of my life, and of course, all of my children. I am very proud of every single one of them.”
In addition to pursuing her passion for music, for the past 40 years Moeckel has researched her genealogy, tracing her Mills ancestry back to the Mayflower. To help her cope with the heartbreak of losing her husband, she turned to traveling. “I joined a camping club, Loners on Wheels,” she said. Through LOW, Moeckel traveled throughout Michigan and Indiana during the summer months. “I also took several long road trips.” She recalled one to California with Marion Clark, another to Arizona with Nora Phelps, and several solo trips to St. Louis, Missouri, to visit a daughter.
Moeckel said she loves the people and the familiarity of the local area. She credits her grandmothers for most influencing her life. After Clarence Mills died, Moeckel’s grandmother Frances Lillian Bates Mills used to take in high school girls as boarders, so they did not have to walk to school during the cold winter. “She also had beautiful flower and vegetable gardens,” Moeckel recalled, “and would share with others in town to cheer them up when hard times hit.” Moeckel described her other grandmother, Alice Adela Bennett Collins, as “a good grandma, and she loved me.”
Things she would do differently if she had life to live over? “Nothing,” she quipped. “I have had a good time!”
Her advice to others? “Keep your nose clean!” Moeckel blurted and then demurred, “I’ve never really been one to give advice to someone else.”