Geneva mourns loss of Puterbaugh, community ambassador

Authored by Jim Langham on Sep 7, 2011

In spite of failing health, Rosemary (Rosie) Puterbaugh spent much of the past 10 days checking on her work as usual. She called Gretchen Lehman to check on a Wednesday night meal at the First Missionary Church. She checked with Geneva Clerk/Treasurer Bill Warren concerning correlation of certain financial figures and she had scheduled to assist with a wedding of 400 people.
The unique thing about Puterbaugh was that all of this follow-up work was coming from her room at Parkview Memorial Hospital where she was awaiting a heart surgery this past Friday. She had been at the hospital for over a week since it was discovered that a serious heart condition could only be solved through surgery.
Late Friday afternoon, it became evident that the surgery was not working out as hoped. Shortly after 5 p.m., doctors walked out of the operating room with the grim news, Puterbaugh's earthly mission had ended; she had not survived the surgery.
"I had talked to her on Thursday; she had wanted to make sure that I got the month closed okay," said Warren. "When I asked her how she was doing, she replied, 'I'm anxious. This is pretty major surgery, but I like my doctor; this is a good hospital, all I can do is put my trust in their knowledge.'
"The last day before she went to the hospital, she was determined to come to work," continued Warren. "She was not well, but she was determined to work for the day. That night she was admitted to Jay County Hospital in Portland. On Thursday, she was transferred to Fort Wayne."
Warren reflected about the election when he and Puterbaugh ran against each other for Clerk/Treasurer in the primary election. Warren nudged out Puterbaugh by one vote.
"As she saw how tough this job had become, she made comments to people on numerous occasions that she was glad that the vote hadn't gone her way," observed Warren. "She could have chosen animosity but instead she opted for us to work together as a team. Anytime somebody called into the office to ask for something to be done, she always said, 'yes.' She was the unseen worker behind everything that happened around here."
Warren referred to the situation in which Peggy Smitley, Clerk/Treasurer from Portland, called and asked for assistance in understanding some of the procedures of her position.
"She went to Portland and helped her straighten the books to the extent where they gained firm approval from the State Board of Accounts," Warren said. "We just finished our state audit here; things went fine, and Rosie was a big part of that."
Doug Milligan, executive director for Swiss Heritage Village, was town manager for Geneva when he hired Puterbaugh to serve her present position at the Geneva Town Hall.
"She was very compassionate. If somebody came in and couldn't pay their utility bill, she would do everything that she could to help them work things out. She would have paid it herself if she could have. When anybody needed anything, she stepped right in," said Milligan. "She set up the schedule for Geneva Proud and the Chamber of Commerce.
"She was a very strong leader," continued Milligan. "Once she was in charge of things, you answered to her. She wanted to see that the job got done the right way."
Milligan's wife, Judy, noted that Puterbaugh had stood up for them in their wedding. She referred to how much Puterbaugh loved to cook and take charge of meals.
"I thought this morning, now she is cooking in Heaven," said Judy Milligan. "About now she is preparing the afternoon brunch. We have been lifelong friends. I have known her ever since we were two years old. She gave so much of herself. She was always there to help regardless of how she felt."
Limberlost State Site director Randy Lehman was very disheartened when contacted about Puterbaugh's passing on Sunday evening. Puterbaugh had served on the Friends of the Limberlost Board and had served as the organization's treasurer for the past two years.
"Anytime we needed a meal around here she was right there," said Lehman. "She loved to cook for large groups of people.
"People told her in the last few weeks that she needed to slow down but she always said that there was no way," continued Lehman. "She was a great ambassador for Geneva. When there would be people with walking tour brochures who were walking down the street, she would go out and greet them and ask them if they needed any help."
She was born in Portland November 13, 1938 the daughter of Ivan and Hazel (Whitacre) Beals. She had worked for NAPA in Portland and Berne for 35 years. She was a member of the First Missionary Church in Berne, First Presbyterian Church in Portland, Swiss Red Hatters, active with Swiss Heritage Village and Festival, Friends of the Limberlost Treasurer and First Missionary Outreach Program.
"Had it not been for the surgery, she had planned to go with us this weekend to a softball game," said longtime friend Gretchen Lehman. "She loved girls' softball and loved to go. She was always such a positive thinker. She loved serving God and others. She had such a gift of hospitality."
Lehman worked with Puterbaugh in various activities at First Missionary Church. She recalled a time at a dinner when a six-year old boy came to Puterbaugh and said, "we don't have the food and my mom was too sick to the come to the dinner."
Lehman said that without any questions, Puterbaugh grabbed a box and filled it with food, handed it to the boy and told him to take it home to his family.
"Christmas, Halloween, help at the cabin, tours of Geneva, she wanted to make sure that things worked. I'm sure that many of us are thinking, 'who are we going to call to see that things get done now that she is gone,'" noted Lehman.
"Sometimes when Berdell was gone, we would go out for supper and just do something together. She would talk about how much she cared about certain people and her eyes filled with tears."
"She was so energetic and giving that when she asked you for a little extra, you couldn't help but do it for her," commented Randy Lehman. "She has left a big hole in the fabric. You can't replace anyone like Rosie. We will carry on and do the best that we can in her of honor."

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