By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — To Jim and Martha Vetter, love was the only thing that really mattered. They met and married as teenagers, raised four children together, and would have celebrated 60 years together Jan. 23. Still together, they died within 21 minutes of each other, surrounded by family on Jan. 1. Jim was 79; Martha 77.
The Mass of Christian Burial, Jan. 10 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Raytown, was celebrated by Father Angelo Bartulica. The couple is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
Jim was born in 1935 in Topeka, Kan., the youngest of six children born to George and Helen Vetter. The Vetters were truck farmers; when Jim was just a small child, George was killed en route to selling their crops, in an accident on the highway. During World War II, Helen raised their children and kept the farm going by herself, until it became necessary for her to take a job as a cook to support the family.
She moved to Kansas City and Jim, a recent high school graduate, attended Rockhurst University. In his free time, he enjoyed playing the accordion and league bowling with friends in old Northeast Kansas City. A popular bowling alley on Independence Avenue was where Martha Courtney came into his world, introduced by mutual friends.
She was about 16, already recognized by the Kansas City art community as talented. In fact, she was awarded a scholarship to the Kansas City Art Institute, but decided to attend a business college instead. Martha, like Jim, was an avid league bowler, and bowling brought them together.
Music was a part of growing up for Martha and her brother and three sisters. Her father, David Courtney, was a violinist. Ruth, her mother, was a waitress and homemaker. Martha was their fourth child, born in 1937.
Jim and Martha were married Jan. 23, 1955. He was 19, she 17. She took classes in bookkeeping and kept house, while Jim, who had become interested in the fledgling business of computers, began learning more about them. He also became an accomplished accordionist, once opening for Lawrence Welk. After Martha completed her course of study, she began to work as a bookkeeper, as well as keeping the home and beginning to raise their family.
Ignoring warnings of following “the fad” of computer science and programming, the Vetters moved to Lubbock, Texas, to Wichita, Kan., to Garland, Texas, and to Columbia, Mo., before returning to Kansas City 33 years later. Classes in computer science at Texas Tech and Wichita State universities increased Jim’s knowledge of information systems and a hobby rebuilding computers as they became more user-friendly and powerful, especially with the Internet, made Jim pretty savvy about the new technology. He began a career as a systems analyst, choosing the most efficient computer solutions for a business, while making sure the systems met all the company’s needs.
In her eulogy, daughter Dr. Jamaine Abidogun, a professor of history at Missouri State University in Springfield, said her parents taught all four children to be self-sufficient and follow their dreams.
“When we were children in Lubbock,” she recalled, “one day Mom asked what ‘success’ was to each of us. I remember saying, ‘being happy,’ and while I don’t remember what my brother or sisters said, I do remember Mom saying she was glad we did not equate having money with success or happiness. That stuck with me. Watching her paint, sew, and make us toys taught us what creating your world means and can mean.”
Martha owned an arts and crafts shop in Lubbock, which she named the Pink Poppy.
Jim, remembered for the twinkle in his eyes, loved his children and later his grandchildren and great grandchildren equally and deeply. Jamaine described her parents as “two loving people who were not perfect, each with tempers that would make you run, but … who were there for us. They accepted us and loved us for who we are, and they taught us to accept others by treating each other as equals, and supporting each other as a matter of course, not as an option.”
Jim had begun his long career as a systems analyst. Back in Kansas City he worked for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The same building in Midtown housed the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The challenges of mental illness had touched the Vetter family and Jim and Martha became major donors to NAMI, as well as serving as volunteers. They had also served as volunteers in Lubbock, and received service awards from both cities. Martha continued working in bookkeeping, as well as managing their home near Eastwood Trafficway.
The Vetters welcomed 11 grandchildren, 20 great grandchildren and a great-great-granddaughter into the family, as well as a host of extended family and friends, with unconditional love, Jamaine said.
“They were good people, who lived the way they wanted to, did everything together, and they never wanted to bother anyone with their troubles. In life and in death they were together.”
In late November, they moved to Columbia to be near daughters Lea and Dorothy, son George and their families. Jim had been diagnosed with cancer and during the past year, Jamaine said, “as we were working hard to stop their physical suffering and make things better, they were busy showing us that love was the only thing that mattered.”
As 2014 drew to a close, Jim was admitted to the hospital due to a lack of energy. Dec. 31 saw him transferred to the hospital’s intensive care unit as his condition deteriorated. He talked to Martha by phone, as the day was too cold for her to go out. Jamaine shared that he reassured Martha, “It’s alright, Dear, we’ll visit on a warmer day.”
Later that day, Martha was brought to ICU, after suffering a mild heart attack. She was admitted to the same room as her husband, and the two held hands. Her last words to him were words of love, “Jim, I am here. We’re together. I love you. It will be alright.”
They spent the night in the same room.
Not long after their children arrived the next morning, Martha died, peacefully. Twenty-one minutes later, Jim died. “They were together and they were at peace,” Jamaine wrote.
Jamaine had asked Jim over the phone the day before his death, what he wanted his grandchildren and great-grandchildren to do when the family learned his prognosis. He replied, “Tell them to send bon voyage cards. Let them know I am going on a long trip.” At the conclusion of the eulogy, granddaughter Mae Leta and great-grandson True led the others to the front of the room to present bon voyage cards to Jim and Martha from their family.
Jim and Martha Vetter are survived by their children, E. Lea Lichty (Curt); George I. Vetter (Linda Haus); Jamaine M. Abidogun (Ayodeji), and Dorothy T. Johnson (Rick Balagna), their grandchildren, great grandchildren and a great-great granddaughter, Jim’s sister-in-law Victoria Vetter, Martha’s brother David Courtney (Juanita) and many nieces and nephews.
Jim and Martha Vetter, Midwestern to the core, demonstrated every day of their lives that what you do and how you do it, which is with an honest effort, is what makes life worth living, not possessions or friends in high places. Jamaine said it all, “They taught us love and we hope to honor and share that love in our lives.”