Louise Sommers, who devoted her life to family, friends and community, passes away at age 95

Louise Sommers, a beloved member of United Hebrew Congregation, died Monday, Nov. 30, in Terre Haute, at age 95. Terry Fear will officiate private graveside services for family on Wednesday, Dec. 2, at Highland Lawn Cemetery. The family will hold a public celebration of life for Louise at an appropriate time. Louise’s daughter Nancy Sommers contributed this memorial.

Louise Levite Sommers (April 24, 1925 — Nov. 30, 2020)

Louise died peacefully on November 30, surrounded by her loving family and devoted caregivers. She is remembered by her family and friends for her beauty and grace, her ever-present smile and her generous acts of loving kindness.

Louise leaves behind her grieving family —- her husband of 73 years, Walter; step-brother Ron Levite; son Ron and daughter-in-law Charles Mary Kubricht; daughter Nancy and son-in-law Joshua Alper; grandchildren Demian and Liz Fore, Devin Fore and Yuval Boim, Rachel Louisa Chunnha, and Alexandra Maxine Hays and Brian Watterson; great-grandchildren Asher and Isabelle Fore and Lailah Dragonfly and Oren MazelTov Chunnha; nieces Judy and Linda Gerson, Elizabeth and Barbara Adler and Susan Chapman; nephew James Adler; and beloved friends Terry and Steve Fear and Bill Gilmore and Vicki Cotrell.

Her family roots trace back to Bavaria

Born Liesl-Lotte Levite on April 24, 1925, in Straubing, Germany, to Irma and Max Levite, Louise could trace her family roots in Bavaria back to the 16th century.

When Louise was seven, her mother died tragically as the result of a carbon monoxide leak. At age 11, she and her younger sister Elsa escaped Nazi Germany, living first in London, then arriving in Terre Haute, where their one relative, Uncle Salo Levite, lived.

About arriving in America, Louise remarked, “You can’t imagine how I felt when I first saw the Statue of Liberty. I think it waved to me, “Welcome, Stranger.”

About arriving in America, Louise remarked, “You can’t imagine how I felt when I first saw the Statue of Liberty. I think it waved to me, “Welcome, Stranger.”

Upon the girls’ arrival in Terre Haute, Uncle Salo declared that Liesl-Lotte and Elsa were to lose their German names and assume American names. Liesl-Lotte became Louise and Elsa became Elsie.

To encourage them to learn English quickly, Uncle Salo fined them a penny for every German word spoken. Throughout her life, Louise preferred not to talk about her childhood in Germany. She preferred to look forward, not backward.

But her experiences growing up in Nazi Germany — and her arrival in America as a refugee — left her with a deep well of empathy and a strong sense of duty to welcome and care for new neighbors and refugees, as if their safety and happiness were central to her own.

Louise and Walter celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in 2017.

A fateful meeting follows a move to New York City

Louise and her family moved to New York City in 1940, when her father bought a factory that manufactured elegant women’s gloves, and became business partners with Julius Sommer, Walter’s father.

This auspicious business partnership led to another lasting partnership, Louise and Walter’s marriage.

Louise graduated from Hunter College in 1947 with a major in botany and married Walter that same year. They formed a close partnership for 73 years.

In New York, Louise was reunited with her beloved aunts, her father’s sisters — Nora, Carol and Friedl — known as “the committee”, surrogate mothers who guided her into womanhood.

Louise graduated from Hunter College in 1947 with a major in botany and married Walter that same year. They formed a close partnership for 73 years, often called the “Wallous”, even melding their two names to create an email address.

Walter often says if he could write a script about how to have a happy married life, he would write about his marriage to Louise — and he wouldn’t leave one thing out.

Louise founded the Clothes Closet to keep kids warm in winter

Louise and Walter have been active volunteers in Terre Haute’s civic life. In 1962, Louise’s deep empathy led her to establish Terre Haute’s Clothes Closet organization to ensure that Vigo County schoolchildren would have sturdy and warm winter coats, boots and mittens.

She led the organization for more than 20 years, directing a committee of women who collected clothes, washed and mended them when necessary, organized and catalogued them by size and type and distributed the items to schoolchildren.

A 1963 article in the Terre Haute Tribune described Louise and her organized committee as “fiercely determined that no child attending school in Vigo County would be without adequate clothing.”

She brought buoquets to friends and strudel to neighbors

Louise enjoyed Black-eyed Susans (and sunflowers).

Louise approached life with an open, generous heart. She loved bringing bouquets to her friends and neighbors — lilacs from her spring garden, zinnias and Black-eyed Susans from her summer garden. She brought matzoh ball soup to a sick friend, apple strudel to new neighbors and her signature apple kuchen or bundt kuchen to members of the Temple Israel Congregation whose days needed some sweetness.

When asked what made her food so wonderfully good, she would smile and say, “All recipes have a secret ingredient — love.”

She was a sensational cook and hosted large dinner parties for friends and family, always designing the serving platters to balance colors and textures. Although most comfortable with her aunt’s German recipes, pickling and brining tongue and corned beef, sauerbraten and sauerkraut, she learned — and excelled — at cooking American food from the recipes and guidance of her dear friend Edna Ruth Gilmore.

When asked what made her food so wonderfully good, she would smile and say, “All recipes have a secret ingredient — love.”

Her kids won the ‘mom lottery’

Louise loved her family and friends, fiercely and deeply. She filled the walls of her home with sepia photographs of Bavarian ancestors, swimming and hiking, laughing and picnicking. She had deep, loyal friendships with her dear friends Edna Ruth, Eleanor, Sunny and Renee and later with her treasured friend Terry.

She wrote poems for her friends’ birthdays and anniversaries and was famous for her birthday cards. She knew everyone’s birthday; she never missed one. Hallmark might have written nice sentiments on the cards she selected, but those sentiments needed to be underlined, sometimes two or three times — and emphasized with exclamation points. Sometimes three or four exclamations were needed! Sometimes more!!!

Louise liked to say, “You must know a tree by its name; you must know its bark and the shape of its leaf, to love a tree.”

Louise loved being a mom. She wanted to raise children with American names — names an ocean away from her German name, Liesl-Lotte.

She loved her children’s names — Ron and Nancy — and she loved their childhood, saving all their elementary school workbooks, papers, projects, ribbons, corsages and baseball cards.

She excelled at orchestrating her children’s birthday parties, organizing gunny sack races and scavenger hunts. Ron and Nancy say they won the mom lottery.

They remember how their mom delighted in taking them to Turkey Run State Park in the autumn, wandering amongst the trees she loved. Louise liked to say, “You must know a tree by its name; you must know its bark and the shape of its leaf, to love a tree.”

Louise and Walter gather with four generations of family.

Trained in botany, Louise always found the four-leaf clover

A botanist by training, Louise found the natural world of woods and gardens, meadows and mountains, to be touchstones of beauty and comfort. She could walk into a field of millions of clover and with a touch of magic reach down to pluck the one four-leaf clover to tape inside a birthday card for family and friends — little treasures, accompanied by the words, “Good Luck!” or “Mazel Tov!”

But more than anything, she loved being a grandmother. She called grandchildren by the endearments her grandparents had used — schnookie and schaztele.

But more than anything, she loved being a grandmother. She called grandchildren by the endearments her grandparents had used — schnookie and schaztele.

And her grandchildren loved being with her. Her calendars were marked with their soccer games, pediatric appointments, art shows, marathon runs, camp sessions, travels to China or Germany.

She knew the due dates of their school projects, even participating in them by baking cookies for a family history project and posing in various costumes for a photography project.

Louise’s granddaughter Alex reflects on how much she felt loved by her grandma: “It was such steady love, so uncomplicated. To be a grandchild is really wonderful when your grandmother sees one of her main roles in life as one of love.”

Every performance commanded an encore

When her grandchildren visited, she planned each day’s menu so that she could serve their favorite foods. Louise’s grandson Demian remembers that the moment he arrived, he received a pinch on his cheek, grandma’s hug and an onslaught of food.

She knew that one grandson liked macaroni and cheese, one liked spaghetti. She knew her granddaughters loved ice cream cakes and Dream Whip on their cake — or Dream Whip on Dream Whip.

She loved watching her granddaughters dress up in her satin nightgowns and slips from her trousseau and her jewelry and hats, and she would clap and cheer with such open joy — “Hooray, encore!” — and with her loving encouragement there would always be an encore.

“When I don’t know what to do, I ask myself what would Grandma Louise do, and I always know it is the right thing to do.”

Louise’s grandchildren returned her love, writing poems to honor her, sending their drawings and books and bringing into the world a new generation, four great-grandchildren, to carry her loving spirit forward into the world.

Grandson Devin recalls how much he loved opportunities as an adult to sit quietly with his grandma, away from the frenzy of family events and to savor her personality “funny and sweet,” with a surprisingly wry, unconventional humor.

And Louise’s granddaughter Rachel looks to her grandma’s words and actions to guide her as an adult: “When I don’t know what to do, I ask myself what would Grandma Louise do, and I always know it is the right thing to do.”

Louise’s talents seemed limitless

Louise did so much in her 95 years. She lived a full and a meaningful life. She knew how to do so many things, easily and confidently; her talents seemed limitless.

She touched countless lives with her goodness and generosity of spirit. Her family and friends will miss the wisdom of her soul. Louise was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, grandma, great-grandma and friend. She was much beloved.

When circumstances make it possible, the family will hold a celebration of Louise’s life.

Those who wish to extend memorial contributions may give to Hospice of the Wabash Valley or Clothes Closet (sponsored by the League of Terre Haute).

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Gloria Sher
Gloria Sher
December 1, 2020 9:44 pm

Remembering Louise with affection from our years in Terre Haute 1994-1999. zikhrono l’vracha and may she rest in peace.

Scott Skillman
Scott Skillman
December 15, 2020 2:06 pm

May her memory be a blessing