Retired elementary school teacher Mary Jeffrey believes “God put us on this earth to do good in any way we can,” and it is that belief that compelled her to offer a place in her heart to area women Kathy Ehrlich and Lana Stevenson in their times of need.
In each case, Jeffrey felt “called at the moment” to stand in not only as a steadfast friend, but as a mother and a grandmother.
Now, Ehrlich, Stevenson and their families are all just part of the Jeffrey clan along with Jeffrey’s three adopted children Mike, Patty, and Leslie.
Ehrlich first crossed paths with Jeffrey during an advent Bible study at Valley United Methodist Church in Marion over a decade ago.
Through their interactions, Ehrlich realized that Jeffrey filled a missing element in her life that at the time was proving to be somewhat difficult.
Jeffrey proved to be a much need stable relationship, and eventually she began to call Jeffrey “mom.”
“I guess you could say that I felt a little lost,” Ehrlich said. “But I can honestly say that she saved my life. I would not be breathing if it weren’t for her.
“Mary is the epitome of what I thought a mother should be. She opened herself up and not only loved me, but she let me love her back.”
At first, Jeffrey said she just laughed about the nickname, but Ehrlich told her she really felt like a mom to her.
After checking with her children Mike Jeffrey and Patty Kahle about their feelings on the matter, Ehrlich and her children were welcomed into the family.
“Kathy was having some problems and Mom just stepped in as a mother,” Mike said. “Mom has a great big heart. She is an angel to so many people.”
“Kathy is one of my children,” Jeffrey said. “She’s my daughter. Mike and Patty both refer to her as their sister.”
Ehrlich’s kids are grown and gone now, but when they were in school, Jeffrey attended all their activities like a grandmother. Ehrlich’s youngest, Katey, still calls Jeffrey “grandma.”
Years later, the family grew again after Jeffrey began assisting Stevenson in her Kindergarten class at Marion Elementary School.
“Why would any young teacher want an old teacher as help?” Jeffrey said. “As a retired teacher it was hard to keep my mouth shut. But Lana never flinched, and seeing each other two times a week, we began to get close.”
Stevenson said Jeffrey was an important source of support when her father passed away.
However, their relationship evolved about three years ago after Stevenson’s mother died of pancreatic cancer.
Jeffrey had experienced overwhelming loss years ago when her 19-year-old son Leslie died in an accident.
She provided heartfelt counsel when Stevenson expressed the devastation of her loss.
“Tim and I had lost all of our parents,” Stevenson said. “I had a close relationship with my mother — I kind of felt like an orphan. I couldn’t imagine my kids not having grandparents.”
Jeffrey then made Stevenson a touching proposition to be her “earth mother.”
“I said ‘Lana, don’t cry. Do I need to adopt you too? I have room in my heart for you and your kids,’” Jeffrey recalled. “‘I’ll call Mike and tell him he has a new sister.’”
Stevenson said her whole family has been welcomed by the Jeffreys.
“She really is a mom to me,” Stevenson said. “She’s my sounding board, and sometimes she says things that aren’t easy hear but need to be said.”
Stevenson’s children call Jeffrey “grandma” including the older siblings, who still sometimes refer to her as Mary in conversation.
“Tim and I really admire what she’s done. It has been great for our kids. She’s filled a void,” Stevenson said. “You hear people complain about how their parents are meddling too much in the way they raise their kids. With our kids not having any grandparents, we see how important grandparents really are.”
Mike’s sister, Patty Kahle of Herington, said unconditional love for others her mother instilled continues to make their unique family “as strong as any family related by blood.”
Mike and Patty both refer to Stevenson and Ehrlich as their sisters, Jeffrey said. Their families also regularly attend Jeffrey family functions and holiday festivities.
Jeffrey said she has paperwork on her first three children, but none for her last two.
“I love them like they are my own,” she said. “Family is in your heart, not on paper.”