When Elizabeth Wade Boeschenstein died Monday in her Perrysburg Township home at the age of 103, one of the last flames from an era when dignity, integrity, and refinement were essential to ladylike demeanor flickered out.
The elegant reminder of a mannerly post-Victorian time, Mrs. Boeschenstein - known as Bea - was articulate, intelligent, and very self-effacing, say those who knew her.
While her husband, Harold Boeschenstein, a founder and first president of Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., fueled the rise of a new and innovative glass industry, dashed off to Washington during World War II to assist the president, and headed charitable boards, Mrs. Boeschenstein tended the home fires.
“He was the public one,” recalls their son Bill.
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“She was very disciplined, as many people of her time were,” says her daughter-in-law, Molly Boeschenstein.
Bea Boeschenstein was a tall, slim, self-possessed woman who never appeared in public if not dressed to the nines.
Born in Alton, Ill., to a prominent family, the former Elizabeth Wade prepared for a life of privilege and responsibility by attending finishing school. Still, notes her son, Bill, she took risks, including flying in an airplane with a beau who was a stunt flier.
She met Mr. Boeschenstein in Illinois, where, as a student at the University of Illinois, he switched from journalism to business because he saw more opportunity in that field. They married in 1922. She was 25. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Toledo.
If she was private, recalls her son Bill, who followed his father into the top job at Owens-Corning, Mrs. Boeschenstein was far from inactive. She managed gracious homes, first in Ottawa Hills, then the Walbridge estate overlooking the Maumee River in Perrysburg Township.
With the help of live-in servants, especially a chef/assistant named Chester, she planned sophisticated, intimate dinner parties.
Her son recalls her impish sense of humor, which balanced the stern resolve she brought to raising three children: Harold, Jr., known as Tommie; Nancy Ann (Fessenden), and William. “We called her the little dictator,” Bill recalls.
Pete Bentley, who grew up with the Boeschenstein children, remembers her as quite bright, terrifically ladylike, and subdued. He says she used her sense of humor to good effect when play got out of hand. “If we were acting up, she would look upon the whole scene as a childish act. Because we didn't want to be seen as childish, we would behave.”
The children received education commensurate with the couple's social position, attending fine schools, taking riding lessons, sailing on the Maumee, playing tennis, and socializing at the Toledo Club and Carranor Hunt and Polo Club. Bill Boeschenstein attended Andover and Yale, where he met George Bush, the former president and father of George W.
Steve Stranahan, son of the late Virginia Secor and Duane Stranahan, recalls living next door to the Boeschensteins as a child. “She was an incredible organizer,” he says of activities from games to social events. Later, when Mr. Boeschenstein welcomed young guests on Saturday mornings for mentoring sessions, she would keep things moving smoothly.
During a game at the Stranahans' tennis court, he recalls, Mrs. Boeschenstein summoned her husband from a game because President Richard Nixon was on the phone.
She traveled with her husband for special occasions. “They dined at the White House several times, and she knew Richard Nixon,” recalls her son.
On one presidential occasion, she was seated next to Spanish artist Salvador Dali; on another, she attended a state dinner honoring Elizabeth II, the queen of England.
But she maintained a down-to-earth attitude, growing flowers in her private greenhouse and participating in Country Garden Club activities. Often she delivered home-grown arrangements to friends and merchants.
While Mr. Boeschenstein sat on the boards of the Toledo Museum of Art, Community Chest, Toledo Chapter of American Red Cross, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, Mrs. Boeschenstein was active at Cummings School for Girls and the Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers.
Both husband and wife supported the museum and, on April 24, 1970, shared a glittering moment there with family and friends. It was the dedication of the Art in Glass Gallery, a two-story “museum within a museum.”
The Boeschensteins, then in their 70s and married 48 years, were guests of honor because their $500,000 gift enabled the museum to create the polished stone temple for its prized glass collection.
“It was one of the most exciting and spectacular openings many of the guests had experienced,” wrote Dorothy Rainie, Toledo Times society editor. Museum Director Otto Wittmann welcomed leaders from the arts, politics, business, and the cr me de la cr me of local society.
On hand were museum directors, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Fowler and Mrs. Fowler, Gen. and Mrs. Lauris Norstad, former Eisenhower and Kennedy administration executive Robert H. Knight and his wife, and glass artist Dominick Labino and his wife. Local society included J. Preston Levis, Marvin Kobacker, Blake-More Godwin, Duane Stranahan, Mrs. Thomas Bentley, Mr. and Mrs. Albert G. Wright III, Mrs. John D. Biggers, and Mrs. Gordon Mather.
When Belmont Country Club was established in the 1960s, the couple became members. Mr. Boeschenstein died in 1972.
Mrs. Boeschenstein, in 1976, moved to a home close to the club. She maintained an active, albeit subdued, life amidst a circle of friends; she attended St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.
Even when her children were grown, she kept in close touch with them, her seven grandsons, and 10 great-grandchildren.
During a rough period in the 1980s when Bill was struggling to save Owens-Corning from a hostile takeover, Blade reporters were trying unsuccessfully to reach him. Finally, Mrs. Rainie contacted his mother, who said: “Billy is in New York,” and provided a telephone number.
“[Mrs. Boeschenstein] was wonderful, dignified, and ladylike right up until the end,” says Bill.
A memorial service is planned for 10:30 a.m. tomorrow in St. Timothy's Church.
The family requests tributes to the church or the museum.