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Published: Thursday, 8/5/2004

Zoo director's wife nurtured family, causes

Bernadine Skeldon, 81, who took safaris with her husband, Phil, the former Toledo Zoo director, while working for social justice in her community and raising 11 children at home, died Tuesday in Toledo Hospital of complications from congestive heart failure.

She lived the last 1 1/2 years in the Kingston Residence.

Mrs. Skeldon, formerly of South Toledo, was a full-time mother and homemaker. With 13 people in the household, she prepared 39 meals a day, managed the household, and kept track of her children's school activities, daughter Claudia Dusseau said.

Her husband was zoo director from 1953 to 1980, and he was always on call.

"She seemed to flow with that very well," Mrs. Dusseau said. "Mom was always very well organized. So Dad would know that he could leave at the drop of a hat and things would function well at home. She had a great sense of humor about his work and her part in it. She was a great supporter of the zoo."

Mrs. Skeldon traveled with her husband on zoo expeditions to Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Guinea and to meetings of world zoo directors in communist Eastern Europe.

One night in the bush, she and her husband were in their tent. She awoke and asked him the time because she couldn't read the clock. That's no clock; that's a spider, he said.

She saw herself as a social activist, promoting values of Christianity and family and working to protect women who were abused and battered, her daughter said. She was a champion of Bethany House, a long-term shelter for women and children.

"Her Catholic faith was always based in what you do for others," her daughter said. "She couldn't do it for just the family. Her mission was bigger than that. Her faith was bigger than that."

Mrs. Skeldon grew up on Lawrence Avenue and was a graduate of Notre Dame Academy. She was a bookkeeper for a downtown business before marriage.

She was a longtime member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church.

Her husband, in his retirement, became a deacon in the Catholic Church. The couple worked in ministry at Medical College of Ohio Hospitals.

Mrs. Skeldon and her husband married Oct. 12, 1946. He died Nov. 9, 2001.

Surviving are her sons, Tom, Marty, Barry, Steve, Peter, Jeffrey, and Phil; daughters, Claudia Dusseau, Connie Barden, Kim Mossing, and Monica Verhoff; brother, Richard Wambold; 30 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

There will be no visitation. Memorial services are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Saturday in Rosary Cathedral, where the family will receive guests after 8:30 a.m. Arrangements are by the Coyle Funeral Home.

The family suggests tributes to Bethany House or the Notre Dame Academy scholarship fund.



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