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Our Rich History: Marian Krieg Rechtin, the story of a 20th Century Woman of Northern Kentucky

By Dr. Mary C. Boyd
Special to NKyTribune

Mary Ann Krieg was born at Speers Hospital in Dayton, Kentucky, on July 25, 1917. She was the first child of Anna Nicholl and Carl Krieg, who had moved to Bellevue from Over the Rhine in Cincinnati. Mary Ann weighed less than five pounds at birth. In fact, her tiny body fit neatly in a cigar box. It was probably a good thing that it was late summer, because with the slightest chill, Anna—Mary, her mother, put the cigar box with Mary Ann in it in front of the open oven to keep her warm.

Her doctor did not expect the baby to live a week, and Anna was determined to prove him wrong. Clearly the tiny baby thrived. The summer she was born her parents took her to Coney Island on the Island Queen and not long after that they took her by train to Georgia to meet her grandmother.

Marian’s diploma from Notre Dame Academy, Covington. (Courtesy of Mary C. Boyd)

The name “Mary Ann” soon became “Marian,” because family members felt “Mary Ann” sounded too Irish. Marian’s family lived in a strong Catholic community defined by church congregations. In Bellevue there were German and Irish churches. Sacred Heart was the German church and, because of Marian’s German heritage, her church. Nearby, St. Anthony’s ministered to the local Irish Catholic population. By the time Marian entered school, her family had grown to six, with two sisters and a brother.

Marian entered the first grade at Sacred Heart in 1923. The teachers were the Sisters of Notre Dame, who were a German order of nuns brought to America in the last half of the previous century. Her baby brother, Bill, was born before the end of Marian’s first-grade school year, completing their family.

Marian’s father was social and playful. He had friends from vaudeville, and liked to hang out with the circus when the circus troupes came to town and camped on the riverbank. Carl once dressed up his son, Jack, as Charlie Chaplin and put him on stage. Anna, who as a child was classically trained as a pianist, would play for theater and later, the movie theater. The family, including adults, entertained themselves with dress-up and theater. By the time Marian was in fifth grade, her parents had bought a house at #1 Foote Avenue, off Covert Run. Unfortunately, shortly after that, the Krieg’s financial stability became severely challenged when Carl lost his job, as the economy plummeted.

Once Marian became a student at Sacred Heart, she began developing deep relationships with the nuns who staffed the school. Anna, who had befriended many of the nuns, encouraged Marian’s friendships with her teachers. Marian loved academics, and was especially drawn to language and writing. The nuns shared their library of books and knowledge with Marian. As time went on, Marian experienced a pull toward the church as well as academics. At the encouragement of her teachers, she began to consider Notre Dame Academy and the convent for high school.

Over her grade-school years, Marian also developed close friendships with her fellow students, some of which she maintained for life. She read voraciously, and often clipped pictures from newspapers and magazines. Those pictures became the stimulus for school projects.

At home she explored the woods along Covert Run Pike, which contained the remains of old structures from earlier days. She helped with the housework and assisted with her younger siblings.

In 1931, despite the financial concerns of her family, Marian entered the novitiate at St. Joseph Heights. By the time she completed her freshman year, Marian determined that convent life was not for her, but that she wanted to continue in the four-year academic program at Notre Dame Academy (NDA) in Covington. This was especially significant because in the 1930’s women did not always complete four years of high school. The alternative of two years of business preparation, also offered at NDA at that time, would have allowed Marian to help support her family. Nevertheless, Anna supported her daughter’s desire to continue in school, where she was part of the editing team for the Gavel and was a member of the Sodality.

Marian’s graduation photo from Villa Madonna College, Covington. (Courtesy of Mary C. Boyd)

1935 was a landmark year for Marian and her family. Marian graduated from high school. At the same time her parents were no longer able to meet their mortgage. They lost their home and much of what they invested in it.

Her family rented a house in Dayton. Marian enrolled at Villa Madonna, a young teacher’s college in Covington. She commuted to Covington by taking streetcars, as she had in her high school years. At Villa Madonna, Marian immersed herself in her studies. She focused on languages and literature. As an adult Marian could read French and Latin, and she sustained an interest in the origins of words.

Through her college years, Marian was already looking for opportunities to continue her education after college. She wrote to others involved in Catholic academics around the United States. She took advantage of her contacts in the convent as she searched for help in attempting to pursue the study of language. She began to envision herself the mid-century Catholic novelist in the tradition of Charlotte Bronte or Betty Smith. As her college years waned, she wrote to professionals and sought entrance into Xavier University across the river, where she was told, “Why? You will just get married and have children.”

Marian’s classes at the Villa were small and when Marian graduated in 1939, her class was comprised of 14 religious and 5 lay women, all trained to teach school. Through her life, Marian sustained friendships with most of them. The lay women formed a group they referred to as simply the “club.” The club originally was made up of Mary Elizabeth Fedders, Marian Meyers, Helen Bogenschutz, Rose Clair Egan, Loretta Driscoll, and Marian. Within a few years Loretta entered the convent of the Sisters of Divine Providence at Melbourne and in the early 1950s, Marian Meyers followed her.These six women sustained their friendship for life, supporting each other through their major life events.

And so, upon graduation Marian found a teaching job at Corpus Christi School in Newport. She enrolled in a program at the University of Cincinnati and became an active member of the Catholic Theater Guild as well as the Covington Circle of the International Federation of Catholic Alumnae, which she soon chaired. Much of Marian’s social life during this period revolved around these two groups, and a young man from Covington by the name of Raymond Rechtin whom she met in January 1941.

On December 7, 1941, Marian and Ray joined two carloads of Theater Guild members on a field trip to the relatively new Lunken Airport. Years later when Marian reflected on the day, she laughed and said, “One of the cars had a radio.” The two cars began the drive home from the airport. They were heading west along Eastern Avenue near the Airport, when the young people in the car with the radio motioned the second car to the side of the road. And there on Eastern Avenue, this group of young people spoke of the events at a place in the Pacific called Pearl Harbor. Even though most of them were unsure where Pearl Harbor was, they were aware that these events were about to change the trajectory of their lives.

Through the following year and a half, young men began leaving for war. In September 1942, Marian initiated a part-time five-year Master’s degree program at the University of Cincinnati. As the young men left, other opportunities opened up for women. For Marian, one of these was the Principal of St. James High School in Ludlow. She became engaged to Ray Rechtin in February 1943. Ray, who had initially been passed over for induction into service due to the loss of several fingers in an industrial accident in the summer of 1941, was called up for duty.

By the end of 1943 she accepted an offer with the Army Air Force Air Technical Service Command, located at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. This forced her to put her academic goals on hold. This civil service job gave Marian the feeling that she was part of the national effort to do “your part.”

Marian, circa 1944. (Courtesy of Mary C. Boyd)

She participated in Pratt & Whitney’s Air Service Command Engine Line Maintenance Engine Familiarization Course. With the title of clerk and the certification from her training program, she began traveling around the United States disbursing airplane parts to bases around the world. Her knowledge of her job brought financial rewards to the Army Air Force, and she remained on the job until the war ended.

When Marian went home, she always shared her ration coupons with her family and when possible participated in the family gatherings at Ray’s family home. There the women read letters from their men, and shared news. Every time one of the four Rechtin “boys” — then employed by Uncle Sam — came home on leave she participated in the huge parties held by Ray’s parents.

Besides Ray, Marian maintained an avid correspondence throughout the war. She wrote to all of her future brothers-in-law, her brother Jack, friends from the Theater Guild, and even some British “boys” she did not know. In 1945 she mourned the loss of Ray’s 19-year old brother, Bob, after he was shot down over Northern Italy.

Ray returned home in February 1946. The couple married in May, and since married women generally did not work, Marian left her job. Their first child was born in April of 1947 and by the end of 1947 they moved from their tiny apartment in Covington, to a small house on Geiger Avenue in Bellevue. In 1954, with four little ones and one on the way, Marian and Ray moved to a larger house in Ft. Thomas in order to accommodate their growing family. Their sixth, and last child was born in 1957.

Marian became the Brownie and Girl Scout Leader at St. Catherine’s in Ft. Thomas, where her children went to school. She was active in the Mother’s Club and in the early 60’s became its president. She was also a member of the church choir. She stressed reading and very early on, introduced her children to the Cincinnati Public Library.

Marian’s experience from the Depression made her frugal. She had learned seamstress skills from her parents and made most of her own, as well as her children’s, clothes. She enjoyed crossword puzzles and word games, and created field trips that included school-aged friends of her children.

Then, in 1963 Marian returned to work, teaching high school at St. Thomas in Ft. Thomas. She remained there until the high school closed. As a high school teacher, she relished the opportunity to provide her students with dramatic reading of Shakespearean plays. When St. Thomas High School closed, Marian taught at St. Stephen’s Elementary School in Newport until she retired in the early 1980s.

Mrs. Rechtin was as intense as a teacher as she was in every other aspect of her life and so was remembered positively by some and not so positively by others. Marian was an aunt to over 50 nieces and nephews, and she was the go-to person for her siblings and in-laws for help with children who struggled with academics. In 1978 Marian received “The Voice of Democracy” award citation from the Veterans of Foreign Wars for contributions to the scriptwriting program, most likely for students she encouraged to participate.

Toward the end of her career, Marian was awarded the honorary title of Kentucky Colonel.

Marian retained her interest in obtaining an advanced degree and upon retirement actually completed her Masters at Northern Kentucky University.

Marian had high expectations as a both a mother and teacher, and her students remembered her as either highly dedicated, or a difficult teacher. All six of her children graduated from college.Two of her children have advanced degrees. Her oldest entered Villa Madonna and graduated from Thomas More. Three others attended Thomas More. One grandson graduated from Thomas More’s TAP program in 1998 and the related MBA program in 2006.

Marian’s dreams of being a novelist never materialized. The last ten years of life were a struggle with her husband’s Parkinson’s disease and her own cardiovascular disease. After Ray’s death, Marian moved to St. Charles Senior housing in Ft. Wright. She died in September 2004, leaving behind 6 married children, 15 grandchildren, 3 great-grandchildren, hundreds of grand nieces and nephews, and thousands of her one-time Catholic students. She is buried next to her husband of 53 years at St. Mary’s Mausoleum in Fort Mitchell.

Dr. Mary C. Boyd is the daughter of Marian Krieg and is herself a proud graduate of Villa Madonna College. Mary intends to publish this biography in the family blog, “The Tales of a Family Archivist.”

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

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