CHANNAHON – Family gatherings around the dining room table became mini adventures when Viola Ramsey came to visit, said Viola’s nephew, Ed Dollinger of Joliet.
Stories ranged from Joliet-era life in the early 20th century to anecdotes about Viola’s travels. Ed said he was fortunate to join her on a 30-day European tour in 1983.
“She never wanted to watch the world go by,” Dollinger said. “She wanted to be part of it.”
Viola grew up in Bird’s Bridge, an area of Troy Township that is now Channahon, Dollinger said. Perhaps, said Viola’s niece, Donna Jeschke of Mazon, Viola learned about faraway places when she bid farewell to a cousin as he boarded a train to serve in World War I.
Near the end of her life – Viola was 101 when she died June 12 – Viola lived at the Timbers of Shorewood, Jeschke said, in proximity to her childhood home.
“She might not remember what she had for breakfast,” Jeschke said, “but she could still do math in her head.”
Her chore at 5 years old was herding the cows, which Viola did on horseback, accompanied by her dog. The outgoing Viola would chat fishermen along the I&M Canal as well as the gypsies and hobos traversing the same trail.
“She said that hoboes really did carry a stick with a red handkerchief tied to it with all of their belongings,” Jeschke said.
Daring adventures and Viola made a sweet pair, even then. Viola’s parents, afraid of fire from the candles, wouldn’t allow a Christmas tree, Jeschke said. Again while the family slept, 10-year-old Viola grabbed an ax, headed to the woods, cut down a tree and then dragged it back, where the family strung it with popcorn, Jeschke added.
After graduating Plainfield High School, Viola worked as a bookkeeper, saw the construction of the Rialto Square Theatre and attended its first silent movie, got her first car and then drove to Yellowstone National Park with her girlfriends.
According to her family, Viola's adventures didn't stop in the U.S. She rafted in Costa Rica on a river, surrounded by crocodiles and with howler monkeys. She rode elephants in India and also in Katmandu (where Viola also bathed her elephant in the river), camels in Egypt and an ostrich in Africa.
Viola traveled in a dug-out wooden boat through the waters of New Guinea and on the Amazon River, where she fished for piranhas. She rode through Shanghai in a rickshaw, on dog sleds in Alaska and the Swiss Alps and was carried in a sedan chair on the shoulders of two young Chinese men down more than 100 steps titled at a 45 degree angle.
She also traveled on a Chinese working ship through the “Three Gorges of China,” on a banana boat to Cuba and Guatemala and on a felucca down the Nile River.
After retiring to Arizona, Viola participated in many production aspects of the Sun City Players.