Florence Bucher was a reluctant seamstress, sewing her girls’ plain dresses using her old portable Singer® sewing machine, as was widely expected of a Mennonite mother in the 1950s. But her preferred dress patterns kept it simple – no buttonholes, please.
Gradually her older daughter Rachel took over the more complicated sewing. With her characteristic reliability, however, Florence continued to help the women make comforters in the sewing circle at Poarch Mennonite Church, in Atmore, Ala., where she and her husband Harold lived with their four children for 10 years in ministry with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Florence not only served as dispatcher and public relations chief for Bucher Electrical Service, she volunteered extensively in her church and community.
Photo provided by Carol Bucher Bixler
After 25 years in Alabama, when the children had all left home and moved to places like Ohio, Virginia, Missouri and Illinois, Harold left his refrigeration business behind and took a job at the Mennonite Publishing House in Scottdale, Pa., – a location much closer to grandchildren than was Atmore, Ala.
On the move back to Pennsylvania, Florence told Harold that she did not want to tell anyone in Scottdale that she could sew, since that was not something she really enjoyed.
That fateful first Sunday at Kingview Mennonite Church, as people were getting to know the new couple, one woman asked Florence, “Do you have a sewing machine?” Ever a woman of veracity, there was only one answer to that question.
Within the week, Florence inherited boxes of fabric intended for MCC comforters and school kit bags. Given that Florence was such a great listener, she enjoyed the time spent with the women of Scottdale over the ensuing years. She frequently talked about all the good times with Alta Mae Erb (1891-1995), who was still sewing comforters as she neared her 100th birthday.
As Florence and Harold approached their 80’s, it was obvious that it would be helpful for them to live closer to one of their children. With urban options in Indianapolis, St. Louis and Washington DC, small town Bellefontaine, Ohio, became the obvious choice.
Her daughter Rachel (Kauffman), former MCC Great Lakes board member, included Florence in her extensive work for MCC. Florence’s contribution was cutting out and then sewing together the patches for comforters.
There was always a comforter in the frame in Florence’s basement ready to be knotted, along with whoever in the community stopped by to help. For a full decade, this efficient duo turned out more than 300 comforters each year.
They worked so diligently, that given the wear and tear on successive machines, the local sewing machine service folks had on occasion been reluctant to honor warranties, suspecting her of using the machines industrially rather than the acknowledged personal use.
In between comforters, Florence was sewing MCC school kit bags. At about the time she celebrated her 90th birthday, she committed herself to sewing a dozen bags a day, six days a week. That pace of sewing and stringing more than 3,500 bags a year continued until a couple months after her 97th birthday.
Photo provided by Carol Bucher Bixler
At that point, her declining energy made it more difficult to continue at that rate. However, inasmuch as she had just been given enough fabric to assemble more than 700 school kit bags, Florence persevered.
After a diagnosis of acute leukemia at the beginning of August, she used her diminished energy to exchange greetings with her many friends and family members. However, she still managed to sew three bags three days before her death on September 14, 2018.
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Carol Bucher Bixler, husband Sam, and son Eric, were in Burkina Faso with MCC in the late 1980's. Florence moved to Indianapolis for her final year of life, much to Carol's delight. They are actively involved at Shalom Mennonite Church. Carol enjoys sewing almost as much as her mother does, and like her mother, has not figured out how to refocus service to MCC after age sixty.
David Bucher lives with his wife, Sharon Hoover, in Fairfax, Va., and is retired from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. They attend Community House Church in Washington D.C. David worked with Ten Thousand Villages in Alexandria, Va. for many years, and has volunteered with SWAP in Elkhorn, West Va.