Katherine “Oma” Uhlmann Shultz
January 28, 1929 – December 3, 2022
Katherine was born Katharina Uhlmann in Munich Germany on the 28th of January 1929. She Americanized her name to Katherine when she became a U.S. citizen in the 1950s. Although her birthname was Katharina, her family called her Berta after her father’s favorite sister, and they referred to her as such throughout her life. She was second from the youngest of four sisters, Louise the eldest followed by Rosina, herself, and Erna the youngest. At the age of 9 she was struck with tragedy when her thirty-three-year-old mother died of tuberculosis. She lamented her whole life that she couldn’t remember her mother’s face because she had been kept away for many years due to the contagiousness of her disease. After her mother’s death, her father, and sisters moved into her paternal grandmother’s home. Her grandmother, also Katharina, stepped in and raised the girls. She had many fond memories growing up with her grandmother and loved her dearly.
When Katherine was 10, WWII started, and her father was drafted into the German army and was eventually killed in Italy shortly before the end of the war. While her father was away and during the air raids, the state moved her and her younger sister, Erna, to separate orphanages run by nuns in villages in the outskirts of Munich. There she befriended a nun who taught her knitting, crochet and sewing. Talents she would develop and master throughout her life. At one point she contracted rheumatic fever and wasn’t expected to live. Nevertheless, by the grace of God the nuns cared for her and nursed her back to health and miraculously that would be the only significant illness she experienced until she was in her late eighties and developed macular degeneration. She would often say that her illness as a child strengthened her. At the age of 14 she was released from the orphanage and placed into a job as a nanny for a family in the village where she cared for a newborn baby and developed a love of babies that she carried with her throughout her life. This was her first job and from the time she was 14 she worked almost continually until she finally retired at the age of 70.
At the end of the war, Katherine returned to live with her grandmother until she was approved to emigrate to the United States in 1952. Her then very elderly grandmother insisted she leave to be reunited with her eldest sister, Louise, who had married an American soldier and emigrated shortly after the end of the war and settled in Southern California. Although her life in Germany after the war was difficult, she would fondly recall the good times especially going dancing into the wee hours of the morning, spending time in her grandmother’s garden, bike rides into the country, sleeping in haystacks in farmhouses and watching her beloved operas with her boyfriend Rudi. It wasn’t all fun and games and she held two jobs, one during the day for a fountain pen manufacturer and another at night in a bakery that paid her with loaves of bread that she would barter for scarce food items during the hunger period after the end of the war. Somehow, she also found time to attend college and earned a degree in Home Economics in a goal of becoming a nurse caring for babies.
After emigrating to the U.S. her first job was working in a cannery for Hunts foods canning steaming hot tomatoes. She had higher aspirations and she taught herself English by struggling through books and watching movies and television. With this she developed her love of classic films that she maintained throughout her life. To the credit of her father who imparted in her the importance of education, she had a strong mathematical ability. Math being universal and not dependent on her English skills, she enrolled in night bookkeeping and accounting classes. She excelled despite her challenges with the language. She landed her first job as a payroll clerk and would eventually work her way up the ladder to payroll administrator and data processing manager. She was a pioneer on many of the original mainframe computers and technological advances from vacuum tubes, to wired boards, punch cards, and hard drives. She struggled, thrived, and proved her value through many challenges in the male dominated corporate world. She did so without complaint and was well liked and respected throughout her career. In her last job she worked in the aerospace industry and singlehandedly ran weekly payrolls for four locations across three states and Mexico. She loved her job and was proud to point out that it took three people to replace her when she retired.
Katherine would eventually have four children, Louise the oldest followed by Stanley, Joanna, and Christopher the youngest. She was left to care for the youngest two alone when her husband, Joseph Shultz, died unexpectedly at the age of 55 on March 5th, 1980. While she was in no means pampering, she was a loving mother and her children and later her grandchildren were the center of her life. The most devastating event of her life occurred on December 5th, 1982, when Stanley, at the age of 22, was struck and killed by a drunk driver. While she went on, this left a void that she carried with her the remainder of her life.
She would eventually have four grandchildren, Kristin, Joseph, Katharina, and Matthew, and three great grandchildren Kaylan, Liam, and Elora. Her namesake, Katharina, called her Oma, meaning Grandma in German, and that’s what she was referred to by most people who knew her in her later years.
God gave Katherine many talents and gifts and she used them to the fullest. She was a wonderful cook and baker. She could make meals from almost nothing and her apple strudel and her grandmother’s Christmas cookies were treasured by all. She was a master at sewing, knitting, crochet, needlepoint, quilting, oil and acrylic painting, and ceramics. As an avid gardener she lovingly tended her roses. She devoured books and loved her German crossword puzzles (Kreuzwortraetseln). She enjoyed her opera and classical music as she worked away on her hobbies. Of all her talents, her passion was in making porcelain dolls. This stemmed from her having to leave her only doll behind when she left the orphanage and her lifelong yearning to replace him. In making her dolls she brought together all her talents and would pour slip into molds, fire the greenware in her kiln, paint the faces and bodies, assemble them, and clothe them with custom patterns she designed. From silk hats to leather shoes her abilities were limitless. She won many ribbons for her handiwork. Rather than selling her works, her joy came from gifting to others. Money was always in short supply so she would sew for her friends to pay for her supplies, often working late into the night after a full day at work. Sleep was a luxury she didn’t have time for, and she would often say she’d have plenty of time to sleep when she is gone, but until then she had too much to do.
Katherine was hard-working and no-nonsense. She had a quick and cunning wit and was a shrewd practitioner of sarcasm. She was a proud American and unabashedly and unapologetically German and more importantly Bavarian. This made for some conflicting allegiances during international events like the Olympics. Not so secretly we all knew she always rooting for Germany to come out on top. She drove with a lead foot and her car came with a horn for a reason and she wasn’t afraid to use it as necessary…to keep traffic moving and clear her way. Typical German she loved and spoiled the many Dachshunds, Dackel in Bavarian, she had during her life leaving behind her beloved long-haired Hansi. Hansi was her ever vigilant companion and protector and he would clear the way for her with his piercing bark as they strolled through her condo complex. She lovingly referred to him as her Bubela or dear little boy and to her he was always “the top banana.”
She had an infectious laugh especially when telling jokes with her sisters, particularly in their Bavarian dialect. She was warm, inviting, generous, empathetic, and humble. Coffee was her mainstay, and her coffee maker was always on, and she drank several pots a day. She never took a handout and always paid her own way through life and was proud of it. As a single mom she continuously worried about paying her bills, but somehow, she always did. Punctuality was a necessity and absenteeism unacceptable. You either do something right or not at all. She proudly lived on her own until shortly after her 93rd birthday.
The greatest of her accomplishments was being the best mother, grandmother, and friend a person could have. She’d often say that being a mother was the only job she ever really wanted. She loved and treasured her children to the end. She is preceeded in death by her son, her husband and three sisters and leaves two daughters, one son, four grandchildren, three great grandchildren and her Dackel.
We love and will miss you…
A funeral Mass will be held at noon on Saturday, December 17th at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in San Clemente California.
- Date & Time: December 17, 2022 (12:00 PM)
- Venue: Our Lady Of Fatima Catholic Church
- Location: 105 N. La Esperanza San Clemente, CA 92672 - (Get Directions)