ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BRENDA CONYERS
This story about two 21st century pioneer women takes place in Ramona, the small community near the northern border of Marion County.
Residents there know them as “those sisters from California.” Some of their family members call them “crazy.” And lots of other people call them “friends.”
Jessica Gilbert and Pat Wick are part of the Schubert family with long ties to Ramona.
“We first came back to Ramona about 15 years ago for a family reunion and I fell in love with Ramona,” said Wick.
A certain house on the corner caught her attention. Enough so that when she returned to her home in California, she didn’t stop talking about it for years.
“After she found out about it, she told me what good shape the house was in,” said her sister, Jessica, with a smile. “All it needed was electricity, indoor plumbing, a new porch, and a new roof.”
Occasionally, the sisters created “treasure maps”-a collage of pictures, colors, words and symbols of where they wanted to be in a number of years. It was a visual map of their hopes and dreams.
Ramona became a part of that sacred framed image.
“Since Ramona kept creeping into the picture year after year, I finally told her she better go for it,” Gilbert said.
Wick said that one summer, while looking at the house and yard, she spotted butterflies.
“As I got closer, I said, ‘I believe these are California Sister butterflies,’ and they were. They became kind of a sign for me.”
It took five years, but through several of life’s coincidences, the house became theirs.
They came as two single sisters over 21 with hammers, screw drivers, nails, not much knowledge, but lots of determination.
“We didn’t realize it, but once we acquired the house, we learned our grandparents home was inside this house,” Wick said. “Their house had been torn down and wood and parts of their house was stored inside of this house from the salvage.”
The sisters name their houses to give it a more personal touch. The first house became the Ramona House. It is their “living museum” honoring their ancestors.
When you knock at the front door, you will notice a brass plaque engraved with the name of the house and special family members.
Once inside, you will see the shining brass messages on pieces of furniture, pictures, besides light switches, and even beside the toilet bowl-each identifying the family member the item belonged to.
“We remember flushing this potty is possible because of Uncle Dick,” Gilbert said with a laugh.
She said the Ramona House holds special meaning for her.
“It reminds me of spiritual things, the important things,” she said. “Spiritual to us is family, love and the preciousness of life. We both agreed we want this house to be filled with love.”
Their love of family, preciousness of life, and hard work is clearly seen in the result of their labors.
When they came to Ramona and began renovating the house, neighbors took a lively interest and offered all kinds of valuable help.
“One man brought us a Dr. Pepper and a Pepsi one day,” Gilbert said. “We asked him how he knew these were our favorites, and he laughed and said, ‘I just asked down at the store.’ That’s just the way Ramona people are.”
The Ramona House, now finished, is the gathering place for the family’s Fourth of July reunions.
“We have wonderful reunions,” Wick said. “We do all kinds of things. We make experiences happen.”
The sisters shared stories about front-porch theater, making pies at the Lutheran Center with all the children, and putting together a family quilt which was completed by their 94-year-old aunt, Anna Schimming.
“Aunt Anna has always lived within two miles of her birthplace,” Gilbert said. “She is wonderful.”
Added Wick: “Before this all came about, I flew out here from California for one of the early reunions. By the time I got here, it was about 2 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, and everyone was already going home. I came all this way for nothing.
“We want this home as a place for all the family to come and share their stories and memories, if you are absent from people too long, you can’t create memories,” she said.
The sisters have also purchased the house across the street and are in the process of making it into a bed and breakfast.
“We call this one Cousins Corner,” Gilbert said. “Upstairs, Pat has painted a family tree with everyone on it. This is where family can stay when the come to our reunions.”
To finance the project, the sisters sent out letters telling the family of their plans. Family members were invited donate money toward a room to be remodeled and that room would be named after them.
“If we ever sold the house, they would get the money back they had put in,” Gilbert said.
And the money came.
“We are the weavers,” said Gilbert. “We weave the family together and the stories.”
The reunions continue and are growing.
“Once you come, you’ll come back,” Wick said. “That’s the way it has been working. We have cousins bringing their grandchildren.”
It is also important to the sisters to be active in their community. They have gone door-to-door to each of the 42 homes in Ramona, distributing flyers and just “getting to know the neighbors.”
They have gathered historical items about Ramona and have left displays in the post office when they had to return to California. Now they have an office in the bank in which they are developing a Ramona Museum. They are busy organizing a living nativity for Dec. 23, and are encouraging citizens to decorate their homes with lights for Christmas.
“We even asked if the fire department would help some of the people get their lights hung, and they said, yes,” Gilbert said.
The sisters have also developed a town board game, which has the community laid out from the railroad tracks, the school, the church, on the board.
The object is to travel through Ramona to get to “the other side.” Players can draw cards along the way. Some ask questions that require some thought and others are just fun cards for those who aren’t in the mood for soul searching.
“As we have played the game, we have learned a lot about family members that we didn’t know before,” Gilbert said. “We had an uncle who loved to play it. We played it a lot, and the next summer he died. We were so glad to have the time with him and to have gotten to know him.”
They have also written a children’s book titled: “Emmy Takes a Census.” They hope to have an autographing party before Christmas.
They are working on other books, including, “Two Parked Cars and A Dog in the Park,” which is a collection of stories about being connected to family, the land, and one’s heart.
Another house is on their list of projects. They call it “Green Acres” because it has lots of fixing up to be done.
Wick is the writer and artist, among many other talents, and Gilbert is the public speaker.
“We just want to share the preciousness of life, and to encourage people to live in this moment,” Gilbert said, “and to believe in yourself.”