An adventurous life led by circumstance and choice

In loving memory



Verda lived an adventurous life by circumstance and choice.   By the time she was five, streetcars and automobiles had finally taken over the roads and the first “Talkie” was released.  Life was comfortable and happy growing up in Indianapolis.

But when the Great Depression hit in 1929, she was only seven and life changed.  Even though her father kept his job with the City Water Company, he was regularly paid with promissory notes and money was short.  She often told the story of being happy to get a new winter coat but then on her way to school saw her dad at the bus stop with no coat at all and how profoundly sad she felt.

Finally the depression ended not long after Verda had graduated from high school, but then the United States entered WWII.  She took a bold step for a young girl from the Midwest and joined the Navy as a WAVE.  She was stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas as a secretary.

While in the Navy she met Warren Gustafson, a Naval Aviator, they eventually married.  She was discharged from the Navy because marriage between a WAVE and a member of the US Military was against policy at the time.

After flight training, Warren was stationed in Guam for the duration of the war.  After the war, and throughout the 50’s they moved from one air station to another while raising four kids.

Verda was always artistically talented and driven to be creative.  She somehow managed to find time to learn tailoring and sew many of the kids’ clothes, and design rag dolls. If someone wanted to sew she would teach them. Could that woman volunteer! Wherever there was a need, she stepped up.

Remember she was moving from state to state every year or so, raising 4 kids, with an often absent husband.  At 8 months pregnant with their third child Warren was sent to fight in the Korean War.  Verda soon had a newborn, a two year old and a 4 year old, and alone in California.  Warren served overseas several times while Verda settled in at a new location with the four kids.

But actually she hadn’t seen nothin’ yet!  It was 1967, Warren had retired from the military and was hired as a pilot for Air America in Vietnam.  Unlike military overseas assignments, this time the family got to go.  So from 1967 through 1972 the family lived in Saigon – the longest time they had ever lived in one place.

Verda got busy right away teaching at a little quasi American Correspondence School put together for the few American kids that lived there.

When she found the need for English teachers she got the whole family involved teaching English in the Vietnamese neighborhood schools.

She soon discovered an orphanage down the street in a Buddhist Temple and became friends with the monks; she started supporting the orphanage in many ways.  Since her husband was retired military, Verda still had military privileges; she took advantage of her access to the 3rd Field Hospital when an orphan needed medical treatment.

She became acquainted at another orphanage where all the children were in process for foreign adoption, she started to take children to live in her home, to be nursed to the best possible health in preparation to be allowed to be adopted internationally.

Unfortunately, when the family moved back to the U.S., Warren and Verda had different ideas about life after retirement.  After 30 years and raising four kids they decided to divorce.

It was 1972, Verda finally settled down for good in Carlsbad.

She settled down but she didn’t slow down.  The kids were getting out on their own so she got even more serious about satisfying her need to be creative. To make this short we’ll just list some of her artistic pursuits:

– She made beautiful silk flowers

– She could make a lamp from anything, fix it, paint it, wire it, voila!

– Learned cake decorating

– Learned to upholster furniture and upholstered all her living room furniture

– Continued sewing clothes for her grandchildren

– Quilted quilts and jackets and vests

– Learned stenciling

– And her biggest endeavor… porcelain doll making and sculpting

The miracle of it all is she married a man that supported her in all her creativity – and in fact became involved in whatever he could. For example he learned how to use the kilns and fired the porcelain. Verda was also teaching doll making classes, he learned all about porcelain and fired all their work.  Malcolm Schmidt, a longtime resident of Encinitas, was as industrious and curious as she was and they kept busy and enjoyed their retirement.

After 30 years of marriage Malcolm passed away and Verda turned to more community involvement – she volunteered at the Carlsbad tourist information center, volunteered for Toys for Tots, and delivered “Meals On Wheels” with a longtime family friend, Bob Peeples.

Along with their regularly scheduled “Meals On Wheels” days and route, they could be called on to fill in the schedule.

Bob and Verda were always there to help others.  They enjoyed each other’s company and became constant companions in life.

Near the end of Verda’s life when her health began to fail and life was becoming more difficult, Bob was there.

Just knowing he was there, and still spending time with her when she wasn’t getting around very easily, was such a comfort for her and the family.

Verda passed away peacefully while sleeping on September 11th.

Verda is survived by her four children: David Gustafson, Theresa Truslow, Laurie Ryan and John Gustafson, and four grandchildren.

She was predeceased by husband Malcolm R. Schmidt.

Instead of flowers, Verda would have appreciated donations in her honor to Meals On Wheels, 930 Boardwalk #C, San Marcos, CA 92078, where she delivered meals for the past five years with her very dear companion Bob Peeples.

A Memorial Service will be held at 1:00 pm on Saturday, October 18 at Gateway Community Church, 970 Los Vallecitos Blvd., San Marcos, CA.


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