Fernanda (Fern) Walch, born in Italy in 1924, likes to think her story began before that, with her parents, Louis and Ada Tolari.
“My father came to America when he was sixteen years old,” said Fern.
He lived with his sister in Iowa and worked in the coal mines for a time, eventually moving to Detroit. World War I broke out and he became part of the Polar Bear Expedition in Archangel, Russia. Their mission, originated by the British, was to prevent the German offense from breaking through the French line.
When the war was over, Louis returned to Italy to visit his family, and there he met Ada, his future wife and Fern’s mother. They fell in love and got married within a couple of months. Louis went back to Detroit but Ada was not allowed to join him.
“At the time, there wasn’t a law allowing your spouse citizenship if you married overseas,” said Fern.
They spent over a year apart while Ada waited for her immigration papers to come through. During that time, Louis visited, and Ada became pregnant. She was six months along before given the okay to leave for a new life in America.
“But then the steamship company wouldn’t let her travel!” laughed Fern.
Fern was born in January of 1924 and when she was ten months old, she and her mother made their crossing to America. The family lived in the Italian community on the East Side of Detroit. Shortly thereafter, Fern’s brother Joe was born.
During the Great Depression, Fern’s dad struggled to find work in Michigan so they returned to Iowa where he found work in the coal mines.
“Everyone lived in small wooden houses that looked exactly the same,” said Fern. “The mining companies owned the houses and town store. They rented the houses to the workers and all groceries purchased at the town store were subtracted from their paychecks.”
While the coal community provided financial stability, Ada grew restless. One day, Louis got up for work, but felt ill and Ada suggested he stay home for the day. That day, the coal mine that was Louis’ work-site collapsed and he lost many of his coworkers.
“It was lucky he didn’t go,” said Fern.
This defining moment caused them to move back to Detroit.
Fern attended Southeastern High School, graduating in 1942. During her senior year, Pearl Harbor was bombed. More than half the young men in her senior class enlisted in the US. Army, Navy and Marines.
Fern was able to graduate early and went to work for the Detroit Board of Education. The following autumn, she accepted a position at Wayne University, working and attending night classes.
During this time, she met the love of her life, Anthony.
“I was nineteen years old, and working a sweater and skirt dance when he walked in,” said Fern.
Tony was a young soldier home on furlough. They went on their first date, to the opera, the very next day. Tony returned to service, stationed on Iwo Jima.
After he finished his military commitment, Fern and Tony were married in 1947 at St. John Berchman’s Church. They settled in Detroit and began a quiet life together. Tony became one of the city’s first travelling appliance repair technicians for Edison.
During his work travels, Tony came across property in Southfield, and he and Fern built their first home, moving there in the early 1950’s. They lived in Southfield for most of their life together, raising six children: three boys and three girls.
Fern and Tony began building a retirement home in Florida while living in Michigan and eventually moved to Tampa in 1986. During the fifteen years they lived in Florida, they made many friends and established strong roots in their community. They enjoyed extensive travel, visiting family members in Europe often.
To be closer to immediate family and their grandchildren, Fern and Tony moved back to Michigan in 2001, living in a condo community in Farmington Hills. Over the next several years, they enjoyed family and friends in Michigan until Tony’s health started to fail. Ultimately, he started receiving services in a nursing home and Fern wasn’t comfortable staying in their condo by herself.
Fern and Tony had become familiar with Fox Manor during visits with friends who had lived there. Fern visited again, this time to see about a residence for herself. She joined the Fox Manor community in early 2011 and Tony followed shortly thereafter, taking up residence at Lourdes. Fern lost Tony later that year, but the pain of that loss was tempered by the love and support of the entire Lourdes Community. At Fox Manor, she has found a remarkable combination of warmth, loving care, outstanding services and a community in which she feels valued and respected.