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Rosa Carl Oberholtzer

“She'd never spent a night outdoors before. She sat bolt upright all night in the tent as lightning flashed in all directions. And she was imagining every moment that the tent, at least, was about to burn up, if she didn't, or both of us. She was mostly concerned about me. She didn't want to lose me. She'd always been devoted to me, but never an affectionate mother. But I knew that she thought I was worth preserving.”


Rosa was a loving, protective mother who remained closely involved in Ober's life until her death in 1929. Although never openly affectionate or demonstrative in expressing her love for her son, she offered him her unfailing support even when she didn't fully approve of his decisions.

When Ober was 6 years old, Rosa filed for divorce from her husband Henry on the grounds of desertion. The next year, following the death of Ober's younger brother Frank, she and Ober moved into the large and gracious home of her parents Ernest Carl and Sarah Marckley Carl on the corner of Sixth and Perry, Davenport.

In 1911, when Ober extended his European stay to serve as American vice consul at Hannover, Rosa sailed across the ocean to join him. Like her son, she suffered from a heart condition, and when she became ill on that trip Ober found a place for her to convalesce in southern England, where they spent the remainder of the winter.

After Ober changed his permanent address to Ranier, Minnesota, in 1914, Rosa visited him for extended periods during the summer months. On her 1916 visit she came with the intention of inducing Ober to abandon his “northern nonsense” and come home to Davenport. Despite her misgivings about Ober's decision to live on the edge of the northern wilderness, however, she worked side-by-side with him hauling topsoil, planting corn, and raising chickens, geese, turkeys, and sheep in his 1916–21 venture to develop Deer Island for agriculture and tourism.

On one occasion, Ober needed Rosa's help with hauling some sheep to town. He wanted her to ride in the barge with the sheep “as a tranquilizer . . . so that they wouldn't jump overboard.” Ober planned to tow the barge with a boat powered by a four-cylinder motor and with “about two hundred feet of rope connected to the barge behind.” As reported by Joe Paddock, Ober later told the story:

“The boat would stop every once in a while, and I'd have to kneel down to work on the engine. I finally got it going on about three cylinders, thinking I was lucky to have managed this. I was just congratulating myself on the fact that I had it all going, when I turned around and the barge was gone! I didn't know where it had gone. I didn't know. I was all alone. Working on the engine, I had drifted north with a south wind, you see, toward Canada, out among the islands. My mother was out there alone somewhere with all those sheep. She was somewhere on the other side of the Islands – just where I didn't know. After a little exploring, I got around to the north side of the islands, and there I saw my mother standing at the front of the barge, waving at me.”

Although Rosa continued in poor health in 1924, she regularly cooked for as many as ten to fifteen people in the kitchen boat on Mallard Island, and she enjoyed providing piano accompaniment to Ober when he played the violin to entertain their guests. On August 14, 1929, after being an invalid for the past year and a half and suffering from pneumonia twice in the past year, she died, bequeathing Ober her house at 35 Oak Lane in Davenport and a commercial establishment at 422 West Second Street. Profit from the commercial property became Ober's most stable source of income for the rest of his life.

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