Winifred Mary Stehle Woltering McCaffrey died October 28, 2020 of congestive heart failure. She died in the devoted, loving care of her daughter and son-in-law, Deirdre and Patrick Morgan. Wini, as friends called her was a woman of grit, compassion and love. She took uncommon risks, condemned bigotry and lived life with great passion on her own terms. She was born October 3, 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri and reared by a doting German-American father and a strict, domineering, politically active, Irish-American mother. Wini fell in love with Don Woltering in high school. The year she graduated, a friend wrote in her yearbook, “Don no longer laughs, he Winnies! She was 19 when they got married.
After World War Two when the couple had the first of their three children, Dennis, she responded to an oil company’s ad seeking workers for employment in Venezuela, South America. She sent the Creole Petroleum company a letter along with Don’s resume’.
In a semi-autobiographical memoir of short stories she wrote called Meet Me In St. Louis, Wini tells how a company representative got in touch and asked simply if the couple could be comfortable living in South America. In her book, she wrote that overseas jobs stirred in her “dreams of escape” from a city in the late 1940s where discrimination against Jews and African Americans was common. Family and friends who could not imagine life outside of St. Louis — never mind outside of the United States — were alarmed, even fearful for the young family’s safety.
But for Wini, Venezuela turned out to be a rich, rewarding experience where she and her husband lived well, prospered and had two more children — David and Deirdre. She blossomed in motherhood, showering her three children with unconditional love. She sewed outfits for them, encouraged their interests and provided direction in a sometimes confusing world. Her children would discover through their lives that Wini was always there to provide moral support, to celebrate their achievements and, if need be, sacrifice for them.
After ten years in Venezuela and back in the states, settled in Sunnyvale, California, Wini supported her husband’s purchase of a fast food restaurant. But the business eventually went bankrupt and the family’s fortunes spiraled downward. Then, when she was just in her mid-30s, Wini’s husband could no longer work and provide for the family.
She had not worked outside her home for 20 years or more and had only gone to secretarial school after high school. With three children and a husband to support, she was undoubtedly afraid and uncertain, yet undaunted as she started a child day care business in the home they rented in Los Altos, California. When fire destroyed that home, she got a secretarial job at Stanford University, eventually working her way up to administrative assistant to the chairman of the Department of Anthropology.
In the mid-1970s, years after her marriage had died, Wini left Don and eventually married anthropologist John McCaffrey. For a time, they shocked friends and family, living in a tree house with no electricity or running water in the mountains of Santa Cruz County, California! It was something she admitted in her writing years later that she considered unimaginable — until she actually did it! Wini credited John with inspiring her and encouraging her desire to write.
She followed him to Lusaka, Zambia when he found a teaching job at the University of Zambia. It was a dangerous time in that African region — essentially a war zone with bombings and brutal murders — as Zambia’s president supported the Freedom Fighters battling for the independence of neighboring Zimbabwe. A close friend of theirs vanished on a trip to a combination bar and grocery. Her two years in Lusaka led to Wini’s first book, Gule Wamkulu — The Big Dance, about their exciting, adventurous, sometimes terrifying time in Zambia and the generous, engaging, often disadvantaged people they befriended. After several years back in the states, mounting tension in their marriage led to divorce. Yet, as Wini pursued her love of writing, she once again took in John who at times had resorted to living on the streets. She cared for him with love and compassion as his health deteriorated and he eventually died. In a tribute to John, she published a book of his poetry, entitled Journal Of An Experimental Animal.
She also published another book of her own, Meet Me In St. Louis, a series of fascinating, mostly auto-biographical short stories based on her adventures, the people she loved, those who loved her and her influences in life. In an inscription in the front of the book, she wrote “Having buzzed around creation unexpectedly, stories in these creative memoirs spill with joy of feeling one with people and — at home in distant places. "Wini had a strong streak of independence and loved her solitude. At the same time, she loved people! She was extremely generous with her time and talents. In her later years, while still driving, she would take friends who couldn’t drive to their appointments, to go shopping and to help them run errands.
She was multi-talented, capable of sewing beautiful outfits, making delicious meals and decorating her home with a warm sense of inviting elegance. She loved to share those talents with family and friends, often gathering them in her home to celebrate milestones and accomplishments. She was always a giver in life, sometimes, perhaps, giving too much of herself to others.
Wini relished her special talent for expressing her thoughts, ideas and experiences on the printed page. She loved engaging with fellow writers in the SF Peninsula branch of the California Writers’ Club where members of the group shared what they were writing and talked about ways to strengthen and enhance their stories.
Despite her modest means, Wini had a remarkable gift for for dressing with a great sense of style — often with outfits she found in thrift shops. She took great pride in her appearance, her exercise regimen and her healthy lifestyle. Like all of us, Wini was a contradiction in some ways. She was unwaveringly religious, praying her rosary daily. But she did not believe in or follow all the tenets of her Catholic religion.
Wini McCaffrey leaves an indelible impact on all who loved her. She will be remembered as a devoted mother, grandmother and great grandmother who encouraged us to believe in ourselves, to pursue our dreams and to be open minded, passionate and adventurous as we approach life’s challenges and opportunities.
Wini McCaffrey is survived by her sons, Dennis Robert Woltering (wife Carol Washburn Woltering), David Rene’ Woltering (Wife Nancy Dakin Woltering), by her daughter Deirdre Ann Woltering Morgan (husband Patrick John Morgan), by her grandchildren Denise Carolyn Woltering-Vargas (husband Ricardo Vargas), Kristen Carle Woltering, Caitlin Paige Morgan Hagerty (husband Michael Hagerty), Kevin Robert Morgan (wife Megan Elizabeth Stafford Morgan), Nicholaus Harrison Woltering, Christopher Alexander Woltering (wife Zoë Wildgust Woltering), great grandchildren Belisa Caroline Woltering Vargas, Carlie Bree Woltering, Dennis Alberto Vargas Woltering and Hazel Ann Hagerty.
For those who want to remember Wini in some way, the family suggests donations in her memory to the California Writer’s Club, Peninsula Branch.
CA Writer’s Club, SF Peninsula, P.O. Box 853, Belmont, CA 94002
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