By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 26, 2017
MARIETTA—Tim Woltering faced the impending funeral of his mother, Olga, killed in raw violence that struck her down Jan. 6 while among people picking up their luggage in the Fort Lauderdale airport.
She and her husband, Ralph, planned to soon board one of their beloved cruises for his birthday when a gunman stepped out of a bathroom and started to shoot, killing five people and injuring six others.
Still wrestling with the raw emotions, Woltering and his wife, son and daughter-in-law and grandson walked a nature trail in Woodstock.
Along the trail, a stranger had placed rocks to hold down a piece of paper. On it was a photo of a snowcapped mountain, with uplifting verses from St. Paul to the Christians in Rome.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” stated the verse from Romans 8:38-39.
“It was just at the right place and at the right time,” said Woltering. “It was a difficult day.”
His mom would have used her word “God-incidence” to describe it.
“Things that couldn’t be just coincidences. It was God showing her something. God showing her a way,” he said about the phrase she often used. And the paper? “It really just reminded me of my mom’s strong faith.”
That memory would be on his mind as friends, fellow parishioners and others who walked in faith with his mother crowded Transfiguration Church to support and pray with the Woltering family and even at times laugh in remembrance.
“No evil can destroy the light we saw in Olga. That light shines so brightly in the kingdom (of God),” said Msgr. Pat Bishop.
Msgr. Bishop, the retired pastor of the parish, spoke a message of hope to the family and to the congregation that filled the pews and stood along the church walls. Six priests concelebrated the funeral Mass on Thursday, Jan. 12, assisted by several deacons. The Mass was recorded and shown on the parish website.
Woltering’s life displayed a strong faith, a love of family, and her fondness to enjoy what life offered, especially on the dance floor. She was 84.
The family has been touched by the community support, memorial donations, and remembrances from people sharing how his mother touched lives they never knew about, said Tim Woltering. The family asked that donations be made to a fund set up in her name at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As of Jan. 23, more than $8,200 had been donated.
Born in Ipswich, England, Olga and her family lived through the Blitz of World War II, the German bombing of heavily populated British cities. “She could tell stories of her mother holding her and her brothers and sisters (and taking them) into the bomb shelter on a moment’s notice.” In school, she and her classmates practiced for expected German bombers by wearing gas masks.
In her late teens, she met her husband, Ralph. He served in the U.S. Air Force and was assigned to Great Britain. She became a Catholic after she got married. The couple traveled to many posts during his 22 years in the Air Force. Three of the four Woltering children were born in Great Britain. The family moved to the Atlanta area when he retired from the military for a job. The couple loved to take ocean cruises. For their 60th wedding anniversary, some 30 family members joined them aboard a ship.
The couple worshipped at Transfiguration for almost 40 years and they were a regular presence at the Saturday evening Mass. In addition, Olga ministered with the Atlanta Cursillo movement, aiding many in developing a renewed faith, said speakers at the Mass.
Friends and family have surrounded the senior Woltering with affection, prayers and support, doing things for him as he comes to term with losing his wife and the violent event, said Tim Woltering.
He said the family has turned to their faith to get through the tragedy.
“She would want us all to put our faith in God, as she always did, and lean on him when facing something like this,” said Woltering.
Law enforcement continues to investigate the case. Prosecutors are exploring the possibility of seeking the death penalty against U.S. military veteran Esteban Santiago, 26, who didn’t leave the scene after the shooting at the Florida airport and was immediately arrested. A criminal complaint against him includes murder and other charges. Formal charges have not yet been filed in federal court.
Woltering lived to make tomorrow better
The violence was a “perversion” of religion, Msgr. Bishop said, done “in the name of a god that no decent Christian, Jew or Muslim recognizes. It’s not religion. It’s a perversion of everything that is good and holy and worthwhile in this creation.”
He reminded the congregation that the Christian faith grew from the dark days when Jesus was crucified. The sun refused to shine on Good Friday as evil tried to destroy Christ. But as it was then, evil actions are not the end, he said, and the sun burst through on Easter.
People must come together to support each other during these sad days, he said. “Not everything is always beautiful. And that is when we need each other the very most,” Msgr. Bishop said.
Woltering’s goals were to love more dearly, including her family, friends, and people involved with Cursillo, he said. Woltering never set out to change the world, but she lived to make tomorrow better for her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren and her husband of 64 years, Msgr. Bishop said.
At Cursillo weekends, she held the hands of believers embarking on a journey toward a deeper spirituality, accompanying them and praying in the chapel for each one of them, he said.
“Today is the doorstep for tomorrow. And tomorrow is the doorstep for the kingdom of God,” he said. “It is that kingdom for which we were created and to which we will ultimately be born.”
Reciting from the book of Psalms, Msgr. Bishop said, “I believe I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
“Her faith was strong and contagious to others. She was a quiet and unassuming speaker, but when she talked, people listened,” said her son, Gary Woltering, who lives in Virginia. He spoke about his “mumsy,” calling her “the glue to the family” of three sons and a daughter.
“We were the luckiest children on earth to have her as our mother.”
The crowd heard about her infectious good nature, including when she tried to dance on a bar.
Friends laughed as Deacon Jesus “Tony” Nerio talked about his friend’s love of dancing and love of cruises. In fact, on one cruise, Woltering and her husband won the jitterbug dance contest. For the prize, they earned a bottle of champagne they enjoyed alone, he said.
“She loved to dance because she was full of life. She loved to dance because she was full of spirit. You can’t contain the spirit,” he said.
He said his friend had a knack for making troubles melt when she smiled at you. A gift of his friend was her faithfulness to prayer. He said it seemed Olga and God were so connected that when she prayed, God would respond, “Right away, Olga.”