WORTHINGTON — Martha “Marnie” Cashel McCarthy was a humble, quiet, smart woman with a passion for people and a loving heart, say those who knew her.
McCarthy, the woman whose friendship with a Finnish pen-pal at age 10 ultimately led to the creation of Worthington’s now 73-year sister city partnership with Crailsheim, Germany, died May 28 in her long-time home of Sante Fe, N.M. She was 84.
“We mourn for Martha ‘Marnie’ Cashel-McCarthy, co-founder of the first German-American partnership and daughter of the honorary citizen of Crailsheim, Theodora Cashel,” shared Carola Schnabl and Dalia Fugate on behalf of members of the Crailsheim-Worthington Komitee and circle of friends of the partnership. “Lifelong, she devoted all her energies for international understanding and peace. We lose with her an extraordinary, unique person who always was an idol for us and always will be.
“Our thoughts are with her husband Bill, the four children and their families,” they said.
The Cashel legacy
The story behind Worthington-Crailsheim partnership has been told many times, but it bears repeating in McCarthy’s own words, penned to The Globe in an Aug. 4, 2007 letter, marking the 60th anniversary of the sister city relationship:
“In the spring of 1947, I sent a letter to George Grim (the “I Like It Here” columnist for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune) in reply to his offer to arrange 'pen-pals' between children in the upper Midwest and those in war-ravaged countries in Europe,” McCarthy wrote. “With great excitement, I received the name of a girl in Finland who also was 10 years old and wanted to exchange letters with me.
“... I sent my first letter to Kerttu Seikkenen and eagerly waited for her response. As I had written about my family, my school activities and my community, she also told me about hers — enclosing a small black and white photograph of her large family and ending her letter with a sentence which I have never forgotten: ‘I know it is considered shameful to beg, but since I have only paper shoes, I wonder if you might have an extra pair to send me?’
“Of course, I was reminded of how fortunate we were to have been American children during the war. I also was growing up with LIFE magazine photographs of the devastation in Europe and the haunting faces of innocent victims. I could barely imagine Kerttu’s and her family’s suffering, but it was the thought of having only paper shoes in the wintertime which sent me flying into my own closet — not much there, but I probably found one or two pair which I had outgrown.
“Then it occurred to me that there must be other closets, like mine, in our neighborhood. My friend, Patsy Bartz, my younger brother, Mike and I hauled our rusty red wagon out of the garage and proceeded from door to door, reading Kerttu’s letter to whomever answered the bell. I remember it being a damp, cold, gray fall day, but we were warmed and encouraged by the response of our neighbors. Within a very short time, we had filled the wagon and returned home, triumphantly, with 22 pairs of shoes for Kerttu and her family. We dumped them in the middle of the kitchen floor … and with my parents’ help, began the job of packing and shipping our bounty off to Finland.
“That evening, as we gathered around our dinner table, our parents congratulated us for our efforts and then began some musings which would have much broader ramifications. ... I do remember the conversation that evening, especially my mother and dad smiling their approval, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Just imagine ... three children have accomplished so much in so few hours — just imagine what might happen if several families got together and sent, or what if a whole town were to ‘adopt’ another whole town, in Europe, for instance. Just imagine!’
“My parents (Charles and Theodora Cashel) began talking about this idea to others in Worthington, and during the following year, I remember growing excitement in our house as the wheels of government (here and in Germany) began rolling toward the realization of those imaginings. I also remember being a small part of a large group of people, packing boxes with tons of donated clothing (in the Armory). I remember going to the depot when those boxes were crated in overseas shipping cartons and loaded in cavernous railroad cars, and I remember the joy in my mother's face when the first letters from Crailsheim came to Worthington.”
‘In our hearts forever’
“We were so lucky to have Martha McCarthy,” said Schnabl, the 1985-86 Crailsheim exchange student to Worthington. “Without her, Crailsheim and Worthington wouldn’t know about each other. We wouldn’t have this amazing partnership and student exchange, and so many friendships on both sides.”
“It is our legacy to keep this friendship alive for many, many more generations,” she added.
Schnabl said McCarthy was a wonderful woman, with a generous and pleasant way toward all people.
“It is hard to believe that we will not be able to see Martha Cashel-McCarthy again,” added Elfriede Kohr of Crailsheim, a longtime supporter of the sister city partnership. “She will stay in our hearts forever together with lots of wonderful memories.
“We will always remember her gratefully,” she added. “Whenever I pass ‘Martha McCarthy Street’ in Crailsheim, I remember her and Bill.”
McCarthy was unable to attend the 70th anniversary celebration of the sister city partnership hosted by Crailsheim, Germany, in July 2017, instead appearing on a large screen to virtually greet attendees and speak of the partnership’s beginnings at the end of World War II. Crailsheim was 90% destroyed 10 days before the end of the war, when Allied forces fired on the town after Nazi soldiers refused to let the residents surrender.
McCarthy said her family and the city of Worthington shared the same vision that tolerance, brotherhood, world peace and international understanding could best be achieved not by governments, but through people-to-people friendships. In 1958, the Worthington-Crailsheim partnership was recognized by the United Nations with the World Brotherhood Award.
A humble woman
Former Worthington Mayor Robert J. Demuth shared the story of meeting Martha and Bill McCarthy at Worthington’s Chautauqua Park a couple of years ago as they were passing through after a visit to Alexandria.
“She said, ‘I’m really not that important,’ and I said, ‘Martha, you don’t realize what you’ve done for this community and what you’ve done for Crailsheim,’” Demuth recalled. “I was in Crailsheim nine times and talked to a lot of people. They had stories of what the Worthington partnership meant to them.”
Crailsheim has named streets after Martha McCarthy, Theodora Cashel and Bob Demuth.
“She was just an ordinary, common person. She never put on airs — she lived a very simple life,” Demuth said. “I’m sorry that she’s gone. We had a good friendship.”
Dorothy Sietsema said McCarthy “did something really special” and at such a young age.
“She really had an interest in people. She was soft-spoken, yet intelligent,” Sietsema said. “I saw all good things in her. She was a good student, and she accomplished a lot in her life by starting this program.”
Russ Rickers echoed Sietsema’s comments, saying McCarthy was very kind and unassuming.
“In those years, people did things because they wanted to — not because they wanted notoriety. They just did it because they wanted to help others.”
Rickers recalled the paper drives, metal drives and clothing drives, and said the people of Worthington were very receptive to helping others who were less fortunate.
“She thought (helping) Crailsheim was something good to do — to help the less fortunate,” he added.
Janice Berger, past president of Worthington-Crailsheim International, said she met McCarthy in 2014 in Crailsheim, though had long known the story of McCarthy’s role in the partnership’s beginning.
“She was a very humble lady with a lot of wisdom, a super kind heart — just beautiful, inside and out,” Berger shared. “That’s what impressed me the most.”
During Berger’s visits to Crailsheim, she’s often been shown appreciation from the people there — those who remember the aid coming from Worthington, and from those who have heard the story.
“For them, the thought of people wanting to care for them so much — and did so much to help them rebuild — I think that’s why the story is so important there. It’s that kind act of helping that people never forget.”
Alan and Janice Oberloh first met Bill and Martha McCarthy in 2007, during the 60th anniversary celebration of the sister city partnership in Crailsheim. That was the celebration in which Martha met her Finnish pen-pal, Kerttu, for the first time face to face.
The Oberlohs said their first conversation with the McCarthys was one of instant friendship.
“They were just like long-time friends,” said Alan, a former three-term Worthington mayor and a current city councilman. After that first meeting, the Oberlohs would visit the McCarthys both in Santa Fe, and at their summer home in Alexandria.
“She had a heart as good as gold and as big as the sky,” shared Janice, who is now retired from her former city clerk post.
Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle said, “Martha and her legacy represents the very best in Worthington history and the kindness of our community. We are forever in gratitude to Martha McCarty.”
During McCarthy’s last visits to Crailsheim, Schnabl said she would always say, “See you Tuesday,” instead of saying “Good-bye.”
“She didn’t want to say good-bye because you maybe won’t see each other again when you are older,” Schnabl shared. “See you Tuesday.”
People wishing to send a card to McCarthy’s family may address them to Bill McCarthy, 3720 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87505.