“When she passed away, we asked, ‘What would she want her money to accomplish?’”
Emma Pfleeger was born in 1918, lived on a farm in northern Indiana, and as a grown woman she talked about the Great Depression — growing up in a farming family that at times didn’t have the money needed to even start a crop.
“She often told the story about the one potato,” says her son Chuck Pfleeger. “My mother, on the farm, a young girl in her family of four – and all they had to eat was one potato.”
One lone potato for supper for the entire family. “She told the story with sadness, not a sense of victory over poverty,” Chuck remembers of the tale. “She did not have a happy, carefree childhood.”
The experience with poverty formed Emma Pfleeger’s way of living. She always “made do” with very little. She was careful with money; she realized how circumstances beyond her control could quickly take her from sufficient to insufficient food.
Success at home and work
She had a happy marriage to a hard-working man. After graduating high school in 1929, Paul Pfleeger knocked on doors to find any kind of work he could. He was an undertaker’s assistant, washed dishes and did various other jobs before landing a job as an assistant in a shoe manufacturing company. He rose through the ranks of production control at several companies, finally starting his own business.
Emma was always generous with her time. Thanks to a strong work ethic and even stronger family values, she was comfortable for the rest of her years — never uncertain where her family’s next meal would come from.
Fear of poverty
And yet, near the end of her life, as she suffered from dementia, she had a distinct fear that she would run out of money, her son Chuck and daughter-in-law Shari recall. “That was tough to watch,” Shari says.
At times, the fear of being poor again overcame her. Perhaps her dementia was taking her back in time, to disturbing memories of poverty in her youth and feelings of helplessness.
Chuck and Shari knew Emma would want to do something to ensure that no family has to face just one potato for dinner, or not know where their next meal will come from.
“We have long been supporters of the Capital Area Food Bank, and the work it does for the hungry,” say Chuck and Shari. They received a modest inheritance when the senior Pfleegers passed away, and decided to share some of that money with a community in need.
The DC couple’s recent generous donation to the food bank honors Emma and Paul Pfleeger’s lives. Their struggle through the Great Depression, hard work and satisfaction of overcoming financial adversity are woven into the donation that will surely help others manage difficult times and see brighter days ahead.