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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Oral History from Mary Hefferan's Family

by Cindy Laug

The following data was gathered on April 5, 2007, through an oral history interview with Betty (Hefferan) Worden and her daughters Priscilla and Melissa. Betty is perhaps one of the last living family members who knew Mary personally.

“Aunt Mary planted her Eastmanville lot with forget-me-nots which spread like crazy.” “Every spring that whole corner by the river was a haze of blue!”

Betty first met Mary when she started dating Albert Hefferan in the late 1930’s. Albert was Mary Hefferan’s adopted son. Albert and Betty were married in October of 1940. Mary remodeled the ‘tea house’ in Eastmanville for the young couple.

Mary was a good mother-in-law to Betty. She was known to Albert and Betty as Aunt Mary and not mother. Mary preferred it that way, since she was not a married woman and back then, it would not be considered proper.

She loved animals. She owned dogs in the early years and always had lots of cats. She owned one cat that had litters quite frequently. Mary would put them in a box in her backseat and drive through the neighborhood finding homes for them all. Not unlike her work with D. A. Blodgett Home for Children she was always trying to find a real home for the children. She took a lot of pride in her cows and the high cream content they produced. She had a small barn and farm house west of the teahouse that was run by a farmer and his wife. She had pigs and sheep as well.

Mary loved children and was very close to all her nieces and nephews. Mary was especially proud of granddaughter, Priscilla. She loved to baby sit and showed her off. Priscilla was only 3 years old when her grandmother passed away, but still recalls sitting down to ‘tea’ with Aunt Mary at the little table in front of her house. Mary did not approve of anyone disciplining her granddaughter and had no problem stating so.

Unfortunately, Mary passed away in 1948, 3 years before her last granddaughter, Melissa was born.

Mary was also frugal. She was not a fancy person and preferred plain and simple clothes. Betty recalled a visit Mary had with a close friend, Charlotte Hughes, a very well to do lady in GR. When Mary knocked on the front door she was so plainly dressed that the servant asked her to enter through the back door.

She was very endearing, kind-hearted, and generous person. She was not only financially generous, but generous with her time and abilities. She left her mark with the social agencies in Grand Rapids. She was committed and worked very hard for many years and felt she was making a difference.

She was a trusting soul. Betty recalls Aunt Mary giving the ‘nice fella’ from Allendale a ride down Lake Michigan Drive. He was such a wonderful fella and it was only later that she discovered when he got out, so did her handbag! 

Mary was not feeling well those last few years and Albert would drive her into town for her meetings. She was not one to complain or fuss over herself. Albert found his mother on the morning of March 20, 1948. She had died of a heart attack in her home in Eastmanville.

Mary's son Albert passed away quietly in California in 1984. His daughters brought his ashes back to Eastmanville, to the river that he loved. It is what he wanted and Mary would have wanted too.

Betty, now 89 years old, has a keen mind and the names, dates, and places come easily. Both Priscilla and Melissa are interested in any information you may have regarding their grandmother.

My Reflection:

Mary set out to make her mark in the academic science world. But as life sometimes dictates, she only left a small mark in that world of science but made a significant impact on the social changes in child welfare that occurred in Grand Rapids from the mid 1910 until her death in 1948.

  • Mary’s home at 442 Fountain was sold in the late 1940’s and divided into 7 apartments and still remains so today.
  • Her home in Eastmanville is currently under new ownership and appears to be having a face lift.
  • The tea house in Eastmanville remains as Mary would have remembered it in 1948.

Do you think the forget-me-nots still bloom on the corner by the river, in their haze of blue?


Mary’s life puzzle continues to be put back together. I am attempting to reconstruct her part in GR history, a part of history worthy of our reflection and remembrance. I will continue to add pieces to Mary Hefferan’s life story. If you have any data you would like to share you can contact me at laugc@gvsu.edu.


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