The Story of Tootie
The life of Frances Henrietta Wesselmann is a story of love, laughter, and light. And it’s not over yet.
Her story began in Monroe City, Missouri, in 1930, when she was brought into this world by her parents Marguerite “Grama Poose” Hilbert and Henry Hilbert. Her father dubbed her “Tootie” at an early age because she followed him around like a little train caboose. “Where’s my little Toot?” he was often heard to say. Tootie grew up on a turkey farm surrounded by animals, including her favorite horse Cricket. Her high school activities provide a window into the breadth and depth of Tootie’s love of life. While attending Monroe City High School, she played basketball, was in the glee and speech club, sang in the chorus, served on the yearbook staff, played trombone in the band, was a cheerleader, served as sports editor of the school paper, treasurer of her freshman and sophomore class, secretary of her junior class, and president of the graduating class of 1948.
Tootie graduated from Nurses Training at St. Mary’s Hospital in Quincy, Illinois, in 1951, received a B.S. degree in Education from Southern Illinois University in 1974, and a Master’s degree in Health Education from SIU in 1978. She thrived everywhere she lived from the smallest of towns to the largest of cities, including Belleville, Carbondale, Chicago, and Quincy, Illinois, and Kansas City and Monroe City, Missouri. She enjoyed two marriages with Dr. Bill Burton and Mr. Robert Wesselmann. In addition to her life-long career as a nurse, she also served as a probation officer in Jackson County, Illinois, the Chief Nursing Officer for Marion Penitentiary, and a realtor. The last years of her life were spent living with her daughters in Greensboro, NC and Elizabethtown, KY. Most recently, she was in the care of the wonderful staff at Atria Senior Living and Helmwood Healthcare in Elizabethtown, KY.
She attended many reunions with her favorite classmates through the years, was a natural-born storyteller, and was always up for a challenging debate. She was an avid reader, consumer of knowledge, loved swimming, boating on Crab Orchard Lake, playing cards, and Scrabble. Every year she found a way to purchase season tickets for herself and her children to attend the performances at SIU’s McLeod Theater. Performances were often followed by loud, laughter-filled dinners at Denny’s or ice-cream at the DQ “wall”. When streaking was hip in the early 1970’s she wrapped up her children in warm blankets and found them a spot alongside the downtown Carbondale strip to watch.
She served a short stint with the Peace Corps in Fiji and spoke fondly of her support of the Guatemala Mission Corps. Tootie was a lover of informal and formal education and was a passionate supporter of diversity, inclusion, and liberating the marginalized. After her kids were grown, Tootie befriended, supported, and loved many international students through the Center of International Education program at SIU. Her love of Carbondale, SIU, Giant City, and Paul Simon was fierce.
She jokingly referred to herself as a “recovering Catholic” and her love for a spiritual power larger than life was always present. She introduced her children to all forms of religion and encouraged them to discover their own truths. Her religion aligned well with the Catholic spirituality centered on limitless love and expansive world views practiced today by Sisters Miriam Wesselmann and Florence Wesselmann, both School Sisters of Notre Dame.
Long before Nike and Yoda, Tootie raised her children in the spirit of “just do it” and “try is a four-letter word.” She loved to travel, had the greenest thumb around, was always up for anything, and inspired all those she met with her joy-embracing approach to life. Even after a double nursing shift at Carbondale Memorial Hospital, she would take a five-minute nap and then be ready to shoot out the door for a matinee movie. In 1990 her youngest daughter, who was researching marine mammal internships, told her that a scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA invited her to stop by if she was “ever in the area”. Tootie’s immediate response was, “well, you better get in the area.” Within an hour, her daughter was packed up in her Mom’s car, driving towards Provincetown, MA. To Dr. Clapham’s surprise, she arrived on the Center’s doorstep 23 hours later with coffee and scones in hand.
Tootie was beautiful, wise, witty, and challenged those she loved to embrace life to the fullest. When chatting with restaurant servers, she was often overheard saying, “I’m a vegetarian, but tonight I think I’m in the mood for the steak!” When told in 2018 that she was about to be a Great-Grandmother, her immediate reaction, said with a smile, was, “I already am a great Grandmother!”
Tootie’s story continues through her children Fabio Burton, Kaye and Tim Giles, Paul Wesselmann and Jamie Markle, and Mia Su and John Cary; her grandchildren Jessica Burton, Jamie and Fred Rodgers, Andrew and Hannah Giles, Casey Giles, Jesse Giles, Dakota Cary, Carson Cary, and Grant Cary; her great-grandson Charles Rodgers and soon to arrive great-grandson, Hudson Giles.
She passed away peacefully and is currently in heaven playing gin rummy by day and bridge by night.
Following her wishes, her body was donated to the SIU School of Medicine. A celebration of her life will be held later this year. Walker Funeral Home & Crematory of Carbondale entrusted with arrangements. Expressions of love can be made in the form of donations to either The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute or Richard Buckminster Fuller Dome Home.