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Home for Christmas

December 19, 2007 |  8:38 am

Dec. 19, 1957
Los Angeles



Mary Lange left UCLA Medical Center for the little house at 3351 W. 117th St. in Inglewood, knowing that the cancer treatments had failed and praying that she would live to see one more Christmas with her children.

Lange, 42, and her husband, William, 60, had seven children before he died of cancer four years earlier. She went to work as a supermarket checker to support the family, ignoring the lump that had formed on her leg. A year later, a doctor found that it was cancerous and she began cobalt treatments at UCLA.

As her illness progressed, her oldest son, William Jr., 17, quit St. John Vianney School (now Daniel Murphy Catholic High School) and took a job in another supermarket in the chain that employed his mother. Jack, 15, also began working for the supermarket chain part time. Mary Ann, 13, took over the household chores and continued getting good grades, although she often missed school. They all took care of their younger siblings: Thomas, 11, Joan, 10, Robert, 6, and Jerry, 5.

Stella DeVault, Lange's mother, stayed with the family until she, too, died of cancer in June. Nell Madigan, a cousin with eight children of her own, also provided help.

Lange never complained, but finally the pain became too great and she had to quit her job at the supermarket. She came home Dec. 14 after three weeks in the UCLA hospital, where she was known as the "fight and faith" girl, receiving daily visits from the neighbors.

1957_1219_mary_lange But with Christmas still a week away, the cancer was too strong and Lange was failing quickly. "She was in pain but she seemed to overlook it--until she just couldn't any longer," Madigan said.

"Mary said, 'Keep the family together, please,' " her cousin told The Times. "She went so fast at the end. Those were her last words. She complained of a numb foot. She sat up and sighed.... That was all."

William, The Times said, was too busy for tears because he had to arrange the Rosary, funeral Mass at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church and burial at Holy Cross Cemetery.

After the funeral, the seven children trailed Lange's gray casket as it was taken to the cemetery. Their "young heads were tearfully bowed in sorrow," The Times said.

The children's plight prompted a huge outpouring of aid from Los Angeles residents, who offered money and gifts. An unidentified  Good Samaritan showed up at the front door with a check for $300 and an Inglewood Boy Scout troop brought a Christmas tree and decorated it.

Madigan's unmarried brother, R.E. McQuiston, left his home in Omaha to stay with the youngsters so that his cousin's wish would be fulfilled--the family would stay together.

On Dec. 29, 1957, The Times published a letter from Madigan, McQuiston and the Lange children:

"We wish we could thank the writers of many anonymous letters and those who called but this being impossible, we shall ask God in our prayers to bless all of you.

"Today, the world is in such upheaval, it is consoling to feel the warmth of friendly and loving people. May we with the help of God be a good example to other nations."

After that, we don't really know what became of the family. According to The Times, William Jr. was involved in a car accident seven months later in which a 10-year-old died when he was thrown from the other vehicle.

If anyone knows the rest of the story, I'd be interested in hearing it.

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