Single moms are not unusual today but when Irene Burton was a single mom in the 1960s she was in the minority. At 90, she offers us a little better vision because she has the advantage of hindsight, which we know is 20/20. Having walked in the shoes of so many women, she can not only provide inspiration, she can advise us of the important things that got her through.
Since leaving eighth grade at St. Mary’s in Manitowoc, Irene has worked. As a teen, while going to the Manitowoc Vocational School, she did housework. During the war, she worked for Mirro as an inspector of 20mm shells. Irene has worked at Kresge’s, at Manitowoc Specialty, at Stangel’s Super 3 and when she found herself alone to care for four children, she often worked two jobs, and for some of it, without a car. “I did a lot of walking,” she laughed.
It was the emotional support of her family and her many friends that pulled her through, she said. One friend, also alone, had a car and they would do things together. If there was one word that came up often, it was giving. Giving children every moment you can, every opportunity you can, all the love you have and helping as much as you can. In our high-pressure world, Irene’s sage advice to “take one day at a time and keep your cool” reminds us that, not only is each day precious but that we need to be patient with ourselves, since not to, only adds more pressure. “You just have to do the best you can because you will live through it,” Irene counsels. The second word that came up often in conversation was “gratitude.”
Her mother died at 47 when Irene was just 12. “I am so grateful for all these years,” she said of observing her 90th birthday on August 2. But of all the things for which she finds gratitude, the very best and the one thing of which she is most proud of is the children she raised. In her 90 years, her children are her life’s accomplishment.