Kathleen Ann Hering DoBrava was a dynamo packed in a 5-foot-1-inch frame.
She raised six of seven siblings and her eight children and cooked for hundreds at her church, even when feeling poorly.
When she died suddenly on Aug. 24, after years of asthma problems, DoBrava had a pile of homemade apple pies in the freezer and a stack of quilts she was finishing for each of 34 grandchildren. “She was a ‘Go in there and get it done!’ kind of person,” said her good friend and sister-in-law, Maria Jaworski. “She was not a procrastinator.”
Born to detached parents in Peoria, Ill., DoBrava learned early to fend for herself and the siblings she fed, cleaned and got off to school despite being a teenager herself.
She graduated from Manual High School at 18 in 1968. The Vietnam War raged. At the time, women needed parental permission to join the Army. Her father said no. “But she told him that she’d been signing his name on her report cards for years and so now she was really good at it. She signed his name and enrolled,” said her husband, Patrick DoBrava.
The Army sent her to Texas, trained her as a medical aide and in 1969 stationed her at Walter Reed hospital, which was then in Washington, D.C., to videotape patients in therapy. Touched by their suffering, she often ran to the canteen to buy Cokes and candy for bedridden soldiers. One day, a patient caught her eye. Vietnam veteran Patrick DoBrava, playing foosball, had been shot in the face, neck and back, and was enduring 18 months of reconstructive surgeries. For a time, he drooled and had four buttons holding skin grafts in place over his jaw.
Her first question? “Can you unbutton those buttons?” Patrick recalled with a laugh. “She didn’t mind any of that. … She liked my [blue-green] eyes. But my favorite thing about her was her personality, her generous attitude toward other people. She had a lot of empathy for people who were hurt. I also liked her figure. But that was hormones.”
They married in January 1970, and their firstborn, Stacy, followed within a year. Eleven months later, they had a son. They left the Army and moved to Patrick’s hometown of Minneapolis, and she and Jaworski became fast friends.
Patrick studied and became a graphic designer while she took care of the home and their growing family. By the time they moved to Brooklyn Park, there were four children. They loved their new home and had no idea that trouble brewed. The new house had no basement. Water seeped into the subfloor and carpet, causing mushrooms to grow under the couch. Over time, Kathy developed severe allergies and asthma that would plague her for life, even after the couple in 1984 built a new house in Andover.
“We had no idea about mold and what it could do,” Patrick said. “She absolutely hated not having energy anymore like she did.” Asthma attacks eased in winters and dry summers. “In between, she’d have these bad spells. But her attitude toward responsibility made her push on. I could get in a fight with her if I told her to lie down.”
She never forgot a birthday and cared for her own kids plus a parade of other family members over the years. She was a coupon clipper. She became a pro at making stuffed peppers, meatballs, spaghetti and meatloaf. She embroidered stunning tablecloths, blankets and eyeglass cases for friends and family and faithfully sent care packages to five sons in the military in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey, sparking joy and envy in barracks across the world.
DoBrava treated herself to books and yearly road trips with her sisters to various states and historical sites. Loving to cook, she’d bake Christmas cookies for friends and help make meals for 500 parishioners at Old Apostolic Lutheran Church of Minnetonka.
“Oh, we would laugh and we would cry. We had so much fun,” said Sandy Anderson, fellow church cook and friend of 46 years. “At times we ran out of food and had to send someone to the store.” But in between, there’d be DoBrava’s meatloaf and all her hot apple pies with cheese.
“She loved making desserts,” Patrick said. “When the kids had graduation parties, she’d make pastries, brownies and lemon bars and invite anybody. At times we had 150 people.” She pondered starting a bakery but feared it would spoil her fun.
Kathleen DoBrava is survived by Patrick, eight children and seven siblings. Her 35th grandchild is due soon. She’ll be named Hope Kathleen. Services have been held.