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Farewell to a Friend ...Colleen Gilbert

by Kathy Cummings

It was with heavy hearts we set out yesterday morning to Martinsville, IL. I was dressed as a re-enactor. Jim was not. There was a camera in the car - a question we had debated over. I’m not sure we had ever taken a camera to a funeral before. But in addition to being a funeral this was a major event in the lives of so many people. Photos were taken with permission of the family.

Laying Colleen Gilbert to rest was something that needed to be done in the same spirit that she lived her life. With a certain flare. With a touch of the dramatic, with a subtle joy in our hearts.

And that is exactly how the day progressed. I think the small town of Martinsville, IL was amazed. In addition to Colleen’s family and local friends her re-enactor family had come out in full force. There were many faces that I knew, some that I did not. There was a large contingent of folks from Kohkohmah there. Faces from Lore of the Laughery. Faces from Kentucky events and Indiana events and Illinois events. Sad faces Mourning faces. Faces of people who had lost a dear friend.

The ceremony at the funeral home was conducted by Parson John (Frank Jarboe). It was heartfelt and deeply touching. Family and friends spoke. And they all spoke of Colleen’s warmth, sincerity and sense of humor. They related instances of a life full to overflowing. A life cut way too short. They spoke of practical jokes and cheesecake and fun. There was music, there were tears and most of all there was laughter.

Outside the funeral home a woman from a local paper stopped to ask me questions. Tell me about Colleen she said. I would need hours - I thought. But in a few short minutes I tried to give her a sense of who Colleen was. Why she was so special - why people drove 4 and 5 hours to attend her funeral. Having known Colleen for many years I was now learning even more about her remarkable spirit.

In 1973 she was named to the All American High School Band sponsored by McDonalds. She continued to play - playing Taps for the American Legion in Martinsville whenever they called her. She no longer lived in Martinsville but it was her way of giving back. The American Legion was present at her funeral.

The graveside ceremony was conducted with all the pomp and ceremony of a “really great event”. After the prayers, she was given Three Huzzahs from her friends. There were more than “21 guns” in her salute - and every one fired, every time. It was what she always strove for - to make the public understand history. And any passerby watching this graveside ceremony would have wondered “what great American, what celebrity, what star was buried here today?” And she was all of those things. And we sent her off to heaven in full 18th century style! Good by my friend, until we meet again!


May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Gilbert 2

A slide show from the Funeral Ceremony
of Colleen Gilbert
 aka “Hester Purefinder”

Click Here to see the photos - Remembering Hester.

When we arrived home from the funeral I had received an email from a family member that I would like to share ....

I wanted to thank Pioneer Times for the wonderful tribute to Aunt Colleen. I am part of her extended family who could not leave Tucson for her funeral, but would have loved to see everyone from her reenactment community who she dearly loved. I never saw "Hester" in person - but Grandma Wilma loved to show off the pictures Colleen sent and the article from "Re-Enactor Of The Month" , that was so neat seeing her dressed up as Hester and learning more about her character. Last year I made my first cheesecake, I was so nervous I would mess it up, but I called Colleen, and she eased my bakers fear and gave me great tips-- and we all know she made great cheesecakes. I have been reading all the message boards and wanted to thank all of her reenactment family for their support and tributes. She was a fun lady with a free spirit, and her family will miss her.

Christine Gilbert (Justins wife)

Other memories
...other photos

At the wonderful luncheon after the funeral other memories and other photos began to surface. Here is a picture taken of Colleen not as Hester put as “Lady Purity”. Photo was taken at the Christmas Ball in Augusta at the Beehive Tavern circa 2004.

Photo by Libby Lazdins, Kankakee, IL


Special Thanks to the Gilbert Family and The Martinsville American Legion for a wonderful reception (with food) before we all hit the road again! And one final tidbit. We stopped for gas in Martinsville. As I paid for the gas at the counter (under the glass) was a copy of the Obituary for Colleen Gilbert. I guess in a small town without a daily newspaper it is as an effective way as any to publish the news. It will be my parting remembrance of a town with a big heart!

At the request of Colleen’s family we took a group photo as we have at so many events. The family is seated in the front row.


The Words of Frank Jarboe (Parson John) from the Memorial Service

Psalm 61 from John Wesley’s 1784 Sunday Service

My wife and I are newcomers to the reenacting world and Colleen, upon our first conversation with her, made us feel welcome – well sort of. At Kohkohmah I struggled up off my seat just as Hester strolled by, and, pressed that button…….. “Parson, do you have a problem?”  And there I stood, speechless – a condition I’d often find myself in with Hester. - and thus began our friendship. We hugged Colleen goodbye after her graduation this past May – without a thought that the events of the past week would transpire. At the graduation, Colleen would look up in to the audience and laugh as we pretended to wipe tears from our eyes as we watched “our little girl” graduate. For you see we felt like family – little did we know……

Each of the reenactors here has a story of their first meeting with Colleen Gilbert. We are proud to have known her, and to have been known by her. Therefore, we are here to honor ….. your daughter…… your sister ……… your aunt ……… your great aunt, …….. and our friend.


The tributes continue to come in. Shawn Hall told me, “she was the queen. She took 100% pride in her persona. She was 100% genuine.” And Dick, that attitude showed through everything you told me about your sister. You told me about her love for horses, for music – playing with the McDonalds All American Band, her softball – first playing then umpiring in national playoffs. She told me of her love of Softball and the sadness she felt in no longer being able to play due to pain in her knees. But I’m here to tell you, she would and did gladly use those knees to run to help an ailing comrade or to bend them in prayer for another. 

And continuing you said, and I quote, “Then came Hester, oh my God, at first I said what are you doing…… then I saw the happiness the whole experience brought to her soul.  She loved the character and she loved being around people and what a better way than by using Hester.”

Finally you told me, “I loved….. my family loved…… and anyone who spent any time around her loved her, she was genuine.  I will miss her greatly….”

To say this week has been difficult is an understatement. For if I had to describe our feelings, I’d say that we have come here today as a thirsty land crying out for rain, or as a hungry heart longing for nourishment, or as a lonely and frightened sheep pleading for rescue by the Good Shepherd and as that same sheep safe in the arms of the rescuer.

For if we will listen we can hear the voice of our heavenly Father say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Even though we are hurting and have unanswered questions may “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding … guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” May the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort be with each of us as we now bow in prayer before Him.

Let us Pray……

With broken hearts and unanswered questions we come before you, our heavenly Father, to be healed, comforted, and strengthened. By your grace grant us forgiveness, mercy, and comfort. Hold us close to yourself. Help us to trust you. Help us sort through mixed-up and confused feelings so that we may face what we must - in a triumphant way through our living Savior Jesus Christ.

We remember the one whom we have loved and who is now gone from our sight. We feel a profound loss. And so we turn to you, the eternal one, the resurrection and the life, to come among us this hour. Forgive our sins. Deal with us tenderly. May your peace, which transcends all understanding, guard the hearts and minds of family and friends as we rest in Christ Jesus, through whom we pray. Amen.


Fair Well My Comrade ......... by Jim Cummings

Fair well my comrade we have shared many a laugh. I have spent time at your campfire and drank from your cup and shared your fine wine. Your infectious smile captivated many, and the stories you told were both funny and sad. Your cheese cake was always the talk of the camp and I ate my share.

Your walk, and manner of dress were all your own. Your tri-cornered hat was worn with pride. When others needed help you were always there.

You looked at life through rose colored glasses - always seeing the good in each of us. With a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye, I know I will miss you. We all will miss you.

So I say good bye to you, my comrade, certain that we will meet again. Keep the camp fire burning, and I’ll bring the cheesecake and the wine and one day we will raise our glasses once more for it is one of life’s certainties that where you have gone - we will all some day follow.

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