Brundrett family members are, Verna, second from left;
next to her is George standing in front of sister Melba.
By Janet H. Taylor
Friends of History Center for Aransas County
I usually don’t answer the phone if I don’t know who is calling. For some reason, I looked at the caller ID which said “Victoria Advocate” and decided to answer it anyway.
The caller told me he was a reporter who was writing a story about Mary Frels who was turning 102 years old in a few days. As I had never heard of Mary Frels, I was wondering why he was calling me. Then he told me Mary had resuscitated a young Rockport girl who was drowning to which I replied, “My mother, Verna Brundrett.”
I recalled my mother’s story about swimming at the Rockport pavilion and being unable to stay afloat. Finally after exhaustion set in, my mother stopped struggling and prayed to God to let her live for 10 more years. She promised to read the Bible every night if she survived. God answered her prayer by sending 16-year-old Mary Laughter to her aid. Mary’s family only lived in Rockport for two years. Her father was a local game warden. Mary had seen a demonstration of the “prone” method of resuscitation at school the previous year, and that demonstration saved my mother’s life. A year later, in March of 1926, Mary received the National Safety Council President’s Medal for saving a life, using resuscitation. She was the first woman to receive this medal.
Mary often told people the one thing she was most proud of was being able to save “that little girl.” Mary’s brother, John, told me later she had tried unsuccessfully to revive another drowning victim. I am just so glad and thankful she was able to save my mother, Verna Brundrett.
There were many similarities in the lives of Mary and my mother. They both had December birthdays a few days apart. They loved the Christmas season and being with their families. They were schoolteachers. My grandmother and Mary both taught in Lolita for a while. My grandmother grew up in Edna. Mary’s last year was spent in a nursing home in nearby Ganado. My mother had several uncles who previously lived in the same nursing home. Mary’s brother knew one of those uncles.
Mary died Dec. 22, 2014, which would have been my mother’s 95th birthday. She missed celebrating her 102 birthday by two days. The medal Mary received is embedded on the headstone on her grave near Edna. My mother’s 22 descendants will always be grateful to Mary for saving her life.
The reporter who wrote about Mary’s heroism summed it up best by stating, “Now the two – Mary Laughter Frels and Verna Brundrett Haseman – are forever connected in life and in death.”
For more information please visit http://www.thehistorycenterforaransascounty.org/