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'She just did what had to be done'

Sheriff August Singler is shot dead and Rose, his widow, is left alone with eight young children to raise. That's the way the story nearly always ends, but not for Rose and her family.

Rose lived on for another 53 years, struggling to survive and tenaciously overcoming all obstacles to keep her family together. But Rose was always overcoming the impossible.

The long ordeal began late in the evening of April 22, 1913, when Rose quickly gathered her children together and was driven to Sacred Heart Hospital by brother-in-law William Singler. Her husband, "Gussie," as she called him, was resting easy, but in pain, after an operation to remove a bullet that had penetrated one lung and lodged against a rib.

All night, with August Jr., their 8-month-old son, in her arms and children sleeping nearby, Rose remained at his bedside. She watched as he signed a hastily prepared will, but she optimistically prayed for his recovery.

"Talk about grit," William Singler wrote to his younger brother, Charles. "He was chuck full of it. He would smile at Rose and try to look bright. He had her thinking he was getting well until just before he died. She certainly stands it bravely, but you can see she is hard hit."

Born the youngest of 10 children in White Pigeon, Mich., in 1875, Rose was the daughter of John and Anna Probst, German immigrants who had arrived in 1854. They spoke German in the house, and Rose's granddaughter, Barbara McKee, says Rose didn't learn English until she went to school.

"When she was a baby, she had dislocated hips," adds granddaughter Nancy Smith, "and in those days, they didn't know what to do about it. I don't know how she ever learned to walk."

Rose also had feet so flat that relatives remember her literally walking without arches. And yet, none of these problems seem to matter to Rose. By the time she met and married August Singler in 1898, she had finished school and was a teacher.

Within a few months of arriving in Grants Pass, the couple and their first three children moved to Medford. There they would stay until moving to Jacksonville in 1913, when August Singler took office as Jackson County sheriff.

Living behind the Jacksonville Courthouse, in the historic Wilson House (410 E. D St.), Rose began making extra money by cooking two meals a day for prisoners in the jail. The county paid her 35 cents a meal.

"She would cook the same food she fed her own family," says Diana Maddox Walker, whose mother was Rose's eldest daughter. "She would bring the meals over from her house."

When August was killed, nearly four months after he took office, Rose continued to cook, but alone with eight children, none older than 13, Rose's "extra money" was now barely enough to live on.

"She makes enough out of that to pay her grocery bills," William Singler said, "and a law was passed that will give her a widow's pension of $65 a month."

The "Mother's Pension Law" had just cleared the Legislature but was funded for only a couple of years. August Singler had left a $1,000 insurance policy from the Woodmen of the World, but that wouldn't last long.

County officials appointed William Singler sheriff, with the condition that he support Rose with part of his salary. His support lasted only a few months, and rivals brought it up during the 1916 campaign, which may have been the reason he lost his bid for re-election.

The older Singler children helped out when they could by working during the summers and bringing their money home, but after five or six years of daily meal-making for the jail, Rose finally asked county officials to increase her pay to 50 cents a meal. They refused.

"That's when she got it into her mind that she was going to quit and move to Medford," Walker says.

It was more than the county's refusal that infuriated Rose. Almost from the day August Singler died, women had come knocking on her door trying to take away her children.

"'You can't do it yourself,' they would say," Walker says. "'You can't take care of the children, there are too many.' Mom said she'd be hiding behind Rose's skirt and that the little ones would be hiding underneath her skirt. Rose would be crying and the children would all be crying, and Grandma got so worried that she was afraid to answer the door because she was certain someone was coming to take the children away."

Walker's mother, Zita, as the oldest girl, became the children's surrogate mother at age 8, taking care of her younger brothers and sisters so Rose could keep cooking.

"My mom lost out on her childhood," Walker says.

Rose secured a job in Medford at The Pantorium, a dry-cleaning and cloth-dyeing plant on Fir Street. She walked back and forth to work and stood all day on her painful feet. Later she would work at a packing plant, but no one remembers which one.

The first house Rose Singler moved into in Medford was at 1101 W. Main St., the present site of the County Clerk's Office. County Clerk Chris Walker is Diana's daughter and August and Rose Singler's great-granddaughter.

In 1922, after living for six months on West Main Street, Rose managed to buy a house on South Grape Street for $125 down and $25 a month. She would live there for the rest of her life, retiring by the 1930s with help from her surviving children.

Many of her grandchildren still cherish memories of Rose from their childhood.

They remember how religious she was, how she never missed Mass, and how she always sat in the second pew, on the outside, in Medford's Sacred Heart Church.

There were family dinners nearly every Sunday with homemade dishes, luscious lemon meringue pies, gingerbread running with butter, and homegrown vegetables.

They remember how she loved soap operas on the radio, musical movies at the Holly Theater, and how she fed the hungry homeless men who somehow knew to knock on her door.

But most of all, they remember a short, white-haired, quiet woman who never complained and always took care of everyone else.

"She never asked for anything," Smith says. "She just did what had to be done."

"I didn't see her laugh a lot," says granddaughter Joanne McCormick, "but then, what did she really have to laugh about?"

Early on, after her husband's death, her brother-in-law, William Singler, told Rose that he loved her and wanted to marry her.

"She told him she wouldn't marry him because he didn't like children," Walker says, "but she later told her children the real reason — 'August was the only person I will ever love.' "

Rose Singler died June 9, 1966, and was buried with August in Medford's Eastwood Cemetery.

"They had 28 grandchildren, 10 of whom still live here in the valley," Walker says. "They left quite a legacy."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.

Seven of the Singler children, circa 1911, from left: Top row, Raymond, Rudy, Val, Richard. Bottom row, Hilda, Rose, Zita. Only baby August is missing.