OGDEN — Verna Marriott didn’t get out much.
She had become accustomed to spending much of her time at home, in the house she shared with her daughter and son-in-law, Laura and Russell Rentmeister. There were the trips to the supermarket to get the Diet Cherry Coke she loved and monthly forays to Red Lobster, her favorite restaurant.
Mainly, though — as dementia increasingly took a toll on the retired librarian — she stayed home, in her room.
“She really retired from all life except for family,” Laura Rentmeister said.
Thus, her abrupt disappearance from the 29th Street home last Friday — she inexplicably wandered off in socks sometime between 2:30 and 5:30 a.m., family members think, while everyone slept — was all the more puzzling. There was no inkling ahead of time that she would leave and she had never wandered off before.
“She was in her own little world,” Kathy Rollman, Marriott’s other daughter and Rentmeister’s sister, said Wednesday, trying to comprehend what happened. “None of us understand it.”
A frantic search ensued, with Ogden police, friends, neighbors and others scouring the streets and yards in the area for any sign of the 79-year-old woman. It ended a day later, last Saturday, with the discovery of Marriott a half-mile away in the yard of a home in the 700 block of 28th Street, dead from exposure to the cold, her family says.
“Dementia,” said Michael Allen, who owns the home where Marriott’s body was discovered, in a narrow, fenced-in space shrouded from view. “You can’t judge that one.”
That Marriott’s body was found is of comfort.
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“We had closure this time and it did make a difference,” Rentmeister said.
The strong outpouring of support, shown by the massive search effort, also helped. “It was amazing,” said Rollman.
Still, the tragic end — which garnered media attention across Utah — doesn’t do justice to the life Marriott lived, say her daughters and a neighborhood friend, Margie Pluim.
“She was more than what her disappearance was,” Pluim said.
As a librarian in Midland, Michigan, she inspired many kids with the love of reading, of learning, of knowledge. She spread that to her daughters and others, even Pluim’s kids, who, as children, borrowed books from the woman, after she moved to Ogden.
“We had grown up with books in our hand. Reading was not a chore for us,” Rollman, who lives in West Jordan and works for Salt Lake City, said. “We knew the Dewey decimal system.”
‘LOVE OF READING’
Marriott’s professional life took off after divorcing in the 1970s, as she faced the specter of life on her own with her daughters. Then living in Michigan, she completed her master’s degree in library science at the University of Michigan, where she had also gotten her undergraduate degree, and subsequently landed a job as a youth librarian in Midland.
There she thrived, instilling the love of reading in kids, family and others, and honing her skills as a story-teller. She didn’t just read stories or books, but rather, theatrically recreated them, performed them. “It’s entertaining and you learn a love of reading,” Rollman said.
On retiring in 2000, she came to Ogden to be closer to her daughters — who came to Utah to study at Brigham Young University and stayed — and grandchildren. She moved in with Laura Rentmeister and her family, operators of a plumbing firm, and soon thereafter suffered what family believe to be stroke, though doctors didn’t diagnose it at the time.
Her short-term memory suffered, she started sticking closer and closer to home and, as the years passed, her health gradually declined, ultimately leading to a dementia diagnosis.
“She was confused and scared a lot of the time ... She knew what was wrong and it would scare her,” Rollman said.
Still, she managed. She enjoyed being with family and flashes of her old self sometimes came through.
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“When the fog lifted and everything, the personality came back ... She did have a wonderful personality. She just drew people,” Rollman said.
Marriott had spent time the days before she wandered off playing with three of her grandchildren, having a good time, confounding Rentmeister and Rollman as they now try to make sense of things.
Though Marriott had no history of wandering, many with dementia do it, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. But maybe there was more to it. Some family hypothesize she sensed impending death and left the home the morning last week so she wouldn’t die there.
“No real telling what she was thinking,” said Allen, owner of the home where Marriott ultimately died and acquainted with her family through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “They think maybe (she) came here because she felt the love of Christ. They hope so. We hope so.”
Marriott and Rollman are coming to terms with the sad turn. Even so, questions persist and may always persist.
“It really is a mystery,” Rollman said.