By Mike Dyer, WCPO.com
CINCINNATI -- Jean Vorholt always had a zest for life.
She loved her family, was devout in her Catholic faith and was very happy in 61 years of marriage and 101 years of living.
Vorholt liked a glass of wine at night, ate dark chocolate and was a voracious reader. She watched the Reds and Bengals on television. Maybe 5 feet tall, she never knew a stranger.
Jean, who died peacefully July 15 at 101 years young, was affectionately “mom” to friends and acquaintances at Elder High School football games.
Friday night in Price Hill was a tradition for Jean and her family. She enjoyed seeing other fans at The Pit, and the split-the-pot workers. All was well with the world when Jean was there.
She’d walk by Elder Principal Kurt Ruffing and his wife, Tara, with a smile, and bid farewell until the next game.
“An amazing woman,” Ruffing said. “She was 100 years old and attended all the football games.”
After the game, Jean enjoyed getting a bite to eat at LaRosa's Pizzeria or a three-way from the Skyline Chili on Glenway Avenue. In later years, it was just a coney. She wasn’t deterred if the Panthers lost.
“She always looked on the bright side of things,” said her daughter, Elaine “Tudy” Vorholt.
Jean had season tickets on or very near the 50-yard line with her family since the 1970s. Her husband, Frank (“Hank”) was just as passionate about the Panthers and would attend basketball games, too. Frank attended football games through the 1998 season before he died a year later.
Quite simply, Elder was home to the Vorholts, their sons Jim (1970 graduate), Tom (1972), Pete (1973) and the late Jerry (1958). Tom was a free safety in the early 1970s. Starting in 1966, Jean and Frank started to attend games when Jim, now 66 years old, was a freshman in the marching band.
Jean became well-versed in baseball, basketball and football having four sons.
“Elder meant a lot to her,” Jim said. “Her and dad sacrificed to send the four of us to Elder. She just enjoyed the whole Elder community, the Elder experience and just the feeling of spirit at The Pit.”
Jean Vorholt (nee Paulette), a 1935 Western Hills High School graduate, attributed her longevity to being happy. And she encouraged her children to do so while helping others. She enjoyed visiting passers-by when she walked her dog, Muffy, in her Covedale neighborhood.
This week, the Vorholt family reflected upon her legacy.
The Mass of Christian Burial was Thursday morning at St. Teresa of Avila Church, where she had been a parishioner since 1944 before moving to Maineville about three years ago to live with Elaine, who is a Seton graduate. Jean still sent an offering envelope each week, and the parish mailed its weekly bulletin.
Jean will be interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Montgomery.
Yet, her affinity for Elder won’t be far. Jean’s purple Elder polo shirt is in her casket.
“She’ll love it,” Elaine said with a laugh. “She was planning on going to the games this year.”
A source of strength
Jean Vorholt was born April 24, 1917 in Cincinnati as the second eldest daughter in her family. The story goes her mother died during childbirth for Jean’s younger sister. Jean was 4 or 5 years old at the time.
In the 1920s, Jean and her sisters lived with an aunt on a plantation in Georgia, where she picked cotton. Her father eventually took the three girls to an orphanage in Cincinnati when she was 11. Jean’s father later died after trying to jump off a freight train, according to Jim Vorholt.
“We always thought, ‘Boy, if mom could get along we can too,” Elaine said. “It was the three girls -- there was nobody else.”
Jean left the orphanage at 18 with $5 in her pocket. She later worked Downtown for Cincinnati Bell as a long-distance operator. Sometime in the 1930s, she also met Frank.
The story goes Jean and her best friend were drying their hair at the old Chester Park swimming pool on Spring Grove Avenue when Frank playfully pushed her in the water.
“She was so mad at him,” Elaine said. “She said, ‘you could’ve killed me; you didn’t know if I could swim or not. And he said, ‘Yes I did, because I’ve been watching you all day.’”
Frank and Jean married Nov. 24, 1938 at St. Leo’s Church. Another chapter began for Jean.
“She told us that the first time she heard anybody tell her that they loved her was when my dad told her,” Jim Vorholt said.
Jean’s childhood experiences were a source of strength and inspiration for the couple’s children.
Frank worked as a general foreman at Ohio Pattern Works, helping to manufacture valves for gas station nozzles and piping. The days were long. The work was tough.
Jean and Frank encouraged their children to receive a good education and have perspective in life. Jean and Frank made sacrifices to send all the children through Catholic schools.
Jean taught Elaine how to cook, clean, iron, how to cut the grass and how to be a lady. She knew Frank wouldn’t want to cut the grass when he arrived home from work.
“She always wanted to do things to make it better for other people,” Elaine said.
Pride in the Panthers
Jean Vorholt went to Canton to see one of Elder’s back-to-back state titles which occurred in 2002 and 2003. She attended playoff games. She’d find a Skyline Chili during road games, too.
In 2011, a serious car crash caused her to miss that season because one of the injuries was a severely broken ankle. Elder football was motivation throughout her physical therapy.
“’If you want to see Elder football next year, you have to work on getting your ankles going and being able to walk again,’” Jim told her. “And she did.”
Rain, sleet or shine, Jean was dedicated. Those seated around her at The Pit knew that.
"I think it kept her really active and engaged with life," Pete said. "She could talk to you about Elder football, Reds baseball and tell you averages of the players and ERAs (earned-run averages) of the pitchers. She was very opinionated about the Bengals because the Bengals could never live up to Elder."
On Oct. 28, 2016, Ruffing recognized her at halftime of Elder's regular-season finale. He gave Jean a banner from the school’s spirit shop with the lyrics to the fight song. He also gave her a purple and white bracelet with a Panther in it.
"She was absolutely thrilled," Jim said.
Ruffing thanked her for being such a loyal fan. Jean smiled and explained how much the school had meant to her over the decades. Nothing could separate her love of Elder.
Longtime season-ticket holder Tony Augustine sat near Jean and her family for 25-plus years.
Augustine, 76, also called Jean "mom." She was part of the Elder family. Her knowledge of the game was evident. She didn't like when penalties went against the Panthers.
Augustine has already thought about the season opener Aug. 24 against Gahanna Lincoln. It will be difficult to watch the game without Jean.
The Vorholt family will continue to attend the games in Row E, seats 6-8 and think of Jean often.
“It’s going to be an empty feeling because she was always there,” Augustine said. “She will be missed. It’s people like her that make the Elder tradition real.”