Bertha Lou (Petie) Sansoni
December 16, 1926 – October 5, 2016
Just 27 days after her beloved husband of 68 years passed away, our mother Bertha let her spirit leave to join Henry in heaven. Bertha suffered from dementia in her final years, but her sudden decline and death can only be attributed to a broken heart at being separated from her life-long partner. Bertha was preceded in death by her husband Henry, and sons Kenneth John, Stephen and Steven Leo Sansoni, her parents, and brothers Louis and Johnny LeBlanc, and great-grandson George Timothy Merrill.
Bertha was born in the township of Eagen in the Acadia parish of Louisiana to Eumia and Joseph LeBlanc. The second of eight children, she grew up in a busy household, speaking only French, and loving going to school barefoot when she could get away with it. Graduating from Estherwood High School, she wasted no time testing her wings, embarking on the train for Santa Barbara, CA. with only a few dollars in her pocket and a heart full of dreams. She worked hard, and with her first paycheck purchased and had shipped, a “Cadillac” 2-tub washing machine to her mother in Louisiana. She loved her parents and siblings deeply.
Bertha waitressed late nights in a coffee shop and it was there she met Henry as he would come in for pie and coffee after shifts working as the bellman at the Biltmore Hotel, or from classes at Brook’s Institute of Photography. It took very little time for them to know they were made for each other, and when Bertha’s younger sister, Helen came out to visit while on vacation from her job as a telephone operator, Henry and Bertha decided to get married. They were married on May 15, 1948 at Mt. St. Carmel in Montecito. The unexpected plans extended Helen’s vacation time, resulted in the loss of her job, but helped launch a love affair that lasted 68 years.
Henry and Bertha moved to Merced after his graduation and began a small grocery business, later shifting into farming with Henry’s family. Bertha was ever at his side, following his dreams and supporting Henry in every way possible. Run a grocery and have two small children? Piece of cake! (or ‘slice of baloney’ which they served to customers and family alike). Manage and cook for 30 farm workers everyday during tomato harvest while juggling three children? Done! Maintain farm bookkeeping, lend a hand with equipment when needed, and have three more children? Bring it on! Pick a load of cantaloupe then drive 20 miles to sell off the back of an aging Diamond T-truck to raise a little more cash? She was tireless! Sew six bridesmaid dresses for a daughter’s wedding? Completed! Even unto the fitting of each at the last minute, and cook the rehearsal dinner to boot. Bertha shouldered it all with love.
She was known for her humble spirit and genuine hospitality and culinary skills, churning out gallons of chicken gumbo for family and guests, tubs full of ragu taught to her by her Italian mother-in-law, and most famously, barrels of the best fried
chicken around. She made meager staples stretch to feed as many people who might drop in, which frequently included Henry’s business associates from his farming activities, often with only a moments advance notice. Bertha was generous with her time and skills in many areas, including walking for the American Cancer Society and working at St. Vincent DePaul Thrift Shop in Los Banos for many years. She and Henry spent many fun evenings square dancing until Henry’s joints gave out.
Henry and Bertha suffered many challenges, including the death of their three sons, and the loss of their farm. In spite of these hurdles their commitment to one another, and their surviving daughters and families never waivered long, and they continued to lease and farm until 2010 when health matters forced their move to be near their daughters in Enumclaw, WA.
Bertha is survived by daughters Nancy & Jim Merrill of Enumclaw, WA; Mary & Jeff Graham of Pioneer, CA; Andrea & Tony Carvalho of Enumclaw, WA; Daughter-in-law Doris Hildenbrand of Lake Stevens, WA; seven grandchildren, their spouses and nine great-grandchildren: Alex & Kim Sansoni, Max and Myles of Lake Stevens, WA; Matty & Emily Merrill, Henry, Gus and Teddy of Portland, OR; Marty & Rachel Merrill, Janey and Joey of Sammamish, WA; Angie Merrill & RC Laird, Kaeden and Kali of Olympia, WA; Sarah Leary of Redmond, OR; Lance Leary of Eugene, OR; and Lizzy Leary of Sacramento, CA. She is also survived by siblings Helen LeBlanc of Crowley, LA; Joyce and Buddy LeBouef of Rayne, LA; Dud & Ruth LeBlanc of Houston, TX; Celeste & Ron Robair of Alexandria, LA and Bonnie and Rod Smith of Lafayette, LA, and many, many nieces, nephews, grand and great-grand nieces and nephews of Louisiana and Texas. In CA, she is survived by Henry’s brothers and their families: Aldo & Virginia Sansoni, Claudia, Lisa, Sandra and families, and Ezio & Eleanor Sansoni, Julie and Joe and families.
Services for Bertha will be celebrated at the same memorial with Henry, at 11:30 AM on Saturday, October 8 at Delta Farms Party Barn, Los Banos, CA. An interment in Merced will be scheduled at a later date. Grandson-in-law the Rev. RC Laird, will officiate. Memorial contributions may be made to American Legion Post 83, 939 W. Main St., Merced, CA., 95340, the Enumclaw Senior Center, 1350 Cole St., Enumclaw, WA, or charity of donor’s choice.