On June 23, 1926, a baby girl was born to Millard and Bertha Hopkins in a country home near Elroy, Wisconsin. She was baptized Myra Cecilia Hopkins. When she was nearly two years old, her parents divorced and went their separate ways. Myra was an orphan. Her Aunt Rose and Uncle Lawrence Rieber, who lived on a farm near Tomah, Wisconsin, adopted her. They renamed her Rosemary Cecilia Rieber.
Rosemary learned at an early age to find ways to entertain herself. She was a lover of nature long before she heard of St. Francis. Rosemary attended a small rural school at Indian Creek, Wisconsin, through seventh grade and was the only girl in her class of six.
At age nine, Rosemary found out from her schoolmates that she was an orphan. Schoolmates shunned her and made fun of her. She ran home after school and asked her mother if that was true. Her mother sat her down and explained how they had adopted her. She went to the safe and showed her the adoption papers. This did not take away her hurt. She still had to walk home from school alone.
For eighth grade, she attended St. Mary’s in Tomah – a better environment, but that didn’t take away the loneliness and hurt she felt. As she walked home from school alone, she found herself delighting in the beauty of creation, studying every flower and creature on the paths and in the fields. She also sang and made up her own poems and stories. She taught herself how to play music and worked on that her whole life. She was a self-taught musician. Above all, she felt there was happiness to be found in this world even if she had no one with whom to share it.
After eighth grade, she attended public high school. Rosemary could only attend Mass twice a month at St. Michael’s Mission Church in Indian Creek. She learned about her faith by listening to sermons. It was during a sermon that she was inspired to think about becoming a sister. On Father Joseph Splinter’s tenth anniversary as a priest, he said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sister and a priest from St. Michael’s Mission?” Rosemary heard that as her call. She knew the voice within was God calling her.
Her first contact with a School Sister of St. Francis was a visit with Sister Dalene Kube, a postulant at the time, who was on a home visit. They kept in contact with each other. Just prior to her sophomore year, on August 23, 1941, at age 15, Rosemary traveled to Milwaukee to enter the Aspirancy at St. Joseph Convent. Here she completed her high school.
Rosemary was received into the School Sisters of St. Francis on June 13, 1944, and was given the name Sister Mildred. After her novitiate, she attended Alverno College, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Education.
Sister Mildred began her first mission assignment in 1948 in Highland, Wisconsin, and moved on to small missions in Illinois and Wisconsin, many times being teacher and organist. Sister Mildred was a good teacher, and using her many creative and artistic talents, she inspired many a student.
In 1963, Sister Mildred’s work began to take on a variety of ministries. She was an occupational therapist at St. Joseph Hospital in Beaver Dam and at St. Mary’s Hospital in Sparta. During these years she served migrant workers in Beaver Dam, Cuban prisoners at Fort McCoy, and, while at St. Mary’s Hill Hospital, she taught children to paint, entertained them with her music, and helped others on the path to wellness.
During this time, she also worked in the inner city at St. Ben’s, helping with all the programs and getting involved with the criminal justice system. She prayed for prisoners even to her last days.
The last 30 years of her ministry were spent in Sparta, Tomah, and then in Newburg, Wisconsin, for 26 years. Over the years Sister Mildred was housekeeper, director of religious education, liturgical musician, and parish resource minister. In the 1970s while in Tomah, she sewed dozens of First Communion dresses and veils and on her three-wheeled bicycle peddled them herself to the homes of the recipients. Some days she biked five miles!
During these years Sister Mildred would always use her special musical talent and play her concertina at the School Sisters of St. Francis Fall Festival. Sister Mildred had other talents that she used to help everyone. She would showcase her artistic works at craft fairs. She created numerous banners, quilts, greeting cards, and Nativity sets. Her music and interest in history led her to work at Pioneer Village in Saukville, Wisconsin, where she was involved in Civil War re-enactments.
In 2004, Sister Mildred suffered a massive stroke, leaving her with loss of speech and mobility. From the hospital she came to Campbellsport and made that her home. Intense therapy, determination, and using some of her own occupational therapy tricks brought Sister Mildred back little by little. She used the piano for her weak hand therapy, and began arranging quilting pieces into patterns. It took quite a while before the sewing machine started to hum again. Speech was the most difficult, but Sister Mildred could make her needs known. She never gave up.
Sister Mildred’s determination had her back to sewing small quilts and making greeting cards. Her yearly gift to all was that on Palm Sunday, she braided a palm for every sister, staff member, and friend. Sister Mildred always had some project going and she did them all with her love for God and others who would receive her gift.
Sister Mildred has lived an amazing life, conquering any ill feelings and moving on to give her all to the God who loves her. She had a twinkle in her eye that said: “If I could only tell all the marvels God has done for me! There are so many! The greatest will be to meet Jesus, the Love of my life, on this earth and in the next. That’s the ultimate marvel that made life worth living.”