“When Theresa walks into a room, she brings the sunshine in with her. I can’t help but to smile when Theresa is around. She has brought so much joy and laughter into my life. She also gives the best hugs ― it’s like being hugged by an angel. I can feel the pure, sweet innocent love coming from her.” — Crystal Stiwinter
On Oct. 10, 1966, a little ray of sunshine burst into the lives of Bill and Gerline Oschmann of Houma, La. Her name was Theresa Hope Oschmann and she was the youngest of the five children born into the Oschmann family.
When the doctor came to Mr. and Ms. Oschmann, he announced that little Theresa came into this world with some problems. Not only was she born with double pneumonia, but she was not quite “normal” like the four older children. She had Down Syndrome. According to Ms. Oschmann and her sister, Veronica Murphy, he told them that she would never amount to anything. Her ability to learn would be very limited and she would likely not be able to develop the social skills to function in the world around her. That she might never walk was also a possibility.
The doctor also implied that the amount of care she would require would hinder the well-being and development of the other four children, and she would be a burden on the family. Finally, he dropped the bomb– he recommended placement in a home or an institution where she could be cared for by trained professionals and be around people like her.
The Oschmanns quickly informed the doctor that Teresa Hope was going home with them. She was their child and they were going to care for her. If any of these dire prophecies came about in the first year of Theresa’s life, then they would reconsider placing her in a home, but not before then. So, baby Theresa promptly began to disprove the doctor’s concerns. In spite of the Down’s, she was able to feed herself with a fork and spoon at an earlier age than any of her four older siblings. By the time she was 10 months old, she was walking. She had another mannerism that no one taught her ― when she drank from a cup or glass, she always held her pinkie finger out (just like any proper Southern Belle should).
Theresa’s family was always proactive in providing for her life and education. She believed she could do anything. She had opportunity to travel. She loved tent camping, fishing, movies (especially at Ruby Cinema). She loved eating at Shoney’s and she especially looked forward to trips to Walmart, where she could meet and interact with lots of people. When in the store, she would speak to everyone, generating lots of love, hugs, and laughter. On one occasion, her sister Veronica, was trying to explain to Theresa that she couldn’t speak to everyone she passed, that they all did not have time to stop and visit. She said Teresa stopped, looked her in the eye and said, “Wonica, hello is for everyone.” End of discussion. Veronica said this was her mission in life ― to simply share Jesus Christ through the person she was.
The Special Olympics afforded her the opportunity to participate and excel in physical activities along with other people with developmental disabilities. In one event, she was entered in the softball throw (actually a tennis ball). A Special Olympics volunteer was encouraging her to throw that tennis ball hard enough to hit him. She did and promptly nailed him in the head before he could duck out of the way.
In July 1983, she was able to participate in the Sixth International Special Olympics held on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La. More than 60,000 spectators attended the opening ceremonies, welcoming the 4,000-plus very special athletes gathered there. Theresa won a gold medal in the softball throw and a silver medal for her bowling skills.
Before her death on Aug. 28, 2016, Theresa and her sister, Veronica were virtually inseparable for almost 50 years, even sharing the same bed and bedroom. When Veronica married, though, a change of living arrangements was necessary. Theresa took things in stride, maybe a bit sad but never angry. Actually, when Veronica’s husband would come home from work, Theresa would quickly announce his arrival with, “Wonica, your lover-boy is home.”
She took great joy in singing birthday songs to people, not just the generic happy birthday song, but a personalized birthday message to the person to whom she was singing. On July 4, 2016, she sang her final birthday message to Veronica, a beautiful song of love and joy for her sister.
Yet, she had one last message in song for Veronica. On Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, she poignantly sang one last song for her beloved sister and companion. At the end, she sang, “I’m going soon, but don’t cry for me.” Theresa passed away two days later on Sunday, Aug. 28.
Theresa shared most of the last 20 years of her life with the people of Macon County. Many of the people who crossed her path probably never knew her name, but they left her presence with a bit of her joy of life lodged in their hearts. They knew her by her smile, her hugs and her love ― all which she freely gave.
Theresa’s family has tentatively planned a memorial service for Theresa on Oct. 22,016 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at 4 p.m. Following the service they have planned a celebration of her life – Power Ranger style.