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Nancy L. Merkt, age 79, passed away on Thursday May 18, 2023, in Des Moines, IA. She was born December 29, 1943, in Madison to the late Matthew and Viola (Birrenkott) Crabb. Nancy married Donald Dean Callaway on July 25, 1964, and after his death in 1992 she later married John Leo Merkt on November 21, 1992.
Madison, WI., may not evoke the same “make it there, make it anywhere” aura that Frank Sinatra sang about. But it was where Nancy Merkt was determined to make her mark in the world as an 18-year-old, newly minted high school graduate - even if she was venturing out about 15 miles from her parents’ 160 – acre dairy farm in Cross Plains.
“I wanted to get out, earn my own way, and see what I could do,” Nancy recalls with a laugh. It’s not that Nancy, the daughter of Matthew and Viola Crabb, considered farm life dull or difficult. There were chores for everyone, of course, but Nancy also loved watching small animals grow up. As young entrepreneurs, she and her brother, Harold, would buy a calf, raise it to about 100 lbs., sell it for veal, then start over with a new one, splitting the profits along the way.
After graduating in 1962 as a member of the National Honor Society, Nancy made her fateful 15 – mile move to Madison. She soon found herself working as a secretary for an insurance cooperative located next to Wisconsin’s Capitol Square and sharing an apartment with two girlfriends.
It didn’t take long for Nancy to find a social life. As a volunteer with the local USO, she joined young servicemen at events such as square dances. One of her weekend beaus was Donald Callaway, a staff sergeant from Baraboo, WI., who suggested they take dance lessons together. Romance blossomed with each do-si-do. Don proposed on Valentine’s Day 1963, and they married the following year.
An even bigger move in Nancy’s life came when Don was transferred to Germany in 1965. She got a job as a secretary with the European Exchange System and was first American to earn Employee of the Month honors. She and Don visited Berlin, which at the time was still a divided city. Observing strict protocols as the tour bus made its way through the Berlin Wall into the Soviet- dominated east side, Nancy nevertheless felt a sense of relief when they returned to the American Sector through the famous “Checkpoint Charlie”.
That experience, Nancy recalls, “made you appreciate the freedom American’s have.”
The couple remained enthusiastic square dancers during Don’s three-year deployment, and his subsequent assignment to Ft. Meade, MD. By 1973, they were back in Madison. Don had taken a job with the state, while Nancy had her hands full with three daughters – Susan, Karen and Christine. Home life wasn’t dull.
In 1977, she was treated to seeing one of Elvis Presley’s last concerts at the Madison Coliseum. Nancy even snared a piece of “The King’s” scarf as a souvenir. Don passed away in 1992, but Nancy wasn’t alone for long. Some friends set her up on a blind double date with John Merkt, a former Wisconsin State representative who was then involved with developing a new baseball park for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Despite their rather ominous movie choice, “Fatal Attraction,” Nancy and John fell in love and married later that year. Although all their children were grown, the couple enjoyed combining their respective family traditions, including Nancy’s annual Christmas card that always featured a family photo.
“It had changed over the years as the daughters arrived and grew up, and we did different things.” Nancy says. She’s particularly fond of the card showing her and John at Milwaukee’s old County Stadium, with the new baseball yard rising in the background.
“It was a real treat for us to get that view,” Nancy says. Since John’s passing in 2009, Nancy has kept busy visiting with her daughters and her grandchildren, Kathryn or “Kitty”, Keith and Martin. And having been married twice to Freemasons, she stays in touch with the organization’s group for women, the Order of the Eastern Star, and the Women of the Moose Lodge.
Nancy’s still a dancer at heart, though, and she enjoys watching any TV show that spotlights performers’ flair for music and song. “There are a lot of talented people out there,” she says, and it’s fun watching the do what they love.”
Nancy is survived by her children Susan Marie Crockett, Karen Ann (Martin) Bordson, Christine Marie Callaway; grandchildren Kathryn Grace Crockett, Martin Clifford Bordson, Keith Allan Mathias Jr.; brother Harold (Patricia) Crabb; brother-in-law Frank Callaway and sister-in-law Mary (Frank) Halderman-Lorbiecki
She is preceded in death by her parents Matthew and Viola (Birrenkott) Crabb, husband Donald Dean Callaway, husband John Leo Merkt, children Catherine Viola Callaway, Douglas Dean Callaway, granddaughter Kelly Ashley Mathias.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11:00 AM on Tuesday May 23, 2023, at ST. DENNIS CATHOLIC CHURCH, 505 Dempsey Rd. Madison, with Fr. Randy Timmerman and Fr. Tom Coyle concelebrating. Burial will follow at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Pine Bluff. Visitation will be from 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM on Monday May 22, 2023, at Cress Funeral Home, 3325 E. Washington Ave. Madison and also from 10:00 AM until the Mass on Tuesday at the church.
We would like to thank the staff at The Bridges in Ankeny, IA.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to Suncrest Hospice, 5959 Village View Dr. #100, West Des Moines, IA 50266. https://www.suncrestcare.com/suncrestcares-foundation/
They provided wonderful, compassionate care to our mom.
Cress Funeral & Cremation Service
?3325 E. Washington Ave.
Madison (608) 249-6666