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‘She has left an empty spot in the children’s hearts’

MANATEE — The children at Tiny Tots University always looked forward to the first Wednesday of every month.

“It was ‘Grandmas Day,’” said Isabelle Caballero, the Palmetto day-care center director.

That’s when Virginia “Ginnie” Auffrey and her merry band of grandmothers from St. George’s Episcopal Church would read to the children of migrant workers and low-income parents.

They did it for 17 years until they had to stop last December due to old age and poor health.

“You could see the children’s sad faces,” Caballero said. “When they asked why? We said grandma is sick.”

She meant Auffrey, who had been ailing for sometime and died March 13.

Auffrey was 87.

“Ginnie’s at peace,” said Bette Woods, one of the grandmothers.

There will be a memorial service 1 p.m. today at St. George’s, 912 63rd Ave. W., Bradenton, where Auffrey’s presence was felt for 25 years.

A priest’s wife, the Pittsfield, Mass., native was affectionately known as “Mother Superior” or “Reverend Mother” for her caring and her attention to doing things around St. George’s the right way.

“She was the soul of the church,” said Rose Greiner, the church administrator. “She knew where everything was.

“When she started the reading group, since she didn’t have any children of her own, it was her way of reaching children.”

Cabellero will be among the many mourners.

“She has left an empty spot in all of the children’s hearts,” she said. “Regardless of how she felt, she wanted to continue reading to the children.”

So did Auffrey’s fellow grandmothers.

“We hung in there as long as we could, but we were getting too old,” said Woods, 89.

“I can still see her sitting in one of those tiny chairs, wearing a Santa hat and playing with kids as they opened their gifts,” said Neva Jordan, 76.

“As a former teacher, I loved it,” said Beatrice Estes, 68. “About four weeks ago she said, ‘If you want to start it again, you have my blessing.’ I’m thinking about it.

“Ginnie would want it to continue.”

Auffrey is predeceased by the Rev. H. Philip Auffrey and survived by sister Jane A. (George) Brooks and several nieces and nephews.

Brown & Sons Funeral Homes & Crematory 26th Street Chapel was in charge of funeral arrangements.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fla. 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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