Late German-Born Man Raised Two Children in Sudbury

Werner Mass moved to Sudbury for his wife and two boys in 1976.

Werner Mass, 84. Photo: Duckett Funeral Home
Werner Mass, 84. Photo: Duckett Funeral Home
The following is an obituary courtesy of Duckett Funeral Home of J.S. Waterman.

Werner Maas was born in Wiesbaden Germany on September 12, 1929. His early childhood years were happy; he went to school and enjoyed horseback riding. One of the highlights of his childhood experience was swimming across the Rhine River. This happiness was sadly interrupted during World War II when he lost his father, who was working as a civil engineer for the German army in the D-Day invasion at Normandy. He lost his mother just a short time later. With no relatives to live with, he entered an orphanage at the age of 15, which allowed him to learn the trade of elevator mechanic. His experiences in Germany left an indelible mark and spawned a lifelong interest in politics. Werner was an avid reader of the news, and watched the local and international news whenever possible.

There was little opportunity in post World War II Germany, so being an adventurous individual he set his sights on coming to the United States. At that time, the U.S. was not accepting immigrants from Germany, but fortunately Canada was. While filling out the paperwork to immigrate to Canada, Werner overheard a tip that farm laborers were in strong demand, so he listed that as his occupation instead of elevator mechanic and was granted entry. On September 14, 1953 Werner entered Quebec on the ship Castle Bianco. After taking a train ride to Toronto on a Sunday, he had $5 in his pocket and the suit on his back. The next day he applied for a job as an elevator mechanic at Roelofson Elevator. Within 2 years he was the highest paid elevator mechanic, installing elevators throughout the Canadian provinces.It was in Toronto that Werner met the love of his life, Elfriede Schuster.

They became married on March 2, 1957. After honeymooning in New York City, they confirmed that the career opportunities for Werner were better in the U.S. Upon notifying the Elevator Union in New York City he was interested in a job, he was told "don't come here on your own, we notify you." Six months later the phone rang and he was told there was an opening for him. Therefore, in the Fall of 1958, Werner and his new wife Elfriede moved to Mount Vernon, NY. They occupied one room of a shared apartment with some sympathetic Germans.

In 1962 the first of Werner and Elfriede's sons, Rainer, was born. Around the same time Elfriede's mother had re-married in Germany, to a farmer near Wurzburg, Germany, and they needed help on the farm. In 1963 they packed their bags and young son and moved back to Germany. Farming proved to be more difficult an endeavor then they had imagined and they moved back to Mount Vernon, New York in 1965. There were no opportunities for work in the elevator business in New York City at that time, so Werner worked in a metal foundry for minimum wage. But he was persistent and called his contact at Westinghouse Elevators on a weekly basis until he got his elevator mechanic's job back. The late 1960s was a good time in the elevator business in New York. One of the highlights of Werner's career was installing the elevators in the Pan Am building. But his profession also included risk. Those were the days before safety nets were commonly used and construction projects sometimes lost men to falling accidents. However, Werner was able to earn a lot of overtime and his second son Ralph was born in 1967. 

In 1970, Werner and Elfriede had saved up enough money to purchase their first house in Hastings-on-the-Hudson, a suburb of New York City. Behind them were the days of living in single rooms and apartments. Elfriede's sister Ute also lived nearby in Hawthorne NY, with her husband Richard Hunting, and they were able to see each other and keep close contact. They particularly like going to visit Ute and Richard, who mixed a tasty Whiskey Sour. 

In 1973 Werner entered the management rankings, becoming a Supervisor of a crew of 30 elevator mechanics. His nights were often interrupted from elevator mechanics calling for assistance with troubleshooting problems. In 1976 New York City was facing bankruptcy, and the demand for elevator work was put on the backburner as the city sorted out its finances. It was at this time that Werner was offered a transfer to Boston, Massachusetts to manage the elevator mechanics at Westinghouse. In 1976 Werner and Elfriede moved their 2 sons to Sudbury, MA due to the excellent school system and the availability of trails that the boys could use to ride their dirt bikes. It was in Sudbury that Rainer and Ralph graduated from High School.

From High School it was on to college for Rainer and Ralph. Ever the frugal immigrants, Werner and Elfriede were able to save and pay for the tuition for Rainer's engineering degree at Northeastern University (1985), and Ralph's Finance degree from UMASS Lowell (1989).

In 1986, Elfriede was diagnosed with brain cancer. Werner never wavered in his loving care in her courageous 7 year battle against the disease. When Schindler Elevator Company bought out Westinghouse, Werner was offered early retirement, and he was able to dedicate himself to the care of Elfriede until her death in 1993. This was an incredibly sad time for Werner, as he was looking forward to spending his retirement with Elfriede in the United States and Germany where they still had the family farm.

In 1996, Rainer and Sarah were married. Shortly thereafter, in 1998 Annika Elfriede Maas was born. And just shy of four years later, Isabel Webber Maas and Olivia Grace Maas were born. Werner's 3 granddaughters became the new loves of his life. While the girls were young, "Opa" changed many a diaper and played endless hours with them. As they became older, besides babysitting, he was their chauffeur to various appointments. He also traveled with Rainer & Sarah and helped take care of the girls during family vacations to the UK (1998) and Germany (2002, 2006). During one of the family vacation's to Germany, he recounted stories about the family farm to his granddaughters and to the current owners of the farm house after they graciously allowed us to tour the house and garage.

In 2010, Ralph and Lina were married. They chose the lovely island of Santorini, Greece for their wedding, which both Werner and Rainer and Sarah's family attended as well as Lina's. While on Santorini, Werner showed the girls how brave he was by taking a donkey ride up the steep steps of the island port. During the same trip Werner and the family visited Crete, toured the island, visited historic sites and ate many great meals together. Werner also enjoyed overnight trips to York, Maine and spending time socializing with Sarah's parents – Alan & Marilyn.

It was the Fall of 2010 when Werner's health took a turn for the worse. After a few hospital visits he was diagnosed with heart failure (Atrial Fibrillation). He had to spend a week at Mass General in Boston, but the doctors were able to get his heart back in rhythm. While this medical incident made him initially weak, eventually he recovered to the point where he was driving again, and helping Rainer and Sarah take care of their three girls and spending time with Ralph and Lina. In the Fall of 2013, things again took a turn for the worse and Werner had to undergo Aortic Valve Replacement surgery. With much care from Mass General, Emerson Hospital and cardiac rehabilitation at Wingate in Sudbury, he was able to return home, which was his wish. The past five years for Werner brought much joy as he watched his three granddaughters grow and enjoyed delicious dinners at Ralph and Lina's. This joy was a great counter balance to the frustration he experienced as he was gradually weakened by advancing age and the effects of Congestive Heart Failure. It is with great sadness that we mourn his passing but we are also filled with countless, happy memories of Werner "Opa" Maas.


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