SACO – Her “bucket list” included riding a zip line down a mountain at age 84, pedaling a bicycle through the Canadian Rockies in her 70s, and traveling in an ox-drawn cart to visit her father’s native village in Russia.

Though her adventures might seem daring for a woman of her age, she was always driven by what mattered most in her life — being with her family, especially her three children.

Vera Warner, a longtime resident of Saco, died Saturday after a brief illness. She was 86.

Her husband, Robert Warner Sr., died on April 11. They would have celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary on June 29.

“Riding a bicycle didn’t come easy for my mom,” said a daughter, Mari Warner of Rotterdam, N.Y. “But she did it because she wanted to be with her family.”

Born in Hudson, N.Y., Mrs. Warner was the daughter of Russian immigrants Vassily and Mary Podorozny.

Mrs. Warner’s father had talked about returning to his native Russian village — Gremyach in the Ukraine. He was not able to return.

But his daughter fulfilled his dream. Mrs. Warner traveled to Russia in 1990.

The trip was hard. Mrs. Warner and her daughter Mari had to travel in an ox-drawn cart over muddy roads to reach Gremyach. When they arrived, they were greeted by her father’s relatives.

The village was primitive. Villagers had to carry drinking water in pails and homes were lucky if they had one light bulb.

“It was just an unbelievable trip,” her daughter said.

To celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary, the Warners and their daughter visited Arizona. They toured the Grand Canyon, but the highlight of their trip was a hot air balloon ride at dawn over the Arizona town of Sedona, which is known for its red rocks.

“Mom had that on her bucket list,” her daughter said.

“The Bucket List” is a 2007 film starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The film follows the lives of two terminally ill men and focuses on the things they’d like to do before they die.

Although Mrs. Warner enjoyed traveling, much of her adult life was spent in their King Street home in Saco. The couple moved to Saco after getting married in New York in 1947.

After her husband established the state’s first private physical therapy practice, Mrs. Warner concentrated on raising her family and giving back to her new hometown.

She served as chairwoman of the Saco School Board, a trustee of the local library and museum, and for 35 years on the Laurel Hill Cemetery Association.

Another daughter, Linda Simonsen of Buxton, said her mother developed an affinity for the cemetery, which she described as one of the most beautiful in southern Maine.

“In the spring, there must be a million daffodils growing wild there. All you can see is a sea of yellow all the way to the Saco River,” Simonsen said. “My mother got involved because she wanted to make sure the cemetery was preserved. Again, it was something she loved because it was part of Saco.”

Just two months ago, Mrs. Warner was honored by the Kennebec Girl Scout Council for her 65 years of volunteer work.

“Volunteering was her big thing,” Simonsen said. “She filled her days by going out, by being with people. She loved people.”

Even recently, she visited nursing home residents.

“That was her life quality. What she could do to help others. That is what she lived for,” Simonsen said.

Perhaps even more amazing than her civic service were her bike rides.

When she was 71, Mrs. Warner and her husband rode their bikes 350 miles over nine days from their daughter’s home in New York to Saco.

In 2001, when she was 77, the Warner family went on a bicycle trip through the mountains of British Columbia. The trip took seven days.

“There were three generations (of Warners) on that trip,” Simonsen recalled.

“Athletics was the glue that held our family outings together,” Simonsen said. “She would just dive in and do it because she knew it meant a lot to us.”

But the adventure that really impressed Simonsen was the one that wasn’t planned.

Two years ago, Simonsen and her husband, with Mrs. Warner and her husband in tow, drove through the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Simonsen knew that Wildcat Mountain had opened a zip line, and she knew that riding a zip line was on her mother’s bucket list. So the family stopped at Wildcat and much to her daughter’s surprise, her mother headed for the gondola that would take her to the top of the mountain and the so-called Zip Rider.

Once there, the attendants strapped Mrs. Warner into a seat with a line of onlookers cheering her on. The Zip Rider website says riders can reach speeds up to 45 mph.

“She went flying down the mountain,” Simonsen said. “You could hear Mom screaming as she flew over the tops of the trees.”

Mrs. Warner’s third child, Robert Warner Jr. — a former University of Maine basketball star — lives in Marblehead, Mass.

It has been hard on the family to lose two parents in the span of less than three months.

“As much as we miss them, they lived a good and a long life,” Simonsen said.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]