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Mary Ann Unruh Gertsen, 93, was born on Friday, January 13, 1928, to Susanna (Susie) Hiebert Unruh and Henry Funk Unruh at their home in Newton, Kansas. She was the youngest of six children. She attended Bethel College Mennonite Church with her family and was baptized and joined the church in 1942. She died peacefully with family by her side on October 25, 2021, at Kidron Bethel Village Health Care in North Newton.
Mary Ann attended Cooper Elementary School, Newton Junior High School, and Newton High School, where she participated in many activities, including National Honor Society, Girl Reserves service organization, forensics, and debate, winning many tournaments, including the state championship. Following her graduation, she attended the University of Wichita (now Wichita State University). She was president of UNESCO, involved in YWCA, International Relations Club, Pi Sigma Alpha (national political science honor society), Kappa Delta Pi (international education honor society), and on the Dean’s Honor Roll every year. She was crowned Newton Cin Quinto Queen in 1947, commemorating Newton’s 75th birthday, having been selected by celebrity Bob Hope from photos of all the contestants. For several summers during college, she worked as a counselor at Camp Wood, and in 1950 she graduated Magna Cum Laude, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in political science and minors in education, English, and history.
Mary Ann taught English and social studies at Newton Junior High for three years following college; many of her former students still refer to her as the best teacher they ever had, inspiring them to become lifelong learners and better persons. On June 10, 1951, she was united in marriage in the Bethel College Chapel with William Marvin Gertsen, a Newton High classmate whom she first met in Kindergarten, and they were in every class together at Cooper. They were blessed with three children: Jane Ellen, William Henry, and Karen Ruth. In the early 1950s, she organized efforts to charter the first Newton League of Women Voters, was on the state board and was nationally recognized for spearheading a campaign to promote voter registration and participation. During the years she was raising her family with the children living at home, she did a considerable amount of substitute teaching and volunteer work, being active in Girl Scouting, Cub Scouting, PTA (South Breeze Elementary School president and Life Member), church youth activities, Women’s Society of Christian Service, and Stephen Ministry. She sewed many of her own and her daughters’ clothing, often creating matching dresses for Christmas, Easter, and other special occasions, as well as bridal and attendants’ gowns. She taught the girls to sew while they were still in elementary school, and at various times through the years, she also worked part-time for Martha’s Sewing Shop, H&R Block, and Sears.
When Karen started college, Mary Ann returned to full-time employment outside the home at Wichita State University and continued for more than 15 years: in the Administration of Justice Department, the Vice President for Academic Affairs Office, and the Dean’s Office in the College of Health Professions. While working at Wichita State, she was active in three campus organizations: Serving in Higher Education, Council of University Women, and the Classified Senate, which she helped organize and served as its first president. She retired in 1993.
In 1968, the family of five moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma, and in 1975, Marvin, Mary Ann, and Karen moved to Wichita. Mary Ann and Marvin returned to Newton in 1991, and she renewed her memberships in Readers’ Review and MEO (Mama’s Evening Out), organizations she had first joined when the children were little and continued to be active in until her last few years. Mary Ann was a member of Prairie Quilt Guild in Wichita for many years, which she especially enjoyed participating in with her sister, Vi. Playing bridge was a favorite activity throughout most of her life, and at one time was a member of three different bridge clubs! For many years she volunteered monthly as a docent at the Warkentin House and weekly at the Et Cetera Shop, serving on their boards, and she continued to stay physically active as long as possible through her senior years with water exercise. Mary Ann attended and helped plan her high school class reunions every five years through the final, 65-year one, in 2011. She enjoyed cultural events, including Wichita Symphony Orchestra, Music Theatre Wichita, Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra, and Carriage Factory Art Gallery. Music was an essential part of her life, and she especially enjoyed singing with her sister, Vi, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Increasing mobility and balance issues brought on by Parkinson’s necessitated her moving to a Kidron Bethel Village Independent Living apartment in July 2017 and a Health Care room there in January 2019.
Mary Ann touched countless lives through the years with various community and church service endeavors, including tutoring at Methodist Youthville, delivering Meals on Wheels, shopping for seniors through the RSVP program, Head Start, teaching Vacation Bible School and Sunday School, and helping care for toddlers in the church nursery. Her involvement at Bethel College Mennonite Church, where she was a member for almost 80 years, was extensive: as a youth, she was active in Christian Endeavor and Minnie-Beth Mission Society, and as a young adult, in Mission Study Circle and on the personnel nominating committee. She was involved in the Methodist churches Marvin and her children attended as they were growing up and, in the late 1970s-early 1980s, the Church of the Servant, a Mennonite house church in Wichita. Upon returning to Newton, she resumed more active involvement at BCMC: in the Fine Arts Sunday School Class, Women’s Fellowship (serving as president and vice president), serving on the church board, the worship, outreach, and education commissions, and the funeral, visitation, and personnel selection committees. She was very proud of her Mennonite heritage and loved attending and volunteering at Bethel College Fall Fest and the MCC Relief Sale, for which she and her sister, Vi, helped make verenike. Attending or volunteering at Kansas Day at the Kauffman Museum was also an annual activity they valued, and together they enjoyed numerous trips the Museum sponsored.
Another favorite annual activity the two sisters enjoyed was making special, delectable Christmas goodies together: caramels, hand-dipped chocolates with cream centers and other chocolate candies, and two types of peppernuts. Her family was blessed to be the recipients of these for years, as well as her delicious and lovingly prepared family dinners for many different occasions. Family was of the utmost importance to Mary Ann, and she had a way of making every holiday special and memorable for all. She was always very attentive and loving to her parents, in laws, siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews; planning and getting together for family reunions were especially meaningful to her throughout her life. She was thrilled with each addition of her four grandsons and three great-grandchildren, and they all became the light of her life just as her children had always been. She loved spending time and playing with them, going to the zoo, Botanica, and various museums together, attending as many of their special events and activities as possible, including traveling to the Dallas area on many occasions. Teaching card games to her grandsons and playing cards together during their visits was a favorite activity they all looked forward to and will cherish all their lives. When her first great-grandchild, Lily, was born, she coined her unique name: GGG, or Triple G, short for Great-Grandma Gertsen. Ian and Theo were her “cutie patootie” greatgrandsons who brought her much joy in her last few years. During her final days, when COVID-19 and Parkinson’s had caused her very rapid decline, some of her last moments of responsiveness were during video chats with her grandsons and Lily.
In addition to her parents, Mary Ann was preceded in death by Marvin and her siblings: Ruth Unruh Willard (C.B. “Ben”), Sue Unruh Pack (George), Selma Unruh Fent (Lee), Ernest A. “Ernie” Unruh, and Viola Unruh; a nephew, Lee S. “Jack” Fent II; and a former daughter-in-law, Sally Jane Steele Maxwell. She is survived by her daughter, Jane Gertsen Yetts (Steve) of Lewisville, Texas; son, William H. “Bill” Gertsen of Tulsa, Oklahoma; daughter, Karen Gertsen (Brian Simpson) of Wichita, Kansas; four grandsons: Taylor Yetts (Erin Doyle) of County Wicklow, Ireland; Preston Yetts of Lewisville, Texas; Logan Yetts (Emilia Boxt) of Vallejo, California; and Will Simpson of Wichita, Kansas; three great-grandchildren: Lily Frank of North Richland Hills, Texas; Ian Rase-Yetts of Euless, Texas; and Theo Yetts of Vallejo, California; sisters-in-law: Dorothy Dudte Unruh of Newton and Marilyn Gertsen Borger (Larry) of Littleton, Colorado; and three generations of numerous nieces and nephews, as well as cousins and many friends.
A memorial service celebrating the life of Mary Ann Unruh Gertsen will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 2, at Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton. Masks are optional, and a live stream is available at bethelcollegemennonitechurch.org beginning at 10:45 a.m.. A private family inurnment service will take place at the BCMC Columbarium before the memorial service. Memorial contributions may be made to the Henry F. and Susie Unruh Endowment Fund, Kauffman Museum at Bethel College, 300 East 27th Street, North Newton, KS 67117, benefitting explicitly the Voth/Unruh/Fast House, where her father was born. The family wishes to express deep gratitude to the caring staff at Kidron Bethel Village Health Care, especially Chaplain Eric Massanari, and Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice. The spiritual guidance and support provided by the pastors and members of BCMC greatly comforted Mary Ann and her family.
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