Sharon T. Waltner: 2042-2023
Sharon Tillie Waltner of Freeman, S.D., passed away while surrounded by her loved ones at the Freema hospital on Aug. 30, 2023, from a short but valiant battle with cancer at the age of 80.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6 at the Hutterthal Mennonite Church of rural Freeman. Visitation and viewing will be Tuesday, Sept. 5 at the church from 5 to 7 p.m., with a prayer service at 7 p.m.
Sharon arrived into this world on Nov. 22, 1942. She was born to Paul and Tillie Waldner (née Hofer.) She was the fourth daughter of her family. Her siblings included three older sisters: Violet, Ardella and Darlene; and one brother, Martin, who passed in infancy. She was born on her parent’s farm located three and a half miles west of Freeman. Her father, Paul, was known as “turkey Paul” because the Waldner family was one of the first to raise large numbers of turkeys in South Dakota.
During her youth, Sharon enjoyed playing with the farm cats and their kittens inside the barn on the family farm. She was raised mostly by her sisters, Violet and Ardella, due to her parents’ long hours raising labor intensive turkeys. Violet and Ardella, who were eleven and eight, loved to remind Sharon that she had “stolen their childhoods” since they played a major role as her caregivers. As Sharon grew older, she became an independent little girl. She packed her own lunches and dressed herself to attend her country school, Progressive #20, which was one mile east of her farm. After the country school closed, Sharon finished her elementary education at Freeman Public School.
Sharon was a devout Christian. Until age 12, Sharon attended Hutterdorf Mennonite Church, which was one mile east of her family farm. After her father’s passing, her family attended Hutterthal Mennonite Church, which was her church home for the rest of her adult life. On Dec. 7, 1958, upon her confession of faith, Sharon was baptized by Rev. Abe Wiebe at the age of 16.
At Freeman Academy high school, Sharon excelled in her classes, met many of her lifelong friends, and fell in love with her high school sweetheart, Gordon Waltner, who became her husband of 60 years on June 9, 1963, at Hutterthal Mennonite Church.
Upon graduation, Sharon furthered her education at Freeman Junior College and then completed her double major at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. She earned a B.A. in Business Education and German with a minor in Religion. Sharon was the first of her family to graduate from college. Her first teaching assignment lasted a year at Garreston School District. Gordon and Sharon then moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she continued her teaching career until they decided to start a family.
Their first child, Lainie Nicole, passed at birth. The following year brought their son, Christopher John. Four years after Christopher’s birth, Sharon and Gordon returned to South Dakota, and they moved onto their farm northwest of Freeman in 1976. The final addition to their family arrived in 1978, another girl who they named Misty Rae.
Sharon enjoyed a variety of career choices. For nine years, Sharon worked for the U.S. Census Bureau, five years for the Freeman Public School District, and an additional 17 years at Communication Services for the Deaf in Sioux Falls.
Sharon selflessly put others before herself and was passionate about helping anyone in need. All year long, she fastidiously assembled school kits and layettes for Mennonite Central Committee’s relief efforts. As the strong matriach of her family, Sharon kept her household running smoothly. She always prepared delicious meals, and extended hospitality to family and friends. She lived a life of deep faith, loved her family, and tended to her friendships diligently.
The Waltners enjoyed exploring the world together. Gordon and Sharon had the honor of traveling to all fifty states, the Canadian Provinces, the United Kingdom, and Sharon’s dream destination of Cuba in 2014.
One of Sharon’s greatest loves was discovered at the age of 50: her gardens. Together, the Waltners spent over 30 years perfecting their gardening craft. Those privileged individuals who toured their creations well admired their outstanding beauty.
She cultivated a lifelong relationship with her grandchildren, Mischa and Caden Bishota, and loved numerous others like their own mother. She will be missed by the multitude of those who had the honor of spending extended time in her presence.
Those left to remember her life include: her husband, Gordon; her son, Christopher; her daughter, Misty Rae Bishota (née Waltner) and her husband Charles; her granddaughter, Mischa, and grandson, Caden. She also leaves behind her beloved sisters, Violet Terveen (and family), Ardella Gross (and family), and Darlene (Norman) Hofer (and family.) Many others share in her loss, including her sister in-law, Sheila Waltner (and family), and many cousins and loving friends.
She was preceded in death by her parents, her infant brother and daughter, and her brother in-laws: John Gross, Archie Terveen, and Jerome Waltner, as well as her sister in-law, Joyce Adrian.