Susanna Marie Duerksen Kleinsasser was born May 24, 1922, to John R. and Susanna (Quiring) Duerksen, in the small village of Hotevilla on the Hopi Reservation of Arizona, where her parents were Mennonite missionaries. The mission station was 100 miles from the nearest town. Marie and her three older siblings grew up among the canyons of Hopiland. The family had few toys, so Marie and her sisters used their imaginations as they played among the rocks and sand hills. The children were home-schooled by private teachers and their mother.
In the early 1930’s, the family left the reservation for a small farm in Colorado. These were the dust bowl years, and the Duerksens braved winter blizzards and endless dust storms. Marie and her sisters and brother helped pick beans, milk the cows, and weed the garden. For the first time, Marie attended public school, taking the bus one and a half hours each way.
After five years on the farm the family moved to Kingman, Kan., where Marie graduated from high school in 1939. While in high school, Marie had thought her path led to a career in nursing. But listening to the presentation by a visiting missionary from Africa planted a new vision, and she felt called to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a missionary. She started to dream of traveling to distant lands, perhaps South America.
To prepare herself for this work, Marie attended Hesston College and Bible School and received her associate of arts degree in the Christian Workers program. She remembers these years as “very meaningful times spiritually.”
In 1944, Marie decided to further her Christian education at Columbia Bible College in South Carolina, where she obtained her bachelor of arts in Religious Education, a period she described as “rich years in the study of Scripture.” Her first job after graduation was assisting in church work for two Presbyterian congregations in Virginia.
Following her dream, Marie was ordained in 1945 by the General Conference Mennonite Missions as a missionary to India, and she sailed to Bombay, where she would serve until 1963 with a three-year furlough in the 50’s when her mother became ill. During her time in India, she taught Bible school, oversaw a boarding school kitchen, and served as the administrator of an orphanage, among other duties.
Years before Marie’s return to the states, she had met a widower named John Kleinsasser when they were both in Germany at Mennonite World Conference. They had remained in touch and were married in Newton, Kan., December 1963. They settled in Freeman, S.D., John’s home town. Marie suddenly acquired a family of four adult step-children and eight step-grandchildren.
Marie and John were married for 21 years. These were very busy days for the couple. Marie became heavily involved at Hutterthal Mennonite Church, teaching Sunday school and leading Bible studies, serving as deacon, choir member and director, and pianist, and working on various committees. In the community, Marie served as chairman of a women’s mission group, and as an activities director at a retirement home.
In addition, Marie assisted John in his insurance and seed corn business and traveled with him to the capitol when he was Chief Clerk in the South Dakota House of Representatives and Bill Clerk in the South Dakota Senate. In later years, Marie nursed John as he became weakened by Parkinson’s disease. He died in 1984.
Marie’s sister Martha and brother-in-law Evan lived in Glendale, Ariz., and in 1986 Marie decided to move down to join them at Glencroft. While there she became active at Trinity Mennonite Church and in the Glencroft community, leading Bible studies, playing in the handbell choir, and playing piano for Glencroft church services. At one time, she served as the president of the Glencrofteers volunteer organization, and she also volunteered for Hospice.
Marie had time to stretch her artistic talents by taking a painting class. She enjoyed nature, and she took some beautiful trips with Martha and Evan around Arizona and throughout the West.
Marie’s health declined and she eventually moved into assisted living and then into the care center at Glencroft. Her great-niece Jodi Kilmer and husband Ron provided much support during those years.
On October 27, 2018, Marie passed quietly with her friend Cheryl Paulovich at her side.
She was preceded in death by husband John; sisters Martha Oswald and Ruth Schmidt; brother John P. Duerksen; step-children Pearl Hofer, Calvin Kleinsasser and Ruth Pollman; and step-grandson Collin Kleinsasser. She is survived by stepdaughter Marian Towne, seven step-grandchildren, nine step great-grandchildren and seven step great-great-grandchildren.
A memorial service was held on Nov. 10, 2018, at Glencroft Senior Living Community in Glendale, Ariz.
Memorial donations can be directed to: Mennonite Mission Network, PO Box 370, Elkhart, IN 46515-0370.