Mark David Unruh was born on Sept. 1, 1953, in Sioux Falls, S.D., to Harold (who also had a Sept. 1 birthday) and Vivian (Hofer) Unruh. Mark passed away peacefully on Feb. 7, 2019 at the age of 65 years and 5 months, surrounded by his family at Oakview Terrace in Freeman, S.D.
Mark attended Fairview Country School in rural Turner County for his grade school years and then graduated from Freeman High School in 1972.
Through his growing up years, Mark enjoyed working with the registered Holstein cows on the family farm. His years in 4-H were especially fun for him as he exhibited Holstein calves and cows at the Turner County Fair and South Dakota State Fair. He won county and state level contests in dairy showmanship and dairy judging, as well as being named Turner County 4-H King in 1971.
Upon his confession of personal faith and salvation in Jesus Christ during his high school years, Mark received a believer’s baptism by Reverend William Unrau and was welcomed as a member of Bethany Mennonite Church in Freeman. His parents and both sets of grandparents were also lifelong members of this church. Mark enjoyed teaching the fourth grade Sunday school class at church for many years.
At the start of his sophomore year of high school in 1968, Mark came down with strep throat which developed into acute nephritis and nearly destroyed all kidney function. After a lengthy hospital stay in Sioux Falls, the doctors could no longer provide treatment and recommended that Mark be brought home to a hospice care setting. Instead, Harold and Vivian took Mark to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where doctors tried an experimental drug that restored moderate function of Mark’s kidneys. Mark missed an entire year of school as the result of this illness.
On July 8, 1974, Mark married Holly Ihnen and the couple enjoyed more than 44 years of marriage. They were blessed with two daughters, Hope Ranae and Melissa Jo, and one son, Patrick David.
In 1976, Mark’s kidneys ceased all function and on June 30, 1976, Mark received a transplant kidney from his 54-year-old mother. The transplant was successful and at the time of Mark’s death, the transplanted kidney was one of the longest-functioning transplants known (almost 43 years); the actual age of his transplant kidney was 97 years.
Through the late 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, Mark and his family worked together on the family dairy farm and Mark continued to be active in 4-H as leader of the Golden Rule Dairy Club. He balanced out the hard work of dairy farming with fast pitch softball and bowling; he excelled in both sports. His keen intellect and memory were exhibited with his frequent correct answers on the WNAX Sports Quiz contest. (WNAX eventually instituted limits on contestant winnings because of Mark’s frequent success.) Mark also shared his musical talents during those years by playing piano for the “Saxatones” band at local and regional events.
Mark especially enjoyed attending his kids’ athletic events. In later years, Mark also followed the athletic events of his grandchildren. Mark loved his grandchildren, Minnesota Twins, Superman, The Simpsons, and the Oakland Raiders.
As he became less able to handle the physical labor and stress of dairy farming in the mid-1990s, Mark made a career change. At age 47, he graduated from Mount Marty College in Yankton, S.D., with a teaching degree. He used his intellect and his gentle and encouraging spirit to teach multiple classes and coach basketball in the Andes Central School District. During his years of teaching and coaching, he made a positive impact on the lives of many middle school and high school students. Mark retired from teaching in 2013 due to declining health.
Mark was preceded in death by his parents, Vivian and Harold, and older brother, John. Left to mourn his passing, but cherish the memories of his life, are his wife Holly; daughter Hope and her husband Jason Bohlen and their children: Madison, Ella and Knox; daughter Melissa and her husband, Brian Rempfer, and their children: Ethan, Garrett, Berkley and Marley; son Patrick and his wife, Courtney, and their children: Maxum, Samson and Jack; younger brother James and his wife, Sharla; nephews: John Unruh, Nate Unruh and Adam Unruh; nieces: Amy Miller, Mollie Eichmann, Ashley Buus and Lauren Penning; and many cousins and extended family members and friends.
A time of celebration was held at the Missionary Church Saturday, Feb. 16 with Pastor Stephen Roussos officiating. Music was provided by Matt Neufeld and Kaye Waltner with Joan Marie Nassiri and Mindee Birnstiehl accompanying. Pallbearers were Mark’s grandchildren.