Martha Mendel was born January 15, 1926, to Jacob H. and Sarah (Wollmann) Mendel, on a farm four miles west and two-and-a-half miles north of Freeman, S.D.
The fourth of seven children, she attended country school at Mutschelknaus School Dist. #68 through eighth grade. Her teachers were John S. Mendel, Dave P. Gross, Edwin F. Walter and Ray Kautz. As a young girl, she did much babysitting for cousins. This was a help to her aunts but was a help to her parents as well, as it meant one less mouth to feed during the Depression. Her aunt Mary and Sam Mendel provided a home for her for seven summers. There she helped with the children and more. She told of getting up at 5 a.m., to do chores, cleaning both chickens and turkeys and having milk soup for a late supper every night. She also helped them pick corn during harvest breaks from school.
During her high school years, Martha responded to the Lord’s call through a personal experience with Him. She was baptized upon her confession of faith on July 2, 1944, by Rev. D. W. Tschetter, and became a lifelong member of the Salem Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Church. Her favorite church memory was of the ladies’ octet and the many places they would travel to sing. She also sang with her sisters and went along with Rev. Jake I. Walter, to sing at evangelistic meetings.
She attended Freeman Academy, graduating in 1943, then earned a teaching certificate after one year at Freeman Junior College. From 1944 to 1950, Martha taught country school. She began in the Clayton area and stayed at the Henry Hannemann home. Following that, she taught northwest of Menno and stayed with her uncle Dave G. and Susie Wollmann. After a year, she moved to the Kapsch school, this time living with Arnold and Lenora Kost and riding the school bus to and from school. In 1947-48, she taught at Apple Grove #20; her last teaching job was at the Stern school.
She and Isaac I. Walter, Jr. were married May 18, 1947, at the Salem KMB Church with Rev. Jacob I. Walter officiating. He was an uncle to both Isaac and Martha. The reception was held in the barn on a newly-established farm three miles west and one-and-one-fourth miles north of Freeman. Crepe paper decoration still hangs in the barn.
In 1950, Martha gave up teaching and helped full time with the farm operation. They raised corn, oats, cattle, hogs and chickens, and sold eggs and cream. She helped by pulling the binder, plowing, dragging, cultivating, baling hay, pitching silage, milking, herding cattle and maintaining the house. The work was hard but the returns were generous.
On March 5, 1954, Terry Marcia was born. In the early years, the play pen was set up in the barn, so that milking could be done with her in safe proximity. It was Isaac and Martha’s dream that Terry would play piano but it was Martha who started the process when Terry was just five years old. She was a vigilant practice marshal, making sure that lessons were prepared.
Often heard words were, “That’s not good enough; play it again!,” and, “As long as you’re living in this house, you will take lessons.” But those most cherished and which made perhaps the greatest contribution to the development of Terry’s skills were, “If you stay in the house and practice piano, you don’t have to help clean chickens.” Martha took great pride in Terry’s abilities and reveled in attending her concerts.
Over the years, she was involved with the Ladies Fellowship at her church, taught Sunday school and Bible school, and belonged to the Freeman College Auxiliary and PALS weight management group. It was a source of pride to her to have lost 35 pounds, enabling her to wear her wedding dress to her and Isaac’s 50th Anniversary celebration. In the earlier years, she raised chickens and ducks for sale. In the 1980s, she finished a quilt left undone by her mother. This sparked a love for quilting; she handstitched over 500 quilts that others had pieced. She also began making noodles and gashtel and had many orders to fill. She was a willing babysitter for her nieces and nephews and when they were grown, her hospitality was extended to their children. Retired by then, both Isaac and Martha looked forward to the many opportunities to have the children stay with them and even as her memory faded, these times remained etched. She loved them as her own and to them, she was “Grandma Martha.”
Responsibility is a trademark of people from Martha’s era. She bore it well. When her mother-in-law required constant care, she agreed to spend five days a week tending to her needs so that Isaac’s sister Gladys could honor her teaching contract. She cooked for the entire extended family as well.
It may be surprising to some that Martha had a spirit of adventure. When Terry sent her parents up in a hot air balloon ride for their anniversary, it was Martha who relished the flight. Isaac was shaking in his suspenders. She was game to be a motorcycle passenger and if Bruce Hofer was taking up family in his private plane, he wasn’t taking off without her in it.
In retirement, Martha worked several years at the Woodbridge Candle Factory in Freeman. She thoroughly enjoyed working for Rose and Wayne Hofmann and alongside her coworkers. She didn’t seem to mind the early mornings or the long days of being on her feet. In fact, she relished the labor and took pride in the product.
She was fortunate to have traveled to numerous European countries as well as Canada, Japan, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Alaska and many of the contiguous 48 states.
Caring for Isaac for many years as he became frail took its toll on her health. A month after he moved to Oakview Terrace, in 2008, she moved to Freeman to a new twin home. She had long wanted to live in town and was very happy at her new location. She spent the bulk of her time filling orders for noodles and gashtel, making them for the Hutterite Prairie Market and Cleaver’s Market in Sioux Falls. Her love for singing was sated by participation in the Senior Citizen’s Choir. She accompanied Terry and Don to Arizona a couple times a year. There, her favorite thing to do was ride the pontoon boat.
She even managed to climb into their paddle boat and did her share of the peddling as they navigated Desert Harbor Lake. Sometimes the trip was made by car with stops along the way to visit her friends and relatives.
As she grew to need more assistance, her neighbor Joyce Hofer was an ever-present helper. Teresa Svartoien spent time with Martha on a regular basis making it possible for her to remain in her home longer. Terry and Teresa became her apprentice noodle makers on alternate days. This made her happy. She made a partial move to Salem Mennonite Home, May 1, 2015, after she was weakened by a fall. When her bruises healed, she spent as much time as she could back at her apartment, making noodles and cheese pockets.
Martha was happiest when she was busy. At her request, she moved to Oakview Terrace, March 8, 2016, still going home a couple times a week.
On the evening of Feb. 25, 2018, Martha’s wish to be with her family was granted. In addition to her Lord and Savior, she is welcomed by her husband; parents; siblings Jacobina Mendel, Rachel (Waldo) Wiens, Noah (Louise) Mendel, Wanda (Herb) Hofer, Sarah Hofer and James Mendel; parents-in-law, Isaac I. Walter, Sr. and Elizabeth Walter; sisters and brothers-in-law, Adina (John P. Hofer), David I. (Elizabeth) Walter, Amos Walter and Gladys Walter.
She is lovingly released from her earthly home by her daughter Terry Walter and Terry’s husband Donald Cooper. Others who survive her are sister-in-law Janice Mendel; brother-in-law LeRoy D. Hofer; cousins: Dr. Aaron Walter, Mary Wollmann Hofer, Sam Wollmann, Naomi Hofer, Marilyn Duerksen, Jolaine Gerlach, Jonathan Mendel, David Mendel, Gary Mendel, Zetella Bell, Tabea Koehn, Myrtle Lundin, Dennis Mendel, Jules Glanzer and Elgin Glanzer; and numerous nieces and nephews.
A celebration of life was held at the Salem Mennonite Brethren Church Saturday, March 3, with Pastor Mike Petts officiating. Music was provided by Karol Hofer, Chauni Glanzer, with Tim Glanzer as the song director; the Gospel Gold Men’s Quartet; and the Minnehaha Mandskor under the direction of Terry Walter, with accompaniment by Deanna Wehrspann.
Interment was in the Salem MB Church Cemetery with graveside music by the Gospel Gold Men’s Quartet. Pallbearers were Bruce Hofer, Carlos Hofer, Stan Hofer, Cameron Hofer, Christopher Hofer, Patrick Hofer, Cole Hofer and DeVon Wiens.
Card of thanks
The family of Martha Walter wishes to thank those who expressed their sympathy with cards, memorials, phone calls, food, flowers, time spent with us and assistance with, participation in and attendance at the visitation and funeral. We are rich with extended family who traveled long distances to join us in saying “Goodbye” to our mother. Pastor Mike and Diane Petts and the Salem MB kitchen committee did a marvelous job of helping us put together a fitting tribute to Martha both in a service of music and praise and a reception using the gashtel made by her.
We are unspeakably grateful to the staff at Salem Mennonite Home and Oakview Terrace for the compassion shown to Martha and to us during this 3-year journey. The community has a marvelous treasure in its healthcare system and particularly in the Oakview Terrace memory care. Those who work there have answered a high calling. Martha and we appreciate those who remembered to visit her during her declining years and are forever indebted to Joyce Hofer, who was such a help to her all the years they lived next door to one another.
and Donald Cooper