Esther Wenz, 99, passed away Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at St. Alexius Hospital, Bismarck.
Funeral services will be held at 10 am Friday, Dec. 8, at the Bismarck Seventh-Day Adventist Church with viewing beginning at 9 am. Burial will take place at the Seventh-Day Adventist Cemetery 7 miles NE of Dodge, ND, at 2pm CST (1 pm MST). From 6-7 pm Thursday, Dec. 7, family will greet visitors at Bismarck Funeral Home, 3723 Lockport St.
The 7th of 12 children, Esther was born August 26, 1918, to Adam and Barbara (Weisenberger) Seidel, and she was the first to be born in the new, two-story home on her parents’ 160-acre allotment of land, rather than a sod hut. She attended a one-room rural school through the eighth grade and vividly recalled a day in the 1920s when they looked up and asked the teacher, “What’s that?” These young school children had never before seen an airplane.
Always a lover of learning, Esther cried when she learned during the Depression that she could not attend high school in town: it was too far away and would cost too much to get there or to board in Dodge during the week. Her entire life, Esther stressed the importance of a good education. When people complained about taxes going up to fund education, she would emphasize, “And who do they think paid for their education?”
Esther’s parents had come to America from the Odessa area in present-day Ukraine (Germans from Russia) in 1907, as did her parents’ friends, Philippina and Jacob Wenz, who ended up homesteading just a half mile down the road. Both the Seidels and the Wenzes converted from the Lutheran faith to join a newly formed Seventh-Day Adventist church. These young converts bought another congregation’s church building, which Esther’s brother Ed delivered to the land the Seidels had donated for an SDA church and cemetery. Esther remarked that the church still had its Christmas decorations up, which delighted her, because her parents never allowed them to have Christmas decorations at home. In fact, older sister Rose once bought candles to put in the windows that faced the road. Their mother asked, “What will people think?!?”
These next-door neighbors, the Wenzes, had a son named Herbert. During the Depression in the 1930s, several of the Wenzes and Seidels went to Washington together to pick and sort apples, and to load and drive trucks. Esther and Herb went for several years in row during a time when there were no crops or jobs in North Dakota. Their hopes for more education shriveled and died with the crops.
November 13, 1940—a day registering 20 below—Esther and Herb married in the little, second-hand Seventh-Day Adventist Church located on the farmland deeded to the church by Esther’s parents. The first several years of their married life, Esther would leave Herb and their farm northeast of Dodge for the winter to work as a maid, cook and child-care provider back in Washington. She proudly stated, “With that money we were able to buy two cows.”
Two children—Larry and Rita—eventually joined them on the farm, one of whom was born in the winter of ’48-49 when the snow was so deep that Esther had to move to Hazen a month before her due date, in case she went into labor and couldn’t get to the hospital. She returned to the farm with Rita in a crop dusting plane—their first airplane rides—and landed in field.
Larry went to rural school, riding his pony there and hitching it up by the school; sometimes it would get away and wander home, leaving Larry stranded. When it was really frigid, his dad – Herb – would hitch up a sleigh, put hot stones in blankets, and get Larry to school.
In 1954 Esther and Herb planned to build a new home on their farmstead, but the well water was not good. Instead, they built that same home in Bismarck, where they raised their children, staying there until Herb died with Esther continuing for over 59 years before moving to Touchmark.
Esther began cleaning homes for a living, working almost 50 years for some of her families. At age 82 when asked why she hadn’t retired, she commented, “Well, some of the people I work for are old—they need me.”
When Herb and Esther reached retirement age, Esther insisted they both save their social security checks to invest for their old age. They both continued to work full time, living off that income. Her prescience paid off with Herb living to 90 and she herself to 99. Although she was fairly quiet and shy, Esther ‘s strength of convictions allowed her to maintain financial independence right to the end, something of which she was very proud.
Esther loved to do cross-stitch—an art that requires great attention to detail and patience. She produced literally hundreds of works ranging from framed pictures to wall hanging to Christmas stockings and hand towels. She also loved to cook and bake, at which she excelled. At 94 she was still making 25-30 varieties of cookies and candy (home made caramels!) to send across the United States or to share with friends and neighbors.
A member of the Bismarck Seventh-Day Adventist Church since 1954, she served as the assistant treasurer for 25 years.
She dearly loved spending time with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Esther is survived by a son, Larry (Krista, mother of James and Davis Hay), and a daughter, Rita Kelly; two grandchildren, Jacob (Leslie) Wenz and Shea Kelly (Tarek Assali); three great-grandchildren, Alexandra Wenz, and Thomas and Chiara Assali; a sister, Ellen Hendrickson; and numerous nieces and nephews.
She was preceded in death by husband Herb; brothers Carl, Adam, Ed and Albert; and sisters Elsie Faser, Alvina, Rose, Elma Schelske, Clara Graham and Della Heitzman; and son-in-law Joe Westby.
Esther sometimes would comment, “Don’t go to any fuss; I’m just a simple person. In the words of the Shaker hymn, “’Tis a gift to be simple.”
She now returns to the land her father homesteaded to lie by her love, Herb, and to rest between her parents and his. “Well done, thy good and faithful servant.”