OBITUARY: Viola Frances Unruh

Viola Frances Unruh, 93, was born on Aug. 17, 1925, to Susanna (Susie) Hiebert Unruh and Henry Funk Unruh at their home in Newton. She was the fifth of six children. She attended Bethel College Mennonite Church with her family and was baptized and joined the church in 1939. She died on August 9, 2019 at Kidron Bethel Village Health Care in North Newton, where she had resided for five years and four months.

Vi attended Cooper Elementary School, Newton Junior High and Newton High School, graduating in 1943. She attended Bethel College in North Newton for one year, then transferred to Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science (now Kansas State University) in Manhattan for two and onehalf years, where she was a member of Chi Omega Fraternity, then University Hospital in Kansas City (now KU Medical Center), earning a bachelor’s degree in home economics and nursing in 1948.

Vi began her nursing career at Bethel Deaconess Hospital in Newton, followed by a six-month postgraduate course in institutional supervision at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver beginning in January 1949. She then continued her nursing and studies at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center for two years, then Wesley Medical Center in Wichita for a year, where she taught nursing classes. While in San Francisco she thoroughly enjoyed belonging to an international folk dancing group. In 1959 she embarked on a memorable three-month trip to Europe with a fellow nurse, traveling there by ship on the Nieuw Amsterdam, touring seven countries, and flying home on KLM. She loved to travel and did so often but considered this her most fulfilling vacation.

After her European trip, Vi worked at the KU Medical Center for a short time, then went on to study at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, graduating in 1962 with a master’s degree in nursing service administration. She then returned to Kansas City, where she continued to enjoy a very successful and rewarding nursing career at the KU Medical Center for over 28 years, until her retirement in 1985.

Following retirement, Vi returned to Newton to spend time with her family and pursued a variety of interests. She collected genealogical information, Mennonite heritage writings, and family history; she enjoyed helping plan and attending high school and nursing school class reunions, and keeping fit through water exercise and swimming. She knitted numerous afghans, primarily for her family members, generously creating them for her sisters and each of her 12 nieces and nephews for their high school graduations, then later for her great-nieces and great-nephews. Vi loved baking, cooking, and sharing recipes, entertaining friends and family with her delicious home cooking and gourmet meals, recording in a notebook all pertinent detailed information about each meal she hosted. At Christmas time she made delectable hand-dipped chocolates with cream centers, other chocolate candies, and many varieties of cookies, including peppernuts, which she generously shared with family and friends. Her nieces enjoyed being involved in her annual chocolate candy-making, learning her special techniques, and some have carried on the family tradition. Family was of the utmost importance to Vi, and she regarded her nieces and nephews as her “children,” ever involved in their lives and the lives of their children, as well as some of their grandchildren.

For about 25 years Vi was very involved in quilting, spending every Monday and Thursday afternoons with the BCMC Mission Quilters group, and she was an active member of Prairie Quilt Guild in Wichita. At BCMC Vi also participated in Women’s Fellowship, the Fine Arts Sunday School Class, Funeral Committee, Serving Committee, Social Committee, and Kitchen Committee, which she chaired from 1991 to 1997. Vi so loved her church and was especially proud to hold the longest continuous membership at BCMC – 80 years! She was very proud of her Mennonite heritage and enthusiastically served as a docent at the Kauffman Museum for 19 years, taking particular interest in showing and telling visitors about the Mirror of the Martyrs exhibit and the Voth-Unruh-Fast House, in which her father was born and reared. After moving into Kidron Bethel Village Health Care, she enjoyed competing in their Senior Olympics every fall, winning medals in the Name that Tune and Walking Race events.

Vi developed quite an extensive collection of cassette tape recordings of hymns and special music from BCMC worship services and other programs, as well as recordings of show tunes and popular music from the Big Band era, with all music meticulously indexed and cross-referenced in greatest detail in notebooks. Vi’s interest in music began early: she played the flute and piccolo in junior high and high school band, and sang in the Bethel College a cappella choir as a freshman. She sang with choirs at BCMC and Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, which she attended while she lived there, and played with the BCMC bell choir for several years. She loved all aspects of the music at BCMC, especially the incomparable congregational hymn singing in four-part harmony. Throughout her life, you never knew when she might just break out in singing whatever hymn or song caught her fancy at the time! Although in her final months dementia stole almost all her memories and the true essence of who she was for most of her life, she never lost her profound love of music and she was still singing and enjoying many hymns and songs right up until the end.

In addition to her parents, Vi was preceded in death by her older siblings: Ruth (C.B. “Ben”) Willard, Sue (George) Pack, Selma (Lee) Fent, and Ernest A. (Ernie) Unruh; and a nephew, Lee S. (Jack) Fent II. She is survived by her younger sister, Mary Ann Unruh Gertsen of North Newton, sister-in-law Dorothy Dudte Unruh of Newton, 11 nieces and nephews: Letitia (Tish) Willard Davis, Selma Sue (Jill) Fent Thompson, James Pack, Rodney Unruh, Mary Jeanine (Jan) Fent Johnston, Teresa Unruh Arthur, Jane Gertsen Yetts, Richard Pack, William H. (Bill) Gertsen, LaDonna Unruh Voth, and Karen Gertsen; 22 great-nieces and nephews, 24 great-great-nieces and nephews, and many other relatives and friends.

A memorial service celebrating the life of Vi Unruh will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 5. at Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, followed by a light lunch. A brief, private family inurnment service will take place at the BCMC Columbarium prior to the memorial service. Family visitation will be from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in Menno Hall at Kidron Bethel Village. Memorial contributions may be made to the Henry F. and Susie Unruh Endowment Fund, Kauffman Museum at Bethel College, 300 E. 27th St., North Newton, KS 67117.

Petersen Funeral Home in Newton is in charge of arrangements.