Esther Elizabeth Guenthner, 82, passed away Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, at Rosetta Assisted Living Center in Missoula. Esther was born Sept. 14, 1930, in Bismarck, N.D., to Christian and Magdalena Zeller. Both parents were children of German immigrants from Russia who arrived in America at the turn of the century.
She was the youngest of eight children and grew up on the family farm north of Beulah, N.D. Esther loved her life on the farm and rode her horse, Ole, to school. Hard work on the farm was a given and her roles included gardening, canning and helping in the fields. Esther began her education in a one-room schoolhouse and graduated from high school in Hazen, N.D., in 1948.
Music was a constant in Esther's life. Raised in a musical family, she grew up singing and learned to play the piano by ear. She soloed at community events and church, and performed in a polka band with her brother, Albert. Country dances were the social scene for youth in the German farm community. It was at such an event where she met the love of her life, Paul Guenthner. They were married Sept. 25, 1949, in a small country church between the two family's homesteads.
After living their first few years on the farm, they moved into Hazen where their three children were born, Harlan, Mark and Edie. They lived in Halliday and Mohall, N.D., before moving to Great Falls in 1970. Family pastimes included fishing, hunting and annual sausage making. As her children left home, Esther returned to full-time bookkeeping, working for ASCS, GTA and Mitzi M.
In 1985, Paul passed away. In order to be closer to her family, Esther relocated to Bozeman, where she worked in her son, Mark's office as a legal secretary. She blossomed as a single woman and learned to swim and cross-country ski at the age of 60. Her love of music and dancing led her to meet her second husband, Kenneth Kay. In their five years together, they traveled extensively and wintered in Arizona. In 2004, Esther moved to Missoula and resided at the Clark Fork Riverside. There she met Ray Frankforter, who became a dear friend and musical companion.
Esther will be remembered as a loving and caring mother and grandmother. She was an ardent supporter of her grandchildren's musical and sporting activities. She was a marvelous cook and everyone enjoyed her fleisch kuechle and kuchen. There was always a song in her heart, expressed through singing, humming or whistling.
Special thanks are given to the staff at Rosetta for their loving care of Esther for the past two years as her dementia progressed.
Esther was preceded in death by her husband, Paul; son, Mark Guenther; and her siblings. She survived by her son, Harlan Guenthner (Rosie) of Jacksonville, Fla.; daughter, Edie Smith (Richard) of Missoula; daughter-in-law, Monica Guenther of Bozeman; grandsons, Greg Guenther of Tucson, Ariz., and Scott Guenther of San Diego; granddaughters, Megan McFadden of Chicago, and Allison and Mackenzie Smith of Missoula; and great-granddaughter, Hanna McFadden of Chicago.
A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 4, at Garden City Funeral Home with reception to follow. Burial will follow Saturday, Jan. 5, at Highland Cemetery in Great Falls. Condolences can be left for the family at missoulafuneralhomes.com.
Memorial donations may be made in memory of Esther to the choir Dolce Canto, 91 Campus Drive, PMB 2711, Missoula, MT 59801.