Mary Karla (Sterner) Heckelsmiller
August 1, 1938 – January 30, 2021
Mary Karla Heckelsmiller passed away at home Saturday, January 30, 2021. Mary was born in Redfield, South Dakota August 1, 1938 and was the fifth of five children. With her husband, she raised three children and fostered nine. She loved nature and surrounded her homes with a myriad of roses, pansies, iris, geraniums, and hydrangea. She favored salmon colored gladiolus, which were her wedding flower. She loved long car rides with her family, playing Monopoly, reading, rock and fossil hunting, tent camping, and fishing. She taught her children and grandchildren the enjoyment of the outside world along with the importance of faith, ingenuity, and lifelong learning. She was a meticulous planner, organized, and resourceful, characteristics that served her well as an educator and the matriarch of the family. Mary was compassionate and quick to help others. She knew no sacrifice too great and shared unconditional love.
Mary attended elementary school in Frankfurt, SD. At six years old, she had “hard measles” and lost over 50% of her hearing. Except for 5th grade, when she and her friends adored their teacher, she never really enjoyed school. She did not realize until her 30’s that her difficulties were in large part because she was “hard of hearing”. She learned to drive at 15 in her Grandpa’s 1948 Ford Coupe and spent Friday nights with her friends and brother Connie, enjoying a Coke and fries or going to the movies. Her favorite high school teacher said, “Mary, you CAN and WILL learn. Sit up front and listen!” She graduated from Redfield High School in 1956 and attended Northern State University in Aberdeen, earning her teaching certificate in 1959.
At 20 years old, she met her life’s love, Charley Heckelsmiller Jr.. He was devoted and kind, and a man who asked for and respected her opinion. They married in June 1959 in Redfield, SD and had their first child in 1961. They moved to Idaho in 1966 and made their home in Caldwell where they became life-long members of the Faith Lutheran Church. While raising her children and working full time, Mary attended night classes at the College of Idaho in Caldwell. Under the mentorship of Ward Tucker, Education Director, Mary completed both a B.A. (1970) and M.A. (1981) in Education, graduating with honors. Throughout her 35-year career, she taught 1st through 5h grades in South Dakota, Idaho, and Alberta, Canada. She started an Idaho History Club at Caldwell’s Washington Elementary with student projects placing first in numerous state competitions. She loved teaching science, math, and reading, especially to her 5th graders. She worked tirelessly to help children who otherwise might be marginalized and challenged all students to strive for excellence. Mary served the last 21 years at Washington Elementary and Sacajawea Elementary respectively, retiring in August 2000.
Most of all, Mary knew faith in the Lord grounds us, a grateful heart sustains, and difficult times pass. She was an inspiration.
She was preceded in death by her husband; her parents, Jennie and Roy Sterner; two brothers, John Leroy and Lloyd Conrad; and two sisters Betty Marie and Alice Jean (who passed at age 6). She is survived by her children John (Letitia) of Meridian, ID; David (Shannon) of Maple Valley, WA; and Karyl (Timothy Michel) of Overland Park, KS. She cherished each of her nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
A Celebration of Life will be held at a later time. Condolences may be shared with the family at www.dakanfuneralchapel.com.
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