Helen Messer Gartner
Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church on Thursday, September 19, 2019 at 11:00 a.m. with visitation beginning at 10:00 a.m.
Interment will be Friday, September 20, 2019 at noon in the North Dakota Veteran’s Cemetery in Mandan, ND, under the care of the Fulkerson-Stevenson Funeral Home of Sidney. A vigil will be held on Wednesday, September 18, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church.
Memorials preferred to: the Foundation for Community Care (specify Hospice or Sidney Cancer Center) or St. Matthew’s Catholic Church.
Helen Aloisia Messer Gartner died peacefully at home surrounded by family on Thursday, September 12, 2019. The loving mother of 12 children was 95.
Helen was born at the family home south of Richardton, North Dakota on November 8, 1923. She was the fourth child and daughter born to Philip and Barbara Messer. She grew up on the family farm during the years of the Great Depression and had to leave school after completing the 8th grade. She worked for neighbors in the area to earn money for the family. Helen was very proud to earn her GED certificate later in life. She graduated from high school in 1972, a year she did not have a child graduating so she could have her own graduation year.
In her early twenties, Helen joined her older sister in California and worked as a waitress there. She loved her time in California and would have stayed there, but a handsome, young soldier convinced her to come home and marry him. Helen and Cecil Gartner were married on June 24, 1947 in Richardton. They moved to Sidney, Montana and made their home there for the next 70 years. Helen and Cecil farmed land north of Sidney. She also worked at the Holly Sugar factory during campaign season.
But her primary occupation was being a mother. Helen’s children included six girls and six boys — and she was very proud of all of them. Hard work and doing your best were messages she frequently delivered to her children. She was a tireless cook, baker and gardener. Helen was well known for her beautiful flowers which could be seen from the highway. She also took great pride in her annual Christmas light display which she directed her kids to hang – usually in sub-zero weather. Feeding such a large family was a daily priority. The kids would often come home from school to the smell of freshly baked donuts, cinnamon rolls or homemade bread which were quickly consumed by the hungry group. Helen especially enjoyed making meals during the grain harvest and bringing them to the field to eat with the harvesters at the end of the day. She was an amazing cook who could whip up a meal out of seemingly nothing. She also had a knack for fixing the cooking fails of her children. Every summer her garden grew enough vegetables for hundreds of jars of canned goods which she and her daughters produced. There was no tolerance for anything less than a perfectly packed pickle jar.
Helen was honored to be named the 1993 Montana Mother of the Year by the American Mothers Conference and was recognized by the Governor of Montana. The mayor of Sidney proclaimed April 16, 1993 as Helen Gartner Day in her honor. She and Cecil traveled to California and North Carolina for national Mother’s Conferences and they had a great time. In her acceptance speech Helen said: “Being a mother or father is a 24-hour-a-day job – being eternally vigilant.”
Helen was an active member of St. Matthew’s Catholic Church for many years. She served on the welcome committee, parish council, Catholic Daughters group and was part of various prayer circles. She was a woman of deep Catholic faith. She would often light a candle asking for protection and guidance from the Holy Spirit. For many years Helen was part of Girard Homemakers, and although the goal of the group seemed to be learning new homemaking skills, we think she just wanted to get out of the house and spend time with her friends.
Education was a high priority in Helen and Cecil’s house. They paid close attention to report cards and noticed if any were not brought home. She always attended teacher’s conferences, Christmas programs and countless band concerts. They also enjoyed attending their grandchildren’s high school sporting events.
Helen and Cecil loved to dance and taught their children (the girls AND the boys who were required to dance with their sisters) to polka, waltz and schottische. They were part of a square-dancing group, and she looked beautiful in her full dancing skirt that matched Cecil’s shirt. They loved Ole and Lena jokes and listening to the News from Lake Wobegon. They were also accomplished pinochle players and taught many of their children and grandchildren to play. Many, many games of pinochle were played around the kitchen counter. Helen once passed her granddaughter a queen of hearts to round out a double run – her first and only double run.
Helen and Cecil loved going camping, especially near Medora, and traveling to Germany to visit family. Helen loved spending time with her grandchildren and teaching them to cook, bake, play cards and dance.
Cecil passed away after a short illness in April 2017. Helen continued to live at home and enjoyed frequent visits from her children and grandchildren. Although illness slowed her down physically during the last months, her strength of spirit was not diminished.
Helen is survived by her children Rod (Madelyn), Cecile McManus, Ambrey (Sharon), Phyllis, Bryan, Clyde (Roy Mattson), Mary Martin (Mark), Colin (Sue), Louise (Nancy Gustin), Grace Metsker (Greg), Jean Nickman (Jim) and Tom (Martha). Her grandchildren include Erin (Jan Bryan), Amber and Bryce Gartner; Rachel, Ben, Keegan (Melissa) and David Gartner; Kristin Gannon (Jamie Butler) and Daniel Jenkins (Kelli); Zach Gartner; Kimberly Martin Hamlin (Tyler) and Neil Martin; Marianne and Christopher Gartner; Lindsay Bean Sacksteder (Matt); Meredith (Chris Wiegert) and Phillip Metsker; Beth, Kyle and Noah Nickman and Owen Gartner. Her great-grandchildren include Aidan, River, Lucy, Elias and Luke. She is also survived by her sisters Eleanor Hoff, Aurelya Reid and Setona Gartner and brother Phillip Messer.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Cecil, her parents, sisters Sally Bascherini and Lena Messmer and brothers Ralph, Tony, George and Paul Messer.