Mary Ellen (Yoder) Howell, a pillar of the Monitor Church community west of McPherson, KS, entered eternal rest in her residence at the Cedars on July 27, 2021. She was 89 years old.
She was preceded in death by her husband of over 50 years, Wally Howell (2005); their oldest child, Mark Harold Howell (2011); and her brother, Bob Yoder (1984). She is survived by Mark’s wife Nancy (Heath) Howell and their two sons, Andrew Joseph and Benjamin Wallace, of Wichita Falls, Texas; her daughter Kathy Howell of Corvallis, Oregon; her son Matthew and daughter-in-law Tina Howell of Greenfield, Massachusetts; and her daughter Amy and son-in-law Jay Warner of rural McPherson, Kansas. She is also survived by her brother’s wife Elsie, their four daughters--Janet, Rebecca, Gail, and Karen, and their families.
Mary Ellen was born in McPherson on April 28, 1932, the second child of Dayton and Hazel (Kessler) Yoder, and was raised in the home that she would live in for almost eighty years, less than half a mile south of the Monitor Church of the Brethren in Groveland Township of McPherson County. As a girl, she attended school for eight years in a one-room schoolhouse that she could walk to from her home. While attending McPherson High School in the late 40’s, she stayed in town with relatives and friends of the family and graduated at the top of her class in 1950.
She went on to McPherson College for her first two undergraduate years and then transferred to Kansas State, where she met Wally on a blind date during their senior year. Mary Ellen graduated summa cum laude from K-State in 1954 with a major in botany. That fall, she began a very short-lived public school teaching career at Conway Springs High School, resigning that position before marrying Wally at the Monitor Church on November 20, 1954. As his new bride, Mary Ellen was able to join Wally when he was sent to Germany as a lieutenant with the U.S. Army. Mary Ellen gave birth to their first child, Mark, at an Army hospital in Würzburg.
When the young family returned to Kansas in 1956, Mary Ellen’s parents moved to another farm house a few miles north, so that she and Wally could establish their home where Mary Ellen had been raised, a house built in the early 1900’s by the brother of her grandfather, J.J. Yoder. Wally began farming with Mary Ellen’s father, growing wheat and milo on approximately 1000 acres of land. For the first twenty years or so, they also raised livestock: beef cattle, pigs, and chickens.
As a mother, Mary Ellen was always there for her four children--Mark (born in 1955), Kathy (born in 1958), Matthew (born in 1962), and Amy (born in 1965)--sending them off to school every day with the parting words, “Mommy loves you, Jesus is near, and don’t forget to be kind.” These essential values were reinforced by Mary Ellen’s devotion to Bible study and prayer at home, as well as her kindness and outreach to neighbors and visitors to Monitor, often inviting them home after church for Sunday dinner. Mary Ellen loved to have the family gather around the piano to sing hymns, as well as old and new popular songs. Along with instilling a love of music, she shared her passion for lifelong learning by involving her children in the local 4-H club and taking her family on Kansas history tours. Wally and Mary Ellen also passed on their values of hard work and resourcefulness by involving their children directly in many of the chores and fieldwork of the farm.
A community leader in many areas related to church and education, Mary Ellen proudly carried on the tradition of the Monitor Farm Bureau Unit that her mother started in 1929, even as its name changed from the Monitor Farm Bureau Unit to the Monitor Home Demonstration Unit, then to the Monitor Extension Unit, and now the Monitor Family Community Education (FCE) Unit. She was instrumental in starting the Vacation Bible School program at Monitor in 1970, and sustaining it through the many decades to follow. At the Monitor Church, Mary Ellen was both a Bible School and Sunday School teacher, as well as accompanist on the piano and organ, collaborating for many decades with Arlene Yoder. Mary Ellen’s role of church musician at Monitor started when she was still a teenager and continued until she was well into her 80’s.
The family farm tradition, which began with Mary Ellen’s grandfather in the early 1900’s, continues to this day, with Amy and Jay Warner (her daughter and son-in-law) managing what is now a “Century Farm.” In 1996, Wally and Mary Ellen received state-wide recognition as Master Farmer/Master Farm Homemaker, acknowledging their stewardship of the land and farm community. In 2004, Mary Ellen was awarded the Citation of Merit from McPherson College in recognition of her lifetime achievements and contributions.
In 2012, Mary Ellen made a smooth transition into the Cedars retirement community, where she knew many of her neighbors even before she moved in, including her childhood friend and cousin, Lois Neher, who passed away earlier this year. Life in town suited her well at this stage of her life, and she participated actively in a variety of activities and programs at the Cedars, while continuing to attend lectures, concerts, and plays at the college.
On August 2, a memorial service will be held at the Monitor Church (please wear a mask), beginning at 5:30 pm and followed by a light meal to which all are invited. Mary Ellen will be laid to rest afterwards in the church cemetery, next to her husband Wally, and in close proximity to her son Mark, great-grandfather J.D. Yoder, and many other relatives and friends. The 5:30 service will be in the sanctuary with all participants wearing masks. Persons could also arrive after 6:30 with the option to eat and visit outside and join the service in the cemetery after the meal.
To view a live stream broadcast of the memorial service, click on this link: https://boxcast.tv/view/mary-ellen-howell-memorial-service-495432 In the event that you are unable to view the live broadcast, a recording will be available for you to view until Nov. 2, using the same link.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be given to the Monitor Church of the Brethren in care of Stockham Family Funeral Home, 205 North Chestnut, McPherson, KS 67460. To send flowers or a memorial gift to the family of Mary Ellen Howell please visit our Sympathy Store.