Mary Margaret Runkel, (Independence) died and was born to eternal life on January 13, 2014.
She was born in Bills Valley, Town of Arcadia, WI to Joseph John and Ida A. Schank Bill on December 6, 1916, the Feast of St. Nicholas. For the remainder of her life, her birthday was celebrated with the German custom of putting shoes outside the door in the evening, which then magically were filled with oranges and nuts.
She was preceded in death by her husband R. Wayne Runkel of Independence; four sisters, Eileen, Armella, Bernetta Bill, and Therese Bill Sgarlata; and four brothers, Simon, Linus, Werner and Alban Bill. She is survived by four children: Mary Margaret Runkel Moehring of Springfield, VA, Robert Wayne Runkel (Mary) of Helena, MT, Anne Runkel Gierok (Peter) of Independence, WI, Joseph John Runkel (Laurel Qualley) of Whitehall, WI; and one sister: Sr. Alma Bill, Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, Huntington, IN. She also leaves behind five grandchildren: Kathryn Gierok Vera (Rolando), Anne and Katherine Runkel, and Laura Jo and Robert Wayne Runkel; as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
She grew up on the Bill Family Farm in the Town of Arcadia and graduated from Arcadia High School during the depths of the Great Depression in 1934. She received her “Teacher’s Certification” in 1935, and began what would become a 41-year career as an educator, when in that year at the age of 18, she accepted her first position at Cortland School in the Town of Arcadia. She taught all eight grades in that one-room school, and always remembered that part of her job was to start the wood burning stove in the morning, as well as that the eighth grade boys were taller and weighed more than did she. From 1937 to 1941, she taught in the Holcomb Coulee School, another one-room school in the Town of Arcadia. In her later years, several of her students from those one-room school days paid her annual visits. She enjoyed reminiscing with her students about that bygone era.
In 1941, she accepted a position as an elementary school teacher in the Independence Public School District. It was while teaching in Independence that she met her husband to be, R. Wayne Runkel, a proprietor of the Runkel Hardware Store. They were married on June 6, 1945 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Arcadia, WI. She continued teaching in Independence Schools following her marriage, with time out for the birth of four children.
In 1958, at the request of the Pastor, she accepted a teaching position at S.S. Peter and Paul Catholic School in Independence. In 1965, she returned to the public school setting and taught in the Arcadia School District from 1965-1967. In 1967 she resumed her career in the Independence Public School system. In 1969, she was selected as the Elementary School Principal, and in 1979 she was named Superintendent of Schools for the Independence Public School District. At that time, an article in a local Eau Claire newspaper stated that she was “reported to be the first woman school district superintendent in Wisconsin.” She retired on August 1, 1982 at the age of 65, having devoted 41 years of service to school children of Wisconsin. Her retirement was filled with her grandchildren, daily walks, crossword puzzles, books, and her much loved computer with which she kept in touch with family, friends, and the world.
Mrs. Runkel received her B.S. degree in Education from the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, and her M.S. degree in School Administration from Winona State University. She was a member of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, in whose work she was an active participant.
In addition to her love for her profession, she also had a life-long fascination with automobiles and often contributed her thoughts to AUTOWEEK, which published several of her letters to the editor. One of her great delights was her fire red 2002 Thunderbird convertible sports car which she purchased for herself to celebrate her 85th birthday.
She loved her God, her husband, children, grandchildren, extended family, and her students. Her devoted service to the education of her hundreds of students over a four-decade long career was a gift to them of incalculable worth.
Her family is deeply grateful for having been privileged to share part of the long and extraordinary life of this good, gentle, gracious, and truly great lady.
Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, January 18, 2014 at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Independence, with Very Rev. Woodrow H. Pace officiating. Burial will be in the church cemetery.
Visitation will be held from 4-8 p.m. Friday, with a prayer service at 7:30 p.m. followed by a rosary, at Edison Funeral Home, Independence, and one hour prior to services at the church on Saturday.
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