MISSOULA – Mary Ann Gardner passed away Friday, May 7, 2010, in Missoula, shortly after her 82nd birthday. She watched her last spring bloom with a view of Lolo Peak, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. Mary Ann’s legacy is her gracious giving spirit inspired by God. She lived a life of service and never complained about the trials that came her way. Mary Ann felt blessed at all times.
Mary Ann was born April 26, 1928, to Harry and Virginia Sohn in Columbus, Ind. She grew up along the Flat Rock River with her sister, Nancy; brother, John; and many friends with whom she remained close her entire life. She worked at Camp Atterbury during World War II. She attended MacMurray College in Illinois and then transferred to Indiana University to be close to her father, who was dying of cancer. At Indiana, she pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma and met a Sigma Chi who would become the love of her life, Austin “Bud” Gardner. Their first date was along the creek in Cascades Park. They married Sept. 15, 1951.
Austin attended medical school and then accepted a surgical residency in New York City. Mary Ann worked as a social worker for the Travelers Aid Society at the old Penn Station and as a tour guide at the newly minted United Nations. After their first child was born, they moved to London on Austin’s Fulbright Scholarship. They returned to Indianapolis two years later. In 1960, Mary Ann’s sister, Nancy, and her husband, Tom Capehart, were killed in a plane crash. Three of their children, Tom Jr., Lucy and Mary Ann, were adopted into the Gardner family.
In 1962, the family moved to a home surrounded by oaks, maples, pines and a large magnolia tree that bloomed every spring. Mary Ann made it a place where all were welcome and happy chaos was the norm. There were numerous dogs and cats, a pony, a lamb, chickens, rabbits, a monkey, goats, a donkey and even a pig won at the Delaware Trails School fair. Snakes and turtles were brought up from nearby Williams Creek. Mary Ann organized campfires, games and Halloween parties. She always dressed as a green-faced witch, a tradition lasting even to this past Halloween.
She loved celebrating Thanksgivings at the Wiles and Fourth of July at the Sohns, but her favorite gathering was Easter. Every year after church, friends and family would come over to the Gardner home to celebrate, culminating with a treasure hunt. One year, to the delight of children, and horror of parents, live bunnies were given away.
In 1967, the family of nine packed their trunks, boarded the Queen Elizabeth and headed back to England, where Austin studied vascular surgery. In the midst of Beatlemania, the Gardner and Capehart children attended school in London and traveled through Europe in a Bedford van. The family returned to Indianapolis in 1968.
While raising a large family, Mary Ann was active in First Congregational Church and multiple volunteer efforts, including the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, the Boy’s Club, Meals on Wheels and a stint as PTA president of North Central High School.
She was an energetic, interested traveler, visiting more than a dozen countries. Of all the places she visited, Brown County, Ind., remained her favorite, especially Thule, the family cabin on Lake Monroe where she embraced the four seasons with her dear husband, swimming, canoeing, sailing, hiking, ice skating, cross-country skiing and together feeling something like the luckiest people on the planet.
After her husband passed away in 1993, she continued volunteer work as a docent in the Eiteljorg Museum and at her church, where she tutored less privileged children and served the homeless. She contracted Lewy Body’s dementia and moved to Missoula, in 2008, to be closer to family. She was cared for and loved and was able to see grandchildren’s piano recitals, plays, ballets, soccer and basketball games and ski races.
She is survived by her brother, John Sohn (Jane) of Columbus, Ind.; and her children, Tom Capehart (Anne) of Oak Hill, Va., Lucy Capehart of Missoula, Glenn Gardner (Lynn) of Spokane, Mary Ann Capehart of New York City, Virginia Kelly (Russell) of Hinsdale, Ill., Phil Gardner (Julie) of Missoula and George Gardner (Leslie Cole) of Portland, Ore.; and 15 beloved grandchildren.
A celebration of her life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 5, at First Congregational Church, 7171 N. Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis, IN, 46240.
In lieu of flowers, remembrances in her name may be made to First Congregational Church or the Eiteljorg Museum, 500 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN, 46204.
The family would like to thank the wonderful employees and residents at the Springs of Missoula.