Martha Van Genderen died on Oct. 18, two days after her 85th birthday, in St John’s ICU surrounded by her husband and about 15 of St. John’s finest doctors and nurses. She died of a ruptured aortic aneurism. The following was provided by her family.
Martha would be embarrassed if she knew her family was writing a memorial about her and mortified if she thought it would be in a newspaper. Martha was a very private person.
When thinking of words or phrases to describe Martha, words like kind, generous, selfless, thoughtful, patient, energetic, peacemaker, athletic, analytical, logical, willing to tackle any project, animal and nature lover, great skier and hiker, extraordinary mother and faithful companion come to mind.
Martha was born in Chicago on Oct. 16, 1937, to Leo Peters and Helen Mills Peters. She was the oldest of eight sisters and one brother. She grew up in Evanston, Illinois, and attended Evanston Township High School. She graduated from Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Michigan) in three years with a major in mathematics and minors in philosophy, French and chemistry. Martha was a class vice president and sang in the Radio Choir. Martha next attended Harvard University, where she received a Masters of Arts and Teaching in mathematics.
While at Calvin College, Martha met her husband Warren Van Genderen. They married upon Martha’s graduation from Harvard. She then proceeded to teach high school math while Warren finished graduate school. Martha loved teaching and thought it was the most honorable of all professions. She innovated many programs over the years including “Math for Moms” (for moms who were terrified of math), “School in the Exploratorium” (San Francisco), and “How to do well on your SAT Exam.” (Martha taught and tutored numerous students who were National Merit Scholars.) Martha taught in many school districts around the country depending on where her husband was working: Newton and Arlington, Massachusetts; Boulder, Colorado; The Katherine Branson School, Ross, California; Bellevue Christian School, Bellevue, Washington; and Jackson Hole High School.
Martha was an amazing mom. She and Warren had four children: Todd, Craig, Eric, and Courtney. Martha never missed a chance to teach lessons from daily life. She was always the first to volunteer for Girl Scout leader, Cub Scout leader, children’s church choir “Expanding your Horizons,” and a junior high school band because the school had no music program. She drove boys to the San Francisco Boys Chorus for years. She had an active interest in each of her kids’ activities and encouraged them to participate and always do their best. She had a “Mom’s” love in her heart for each of her children until her dying day.
Grandchildren were icing on the cake. She followed their lives and activities with the same zeal as her own children, always looking for opportunities to show them new things or books and ready to take them to new places, particularly science museums.
When Martha discovered Wyoming, she knew she had found her special place on Earth. She loved the mountain peaks and vistas, the wildlife, the flora and the fauna, most of which she knew by name. If she did not know its name, she would immediately look it up in a guidebook. She loved her own Wyoming lifestyle. She could fix almost anything. (Replaced car headlights and taillights, changed car tires, fixed light switches, rewired lamps, hung wallpaper, painted walls or laid tile or carpet.) She always kept a toolbox in her car.
Martha loved working in the yard, in her garden, and shoveling snow. (Yes, that is true. She found it therapeutic. She refused to use the snow blower her husband bought her for her birthday — maybe not the best idea for a woman’s birthday present)
Martha could fly an airplane, drive a snowmobile, ride a bicycle, drive a water ski boat, paddle a canoe or kayak, or row a river boat. She was a superb sailor and expert canoeist. She took kids to the Northern Boundary Waters in Minnesota.
Martha was an excellent skier. She could ski any slope with great form. She also did a lot of cross-country skiing, particularly in Grand Teton National Park. Martha was still actively skiing at 85. She climbed the Grand Teton with Bill Briggs as her guide. She hiked in GTNP on a regular basis each summer. When her children were younger, she took them backpacking throughout the Jackson Hole area.
Writing was another skill at which Martha excelled. She was a sometimes poet, oil paint artist, calligrapher, needle pointer, knitter and piano player. Martha had an excellent alto voice and sang in many choirs starting in high school. Martha loved to read and finished about one book a week. Her bedtime reading was the Economist.
Martha volunteered wherever she lived. In Williamstown, Massachusetts, she was a docent at the Clark Art Institute as well as doing “Reading for the Blind.” In San Francisco she started “School in the Exploratorium.” In Bozeman she volunteered at the Montana Intercountry Adoption Agency. In Jackson she was a docent at the National Wildlife Art Museum for 20 years. She also volunteered at JH Therapeutic Riding. She was an election judge for years, always looking forward to seeing friends on election day. Martha was head of the local support committee for A Christian Ministry in the national parks.
Martha was a wonderful entertainer and an unflappable chef. Her lasagna was famous. She always had one in the freezer ready to pull out on a moment’s notice if she had to feed one or 20.
Martha was a wonderful wife and companion. She was loyal, faithful and 100% reliable. Martha always made sure she gave more than 50% to any relationship. She and her husband Warren had a warm and wonderful marriage of 63 years. They made a great team and loved to work on building their family into a loving functional unit. Martha ran the family foundation and the family limited partnership.
Most of all, Martha was a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. She loved attending the Presbyterian Church in Jackson Hole, where she participated in the Women’s Tuesday Bible class for years. Martha is an elder in the Presbyterian Church. Martha told her husband within an hour of her dying that she “had no fear of dying.” She believed and held close to her heart the teachings and promises of Jesus Christ about living in this life and in the life to come — promises that we can all take close to our hearts.
Martha was a truly unique and special person. A celebration of her life will be held at the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29. The service will be livestreamed on YouTube. To view: Go to YouTube. Then to: PCJH Jackson Wyoming.
Martha will be buried in the family plot on Snow King Mountain.