Ellen Claire Heine

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ellen Claire Heine (nee Johnson) died May 13, 2011, at the age of 85, in St. Paul, Min., as a result of complications from a fall on May 1, at The Seasons, senior apartments where she was living in Maplewood, Minn.

Ellen was a Spencer, Ia., resident for nearly 60 years, beginning on June 3, 1949, the day she married Russell Heine, a livestock broker for and eventual co-owner of Peterson Sheep and Cattle Co. Russ died Dec. 30, 2004, and Ellen moved to the Twin Cities in October 2008.

Mrs. Heine's funeral will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 28, at Bethany Lutheran Church in Spencer. She will be buried beside her husband at Riverside Cemetery. A reception at the church will follow the interment.

The Heines joined Bethany Lutheran in September 1950, on the day their first child was baptized and made many lifelong friends at Bethany. Over the decades, they served the church through a variety of roles. Ellen was a member of the church council, taught Sunday school, was superintendent of Sunday school and summer Bible school, and served several terms as president of the women's Circle. She sang in the senior choir for more than 30 years, directed the youth choirs, played the piano for many church events, and could be counted on to serve as a substitute organist when needed. Ellen and Russ co-chaired Bethany's Centennial Celebration in 1987-88 and in 1988, presented a workshop at Luther College in Decorah, Ia., on how to organize a church centennial celebration.

Ellen Heine was born at Valley City Mercy Hospital, N.D., on February 7, 1926, to Herman and Ida Johnson (nee Matzek). Raised on a farm, she attended elementary school in Lucca, N.D. When she was 13, Ellen's father died and the family moved to Fargo, N.D. There she attended Roosevelt Junior High School, then completed two years of high school in Bertha, Minn., and returned to Fargo to graduate from Central High School in 1944. In 1948, Ellen graduated from North Dakota State University (NDSU) in Fargo with a B.S. degree in Home Economics, a science major and an English minor.

Ellen Johnson met Russ Heine at NDSU in 1946 at a fraternity-sorority exchange. Russ had returned to NDSU to complete his degree following his World War II military service. They became engaged and, after graduation, she taught English literature, biology, home economics, and girls' physical education at Everly high school while her fiancÚ worked in Spencer. In 1950, Ellen left teaching to start a family with Russ. Later she served as a substitute teacher for seven years at Spencer High School.

Ellen was the first--and, for many years, the only--woman member of the Clay County Fair Board of Directors, serving from 1980 to 2006. In 2008, the Board recognized her years of service as a director and her organization and management of the annual floriculture show. Ellen said the first president of the board would begin the meetings by saying, "Now fellows. Oh, excuse me, lady and gentlemen."

A lover of many types of music, Ellen delighted in playing the piano and could sight read almost anything. Every Christmas, the Heines gathered round the piano to sing carols as Ellen played. Her volunteer worked ranged from playing piano for the residents at Longhouse and St. Luke's nursing homes, to serving as president of Band Boosters, to being a member of the Spencer Clef Club for more than a quarter century. Ellen was a patron and board member of the Community Concert Association and served seven years in the posts of president, vice-president, and secretary. Ellen and Russ attended symphonic concerts and musical productions throughout Iowa and the world.

Ellen was passionate about flowers and floral arranging. After years of study, exams, and judging at horticulture shows throughout the state, Ellen earned the distinguished position of National Federated Garden Clubs Accredited Life and Master Floral Judge. For four years, she and her husband were state co-chairs of Operation Wildflower, a Federated Garden Clubs of Iowa project to promote the planting and preservation of native grasses and wildflowers along roadways, parks, and gardens. For years, the couple hosted tours of their gardens at Mapleview, their farmstead just outside Spencer. A former president of the Clay County Garden Club, Ellen supervised the floriculture show at the Clay County Fair for more than two decades and also exhibited award-winning niches and tables with the beautiful arrangements she made, often with flowers grown by her husband. Silver bowls donated by Russ and Ellen are awarded annually to winners in design arrangement at the fair's floriculture show.

Supporters of The Nature Conservancy, the Heines enjoyed hiking and birdwatching in nature preserves throughout the United States. They attended and led numerous workshops identifying flora and fauna.

Ellen served as secretary of the Spencer YWCA board and the PTA, was a Clay County Girl's 4-H leader, and received the County 4-H Appreciation Award.

Ellen and Russ loved to play bridge and to dance and for years were active in two ballroom dance clubs.

An avid reader, Ellen followed local and world news throughout her life. She was active in Republican politics in Northwest Iowa for decades and volunteered in several of Charles Grassley's successful campaigns for the U.S. House and Senate.

As president and a member of the local American Field Service (AFS) board, Ellen helped bring foreign high school students to Spencer to spend the academic year with a host family. In 1966-67, the Heine family hosted Lutty van Hecke, a Belgian student, and in 1971, Ellen and Russ traveled to Belgium to meet the van Heckes and attend Lutty's wedding.

In addition to four trips to Europe, Russ and Ellen visited Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and all 50 states. Ellen presented many slide shows on their travels to local civic and service clubs.

Ellen was preceded in death by her three brothers: Clarence (1925), Lt. Col. Darvin (1981), and Ivan Johnson (2005); and Russ, her beloved husband of 55 years.

She is survived by their three children: Kristine Heine (Reston, Va.), Janis Heine Benson (Memphis, Tenn.), and John Heine (Minneapolis, Minn.); four grandchildren: (Andrew, Sarah, Owen, and Adeline); one great-granddaughter (Marcella); and several cousins.

Donations in Ellen Heine's memory may be made to Bethany Lutheran Church (music or landscape funds), Spencer Area Concert Association, and Arts on Grand.