Phyllis Mary Bixel

  Phyllis Mary Bixel was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to Carlton and Erma (Sanford) Newton on Aug. 17, 1922, and quietly passed away in the early morning hours of Saturday, March 4, at Oakview Terrace in Freeman, South Dakota, where she had been a resident for a year-and-a-half. She was 94.
   Phyllis graduated from Western Michigan University in 1945 with a bachelor of science degree in occupational therapy and spent her first years of employment working at the Kalamazoo State Hospital, where her husband-to-be, James W. Bixel, was also employed as musical director through Civilian Public Service.
   Phyllis and James were married at the First Methodist Church of Kalamazoo on Saturday evening, Nov. 3, 1945. They had two daughters, Sara and Mary, and began raising their family in North Newton, Kansas, before moving to Aspen, Colorado, where they lived for one year.
   The family moved to Bluffton, Ohio, in 1960, and then to Freeman in 1990 to be closer to their daughters. James suffered a severe stroke shortly before their move and died in Freeman on March 17, 1999.
Phyllis was a member of Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, First Mennonite Church in Bluffton, and the Salem-Zion Mennonite Church of rural Freeman.
   While Bluffton is the town the Bixels most closely associated with, travel was a big part of their life. Much time was spent in the Wet Mountain Valley near Westcliffe, Colorado, where they had a small lot in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, next to a roaring creek, the Macey. Phyllis enjoyed her time on the lot immensely and could always identify the wildflowers on family walks up and down Nickel Plate Road. She also enjoyed camping with good family friends, the Spauldings and the Gerbers, and picked up and passed down a made-up recipe called Gerber Goop — ground beef, corn, green beans, tomato soup and chili powder. It was made often while camping because it was quick to fix and delicious, and remains a family favorite today.
   The Bixels also spent a considerable amount of time in Europe and, on several occasions, made Vienna, Austria, their home away from home. Given Phyllis’ appreciation for unique foods, art, classical music and especially opera, the time spent in the city that made Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart famous was immensely rewarding for both Phyllis and James.
   Phyllis was known as a fine seamstress and made many of Sara and Mary’s clothes as children. She knitted and wove hundreds of items on the looms in her home and, after moving to Freeman, demonstrated weaving a number of years at Schmeckfest.
   Phyllis was a go-getter, had a spirited personality, “said it like it was,” and there was no doubt about what she loved: opera, of course, but also a good mystery book. She enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen, gardening, tracing family history and genealogy (and documenting it) and New York Times crossword puzzles. She was a voracious reader of the New Yorker and Smithsonian magazines. She loved cats and was a night owl; she would often stay up late reading her mysteries or watching public television.
   She enjoyed good health most of her life but saw a decline in her later years. She eventually left her house in Freeman for an apartment at Walnut Street Village, then moved into the Salem Home and, finally, Oakview Terrace.
   Preceding her in death were her parents, Carlton and Erma; two brothers, David and Loel; and a sister, Shirley Mejeur. Her surviving sister, Eunice Mosier (Carl), lives in Leesburg, Florida.
   Phyllis is also survived by her two daughters and their husbands: Mary and Tim L. Waltner and Sara and John Schrag; four grandchildren and their significant others: Eric and Christina Schwendeman, Christopher Schwendeman and Jennifer Cooper, Jeremy and Stacey Waltner and AnnaMarie and Roy Cornett; and eight great-grandchildren: Samantha Schwendeman, Hannah Schwendeman, Olivia Schwendeman, Riley Pochodzay, Sophie Cornett, Ella Waltner, Oliver Waltner and Miller Cornett.
   A private family graveside service is planned at the Salem-Zion Mennonite Church Cemetery March 25 and a Celebration of Life gathering will be held at a later date.
   Memorials should be directed to the Freeman Prairie Arboretum.