Ruth Elaine Soelter Lethem
May 7, 1923 – April 24, 2014
BLOOMINGTON — Elaine Lethem, age 90, of Bloomington, died Thursday evening at the IU Health Hospice House in Bloomington. Born May 7, 1923, in Wamego, Kansas, she was the daughter of Erich and Vera (Brock) Soelter. She had been a resident of Meadowood in Bloomington for 17 years. A lifetime spent in the Midwest included homes in Maryville, Missouri; St. Joseph, Missouri; Wichita, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; Palatine, Illinois and Bella Vista, Arkansas.
Elaine’s childhood in Wamego, a small town in Kansas, was memorialized in her recent book, “The View From Poplar Street.” She graduated from Kansas State University during WWII with degrees in Nutrition and Institutional Management. Her first job was as a dietician at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, then she taught and worked at University of Missouri, Kansas City. There, she met her future husband, Walter Lethem, and they married in 1947. She was an active community volunteer, while he pursued a career in corporate law and they raised their three children. Elaine then earned a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Illinois in Chicago and taught for several years on the faculty of Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. In retirement, she and Walter enjoyed extensive international travel to over 25 countries and had thirteen good years in their home in the Missouri Ozarks.
Following her first husband’s death in 1992, she lived on in Bella Vista, Arkansas, for several years until rekindling a WWII romance with Herbert Munger of Windermere, Florida. They married and moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where she relished 17 years of active life at Meadowood Retirement Community.
Elaine was an active member of the First United Methodist Church in Bloomington, a member of PEO Chapter AE and a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. She founded the Meadowood Women’s Fellowship and a grief support group. Over her lifetime of civic participation, she also helped establish the first shelter with counseling services for troubled youth in Palatine, Illinois, rose to leadership positions in the Girl Scout Association of North America, and served as a town planning commissioner in Palatine. In Arkansas, she was elected president of the Northwest Arkansas Conference of Methodist Women. Elaine had a deep love of music, from hymns, to swing band standards, to symphony and opera. Her community service and enjoyment of music, right up to the last months of her life, were legacies she attributed to her mother Vera’s influence.
She is survived by her two daughters, Nancy Lethem (Tom Gallagher) of Bloomington, and Barbara Ibrahim (Saad) of Cairo, Egypt; one son, Troy Lethem (Mary Matthias) of Madison, Wisconsin; one brother, Robert Soelter (Sherry) of Abilene, Kansas; sisters and brothers-in-law Ronald and Ruth Lethem, of Mineral Point, Wisconsin, Dorothy Ann Wilson, of Jefferson City, Missouri and Brown Richard Lethem, of Berwick, Maine; seven grandchildren: Randa (Nabil), Amir (Macarena), Faye (Daniel), Noelle (Philip), Michael, Colin and Wesley; two step-grandchildren, Dan and Anya; six great-grandchildren: Lara, Seif, Adam, Gabriel, Vera and Emery. A large number of nieces and nephews knew her as an inspiring role model.
She was preceded in death by her first husband, Walter R. Lethem, and her second husband, Herbert Munger. She lovingly included in her family Herb’s children, Michael, Cathy and Karen, and his grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held on May 17 at 2 p.m. in the Terrace Room at Meadowood in Bloomington.
The family suggests memorial contributions be made to the Shalom Community Center, which aids and empowers people experiencing poverty and homelessness in South Central Indiana, or to the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Benton County, Arkansas, an organization Elaine helped create in the 1990s.
- Memorial Service Saturday, May 17, 2014
Ruth Elaine Soelter Lethem
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May 2, 2014
I am sorry for your loss. I knew Elaine when she was president of the North Arkansas Conference United Methodist Women. I served on the team with her and consider her one of my mentors.
Mary Lou Martin, North Little Rock, Arkansas
April 30, 2014
I am so sorry for your loss. My mom, Alice Rowan, across the street from your mom at Meadowood, always cherished her friendship and zest for life. They visited most every day and she always had such kind words for your mom! You were so kind to me at the time of Mom's death. Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers at this very tough time.