Susan Katherine Decker
April 11, 1931 – April 9, 2019
Susan Decker was born April 11, 1931, at the farmhouse of her parents, Phil and Susie (Alpert) Gartner, 6 miles south of Richardton, North Dakota. She was the third of four children. Growing up as the only girl with three brothers, many of the household chores were assigned to her: scrubbing the floors, preparing the meals, cleaning the dishes and doing the laundry by hand. She grew up in a house without electricity or running water, which meant carrying buckets of water from the pump above the outside well. In addition to inside chores, she milked cows and fed and butchered chickens. She recalled waking up as a child on cold winter mornings with the water frozen in the wash basin of the bedroom she shared with her youngest brother, Gordon.
She was educated through the eighth grade in a one room school, which was about 2 miles north of her home. She would either walk to school or ride a horse drawn sled or wagon with her brothers. For high school, she was boarded in the town of Taylor, ND, and as part of her “rent” she cleaned the house of her host family. She enjoyed being a cheerleader for the Taylor Redbirds. During high school she met the love of her life, Donald Decker. She recalled, as a tenth grader, passing notes back and forth to Don, who was in the twelfth grade row. Don’s sister, Leona, sat in the eleventh grade row between them and would charge her a penny “toll” per note.
Susan was baptized on May 10, 1931, and confirmed at Saint John Lutheran Church in Richardton. She was a lifelong Lutheran and unashamed to share her faith with whomever she met. She was especially vibrant in the life of two congregations, both called Christ Lutheran Church, in Chino and Visalia, CA and served on national women’s boards and participated in many conventions.
After high school, Susan attended North Dakota State Teachers’ College in Dickinson. After receiving her teaching license, she taught in rural, one room schools in North Dakota and Montana until two weeks before her first child was born.
Susan and Don were married on June 20, 1953, in Glasgow, Montana. After their marriage, they moved to married student housing in Bozeman, where Don attended Montana State University. Susan gave birth to Mark in Bozeman on July 1, 1954, and to Becky in Richardton, N.D. on September 18, 1955. Following Don’s graduation from Montana State, the family lived in American Falls, Idaho, and Roberts, Montana, where Don had teaching jobs. In 1960 they moved to Greeley, Colorado. With Mark and Becky starting first grade and kindergarten that fall, Susan was able to complete college and received her bachelor’s degree from Colorado State Teacher’s College (now the University of Northern Colorado). She returned to teaching and taught fourth grade at Maplewood School until the family moved to California.
In 1964, Don and Susan purchased their first home beside the Whispering Lakes Golf Course in Ontario, CA. Susan loved this home, and kept the open atrium in the center of the house adorned with beautiful shrubs and flowering plants. She earned her California state teacher’s credential at La Verne College. Susan was employed as a teacher for the Ontario-Montclair School District from 1964 to 1991. Even though she worked full-time, she cooked Mark and Becky a hot breakfast every morning before they went to school. She spent summers selling Avon and World Book Encyclopedias, working as a cashier at Value Fair and Disneyland.
In 1991, Don and Susan moved into their custom-built log home in Visalia to be closer to their daughter Becky’s family. Susan substitute taught in the Visalia area in an effort to actively maintain her California State teacher’s credential for as long as she was able. In the early years of her retirement, she and Don traveled – visiting their son and his family in New York and Minnesota, as well as trips to visit relatives in Germany, North Dakota and Mississippi. When Don’s worsening diabetic condition limited those travels, she served as his main in-home caretaker until he passed away on August 30, 1996, with Susan at his bedside.
Susan was never one to sit still and simply relax. For the first several years she lived in Visalia, she worked as a salesclerk at JC Penney. She took time off to visit her son, Mark, and his family in Kingman, AZ, and northern Iowa. In the early 2000s, she made many new friends and enjoyed the scenic beauty of various National Parks as a summer worker for Aramark gift stores. In the summer of 2005 she worked at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming; in 2006 it was Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia; in 2007 she enjoyed working at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana; in 2008 she was at Denali National Park in Alaska; and in 2009 she was closer to her roots at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
Susan spent time in all 50 states, visiting most on multiple occasions. Whenever houseguests would come, there were two places she made sure they were taken – Disneyland and Tijuana, Mexico. She loved driving, and, together with her son, drove six times to North Dakota and back. She passed along her love of travel to her children and grandchildren by leading them on many adventures around the world. Using a camper in the back of a Chevy pickup, Don and Susan took their children on many long tours around the U.S. and Canada. In the summer of 1969, the four drove for seven weeks around the perimeter of the U.S., from California to Key West, FL, to Bar Harbor, ME, and back home via North Dakota. Ever the teacher, Susan read aloud from various travel guidebooks, giving the historical background of each place. As high school graduation gifts, she personally took her granddaughters on trips to Prince Edward Island, Canada, the Great Wall of China and on a cruise to Alaska. When age began to limit her ability to travel with them, she financed trips for her grandsons to experience Scotland and France.
Susan was a lifelong seamstress, making matching outfits for Mark and Becky when they were toddlers and costumes for various concerts and plays as they grew older. In her later years, Susan developed a keen interest in quilting. She made several trips to the annual festival in Kutztown, PA, coming home with a suitcase full of new quilts as well as inspiration to sew a new pattern herself. She made over 100 quilts in her life, including many from old blue-jeans.
Susan resided at Prestige Assisted Living in Visalia for the last six years of her life. She was well cared-for and loved by the staff. There she breathed her last breath on earth on April 9, 2019.
Susan was preceded in death by her husband, her parents, son-in-law, Mark Dotta, her two older brothers, Cecil and Robin, sister-in-law Leona, brother-in-law Leroy (Mae) Decker. She is survived by her son Rev. Mark (Sherrie Hansen) Decker of Saint Ansgar, IA; by her daughter Becky Dotta of Visalia; by her grandchildren Elizabeth (Matt) Davis of Texas; Becky (Xilam) Ybarra of Saint Paul, MN; Rachel (Noel) Thompson of Visalia; Stephen (Laura) Dotta of Madera, CA; Erik (Cristiana) Decker of Bucharest, Romania; by ten great-grandchildren (Anne, Grace, Jane, and Mary Davis; Imix and Xochitl Ybarra; Lucca, Mark, and Elliot Thompson; and Mckenzie Dotta; her brother, Gordon; Sisters-in-law Helen Gartner, Setona Gartner, Jane (Chuck Taylor) Gregory, Betty Ulin; brother- in-law Frank (Pat) Decker; and by many nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews.
Arrangements are entrusted to Miller Memorial Chapel of Visalia. www.millerchapel.com