Florence Leigh Waltner

Honored by:Winona Waltner Senner
Brick location:G:27  map

I wish to recognize my mother, Florence Adelia Leigh Waltner, as a symbol of the women who built the United States as they followed their fathers and husbands across the continent. It was the women who created homes in sod shanties and tents; who kept traditions alive with a piece of needlework and a recipe; who cooked over campfires and in furnaces when the electricity failed in ice storms. I am proud of the tradition of strong women from whom I am descended and I hold dear the torch which has been passed down.

"The farm at Crofton, Nebraska, where I was born, September 17, 1908, is not part of my memory, as Dad and Mother decided to homestead in Montana in 1909."So begins the story of Florence Adelia Leigh Waltner, my mother, which she wrote in 1984.

Florence was the 3rd of 5 children of Caroline Breckenmaker and Lewis Leigh. The Breckenmaker and Leigh families trace the history of the United States. The Leigh family in America pre-dates the Revolutionary War. And the family history moves west as the country grew... from Pennsylvania to Illinois to Iowa to Nebraska to Montana, and then back to settle in South Dakota.

Florence lived the life of a homesteader child in a claim shanty in eastern Montana until 1919 when the family moved back to Carter, South Dakota. In 1925 the family moved to Santee, Nebraska, to work at the Santee Normal School. Florence graduated from high school at Santee. In the fall of 1927, Florence entered Yankton College, Yankton, South Dakota, as a freshman. Sometime during that first year, she met a student in the biology lab where she was lab assistant. That student was Willard Waltner, from Hurley, South Dakota, whom she began to date. Following her graduation from Yankton College in 1931, they were married in a lawn ceremony at Santee.

Florence spent the next 63 years in the Mennonite community near Freeman, South Dakota. She writes "fools walk in where angels fear to tread describes my entrance into a solid ethnic community." She came into the community at a time when German was the language of daily living as well as of church services and at a time when the majority of the women did not attend college. Florence and Willard lived with his family and farmed together. Over the years, Florence worked for church and community, serving in many ways, including terms as president of the Auxiliary of Freeman Junior College and president of Women In Mission of the Northern District General Conference Mennonite Church. In 1969, Florence and Willard moved into Freeman where they lived until 1994 when, at the ages of 85 and 86, they chose to retire to North Newton, Kansas.

Florence and Willard had three children, a son, Emil Lewis, who died at birth, and two daughters, Winona and Dianne.

Submitted on 3/21/95