ELLINWOOD — This year the Ellinwood Rotary is giving special honorary recognition to Mary Ann Brungardt during the 2017 After Harvest Festival, July 13-15. The theme this year is “Happy Heritage — Historic Hometown.”
“We believe Mary Ann to be the oldest Ellinwood citizen, St. Joseph Catholic School graduate, EHS graduate and still living in her home at the age of 99,” said Rotary member Rosie Joiner. “We felt she was well deserving to be recognized during the parade and at the Mayor’s Luncheon.”
Mary Ann Thill was born on Jan. 28, 1918, in the family home near Dubuque. She is now 99 years of age and hopes to hit 100 in January. Mary Ann had three older brothers (Frank, Nick and Paul) and three older sisters (Francis, Catherine and Eleanora — all who died at infancy or in early childhood), and was later joined by a younger brother (Leonard) and a younger sister (Anna Lee — now her only living sibling).
Mary Ann was 7 years old when her mother died from injuries in a car accident. He father died four years later when she was 11. Following the death of their father, Mary Ann’s three older brothers stayed on the family farm. Her younger brother moved to Ellinwood to live with an uncle and aunt and her younger sister moved just down the road to live with another uncle and aunt. Mary Ann moved to the Ellinwood area to live with the John and Mayme Kowalsky family; Mayme was Mary Ann’s cousin and godmother. They lived south of Ellinwood at that time, but later moved into Ellinwood. Mary Ann’s three older brothers lived through old age, her younger brother died in World War II, and her younger sister moved to Bushton when she married. In spite of being separated as children, all of the living siblings remained close throughout their adult lives.
Mary Ann has been a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ellinwood throughout the years and today is the oldest member of the parish. Mary Ann graduated from St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School and Ellinwood High School. It is possible she is the oldest living graduate of both schools.
Mary Ann married Ben Brungardt of Hays in 1946 and they made their home in Ellinwood shortly after their marriage. Initially, Ben was a truck driver and also worked at a local grocery store. They had two daughters, Sally and Susie.
In 1960, Ben Brungardt and Art Hickel opened the Ellinwood Packing Plant and Mary Ann worked there. Ben died unexpectedly in 1966 from a heart attack. After Ben’s death, Mary Ann stayed in Ellinwood and finished raising their daughters as a single mother. She worked many years as a cook in the kitchens at both St. Joseph School and Ellinwood High School. She also operated the Ellinwood Dairy Queen in 1973.
Today, Mary Ann’s daughter Sally Rupp lives in Hays and daughter Susie Batchman lives with her husband Paul in Ellinwood. Mary Ann has four grandchildren, including Mark and Michael Batchman of Ellinwood, and five great grandchildren, including Cale, Alyvia and Mallory Batchman of Ellinwood.
Despite losses and hardships throughout her life, Mary Ann has kept a positive attitude and sense of humor. She is a wonderful example of a loving sister, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, neighbor and friend.