Mary Elizabeth Lautner, 95, of Traverse City, passed away March 22, 2017 in the presence of her loving children. Mary was born at home on Feb. 2, 1922 to the late Arthur and Pearl (Buell) Emerson in Garfield Township.
She married the love of her life, Ralph Joseph Lautner, Dec. 23, 1941. Together they raised five beautiful children, Gerard, Sharon, Dennis, Beth and Bruce, who like their parents became compassionate, loving, responsible and civic minded adults, each in their own way making a significant contribution to family and society, locally and nationally.
A convert to Catholicism, Mary was a woman of deep faith and her actions expressed the Beatitudes. Her early years were dedicated to her husband, nurturing her children and maintaining her home. She was lovingly referred to as the "farmer's wife." During that time she made significant sacrifices in order to meet the needs of her family.
After her last child entered kindergarten Mary took a position with the Traverse City Area School system, working as a secretary until she retired. She was a member of the Michigan Education Association, the National Education Association and the Michigan Association of Retired School Personnel.
She had always been self sufficient and fiercely independent. At her age, she retained her driver's license and could be seen, when the situation warranted, driving her red car short distances. She often would seek advice from her adult children regarding a matter she deemed important. After getting their views she would make her own decision, which was often contrary to the suggestions offered, at times causing great consternation.
Mary was a staunch Democrat and a member of the Michigan Democratic Party. She was a person of great integrity; anything deemed illegal or quasi illegal would cause great distress, leading her to take a stand and speak out against what she perceived was wrong. As a result she garnered great respect from others within her own family and the community. She was invited to serve on the Garfield Township Planning Commission, and many believed it was because of her honesty and concern for the welfare of others. It was well known in the family that Mary (and her husband, Ralph) had an abiding love for their children and grandchildren, never hesitating to help physically and financially to alleviate any problem they were facing. The same was also true when it came to the needs of the community, for example, the land contribution to Northwestern Michigan College, which allowed for the creation of the J.H. Rogers Observatory.
She had a keen sense of justice and would go to the mat in an attempt to right a wrong. One example is when she learned her grandfather, after serving a three-year tour of duty plus an additional three months in the Civil War, returned home without proper notification to his commanding officer and was classified a deserter. When Mary discovered this she set out to correct the error, clearing her grandfather of any wrongdoing, whereupon he was awarded an honorable discharge many years after his death.
In honor of her grandfather's memory, Mary became a member of the Auxiliary to Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. In memory of her husband Ralph's service in World War II, Mary became a member of the Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary.
Mary was an environmentalist to her core. Throughout her life she remained deeply concerned for the natural world and all that it had to offer in respect to nurturing and maintaining all life, including human life. She maintained a strong interest in the Grand Traverse Conservancy and water shed. She delighted in the flowers, shrubs, berry bushes and trees growing around her home, which provided her with a variety of birds and wildlife. Inside her home resided a very important pet, Miss Ivy, a kitty who kept her company in the later years of her life. She interacted on a daily basis with another pet named Tess, a black lab mix, belonging to her son, Dennis. Mary had a special place in her heart for this animal and showered the animal with treats and lots of gentle pats. The relationship she had with these two creatures, Miss Ivy and Tess, conveyed her love and interest in all creatures large and small, with the exception of the wild turkeys that were a daily nuisance.
Another attribute was her determination and competitive spirit. This was most visible when playing in the euchre tournaments or playing at home with family and friends. She was astute and very adept at this game, and men eagerly welcomed her to their table to play cards, even into her recent years. She attended the competitive games of her children and grandchildren and took great delight in their accomplishments. She loved watching the Detroit Tigers games. In her early years she loved to dance and was active in the square and round dancing club. At the Grange hall, Mary's mother played the piano and her father played the fiddle as she and her husband (against his will) participated in this weekly activity. Mary also had an uncanny facility for words and phone numbers and considered by the family to be a "walking UNIVAC." She entered spelling contests when young and worked crossword puzzles throughout her life. She would frequently meet her son, Gerard, online and join with him and a couple of others for a game of bridge. Her family viewed her as the keeper of knowledge and relied on her ability when it came to family, local and national historical facts. She was a member of the Traverse Area Historical Society.
Truly, Mary was the matriarch of her family and throughout the years she maintained a strong relationship with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She, with the support of her husband, Ralph, opened their home to four exchange students, Baji Cadiz, Nury Bruzzone, Christian and Hendrick DeMello. She is well known to family and friends for her delightful sense of humor, a hearty laugh and love for telling or being told a good joke. Two weeks ago after sharing a meal with family and friends Mary remarked, "I have had a good life - rich in love and wonderful memories."
Mary is survived by her children, Sharon (Alan) Buell, Dennis (Ann Drury), Bethalee Alpers and Bruce (Deborah Bruss); and daughter-in-law, Anne (Mlsna). She is also survived by 14 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, one great-great-grandchild and countless nieces, nephews and friends.
She was preceded in death by her husband, both her parents and her son, Gerard.
Friends are being received at Reynolds Jonkhoff Funeral Home, Traverse City, on Friday, March 31, with visitation from 5 to 7 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will take place at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Monday, April 3, 2017 at 11 a.m., with visitation one hour before. Interment will be with her husband, Ralph, at Oakwood Catholic Cemetery.
Memorial contributions may be made to Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.
Please share your memories and condolences with the family at www.reynolds-jonkhoff.com.
The family is being cared for by the Reynolds-Jonkhoff Funeral Home.
Published on  March 29, 2017