GODDARD — Marianna J. Counter, former resident of Ponca City, Okla., passed away June 21, 2019, at Dove Estates Retirement Community, her home of recent years in Goddard, Kansas. She was 86 years of age.

Marianna Jo (Lehman) was born March 22, 1933, in Abilene, Kansas, on the birthday of her paternal grandfather, Henry Lincoln Lehman. Marianna was named after grandmothers Mary Nagely and Anna Burkholder Lehman. She was the oldest of three children born to Clara (Nagely) Lehman and William Lehman.

Marianna lived in the rural communities of Holland and Carlton, Kansas, where she attended one-room schools through the eighth grade. She graduated from Dickinson County Community High School in Chapman, Kansas, in 1951.

Growing up during the years of the Great Depression and World War II made a lasting impression. As a teenager, Marianna helped with the farm work, driving a team of draft horses or operating tractors, since labor was scarce during World War II.

After graduating from high school, Marianna was employed by the historic Belle Springs Creamery in Abilene, Kansas, as a bookkeeper and licensed cream tester.

In September 1952, Marianna enrolled at Kansas State Teachers College in Emporia, Kansas, and acquired a teaching certificate in January, 1954. She completed courses on a Friday afternoon and began teaching kindergarten in Paola, Kansas the following Monday morning.

Marianna married her high school sweetheart, John C. Counter, at First Presbyterian Church in Carlton, Kansas, on Jan. 29, 1954, just days before John’s deployment to Korea. Upon John’s return from the service, the newlyweds resided in Abilene, Kansas, where Marianna continued to teach kindergarten until the birth of their daughter Gail in 1957.

The family moved from Abilene to Manhattan, Kansas, while John acquired his engineering and business degrees from Kansas State University and Marianna continued her education as a part-time student and full-time mother. Son Robert was born in 1958.

Marianna and John moved to Ponca City, Okla., in 1961 where John was employed in the engineering department of Continental Oil Company. William was born in 1962 and Marianna was a busy mother of three, active in the Lincoln School PTA, the Mothers’ Club and First United Methodist Church.

In 1967, the Counter family resided in Madrid, Spain, for two years while John worked on an international project for Conoco. These were cherished years of new friendships and adventures for Marianna and the family. She made the most of every moment: traveling, visiting castles, cathedrals and art museums with her children and husband in tow.

After the family returned home to Ponca City, Marianna enrolled in classes at Oklahoma State University as a part-time student, graduating in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education. She laughed that it took 22 years and three universities, nevertheless this busy mother persevered to complete her degree.

From 1975 through 1988, Marianna was employed as a kindergarten teacher at Saint Mary’s School in Ponca City. She loved teaching her students, cherished the fellowship of the families and staff, and was blessed with wonderful life-long friends.

In 1984 Marianna was recognized as the Outstanding Educator in the Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma. Her love of children, rapport with her students and innovative approach to education to tailor programs to the needs of the individual child guided her teaching instruction. Marianna understood the importance of balancing academics for her students along with giving each student the “chance to be a child.” Marianna reflected that some of her most treasured moments have involved the teaching of her wonderful kindergarten students. Through the years, she received great joy hearing from former students and their families through correspondence and visits.

Marianna participated in weekly studies through Kansas Newman University over the course of five years and in 1988 she acquired a Bachelor of Arts degree in pastoral ministry.

Following John and Marianna’s “retirements,” they resided in Aberdeen, Mississippi; Sulphur, Louisiana; and Billings, Montana, where John was hired as a consultant. Marianna again returned to her love of teaching kindergarten students at Our Lady’s School during their stay in Sulphur, Louisiana.

Throughout Marianna’s life she gave generously of her time and talent, serving as a parent and community volunteer. For her children she wore a variety of hats as a leader for the Camp Fire Girls, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts. She served as eecretary of the Camp Fire Board in Ponca City and was a PTA president for Lincoln Elementary School.

After retiring from teaching, Marianna donated her time reading to young children in the Head Start Programs in Ponca City and Blackwell, and she participated in the Family Literacy Program and Adult Basic Education with Pioneer Technology Center.

As an avid reader, Marianna believed in promoting the love of reading and early literacy skills as a storyteller to children at area schools in Ponca City. Equally, she held a great love and appreciation for art, which inspired Marianna to become the “Art Lady,” dressed in costume, representing a famous artist as she presented an art history lesson for students. Not only did the Art Lady delight classrooms of children in Ponca City and Kaw City, Oklahoma, she also traveled monthly to the first-grade classroom of Mrs. Deena Fowler in Goddard, Kansas, where her grandson Nathan was a student. It was always a treat when Mrs. Counter arrived in costume as a famous artist and provided a hands-on art lesson for the students.

Marianna’s community involvement included membership and leadership with American Legion Auxiliary Unit 14, Oklahoma Society of Professional Engineers Auxiliary, Ponca City Art Board, and Northern Oklahoma Iris Association.

As an educator, she was a member of professional organizations Delta Kappa Gamma Honor Society for Women Educators, Who’s Who Among American Teachers, and the Association for Children Under Six, and she served as co-president of Kappa Kappa Iota Teachers’ Sorority.

Marianna was a 58-year member of First United Methodist Church. Her faith was strong and her associations with her church families at both First United Methodist Church and St. Mary’s Catholic Church were an integral part of her life.

Marianna treasured time spent with her family and friends. She adored her grandchildren! “Nana Marianna” always made time to read books, create projects, cook, travel, and visit museums with them. Life was always educational and exciting with Nana!

Cooking and gardening became two passions for Marianna. In addition to collecting and reading cookbooks for enjoyment, Marianna twice participated in the Oklahoma Cattle Women’s Beef Cook Off. In 2005, her Fire and Ice Beefy Cornbread Salad recipe took first place honors in the Family Favorites category. Marianna’s family rejoiced with her for achieving the award, but they were also happy to see an end to their numerous taste-testing sessions as she worked to refine her recipe.

Marianna’s love of iris gardening was inspired by her mother-in-law, Evelyn Taylor Counter. Marianna and John created an iris garden among the natural rock setting on their property. Every May, the area would erupt in color as hundreds of iris would bloom and the Counters would open their garden for the annual Iris Festival. Marianna spent hours in her garden, identifying iris by name and delighting when a new bloom would open. She was a member of the Northern Oklahoma Iris Association, where she participated in iris shows and learned the science and art of hybridizing iris. Marianna loved to share her flowers and provide gifts of iris bulbs to others for their gardens.

She lived life to the fullest, and truly took time to smell the roses. Faith, family and friends have been the priorities of her life. Marianna provided unconditional love to her family and friends. Her memory will live on in our hearts and in the wonderful “Marianna” Stories that bring smiles to our faces.

Marianna is survived by John, her husband of 65 years, daughter Gail (Counter) and Fred Jamison of Goddard, Kansas, son Robert Counter of Boulder, Colorado, son William Counter and Lee Romaniszyn of Kansas, grandchildren Blaine Counter, Andrew, Nathan and Taylor Jamison, sister Eleanor and Dale Correll of Abilene, Kansas, brother Carl and Carol Lehman of Centerville, Ohio, and beloved nieces, nephews and cousins.

A reception and celebration of life will be held at Dove Estates Retirement Community in Goddard, Kansas, on Friday, June 28, from 2 to 3 p.m. in the Dove Library.

A memorial service will follow at a future date at First United Methodist Church in Ponca City, Oklahoma.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be given in Marianna Counter’s honor to the Opportunity Center, Inc. a non-profit dedicated to “Promoting Independence and Enriching Lives” for adults with disabilities by providing vocational and residential services. The Opportunity Center, Inc., 2225 N. Union, Ponca City, OK 74601. Online donation information is available at office@opcenterok.org

The gift of time and an act of kindness to someone in need, would be equally cherished as a loving tribute.

Arrangements are by Downing & Lahey Mortuary West. Online tributes via www.dlwichita.com

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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