By Julie Ann Madden
It’s tragic. It’s unbelievable. It’s something that doesn’t happen in our small town — a town that just three weeks ago came together to save Akron from the flood waters of the Big Sioux River.
On July 9, the bodies of two lifelong Akron residents, Donald and Esther Neunaber, were found in their rural home deceased.
Since 1903, the Neunaber family has made their home in Section 11 of Westfield Township in rural Akron.
Donald and Esther, third generation farmers, retired from farming in 1995 but continued to live on the homestead.
They received the Century Farm Award at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines in 2003.
Donald & Esther
Donald Neunaber was born Dec. 15, 1930, the son of John and Mae Rozell Neunaber.
He had one older sister, Joyce, who married Daryl Port, and had three children: Gordon, Gary and Gail. Joyce and Daryl passed away in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
Donald had one younger brother, Marvin Neunaber, who married Deloris Frerichs and they have two children: Bradley and Paige. Deloris passed away in 2004 and Marvin Neunaber lives in Beatrice, Neb.
Donald attended Stewart country school and graduated from Akron High School in 1949. He served in Germany with the U.S. Army during the Korean War, 1952-1954. Upon returning home, Donald returned to the homestead. In 1958, he began farming.
Donald married Esther Hitzemann, the daughter of Henry and Helen (Madie) Von Hagel Hitzemann, on Aug. 15, 1964.
Esther had five brothers: Arnold, Robert, George, Marvin and Arden, and one sister, Helen Meske. Her youngest two brothers are still living. Marvin and his wife, Helen Hitzemann, live in Akron, and Arden and his wife, Katy, live in Canton, S.D. She is also survived by sisters-in-law, Marilyn Hitzemann of Akron; and Dorothy Hitzemann of Worthington, Minn.; and a brother-in-law, Lester Meske of Clear Lake, Iowa.
Esther attended the Riverview and Breezy Hill country schools, transferring to eighth grade at Akron when the country schools closed. She graduated in 1952. Esther, who was born with a hearing loss, loved art, especially drawing.
After high school and before her marriage, Esther was employed as a teller at First National Bank in Akron for 10.5 years. Her coworkers included Dorothy Finzen, Esther Mungon, Marilyn (Meeves) Bennett, Clark Arnott, Olive Boetger, Walter Mellen, Harlan Klave, and Lyle Jacobs.
After their marriage, Donald and Esther were busy on the farm, said her brother and sister-in-law, Marvin and Helen Hitzemann.
Esther had a large garden, of which she enjoyed canning its produce. She helped a lot with both the field work, driving tractor, and raising hogs, said Helen.
“Don was one of the most excellent farmers around the area,” said Marvin, who really got to know his brother-in-law after his military service as both were Legionnaires. “He was very conscientious of what he did and how he did it. It always had to be of top grade. Donald was one of the most successful business managers on a farm.”
For instance, when hog confinements became the state-of-art facilities for raising swine, Donald traveled around the United States, studying facilities, then returned home and custom-built his own facility about 45 years ago.
Donald and Esther had two children: Lisa, who graduated from Akron-Westfield High School in 1983 and married Brent E. Harmes of Sioux City. They live at Lakewood, Colo.; and Jonathan who graduated from Akron-Westfield in 1988. He lived with his parents on the homestead.
Donald and Esther were members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Akron. Don had served on the Church Council and was a past president. Esther sang alto in the church choir, taught Sunday school and was a past church treasurer. She had held several offices, including president, secretary and treasurer in the American Lutheran Church Women’s group. Esther had helped at many funeral luncheons.
Although she was self-conscious about her hearing loss, she was a person you could count on to be there for you, they said.
“You couldn’t ask for a better person than her,” said Marvin.
Donald and Esther traveled some, going to Paris, France; London, England; and took a cruise near Porta Vallarta, Mexico. They also went fishing with Marvin and Helen to Minnesota and South Dakota.
For many years, Donald and Esther and Helen and Marvin were two of nine couples who socialized together. Nicknamed “The Gang,” the group would get together for members’ birthdays, anniversaries and New Year’s Eves where they’d either have a meal at someone’s home or dine out, then play Pinochle. The other couples were Elmer and Jean Anderson, Gert and Jim Uithoven, Ray and Anne Andresen, Vernon and Leanna Jurgensen, Norman and Mary Klaus, Richard and Randy Oetken, and George and Marilyn Hitzemann.
At their last gathering, Donald and Esther, and their son, Jonathan, enjoyed an evening celebrating Marvin and Helen’s anniversary on June 8. Some of the other gang had met for lunch at Donald’s favorite restaurant, Cody’s in Elk Point.
Donald currently served as the Plymouth County Veterans Affairs Commission chairman and was a member of the Albert E. Hoschler American Legion Post No. 186 where he was a past Sergeant-At-Arms and Post Commander. For several years, he was in charge of the Legion’s Memorial Day rifle squads and veterans’ funeral Honor Guards. Donald also served on the Farmers Cooperative Company Board of Directors and was a past president.
In the last few years, the aging process had begun to slow their lives down. Esther survived breast cancer and Donald had become forgetful at times, said Helen.
On Sunday, family members had been planning to celebrate the Neunabers’ 50th wedding anniversary a few weeks early as their daughter and son-in-law were visiting.
Instead they held a family reunion, honoring the lives of their lost loved ones.
Author Marjorie Flados, a Spink, S.D., native, will be hosting a book signing from 5 to 7 p.m., Friday, Aug. 8 at the Akron Public Library.
Her latest book, “Retro Parenting” offers a how-to guide for rearing and nurturing children in today’s imperfect world.
It’s an easy-to-read parenting book for modern day parents, according to Flados. It provides a relevant guide for those who strive to promote positive values, consequently laying a foundation for a child’s present and future success.
Flados reveals how laughter becomes a valuable survival skill for parents and eases parent and child through those times that can be frustrating and challenging.
She relates to the history and lifestyles of a former era with humor and the joy of life shines through her experiences as a motivational speaker, registered nurse, fitness trainer, world traveler, wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother add a special depth and perception to her writing.
Flados is a resident of Harlingen, Texas, and describes herself as “a nice kid and a peachy dancer and most definitely retro.” With a three-generational family within hugging distance, she admits parenting is not funny, actually, but it is the only way she knows how to write and speak.
Flados is also the author of “The Road From Spink,” an account of growing up Norwegian and Lutheran during the Great Depression and World War II. More than a family story, it’s a sociological study of a lifestyle in American that modern generations will never know.
Stop by the library on this evening and meet one of the area’s successful own.