BENKELMAN, Nebraska -- Phyllis Ann Gardner was born to C. Merle Ketler and Eva (Cooley) Ketler on March 15, 1937, in rural Dundy County, Nebraska. She passed away, surrounded by her loving family, on Friday (Jan. 28, 2011), at the Dundy County Hospital in Benkelman.
Phyllis was first educated in country school in Cheyenne County, Kansas, and later attended school in Benkelman. In 1953, she moved with her family to Greeley, Colorado. She graduated from Greeley High School in 1955. Phyllis attended the University of Northern Colorado, Colorado State University and Northwestern University.
In June of 1958, she married John McGrath in Greeley, Colorado, and two sons were born of this union.
In August of 1977, she was married to Kenneth A. Gardner in Max, Nebraska, where she spent the next 33 years working alongside her loving husband in their farming and ranching operation. In addition to the farm/ranch operation, she spent 15 years operating the Unicorn Boutique, a chain of women's clothing stores.
In 1964, while living in Orange County, California, Phyllis began what became a life-long passion for the Republican Party. In 1975, she became the first woman chairman of the National Young Republican Federation. She attended every Republican National Convention as a paid staffer, alternate or delegate from 1972-2004. She served as the chair of the Dundy County Republican Party for the last 32 years and held numerous statewide positions in the Nebraska Republican Party.
As a cattle rancher, Phyllis was a strong proponent of the cattle industry and was actively involved in both the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Nebraska Cattlemen's Association. She was a member of the executive committee and the chair of the Political Action Committee and Healthcare Task Force for the National Association and on the board of directors for the State Association.
Phyllis also was a strong advocate for rural health care. In addition to being the chair of the Health Care Task Force, she served the local community by twice serving on the board of trustees of the Dundy County Hospital and serving on the board of the Dundy County Hospital Foundation. During her tenure, she assisted in the raising of millions of dollars to improve the health care options of the citizens of Southwest Nebraska.
Phyllis was active on the local, area, state and national level in many different areas. She served on so many boards, bureaus and council's that it is impossible to name them all. One of her many associates said if you needed to get something done all you had to do was call Phyllis.
Phyllis was a firm believer in her savior, Jesus Christ. She was a life long member of the United Methodist Church and devoted substantial time and effort in keeping the church alive in Southwest Nebraska. As a member of the Max United Methodist Church, she chaired the administrative council of the Benkelman-Max-Stratton, Nebraska three church parish from 2001-10. She was the chair of the staff-pastor-parish relations committee and held multiple positions in the Max parish. Phyllis, for years, was the lay delegate to the annual state group conference.
She was preceded in death by her parents; and one infant sister, Katherine Kay Ketler.
She is survived by her loving husband of 33 years, Kenneth A. Gardner of Max; sons, John "Bob" McGrath of Alexandria, Virginia and Jeffrey A. McGrath of Moorpark, California; step-children, Allen Gardner and wife, Cindy of Cario, Nebraska, and Rita Saltzman and husband, Ronnie of Emerson, Nebraska; 12 grandchildren, Justin McGrath and wife, Mindy, Rebecca Erickson and husband, Josh and Loretta McGrath, all of Bennington, Nebraska, Sarah McGrath of Lincoln, Nebraska, Madeleine, Spencer, Tanner and Georgia Burnette-McGrath, all of Moorpark, California, Natashia Houfek and husband, Hans of Emerson, Nebraska, Litton Stute of Benkelman and Edward Gardner of Cario; six great-grandchildren, Hadley, McKale and Haydn Houfex, all of Emerson, Claire and Cooper Erickson and Macy McGrath, all of Bennington; brother, William "Bill" Ketler and wife, Marge of Phoenix, Arizona; sister, Patricia Cline and husband, Bud of Benkelman; and a host of other family and friends.
Mrs. Gardner will lie in state at Forch Funeral Chapel of Benkelman today from 2-6 p.m. MST.
Funeral services are Tuesday, 10:30 a.m. MST, at the United Methodist Church in Benkelman with Rev. Brian Fong officiating. Interment will follow services at the Benkelman Cemetery. Committal services will be provided by Holly Chapter No. 233, Order of Eastern Star.
It is suggested that memorials be made in her name to the Dundy County Hospital Foundation or the Max Community Center.
Forch Funeral Chapel of Benkelman is in charge of the arrangements.