NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – Susanna Marie Duerksen Kleinsasser, who served as a long-term mission worker in India, died Oct. 27, 2018. She was 96.
Kleinsasser was born in the village of Hotevilla on the Hopi Reservation of Arizona, May 24, 1922, to John and Susanna (Quiring) Duerksen, who served as mission workers in the sovereign nation. In 1939, she graduated from high school in Kingman, Kansas, and went on to receive her associate of arts degree from Hesston College, as well as her bachelor of arts in religious education from Columbia Bible College in South Carolina.
In 1945, Kleinsasser sailed to Bombay, India, where she served for 15 years through the General Conference Mennonite Church's Commission on Overseas Mission (COM), a predecessor agency to Mennonite Mission Network. She took on multiple roles while in India, including teaching Bible school classes, managing a boarding school kitchen, as well as serving as an administrator of an orphanage.
"Marie's service more than 50 years ago formed some of the foundation stones that still undergird the work of the Mennonite Church conferences in India," said Mike Sherrill, director for Asia and Middle East with Mennonite Mission Network. "Even in the face of contemporary political challenges for Christianity in India, Mennonite churches, schools and hospitals faithfully carry on the call to be the gospel."
While in West Germany for the Mennonite World Conference in 1957, Marie met John Kleinsasser, a widower who was also attending the conference. The two continued to keep in touch after the conference, and eventually married in December 1963. Marie left India to move with John to Freeman, South Dakota, where the couple lived until John's passing in 1984.
In 1986, Kleinsasser moved to the Glencroft Senior Living retirement community in Glendale, Arizona. It was there that she played an active role at Trinity Mennonite Church through leading Bible studies, volunteer groups, and playing piano for church services.
Cheryl Paulovich, chaplain at Glencroft Senior Living, recalled tea-time conversations with Kleinsasser. The two shared many things in common including India, where Paulovich was born to John and Miriam Beachy, who served as long-term mission workers with Mennonite Board of Missions, and the Hopi Reservation of Arizona, where she served for three years with Mennonite Voluntary Service.
"We had long conversations about missionaries we knew in common … and resorted to using Hindi when English just didn't cut it," said Paulovich. "I rejoiced in finding a mission auntie I had never known!"
Kleinsasser is survived by a stepdaughter, Marian Kleinsasser Towne, as well as seven step-grandchildren and nine step-great-grandchildren.