Martha Louise Mitchem of Rangely, Colo., passed away peacefully in Rangely on Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014.
Married to Bill Mitchem, she was born Jan. 19, 1929, in Colorado Springs, Colo., the only child of Fred E. Johnson, D.O., and Louise Ethel (Anderson) Johnson.
Martha had a true zest for life and was always willing and eager to try new things, displaying remarkable energy and drive. “It keeps us young,” was her standard remark to her children’s suggestions that she and Bill were perhaps too busy. She didn’t slow down much even in her last year, gathering all five children, their spouses and many grandchildren for Christmas and visiting Patti and her family in Maine in June.
Devoted to family, she and Bill were true partners in raising their five children. Calm and capable, Martha offered quiet support to her children throughout their lives and all five (and some grandchildren) visited her in recent weeks to offer support and encouragement, love and admiration. Her unwavering faith, cheerful optimism and bright-eyed smile never deserted her.
Martha met Bill at Colorado State College of Education, now the University of Northern Colorado, when they were freshmen. They were married at the end of the summer following graduation and, instead of teaching, went into ranching near Kiowa, Colo. Sister-in-law Peggy McElwain was impressed that Martha, the city girl, “jumped right in to milk the cows when Bill broke his leg” shortly after they were married. The economics of ranching weren’t good then, either, so the couple fell back on their teaching degrees and taught in Agate, Colo., before moving to Rangely with Patti and Jim in 1956. After having three more sons, Martha transitioned from the classroom to high school librarian. She and Bill retired in 1988.
Her sense of humor and whimsical eye found expression in photography, which she took up when she became yearbook advisor in 1982. Martha won many awards in photo competitions and was an active and respected member of two successive camera clubs in Grand Junction (1986 to 2014). She and Bill also exhibited at the Rio Blanco County Fair for a number of years.
Highlights of the couple’s retirement years include trips with other photographers, exploring landscapes and enjoying the companionship of others with common interests. Always eager to learn, Martha—with and without Bill—took part in several Road Scholar programs over the years all over the United States.
In addition to photography and travel, she also enjoyed board games, puzzles, whitewater rafting, camping, sewing and was a champion at stain removal. An excellent cook, she loved to try new recipes and preserve produce from the garden. Her peach jam is legendary. She had great respect for formal family dinners, a tradition passed on to her children through dinners at Grandmother Johnson’s table.
Martha was an active member of the First Baptist Church and, for 52 years, of the Rangely chapter of Epsilon Sigma Alpha (ESA). In her last weeks, she was planning a charity opportunity for ESA. As a dedicated and knowledgeable volunteer at the Colorado Welcome Center in Dinosaur for 24 years, she logged more than 5,000 hours.
With her love of life and eager enthusiasm, Martha will be missed and remembered by friends and family alike. She leaves behind: her devoted husband of 63 years, Billy Edward Mitchem; five children, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; daughter Patti Mitchem (husband Fred Wildnauer and daughters Johanna and Maggie Wildnauer) of South Berwick, Maine; sons Jim (daughter Mira Love and granddaughter Ashlyn Love) of Milner; Brian (wife Sherry, daughter Kelli Fulks, granddaughter Bria Fulks; son Alex (wife Elizabeth)) of Paonia; Jeff (wife Randi, sons Joe and Jacob, daughters Emily and Katelyn) of Broomfield; and John (wife Tracie and daughter Mallorie) of Whidbey Island, Wash. She was preceded in death by her parents and by Jim’s daughter, Renee.
Memorial services will be held at the First Baptist Church of Rangely at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014. Memorial contributions in lieu of flowers may be sent to Rangely High School Alumni Scholarship Fund, c/o Rangely High School, 234 Jones Ave., Rangely, Colo. 81648.