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Martha Leta Lewis Bahn died peacefully Monday, March 5, 2007, at Chateau Girardeau.
Born Jan. 2, 1925, in Des Arc, Mo., Leta was the fifth of six children born into the loving family of Fred and Ethel Lewis. Her siblings include Frank, Francis, Frieda, Freeman and Bill.
Leta and her extended family had lunch together every Saturday at Wimpy's Restaurant, which was owned by her brother, Bill, until it closed in 1997.
Leta attended Rogers Elementary School near Des Arc, until moving with her family to Cape Girardeau in 1938 and living in a house on North Henderson. She graduated from Central High School with the class of 1943. She also graduated from Southeast Missouri State University in 1947 with a B.S. degree in home economics. While at SEMO Leta became a member of Clio and was a cheerleader for the Indians.
Leta and Emil Lawrence "Larry" Bahn were married June 18, 1949, at First Presbyterian Church in Cape Girardeau. Their first date was spent canoeing through Larry's father's store, the Bahn Brothers Hardware Store on Main Street, during the flood of 1943. Her diary read, "That Bahn boy can call again!"
After graduation, Leta was first employed by Union Electric as a home economist, touting clean electric clothes dryers, and then as a district home economist for Frigidaire. She later taught home economics at Belleville High School while Larry finished his Ph.D. at Washington University.
Pioneering the roles of women in Cape Girardeau, Leta was elected as one of the first women elders in the Presbyterian Church. She went on to be moderator of the Southeast Missouri Presbytery and then moderator of the Eliza Parish Lovejoy New Reunited Church Presbytery.
She was a delegate to the 199th Presbyterian General Assembly in Biloxi, Miss., in 1987, a position her father also held 30 years before. One of her real joys was serving for eight years on the board of Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, N.C. In 1987 Southeast Missouri State University awarded her with the "Outstanding Alumna" award from the Home Economics Department.
Leta's crowning achievement was taking Chateau Girardeau from being head of the Feasibility Study to chairman of the board of the Building Committee, completing the $6 million project months ahead of schedule and more than $100,000 under budget. It should be noted that she demanded that this project use local architects and contractors instead of bringing them in from out of town. She continued as an active board member after the opening of this fine residential retirement facility.
She was also instrumental in establishing the Pensel Azalea Garden at Chateau.
After Larry died, she became an active manager of the family farm, learning about growing rice while encouraging others to eat more rice. Leta also served as a member of the chamber Agriculture Committee.
A loving mother and grandmother, she delighted in her three grandchildren and in taking them on nature walks on the family farm, Taylor Oaks. She would teach them about different birds, their calls and the various flora and fauna living there. Leta took great pleasure in watching her grandchildren participate in their various recitals and sports activities.
An avid tennis player, she and Larry built a tennis court for their 25th wedding anniversary. She remained an active player into her 70s and was always a force to be reckoned with at the net.
Leta was a wonderful cook and a gracious hostess to her many friends over the years. Leta loved gardening and spent many wonderful hours planting trees, azaleas and other flowering plants at her family home located north of town.
She loved life and took several trips to visit her son, William, in different far flung stations around the world. Her trips included exploring the Alaskan frontier, watching her son play polo in Manila, experiencing Japanese life, trekking into the mountains of Thailand on foot and elephant well into her 60s, and even braving the war-torn and heavily mined country of Cambodia to see the magnificent temples Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. The last with great trepidation and lots of encouragement from her son stationed there with the U.N.
Leta is survived by two sons and their families of Cape Girardeau: Dr. Lawrence Taylor Bahn and wife Nancy Jo, and their three children, Caitlin Rebecca, Jackson Taylor and Carsen Eileen; and retired Air Force Maj. William Lewis Bahn and wife Dr. Janna Tuck. Also surviving are two brothers, Frank Lewis and wife Irene, and Freeman Lewis and wife Alice; a sister, Frieda Howard; and sister-in-law, Florence Lewis, all of Cape Girardeau; many nieces and nephews and their families. Many dear friends also survive her.
She was preceded in death by her husband, who died March 5, 1980; her parents; and two brothers, Francis and Bill Lewis.
Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Ford and Sons Mount Auburn Funeral Home.
The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at First Presbyterian Church, with the Rev. Paul Kabo officiating. Burial will be in Lorimier Cemetery.
We are thankful for her life, her Christian example, the loving kindness she showed to others and her generosity of spirit.
Memorials may be made to First Presbyterian Church in Cape Girardeau.