Monica Ehly Lang Van Elsen died Saturday, March 12, 2016. Our mother was 101 years old. She was born on Aug. 11, 1914, to German immigrants Kasimir Ehly and Katerina Schmidtz in Richardton, N.D.
From there, they moved to Montana in a hay wagon pulled by two “beautiful grey horses.” The little family settled on the Powder River in the Ekalaka/Miles City area with Father, Mother, Monica, Margaret, George and Leo, all of whom preceded her in death. They ranched cattle and farmed wheat on what Mother described as “rich, wonderful river-bed soil.” The ranch was an integral part of our lives into our late teens until our grandparents died in the 1950s.
Mother told of being poor and of hard times, of their only worn-out milk cow dying and of struggling to buy chicken feed. Of crops dying of drought, of cattle dying of starvation, of coyotes preying on the geese they “herded,” standing for hours in the sun.
But she also told of the happy, helpful comingling of all neighbors. She told of Grandpa playing the accordion in theirs’ and the neighbors’ houses while everyone danced in the cleared kitchen and, because of the distance, the children slept the night on chairs pulled together against the walls in the parlors. Of Grandpa’s pipe, the German newspapers read by kerosene lamps and finally a radio. Of Grandma always working, of her strudel and enormous raised donuts. Crying, laughing, hugging — the rosary said every night, men and women leaning against kitchen chairs. Grandma leading them in German.
Monica rode winters double-horseback to a one-room schoolhouse through eighth grade. She, like other country girls, attempted high school while working board and room in Miles City at Holy Rosary Hospital. She worked for four years to send fifteen dollars each month to help “save the ranch” during the deep Depression.
Mother then moved to Billings to work for Mr. and Mrs. Ray Hart. She remembered that time as one of her happiest. “Such an easy job.” There were summers at Flathead Lake, her own little car, walks in Pioneer Park and bicycling down Virginia Lane to downtown. There was now enough money for pretty clothes, for jodhpurs and high riding boots when she visited the ranch. She was beautiful.
Monica says she “fell in love” with John Van Elsen and that they married in the rectory, because it was Lent, at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral, on March 19, 1938. Then came the war years, during which their three children were born. Our father died on April 28, 1951.
Mother worked at several jobs until she was happily employed by First Interstate Bank for many years. Before and after retirement, indeed throughout all her life, there were always people. Mother was a “people person.” She loved cooking for them — big crowds of family and friends in her “little yellow house.”
She lived her Catholic faith and enjoyed volunteer work in her church. Monica loved dancing; “as light as a feather,” people said.
After remaining a widow for 29 years, Monica danced into marriage with Julius Lang on Sept. 17, 1980. A good man, they were happy until again Monica was widowed. Jules died in 1988.
Monica “kept going” as she always had for the next 25 years with her roses and garden, families, new friends and old. She was issued her last driver’s license in 2008.
Preceding her in death were her parents; her siblings, Margaret McCartney, George and Leo Ehly; her son, John Van Elsen and two young adult grandchildren, Steven Erdmann and Holly Van Elsen. Included are two stepsons, Lester and John Lang. Monica is survived by two daughters, RoseMarie Brink (Gary) and Marcella Erdmann (Bill); stepson Bob Lang (Linda); her beloved daughter-in-law, Karen (Van Elsen) Carl and her husband Ray Carl; grandchildren Laurie Burke (Jack), Gary Brink (Maggie), John Brink, Michelle Van Elsen, Mitch Erdmann (Rosemary) and Bill Erdmann. She had 14 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. Included is her brother-in-law, Seivert “Bud” Rist and his children; her cousins, Henry Schmidtz (Pat) and Margie Wilker, both of Canada, Kenny Ehly and his wife (Daphne), plus many other special nieces and nephews. Lastly, Dr. Lashman and wife August Soriya and daughters (her “second family”). Our special gratitude and affection to Linda Merhert, without whom Monica could not have lived alone.
Services are entrusted to Michelotti-Sawyers.
A rosary will be recited at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 22, followed by a vigil at 7 p.m., at Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary, 1001 Alderson Ave. Mass will be celebrated at 12 noon on Wednesday, March 23, at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral, 215 N. 31st St. A luncheon will be served immediately following Mass at the church. Interment will follow in the cemetery in Lavina.
Monica always said she lived in the “best of times — from the buggy to the moon.” Now she is gone from the moon to the Beyond, and our love goes with her forever.