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Gjerde, Mary

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Mary (Beck) Gjerde, born May 10, 1941 passed away peacefully at home with family by her side November 30, 2021.

Mary was born Mary Beck in Tulare, California, on May 10, 1941, to George and Leta (Price) Beck. During the war, her father found work in the Richmond shipyards, where her family relocated and where Mary grew up and went to school, graduating from Harry Ells High in 1958. Mary had three siblings, William Orval Beck, Jim Beck, and Hank Beck.

In 1959, Mary married Paul Gjerde, her high school sweetheart, and during their 62 years of marriage raised two children, their daughter Cindi Gjerde McGuffin and son Chris Gjerde. They lived in Richmond until 1967, Martinez (1967-1977), Columbia (1977-2020), and most recently in Sonora, CA.

As a child, Mary was always active and involved in many activities. Most memorable to her were her years participating in Blue Birds and Camp Fire Girls, Job’s Daughters, recreational tennis, synchronized swimming, and many school activities. She loved school and was an outstanding student.

After she and her family moved to Martinez, she became active with the community as a member of the Congregational Church, her children’s school PTA, and co-leader of her daughter’s Blue Bird/Campfire group. She was honored with a Life PTA Membership and was very proud of her work with early childhood education at her children’s school.

As Mary’s children got older, she realized that she was interested in furthering her own education and began an eleven-year adventure of taking classes at Diablo Valley College. She graduated from DVC in 1977 and was accepted to San Francisco State. However, life had other plans for her.

In 1977, Mary and her husband Paul had the opportunity to purchase their own business in Columbia State Historic Park, the Columbia Mercantile. Paul had been in retail for 17 years and was ready to make a change. So, together with their children, they picked up and moved to Columbia. Mary didn’t give up on her educational plans and discovered nearby Stanislaus State in Turlock, was accepted with honors, and in two years completed her studies as she did her homework alongside her children with complete support from Paul. In 1980 she received her teaching credential, and at 40 years of age, began a 25-year career teaching at Sonora Elementary School where she taught mostly third and fifth grades, and received the Teacher of the Year award in 1994. She loved her years as a teacher, often saying that she felt as though she “got paid for her hobby.” She especially loved teaching science and delighted in holding evening “Star Parties” for her students. Over the years she loved meeting, keeping in contact with, and finding out about her former students.

In addition to teaching, Mary was actively involved with the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and was always especially proud of her 12 years organizing Columbia’s Old-Fashioned 4th of July celebration. She was a 32-year member and former President of the American Association of University Women of Sonora, member and former President of Iota Epsilon Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, and a member of CalRTA. After retiring in 2006, Mary and Paul began volunteering at the ATCCA food bank in Jamestown. In her retirement, Mary also took up the ukulele and enjoyed playing it and her accordion along with her ukulele playing friends.

Most important in Mary’s life was her family. She loved camping with children, grandchildren, and friends. For many years Pinecrest was the annual family campout. Over the years, the grandkids came to stay and play. Always the teacher, Mary usually had science experiments planned for them as well as lots of fun in the pool. Mary & Paul also took each grandchild on a special vacation somewhere in the U.S. In more recent years, they took many trips together, enjoying cruises, trips to Europe, visiting most of the U.S. states, and one voyage across the Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary II.

In 2009 Mary was diagnosed with endometrial cancer which she battled and beat for many years. In 2014 the cancer reappeared, and she battled again. In the fall of 2021 she made the decision to begin hospice care. During that time, she was able to visit many friends and relatives and felt great appreciation for the tremendous care she received from hospice nurses and caretakers. Shortly after spending Thanksgiving surrounded with family, she passed away peacefully at home.

In the years of treatment, Mary grew close with, and wanted to give special thanks for her medical care to doctors Banisadre, Khelfa and all the staff at the Sonora Cancer Center and at Adventist Health. She also wanted to give a big thank you to Dr. Edraki in Walnut Creek, the late Dr. Borgquist, and other health professionals who helped her in this journey, and the hospice team who came into her life in October of 2021.

She was preceded in death by her parents, George & Leta Beck and her brother William Orval Beck. She is survived by her husband, Paul; her children, Cindi & Mike McGuffin of Paso Robles, CA, and Chris & Debbie Gjerde of Gilroy, CA; her grandchildren, Melissa & Eric Gjerde and Bryan, Andrew, & Shane McGuffin; her brothers and sisters-in-law, Jim & Vonnie Beck, Hank & Mitzi Beck, and Norma Beck, as well as many nephews, nieces, and cousins. Mary loved parties and social events. Her request was that her friends and family celebrate her life with a fun-filled party. More information about a Celebration of Life event to follow.

Mary requested that remembrances be made to AAUW of Sonora (Scholarship Fund) P. O. Box 3903, Sonora, CA 95370, or to Sonora Area Foundation (Read to Me Fund-DKG) 362 S. Stewart St., Sonora, CA 95370.

  • Date of Death: 11/30/2021
  • Age: 80
  • Residence: Sonora, CA
  • Celebration of Life: More information about a Celebration of Life event to follow.