Ellen Marie Hetz (nee Stahl) was born to John Fred and Alfretta (nee Wilkening) Stahl on May 21, 1940. The oldest of four girls, she was baptized into Christ Jesus in June of 1940 at Holy Cross Lutheran Church on Miami Street in St. Louis and was confirmed there in April of 1954. Through Holy Cross and its school, she met her husband, Ronald. After grade school Ellen attended and graduated from Lutheran High School in 1958. She earned her degree in education from Concordia College in River Forest (now Concordia University Chicago).
Ellen’s first call to teach was from St. James Lutheran School in Grand Rapids Michigan. When her mother fell seriously ill, she returned to St. Louis to be closer to family. From that point on, Ellen’s entire teaching career was spent in Lutheran schools in St. Louis, first at Holy Cross Lutheran School and then Ascension Lutheran School, later known as Word of Life. She was joined in holy matrimony to Ronald on July 10, 1965. She took a ten-year break to raise their two children, Ross and Rachel. During that time, in addition to substitute teaching, she became very active in scouting, holding various leadership positions and being recognized as District Volunteer Leader of the Year from the Girl Scout Council of Greater St. Louis. She resumed full-time again at historic Trinity Lutheran School, then at Word of Life Lutheran School joyfully showing and teaching the love of Jesus to children. Although she taught kindergarten and first grade, she is remembered most for loving her “Super Second Graders”, though all of Ellen’s students were her “Love Bugs”. As a teacher, Mrs. Hetz was known as a caring but firm disciplinarian. Students didn’t want to see her “big eyes” or give her “burnt toast”.
She received several awards and honors throughout her 30-plus years of teaching. She was recognized as Teacher of the Year by LEA (Lutheran Education Association), Teacher of the Year award from Emerson Electric Corporation, a Teacher of the Week from a local radio station, was nominated for Disney’s Teacher of Excellence Award, and was selected as the National Lutheran Parent -Teacher League Teacher of the Year. These awards were well deserved but she would tell you her greatest reward was to be able to share the love of Jesus, which she did in spades.
In addition to her professionalism as a school educator, Ellen touched many lives by teaching Sunday school and vacation Bible school for well over 40 years. Her retelling of Bible stories kept students and adults captivated. As she told each story she would burst into song to keep you even more engaged and excited learning about Jesus. Many of the songs and prayers she taught during those activities were carried back into the homes of the children and parents who worked with her, and then carried by them into many other homes and classrooms.
She was always ready to give a hug to students and parents alike. Her hugs were like no others. They engulfed the recipient in love, care, and comfort. Her phrases of encouragement are still remembered by many: Round of Applause! Celebration, exaltation and (a whole lot of) jubilation! Hip, hip hooray, hip, hip hooray, hip, hip hooray! and Celebration…Come on!
Her love of chocolate, ice cream (especially Ted Drewes), and especially the color blue was known by all.
After retiring, Ellen continued touching children’s lives by volunteering at Word of Life as an OASIS (Older Adults Serving in School) tutor. She also read to kindergarteners every Wednesday. In addition to these acts of love, she served her Lord by calling members of her congregation on their birthdays, or when listed as household or youth of the week.
Ellen thoroughly enjoyed God’s gift of music. She and Ronald would attend concerts in various parks and churches. She was a subscriber to the Muny in Forest Park, attending performances every summer. Although not a swimmer, she loved water aerobics and the friends she made through those classes. She also enjoyed her chair aerobics in Tower Grove Park. She enjoyed taking drives through Lone Elk Park and Jefferson Barracks looking for animals.
With all this going on she still made time for her four grandchildren, whom she dearly loved. She relished her role as Oma (German for “Grandma”). She helped with homework. She folded their laundry for exhausted parents. She sang “Jesus Loves Me” to them and with them countless times. As soon as she knew about an upcoming event they would be in, she would write it down on her calendar. She attended as many of those events as possible for each one: concerts, recitals, plays, Scouting events, and sporting events, always being their cheerleader. She would encourage them in their endeavors and even listen to trumpet practices. She loved and enjoyed each grandchild as much and often as possible. They became her favorite Love Bugs. She showed them the unconditional love of Christ Jesus as only she as Oma could. She engraved in their heart the saying she had said so many times to other family members as well as her own children, “Angles watch over you, Jesus loves you - and so do I.”
While Ronald was battling cancer Ellen lived with Ross and his family for about a year before moving into a memory care/assisted living facility. During this time, with her granddaughters’ encouragement, she dyed her hair blue. She enjoyed her new hair color and her time in her new home, going on rides around St. Louis in the center's van, making crafts, playing bingo, ringing chimes, and doing some exercising. She celebrated life and enjoyed letting her light shine in each new and different environment. She went to Ascension, her home church, almost every Saturday night for worship services, followed by dinner with her family.
She began having some balance issues leading to some falls in her apartment before she fell exiting the elevator at church on August 5, 2023. Although wanting to stay for worship, she was taken to the hospital for stitches above her eye. Doctors also discovered a small brain bleed. Still in the hospital, Ellen suffered another fall. Fifteen days after being admitted, she was released to a rehabilitation center, where recovery proved difficult. She was confused and unhappy. The decision was made to move into the skilled care wing for continuous attention. After a time of adjustment, she began enjoying life again. She resumed doing crafts and enjoying music activities, and worship in the chapel. Still, family and friends observed a decline in Ellen's abilities.
On December 1st, Ellen began receiving the services of palliative hospice to enhance her comfort. The hospice teams' visits brought her joy since their presence meant even more visitors. She developed an infection but, by the grace of God and antibiotics, was able to celebrate Christmas with her children and all four grandchildren, followed by a traditional Christmas gathering with some of her extended family. Unfortunately, the infection never completely cleared up, taking a toll on her. Ellen’s health continued to decline, but for the most part without continuous pain or discomfort.
Ellen went to be with her Savior around 10:30 a.m. on Friday, January 26. A cousin's daughter was with her at that time. Ellen was being rolled over onto her back when she opened her eyes, looked out into the distance, smiled, and departed this life with her final breath. Her suffering and challenges were over. She is now with Ronald and so many other loved ones who placed their faith and trust in Jesus. In Ellen's own words there is a whole lot of "Celebration, exaltation and jubilation!!" If she could, she would say to all, “Yes. Celebration! Come on!”.
Although it sounds cliché, this world is a sadder place without her in it. Her unconditional love, her unshakable faith, her genuine care for all people, her joy in life because of Christ Jesus, her excited expressions (except when there was "burnt toast”) and her truly, one-of-a-kind incredible hugs will be sorely missed.
Ellen is survived by her two children, Ross and Rachel and their spouses, Megan and Mark (Hofman), grandchildren Rose, Romy, Rory Hetz, and Matthew Hofman, her three sisters, several nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews, cousins, and in-laws across her extended family. She was preceded in death by her parents, one nephew, one niece, and her husband.
Because Ellen’s life was about loving others and giving the joys of music, the family asks that - in lieu of flowers - friends consider giving a memorial gift to any of the organizations that were close to Ellen’s heart: