Monday, May 11, 2009


Sharon E. Smith, mother Pastor Laura Gentry, passed away on May 7, 2009.

Visitation will be held at on Monday, May 11 at Egelhof Siegert Casper Funeral Homes, 2659 JFK Road in Dubuque from 4 until 7pm. The funeral service will be held at 11 am on Tuesday, May 12 at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Dubuque, IA, with visitation prior from 9:45-10:45. Memorials will be to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and the Lupus Foundation of America.

Here is the eulogy for her, written by the family.

On a snowy night on January 4th of 1942, Edgar Pensel had to pull the car to the road with the horses to get his wife to Guttenberg for the delivery of their third child. Wally and Kermit still complain about how cold it was that night walking down the lane with their parents. The heater froze so they had to drive the 13 miles to Guttenberg with the window open to see the road, but they made it and a beautiful light came into the world that night. After the birth, Edgar returned to the farm to do chores and got snowed in. It was a week until he was able to return to Guttenberg and help his wife decide on the name Sharon Elaine Pensel for their precious little girl.

Sharon was baptized into the family of God at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Guttenberg. She grew up in rural Colesburg and enjoyed life on the farm. The animals delighted her, especially her dog, Penny. She was confirmed in the faith at St. John’s Lutheran. Later, she graduated from the Colesburg Consolidated Schools,

After graduation, Sharon went to school to become a dental assistant at the Professional Business Institute in Minneapolis. There, she lived with a family and cared for their children. Upon graduation, she was employed by Prudential Insurance Company. She made the trips home by train from Minneapolis to Prairie du Chien.

When her sweetheart, Burnell, asked her to get married, she said yes. They were married on December 22, 1961 at the family church of St. John’s Lutheran—where both of their parents had held their weddings. They drove to Florida for their honeymoon where they saw the Orange Bowl parade and game.

The newlyweds made their home in Bellevue and Sharon transferred to the Dubuque office of Prudential. After 3 years, they moved to the Cedar Rapids area and Sharon earned her bachelor’s degree at Coe College, then taught 4th grade for a year in Cedar Rapids.

Sharon and Burnell were blessed with a baby girl, Kathleen, followed by another baby girl, Laura. Sharon decided to become a full-time mom and devote herself to raising their children. This also enabled her to do a great deal of volunteer work in her church and community.

During the 10 years the young family lived in in Monroe, Wisconsin, Sharon taught preschool for 4 years and earned her Master of Arts degree in education from The University of Wisconsin, Platteville.

In 1983, they moved to Dubuque and Sharon became a reading teacher in the Platteville Schools where she worked for 15 years. “I had a great teacher named Mrs. Smith,” wrote one of Sharon’s many students.  “I always liked Mrs. Smith from the beginning,” she exclaimed, “because she treated me like a friend instead of just one of her students. She encouraged me to keep writing stories and complimented my work. Thanks, Mrs. Smith!”
In 1993, on the front cover of Dubuque Telegraph Herald newspaper, a picture of Sharon with her students along with the headline, “Dedicated to reading: Platteville teacher paves way for lifelong learning.” It went on to recognize Sharon as one of the tri-state’s great teachers. The parent who nominated Sharon for this award said: “She lets her students be willing to learn and take the chance of figuring things out for themselves. All the while, she helps them know when to ask for help.” Her principal added: “She’s a very positive person who’s willing to take the time needed to do extra things,” and noted that her students would always get excited about their time with her.
Family was Sharon’s top priority. She loved and supported her
husband for the 47 1/2 years they had together. She cared for her parents and spend countless hours with her mother, especially in her final years. She was wild about her children and she gave them every opportunity and advantage in life she could. She constantly provided unwavering love, support and encouragement for her girls. In 2002, she became a grandmother when Kathy and Dave had a daughter Erin, then a son, Michael. Words cannot describe how much she adored her grandchildren. She spend much quality time with them—reading to them, listening to them, and celebrating life with them.

Sharon loved life and led a full one, even in the last 10 years with the health limitations she faced. She loved to cook, sew, play piano, garden, and do needlework among other things. She was a voracious reader and never stopped learning. Sharon always made time for friends, was a wonderful listener and a fabulous laugher. She enjoyed traveling and experiencing new places. She toured all 50 states and numerous countries abroad but best of all, Sharon loved being on the Mississippi River with her family at the cabin.

What made Sharon great mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, grandma, friend and all-around great person was her vast capacity to care. When Laura and her husband William wrote a book in 2005 that asked people the question: what one word defines you, Sharon really thought over this question. Her answer was “caring.” This was profoundly true. At the core of Sharon’s character was her caring heart. She was quick to give you that happy, encouraging smile backed by her trademark dimples. Sharon cared deeply. It has been said “She was a mom to all of us.”
“I am indescribably grateful for my mother,” says Laura, “for thousands of reasons but most of all because of her unconditional love. She had the amazing ability to make everyone feel important, wonderful and capable of anything. Mom was a great person because she knew how to make others feel great. No matter what Kathy and I did, she was behind us to love and support us, to believe in us, and help us believe in ourselves. She gave us wings and taught us how to fly. By her example, Mom showed us how to live the life of faith and cling to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—to live in his grace and allow it to carry us through our lives.”

Sharon has touched each of our lives and we are happy to have had the privilege to know her. We will miss her warmth and love and yet we look forward to the day when we shall be reunited with her and all the saints who have gone before.

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