It is with a mixture of grief and joy that we announce Gerda’s peaceful passing at the beginning of last week after a long travail. Born shortly after WWI and widowed at 22 in the midst of WWII with two children, Gerda faced challenges with a positive attitude and an indomitable will. As the Allies were bombing Berlin, she was pregnant with her second child and was among the last to be evacuated. The apartment complex in which she had been living was completely destroyed the next day. The years after the war were difficult, and she did everything possible to care for her children, including making clothes by hand. Gerda loved water and was in her element in the frigid North Sea.
In 1961 at an LDS Sunday school service in Lubeck, Germany, Gerda was surprised to find that the young man playing the organ and leading the singing seemed familiar, a kind of Déjà vu. The organist had been a no-show and Conrad was just filling in. They were destined in spite of 20 years age difference to become the odd couple who disagreed on many things and who nonetheless became a great team.
In 1963, Gerda followed her children and Conrad to Salt Lake City and landed with little English in the kitchen of the Alta Club with the meanest female boss she had ever encountered. She had not yet learned to drive, so she bought a bicycle for transportation and shopping. Always resourceful, Gerda learned quickly.
In the late 60s, Gerda moved to San Francisco and worked for the Federal Reserve Bank for several years before returning to SLC to begin a work of love that would occupy her for nearly 30 years. Gerda’s pies and other culinary delights were an instant hit at Whole Earth Natural Foods, where Conrad was a manager. By 1974, it was time to leave Salt Lake and find some land. Gerda had baked her last batch of pies in late May and was overwhelmed getting everything in order for the migration to Moab. Conrad got a call at the store from a woman (stranded) at the Hotel Utah, who wondered if someone could pick her up and bring her to the store so she could get water. Heavy New York accent. Conrad obliged in his rattletrap VW bug. Well, this person discovered the pies and begged us to bake two dozen pies to put in the freezer. Gerda almost said no, but in the end it was a singular experience to ferry silent film star, Gloria Swanson, around town in the beat-up bug and later deliver two dozen “Gerda Pies” to her.
In 1975, having landed in Moab under circumstances that made very clear it was meant to be, Gerda and Conrad opened Life Stream Natural Foods, a first for Moab. It was Gerda’s pies and cakes and salads, etc. that made the business happen. Her accounting skills didn’t hurt either. Just as Life Stream was getting ready to close to form a cooperative, Gerda was diagnosed with a rapidly growing breast cancer. She underwent a radical mastectomy and removal of 17 lymph glands in San Francisco. The cancer had metasticized. She was given six months to live, having refused chemo and radiation. Returning to Moab and embracing alternative methods, she was soon baking again for the newly formed cooperative and continued to do so for nearly 20 years.
In the 90s, colon cancer nearly killed Gerda. Again, she rallied after surgery and never returned for a checkup. Gerda’s motto had become “I must do it myself.” And she did.