Wendy Erb’s favorite Bible verse guided her every role: wife, mother and grandmother, pastor and hospital chaplain, skit writer and costume designer, poet and professional party thrower, church newsletter creator and Marietta Times correspondent.
For those who knew her from the River City Farmers Market, she was also the prolific producer of pies, breads, cobblers, cookies, jams and jellies.
She died Wednesday, having lived life knowing that “a merry heart doeth good” (Proverbs 17:22). She was 78.
Brain cancer stripped her physical abilities in recent months, but Wendy’s Christian faith and humor remained unflinching. “I know where I am going,” she would say. With a nod to her never-ending battle with all-things-technological, she’d add: “I just hope heaven doesn’t have passcodes or PIN numbers.”
Hers was a life tempered in faith and polished with gratitude.
Wendy was born in 1944, near Coventry, England, a city ground down by World War II. At 15, she quit school to work as a stenographer for Triumph Motorcycles and then Jaguar Cars, then set out for Germany, knowing no one nor a single German word.
She landed an office job with the U.S. Army in Stuttgart. She married David, an ammunitions clerk from rural Ohio, in a medieval church near her hometown on New Year’s Day, 1966. The following year, they returned to David’s hometown, Marietta, Ohio, where they purchased a 56-acre tract of dirt, a tractor, and a tiny home with electricity that sometimes worked.
While employed as a sheet metal worker, David also filled the freezer with deer and fish and the barns with cows and chickens. Wendy clipped coupons and learned to preserve garden produce for their growing family — a girl, a boy, and then another girl.
As a young mother, Wendy forged long-time friendships at Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church, finding God in the community of others. She was a Sunday School teacher and active member of United Methodist Women, hosting friends and missionaries at their farm outside Marietta. She authored the church’s “Gospel Gossip” newsletter, wrote skits for holidays and other church events, and — from bedsheets and bric-a-brac — created wardrobes for kings and wisemen, shepherds and angels, condemned prisoners and bickering birds.
She returned to school, earning an associate degree in secretarial sciences in 1993 at what is now Washington State Community College in Marietta. Insatiable curiosity also packed her book shelves with history, philosophy, archeology and science.
She studied American history and its Constitution, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1980.
She wrote, too, for the Marietta Times, weaving humor and wonder into everyday encounters with area residents — from a network of local ham radio operators, to a couple trying to determine if their boa constrictor was pregnant, to twin sisters who played Scrabble by international mail. She later penned a “Thoughts of Faith” column.
Among her other jobs, she and a best friend, Jennie, were tour guides and paid party-givers at Broughton’s Foods. Wendy at times filled in on the ice cream production line, befuddling coworkers with her British accent and a knack for busting out dance moves and poetry to get through long shifts.
Her strongest calling, however, was ministry. She became a pastor, appointed first to Harrietsville in 1998, then Sarahsville, Clarington, Hannibal, Sardis, Zion, Sand Hill and Hills United Methodist churches. Over the years, she shared lessons from farming, berry picking and raising a family in the hills where she and David had made their home that was, by this time, frequented by their many grandchildren.
A pastor’s most important role, Wendy believed, was not behind a pulpit, but in personal encounters. She established grief support groups, and turned tens of thousands of miles on odometers visiting the sick, dying and bereaved. For 11 years, she was chaplain at Marietta Memorial Hospital where she also served for several years on its ethics board.
Even after her attempts at retirement twice, in 2015 and 2020, she served as a visiting pastor at area churches, including Beverly Presbyterian Church.
Wendy tended bellies as well as souls, providing family and friends with an endless supply of baked goods, most often from the plentiful plots on the family’s small farm. It was here that she fought a vicious battle with dandelions and bean bugs, but marveled, too, at the peace of the hills around her.
At Christmastime, friends grew to expect fruitcakes and Wendy’s bready bears, along with a basket of jams, jellies and cookies. Until her illness in 2022, she was a frequent fixture at the River City Farmer’s Market, selling her products under Bread, Berries & Beyond.
The role in which she will be most deeply missed was mother and grandmother. David died in 2021. As Wendy and her children planned a COVID-postponed memorial at the family farm in May, 2022, Wendy was diagnosed with a glioblastoma.
With her remaining days, she squeezed as much life out of each day as possible. She hosted David’s memorial in May, 2022, then traveled the East Coast in search of the perfect fish-and-chips dinner. She took up a new hobby — crosswords. She tended her final crops, freezing and canning asparagus, peas, lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes, limas and pears. She read a half-dozen more history books and rediscovered downtown Marietta, often strolling by the Ohio River with a beloved Stoked coffee in hand.
A relentless witness for Jesus Christ, she delivered a few more summertime sermons about the blessings of friendships, the lessons in hardship and hard work, and the power of choosing joy.
As brain cancer stole her ability to find words, she remained grateful. Every chapter of her life, she’d say, had offered lessons propelling her to a peaceful end. She was supported, too, by a constant stream of messages — some sent via U.S. Postal Service; others in prayer.
Exhausted, she told her oncologist in December to cease treatments. “It’s time to go,” she said.
At Christmas, Wendy made some of her last batches of cookies and several pies, and she once again offered grace before dinner, asking blessings for loved ones and for forgiveness if she hadn’t done all she could do as a witness to Christ. She died Wednesday, leaving behind 18 pounds of butter, well-worn recipes, and two bulletin boards packed with Bible verses.
In addition to her children, Robin (Larry) Vellequette, Jeff (Lynn) Erb and Toni (Scott) Teters, Wendy and David are survived by 10 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to two of Wendy’s favorite missions: the United Methodist Committee on Relief or Presbyterian Disaster Assistance funds, which provide relief in Ukraine. Alternatively, and with a merry heart, buy coffee for a stranger.
Funeral services will be 11:00 am, Monday (Feb. 27) at Sand Hill United Methodist Church with burial following in Pleasant Hill Cemetery. Family will greet friends on Sunday at the McClure-Schafer-Lankford Funeral Home from 2-4 & 6-8 and at the church on Monday one hour before the service. Messages of sympathy may be sent to the family at www.Lankfordfh.com.