12/11/1931 - 05/03/2022

Margaret Elsa Sonnenberg, age 90, entered the joy of heaven on May 3, 2022, to meet the Savior whom she had loved and served. She was at home in Chandler, Arizona, with family by her side.

She was born at home on her parents’ farm in Bessie, Oklahoma, on December 11, 1931. Only nine years earlier her parents, Jacob and Susanna (Dick) Kroeker, and her two older brothers, John and Frank, had escaped Ukraine during the communist revolution. Her father was a Mennonite Brethren pastor and part-time farmer, her mother a full-time homemaker. At home the family spoke German and Margaret was called Gretel.

Margaret grew up during the Dust Bowl years, the Great Depression, and World War II and learned to be frugal and content. In 1940 the family moved to Gladwin, Michigan, and in 1944 to Leamington, Ontario. Margaret was saved at age 12 and was baptized in Lake Erie. As a teenager she took piano lessons and sang soprano in the church choir. She eventually quit school to work full-time and help support her parents.

On October 3, 1948, she was united in marriage to Edward Willms, who attended her church in Leamington. For a short time, the young couple lived near Margaret’s brother and wife in Kansas while Ed attended Tabor Bible College in Hillsboro and she worked. They then moved to Detroit, Michigan, to find employment. There they raised a family of three daughters and two sons. Margaret was active in her church, co-starting a nursery so other mothers could attend services, and teaching children’s church, Vacation Bible School, and an 8th-grade girls Sunday School class. Her students remember how she made the lessons interesting.

Margaret was a full-time mom and wife until age 35, when the unexpected death of her husband made her a single parent of five children ages 5 to 16. She continued to make her children her priority, finding part-time work at McDonald’s so she could be home when they were out of school.  She also refused to consider remarriage, because she didn’t want a step-dad to come between her and her kids. She kept the family together, taught her children the importance of working hard, of not spending more than they earned, and of saving up for a rainy day. She kept a shoebox filled with trinkets that her children could choose from when they memorized Scripture and could repeat the verses without error. She knew how to motivate them!

When her youngest child entered high school, Margaret knew she would need to go back to work full-time, so she enrolled in GED classes at night. She anticipated getting a job as a secretary until one of her teachers, a Mr. Rosen, told her she’d make a good nurse. When she applied to the LPN program at Sinai Hospital, she scored higher on their entrance exam than anyone in the history of the school. She graduated at age 48, the oldest person in her class, and worked for 24 years on the cardiac floors at Sinai and St. Joseph‘s hospitals before retiring at age 72.

In May 1985, after living alone for 18 years, she was married to Edwin Sonnenberg, whom she had known at church for many years. They enjoyed spending time with their grandchildren and traveling to China and Africa, and were blessed with good neighbors.

Margaret loved history and eagerly shared what she learned with friends and family. She loved to write and, in her eighties, wrote a booklet describing her parents’ perilous 18-month journey from Ukraine to the United States. She wanted her descendants to appreciate the legacy they had been given and to know that God can be trusted. She enjoyed being a grandma and great-grandma, and delighted in the accomplishments and individualities of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Margaret leaves behind her children, Linda Willms of Portland Oregon; Marlene Shaw (Doug) of Post Falls, Idaho; Randall Willms (Charlene) of Chandler, Arizona; and Karen Hicks (James) of Washington, Michigan; 7 beloved grandchildren; and 11 precious great-grandchildren. She is also survived by her Kroeker nieces and nephews, and by her first husband’s family, with whom she kept in touch until she could no longer make phone calls. Also surviving her is her Sonnenberg family: Judy Coote of Lutz, Florida; Carol Herrmann of Crossville, Tennessee; Bonnie McReavy (John) of Garrell, Texas; Edwin R. Sonnenberg (Connie) of Attica, Michigan; and 11 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by both husbands, her parents, her brothers John and Frank, and her son Dennis.

The family would like to thank Hospice of the Valley for the loving care they provided.

Family and friends can leave comments at: https://www.gilbertmemorialpark.com.  Go to the bottom of the page and click on her picture.

A private memorial service is being planned for the future. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to Ukraine refugee relief efforts at Send International using the following link:  https://www.send.org/advocacy/campaign/162633/help-ukraine-23


  • Ronna Ransberger

    So sorry for your loss Randy, Char and family.

  • Wow, what a legacy! Randy, I know you are richly blessed by having a mom like you did! May the Lord bring you comfort and your entire family As you grieve her loss.

  • Leslie and Jim Hoskyns

    Our hearts go out to your family. Thank you for sharing Margaret’s life story with us. What a remarkable woman. We are sure she will be missed.

  • George and Linda Fox

    What a busy and full life raising a family and doing God’s work here on earth. I wish I could have spent time with her.
    I see where Randy could quote verses in the Bible so accurately.
    We’re looking forward in seeing Margaret in Heaven.

  • Kristin Beckholt

    A beautiful tribute indeed. It certainly sounds as though this world needs more beautiful souls as Margaret. May her family be comforted in knowing the legacy she has left, and imagining the glory she must be experiencing. Many thoughts and prayers are with you today and in the days to come. Much love, Kristin Beckholt (friend of Karen)

  • Anna Chrenenko

    So sorry for the loss of your dear mother.
    Karen and I during our coffee outings would often talk about her and my mom
    She was dearly loved by her family
    Sending hugs and prayers

  • Richard and Kaye Crandall

    She sure left quite a legacy!!! So happy you were able to be by her side! we will continuing praying for you and your family!

  • Lajcaj Family

    We had the privilege of having Randy (Randall) and Charlene as neighbors for a number of years. Thank you for sharing Margaret’s story with us all. While you were blessed to have an amazing mother, I can say that your mother was also blessed to have you! Our hearts go out to you and your family and may Margaret Rest In Peace. God bless you, all.

  • Beverly Maxwell

    What a blessing to have a mom who knew and loved the Lord. She was not only my Sunday school teacher when I was young but also married my grandpa and became my step grandma. Margaret was always kind to me and even until the end, we enjoyed phone calls of encouragement. I know she is smiling big in heaven. She was so excited to go! Please accept my most sincere condolences.

  • What a beautiful tribute to Margaret in her obituary. I was so blessed to have had her in my life as a neighbor, she was a wonderful person inside and out. You were loved and will be missed by all who knew you.

  • I am so blessed to have known Margaret. I loved her and enjoyed visiting with her. I pray that you and the family will know the peace of God and His comfort in the days ahead.

  • Betsy Fowler

    Karen. My heart hurts for your loss. Your mother sounded like quite a woman, she never let her circumstances stop her. I admire her ability to go on and even do so much more than what she probably ever thought would happen. Smile at the memories of her, the world was better because she graced it.❤️❤️

  • Sheryl Erickson

    So sorry for your loss! Beautiful tribute. Continued prayers for your family🎶❤️

  • Nancy Rutledgr

    What a legacy and example of living for Jesus!

  • Lori Barnard

    After reading your mom’s obituary, I know she is someone a would have loved knowing!❤️ I will keep your family in my thoughts and prayers. Much love. ❤️

  • Elayne Howard

    I was just thinking of your mom this week, maybe on the day she died. The tribute to her was beautifully done. I pray that you all are finding comfort in Christ and sweet memories of her. May you find strength and healing in the memories of this sweet, brave, loving mom.

  • Carol Heckendorf

    Sorry for your loss. Your mother lived a wonderful life. Thoughts and prayers to you and your family.

  • Mike and Donna Rutledge

    So sorry Randy, Char and family. What a beautiful tribute this obituary is to her. Praying the deep and abiding faith that she helped to instill in your lives will bring you peace.

  • Brigitte Pfeiffer

    Our Deepest Sympathy! What a wonderful legacy she left for your family. Continued prayers for all ❤️

  • Kim and Jim Villella

    Randy and Char,
    Jim & I send our sincere condolences to you and your whole family. Your mom sounds like she lived an amazing and fullfilling life of service to others.
    God bless you and your family.

  • My prayers are with you & your family.

  • Katie And Mike Young

    We are so sorry for your loss. Your Mom had a beautiful and fulfilling life. Our love and prayers to you and your family.

  • I am reminded of times together with you all so many years ago. Hugs to you all.

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