Gwen Thayer

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Gwen Thayer

May 3, 1984 • March 23, 2019

Gwen Elizabeth Thayer, 34, of Kerkhoven, Minnesota passed into the loving arms of Jesus, March 23, 2019, at her home surrounded by her family after a long and courageous battle with three different cancers over the past 29 years.  

Her funeral service was 1:30 p.m., Saturday, March 30 at Living Hope-Evangelical Free Church in Willmar.  Burial was in Hillside Cemetery, Kerkhoven.  Visitation was from 5-8:00 p.m.  Friday at Living Hope-Evangelical Free Church in Willmar and continued one hour prior to the service at the church  Saturday.   

Gwen was born May 3, 1984, in Willmar, Minnesota, the daughter of Steve and Karen (Wheeler) Thayer.  She attended school at KMS in Kerkhoven, graduating in 2002.  She also attended Ridgewater College.  She accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior at a young age and was a dedicated member of the Evangelical Free Church in Kerkhoven. Gwen loved working as the AWANA Cubbie Director, served on the hospitality committee, participated in small group Bible study, and was a Sunday school helper. Her unwavering faith and trust in God is what sustained her.

 Gwen’s life was not defined by cancer but unfortunately most of her years were spent fighting it or dealing with the side effects of her treatments.  Her journey began in 1990, at the age of five, with her initial diagnosis of AML Leukemia.  She endured two bone marrow transplants (her brother was her donor), months of chemo, and full-body radiation. Then in 2007, at the age of 23, she faced her second battle with cancer, ALL Leukemia.  After two and a half years of intense chemotherapy treatments she once again was cancer free. Her third and final battle was a diagnosis with Squamous Cell Carcinoma in 2018.

She will be remembered as someone who enjoyed making others smile.  Gwen adored butterflies and saw them as reflecting the hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. She loved to spend time playing games, doing puzzles, embroidering, quilting, gardening, and baking. She loved to surprise others with special baked goods like pies, cookies and bars. Most of all, she loved to bless others with cards and special gifts. We will all miss receiving her Hallmark cards, perfectly picked out for the event and with exactly the right words for the occasion. She also loved candy and her special nieces and nephews were often the recipients of gummy bears, Skittles and Laffy Taffy.

Gwen had many different jobs over the years.  She worked at Bethesda Nursing Home in Willmar, assisting in the activities department.  She served for four years in the Minnesota Reading Corp tutoring preschool children at the KMS High School in Kerkhoven.  She worked at Meadow Lane nursing home in Benson as the Housekeeping Manager.  Up until complications from her most recent battle, she was working at the Benson Bakery where she loved baking, serving, and sampling many of their wonderful sweets.  However, if you’d ask her, I think her most cherished job was her time as an Intern for Joni & Friends in 2016.  She had the opportunity to serve alongside Joni Eareckson Tada in Agoura Hills, California where she was able to have strong friendships with Joni and many others on staff there.

Gwen also wanted to serve others by giving back.  She loved volunteering at Joni & Friends Summer Retreat, an annual camp in Northern Minnesota for disabled families. She was a Red Cross Spokesperson, having been the recipient of nearly 300 transfusions throughout her life. Other organizations she supported were the Ronald McDonald House (where she and her family spent countless nights during her treatments), Children’s Cancer Research Fund, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (where she organized a team annually), Samaritan’s Purse, and volunteering for childcare at the local MOMS group.

Keeping her memory alive are her loving parents, Steve & Karen; brother Greg (Mary) Thayer of Rogers; sister Gail (Kristofer) Penner of Ramsey; and six beloved nieces and nephews who were her pride and joy: Brooke, Addison, and Graham Thayer; Logan, Ava, and Bryce Penner; and many special aunts, uncles, cousins, and cherished friends.

She was preceded in death by her grandparents, Frank & Ruth Thayer and Clyde & Marian Wheeler; and uncles, Otto Harvey and Dennis Johnson.


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