Part II: And then she was gone …

Blog post in 2 parts: 1st part here.

Mary Christner Borntrager was born the seventh child in an Amish family of ten and went on to author of a series of novels with over 500,000 copies in print.

Part II: And then she was gone …

Here’s oldest daughter Kathryn Borntrager Keim’s account of her mother’s last years and days:

“When I walked into the hospital that morning, I was already tired. For the past three months, I had been running back and forth—juggling my household duties, babysitting grandchildren, and taking care of my mother’s things.


“Mother moved in next door to us after my father died of cancer. For 10 years, things went pretty well. Then Mother’s ailments took a turn for the worse. She had TIAs (ministrokes) and heart problems. She was in her 70s and when the doctor said she should not be living alone, Mother moved in to live with my husband and me. She was in our home for four years. Then her health got worse. The morning I called the paramedics, I almost dropped her. She couldn’t walk and had tremors so bad she couldn’t even hold a spoon.


“Now, three months later, she had been in the hospital, then rehab, then a nursing home for the third time. Here she was back in the hospital again, and not doing well.


“I met her doctor in the hall and he gave me an update. The Lupus she had developed taxed her body to the limit causing the tremors to accelerate. He said her lungs were full of fluid again, but felt she was too weak to stand the procedure to clear them. His question was, ‘What should we do?’ My thought was, ‘Please God, I’m too tired to make another decision.’


“The doctor said Mother agreed to have the procedure if he thought it would help. But he wanted my input. I told him as long as Mother could make her own decision, I would go along with it. He said, ‘Why don’t you go in and talk it over with her and I’ll go talk to the other doctors. I just don’t feel good about this. She looks so tired.’


“I walked in the room and Mother greeted me with a weak smile. We talked about getting her lungs drained. She said what she always said, ‘I’ll try.’ I wasn’t so sure but said it was up to her and the doctor.


“Her food tray was sitting untouched by her bed. I asked her if she wanted to eat anything. She replied, ‘Since they were kind enough to bring me something, I should at least try. But I’m not really hungry. I told her she didn’t have to eat, but she said again, ‘I’ll try.’ I gave her a sip of water, and then a bit of pudding. Her mouth moved, and then she was gone.


“I’m not sure what I said when I realized Mother was not breathing. But a nurse came running right away and took over. I sat in a chair and watched in a daze, so many things going through my mind. I wanted to scream, ‘Mother, don’t give up. Please just try.’ Then I realized that Mother never gave up. She lived what she taught us. Keep trying. When things get tough, just keep trying. God is always there to see you through. Just keep trying ‘til He calls you home.


“After my father died, Mother said she sometimes felt like giving up. But then she would remember that as long as you have life, God has something for you to do.


“Her first book had just been accepted for publication about a week before my father died. Yes, she kept trying. The book Ellie, which she wrote while in her 60s, became a best seller for the publisher. When they asked her for more novels, she supplied them with nine more books over the next nine years. At times, it wasn’t easy, but she kept trying.


“I loved to take her to her speaking engagements and watch the people as she spoke. She had a way of making you feel at home. It was like having a cup of tea and chatting with a friend. That is also how she wrote her books—about people’s lives just like hers. The struggles, joys, hopes, and fears. But all in all, never giving up.


“The Ellie’s people series is a wonderful legacy for me to remember how one woman touched many lives through her books and her life. Never giving up.


“Good bye, Mother. I’ll miss you. But now, I must go and make some more decisions. I can’t give up ‘til God calls me home.” –Kathryn Keim, 2002.


Mary Christner Borntrager, at her writing desk.

And now, these books are being resurrected to not only provide a whole new generation with entertaining reading, laced with wisdom and inspiration to think through and solve the family problems and issues that face them, like one reader commented above. At least we hope so.

Rebecca, New Edition
The next book in Mary Christner Borntrager’s 
series, Rebecca, is due out Oct. 1, 2014.

Through this legacy of her books, Mary is still helping her small denominational publisher hang in there and keep trying during these difficult economic times for many publishers.

We thank her family for allowing her books to be published again. May another half million be sold! And we’ll all do a happy dance.


Have you read any books in the Ellie’s People series? What was your favorite?

Did you ever meet Mary Christner Borntrager?

 To purchase Ellie, go here.



Kathryn’s story of her mother’s last days and relatively peaceful death reminds me profoundly of a recent Herald Press on dying called Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well: A Doctor Explains How to Make Death a Natural Part of Life by Dr. Glen E. Miller. See more here

P1050565Post by Melodie Davis, MennoMedia editor, writer, producer. Also blogging



“I’ll Try”: How a 67-year-old Storytelling Grandmother Came to Author 10 Novels

Blog post in 2 parts

Part I: “I’ll Try”: How a 67-year-old Storytelling Grandmother Came to Author 10 Novels

Mary Christner Borntrager was born the seventh child in an Amish family of ten and went on to author of a series of novels with over 500,000 copies in print.

Earlier this year I was scouring old files here at MennoMedia, where I’ve worked almost four decades under various names and structures. I was looking for photos for another project when I ran across this picture from Choice Books photo files. Choice Books used to operate out of this building, long before Herald Press moved to town.


Mary Christner Borntrager signing copies of her novels in the mid-1990s.

I knew that we were planning to bring back into print the entire ten-book series of novels, Ellie’s People, written by Mary Christner Borntrager from 1988 to 1998 (Mary died in 2002). There before me was a photo of this author busily autographing stacks of the Ellie series books at a Choice Books event years ago.

Here’s another photograph of Mary addressing an audience at the same event. The joy and excitement shows so well on her face, don’t you think?


Mary Christner Borntrager telling stories at a banquet.

Anyway, yes, Herald Press is bringing back the whole series, one book at a time, and the first one is launching today.

Don’t you think Mary is doing a little happy dance in heaven??

I love her daughter Kathryn Keim’s story of how Mary came to write her first book. Her children and grandchildren always begged for another story from Mary’s childhood, so one day she told her daughter, “Maybe I should write a book.” Kathryn encouraged her. Mary herself came to call her genre “faction”: a blending of facts from her life with fiction. See more in our news release on the book here.

Mary’s family says she always enjoyed hearing from readers and pulled a few letters they still have from their files, which I’m excerpting with permission:

“The Lord has sent Mrs. Borntrager’s lovely books to teach many things about families. My husband got me one of the books each year for Christmas. When I read the first one, Ellie, my own children were a lot like Missy’s badly behaved [children]. The Lord used Ellie to teach me some things about disciplining children. Later these books helped me to understand some problems in my marriage, and then helped me decide to make a new commitment to God. Thank you so much, Mrs. Borntrager.” (Bolivar, Ohio)


“Dear Mrs. Borntrager: I met you at the LOGO Bookstore Christmas Open House in Kent, and bought several of your books, of which I have read some and find them enchanting, family oriented, and church centered. These are gifts for my granddaughter.” (Warren, Ohio)


“Dear Mary, … I’m glad to remember you as a 7th grade student … I lost communication with you for 50 years. I went to another school system and you went for more education so you could become a teacher. In the late 1980s, I saw your picture in the paper and when I saw your name, it rang a bell. You were living in North Canton in the same mobile home park that I was. I knocked at your door and we had a nice visit and renewed our friendship. I want to congratulate you on the books you write in the later years of your life on Amish life. It has been so nice to know you as a former student and a good friend. If we don’t see each other again, I know we will meet in heaven. Your former teacher.”

But perhaps most touching of all is a reflection her oldest daughter, Kathryn, wrote as her mother was hospitalized and increasingly weaker. Kathryn helped launch her mother’s remarkable writing career at the age of 67. Mary’s books sold more copies than most writers even dream of. Kathryn had not only first encouraged her mother to write down the stories, she coached her mother into having something new written each time Kathryn came over. Mary always responded, “I’ll try.”

Coming up on Monday, Part II of this post, “And then she was gone …”


Ellie relaunches today! Get yours now HERE–buy several at this price for all the readers you know who might enjoy this book.

ellieHave you read any of the Mary Christner Borntrager books? We’d love to hear from readers and fans!

P1050565Post by Melodie Davis, MennoMedia editor, writer, producer. Also blogging at