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Gothenburg Graduate: Karen J. Vrtiska, Age 77

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Karen Joyce Vrtiska, age 77, the daughter of Alton and Anna (Stevens) Peterson, was born September 5th, 1943 in Gothenburg, Nebraska. She passed away January 31st, 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska.

Karen is survived by her husband, Ivan A. Vrtiska of 55 years; daughters: Heidi Ketchmark and Holli Imig (Greg); grandchildren: Rachel Ketchmark, Justin Ketchmark (Erin Circo), Andrew Imig, Wesley Imig; sisters: Virginia Rieker (Ray), Glenda Walker (David), Beverly Drullinger; sisters-in-law, Carolyn Peterson, Sharylin Knock (Vern); several nieces, nephews, other relatives, and friends. She was preceded in death by parents: Alton and Anna Peterson; sister, Margy Hennek; brother, Larry Peterson; brothers-in-law, Gerald Drullinger and Don Hennek; son-in-law, Shawn Ketchmark.

Karen began her education in Country School North Vroman #9. She then went to and graduated from Gothenburg High School, participating in drama, editor of the yearbook and many other scholastic activities. She attended Nebraska Wesleyan University, graduating in 3 years with a degree in Education majoring in Mathematics and Social Sciences. Following graduation she taught in Stromsburg, Ashland and Lincoln, NE.

Karen took a break from teaching until her daughters began school then returned to teaching math at Westbrook Junior High School in Omaha. At this time she also started work on a Masters Degree in Math Education. As she started (1978) she got ill and started to lose her ability to hear. Her local Doctor recommended we visit the House Ear Institute in Los Angles, California (Dr William House, President Regan's Ear Doctor as well as many Hollywood stars and astronauts). He was in the process of clinical development of Cochlear Implants. Karen elected to join the group as the first in Nebraska, when there were fewer than 200 in the United States. The first implant was a single channel/frequency which sounded like "talking through wax paper over a comb." With many trips to California and hard work, she completed her Math Masters Degree in 18 months following. A few years later as development of the Cochlear Implants continued, she received a 23 channel/frequency implant in her left year by Dr Britt Thedinger, who later removed the original implant and replaced it with a 24 channel/frequency unit providing her with similar bi-lateral implants. She than continued to teach math at Omaha Metro Community College, UNO and one of the Correctional Facilities in Omaha.

As the youngest of six children (5 girls and 1 boy), Karen grew up on a farm loving cats and dogs. Her mother taught her to cook, bake and sew. She loved making yeast bread and rolls (particularly bulgar wheat rolls) and cookies (chocolate oaties). Karen prided herself with having taught grandson Wesley to bake the bulger wheat rolls.

Karen was a member of the Maplewood United Methodist Church for nearly 50 years were she was Church Financial Secretary for many years, treasurer of UMW, Sponsor of MYF and other numerous leadership roles.

Karen served as Guardian of Job's Daughters International Bethel #69, Ritual Competition Judge, and other roles. Karen enjoyed many travels across the US and to New Zealand and Australia with the Jobs' Daughters and accompanying Ivan on his many Masonic travels. She served as Worthy Matron, Aksarben Chapter No. 277 Order of Eastern Star; member of the Social Order of Beauceant, Satra Temple Ladies of the Nile and PEO Chapter HY. In her early Omaha years she enjoyed Mrs. Jaycees.

Karen was an avid bell collector (around 700 in her collection), collector of P. Buckley Moss Prints (more than 50), lover of gardening-freezing and canning garden produce, quilting, reading, puzzles, and sewing (made her own wedding dress) and many more activities. Most of all she loved her grandchildren and husband. Through her many medical challenges she remained a strong warrior.

Celebration of Life Service was held at 3:00 P.M., Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021 at Forest Lawn in Omaha. Inurnment will be at a later date at Forest Lawn Cemetery.