Leslie Merle Unruh died at the age of 93 on February 25, 2023, surrounded by his wife and children. He was born in Wilmore, Kansas on June 13, 1929, the fifth child of Joseph and Sarah Unruh. His family was in the farming industry in both Kansas and California. Instead of farming, Merle became involved in the field of electronics.
A year after graduation from high school, Merle was at a Coldwater High School track meet and noticed a girl lugging a large coffee pot to the concession stand. He offered to carry it for her and learned that her name was Marcella. They began dating and fell in love. On September 25, 1949, he married Marcella Giesbrech of Coldwater, KS. Merle worked part time as a carpenter with his father-in-law for a few years, also working in electronics. During that time, they had two children, Jerry and Karen. In 1955 they moved to Winton, CA where Merle worked as a radio and television technician.
Merle accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in 1959. He soon felt led to enter Christian service, attending Hesston College in Hesston, KS and Simpson Bible College in San Francisco, CA. He and Marcella accepted the pastorate of the Mennonite church in Winton, CA in 1961. He and Marcella were called to church planting and church growth work, starting the United Methodist Church in Atwater, CA, serving from 1963 to 1971. During this time, their sons Cameron and Myron were born.
Merle pastored the Harrisonville Mennonite Church for two years in Missouri, then moved on to begin a new church in southern California in 1973. Westminster Faith Chapel
was a fourteen-year period of great fruitfulness. In 1986, Faith Chapel turned its facility into an outreach for the Asian population that was moving into the area. The board of directors for the Faith Chapel Corporation authorized Merle and Marcella to establish a Christian conference center in Hesston, KS. The couple built the center from the ground up and continued to develop it from 1986 to 1990, until they returned to Fresno, CA to serve with a Christian Missionary Alliance church. Merle became involved in the American Missionary Fellowship and later pastored a small church in Stevenson, CA.
In 2009, Merle and Marcella moved to Clovis, CA to live near some of their family. Merle continued music programs in retirement homes, sharing the gospel message with many people. He also served as a chaplain, doing hospital visitation and teaching Bible study. A highlight of this period was the family reunion in 2010—filled with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In 2014, Merle and Marcella moved back to Hesston, KS. They lived at Hickory Homes in Showalter Villa, where he continued to serve as a volunteer chaplain and Bible teacher.
Merle loved to play the guitar. He performed with several friends who played and sang together in convalescent homes, rescue missions, etc. His enjoyment of carpentry, artistry and guitar merged in his small workshop, where he created a guitar and fashioned it from rosewood and other fine woods. He was featured in The Hesston Record on occasion as he continued to actively create, sing, and minister into his 90s.
Merle loved his children, and it was his desire to teach them to be good workers so that they would be able to support themselves. Most of all, he wanted them to love and to serve the Lord. Merle often expressed his pleasure at seeing each of his children serving God. His grandchildren and great-grandchildren were a delight to him. He was pleased to see his children teach their children the way of the Lord.
Merle is survived by his wife of seventy-three years, Marcella Unruh, his daughter-in-law Rachel, his daughter Karen (Leroy) Goertzen, son Cameron (Beth) Unruh, son Myron (Angela) Unruh, fourteen grandchildren and twenty-five great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, his four siblings, his beloved son Jerry Unruh, and his grandson Luke Unruh. A memorial service will be held on Friday, March 10, 2023 at 2:00 pm at Showalter Villa, Hesston, KS. A private burial will take place in Greensburg, KS on February 28, 2023, assisted by Fleener Funeral Home, Greensburg.