(nee Streufert) God’s servant of mercy in Christ Jesus, beloved wife of the late Rev. James W. Mayer, passed away October 6 at the age of 94. She is survived by her eight children, their families, and a host of loved ones she called her family.
Sammy was born in Aurora, IL, on June 17, 1925. She was the youngest of 11 children and attended St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Aurora, where her father Paul was principal. She often told stories of her mother and father’s strong faith and generosity. During the depression, her mother would regularly feed migrant workers along the rail lines by the family home. Sammy was quite a bit younger than her siblings, so she attended high school at River Forest in Chicago, where her sister Lydia was attending college. She remained at River Forest College, graduating with a teaching degree. She spoke of the challenges of her first teaching assignment in a one-room schoolhouse in Texas, teaching grades 1-8.
It was on the campus of River Forest that she met her husband, Jim. On August 8, 1948, they married. Once Jim graduated from Concordia Seminary, the two were called to missions and set off to India with their newborn daughter, Marie, in the summer of 1949.
They served on the mission field in India from 1949 to 1966, with two furloughs back to the USA in 1957 and 1963. Vicky, Ted, Connie, Kathy, Peter, Ann, and Jim were all born in South India, and the eldest six children attended boarding school in Kodaikanal. Sammy and Jim gave themselves entirely to their mission work, beginning with Tamil language school in Bangalore, then several years in Kolar Gold Fields working with Tamil-speaking miners, a year in Ambur, and the remainder of their time in the town of Vaniyambadi. In each place, Sammy managed not only to create a warm and comfortable home for the family, but also to support Jim’s work, and to engage fully with local congregants, especially women. Sammy and Jim also hosted meetings of missionaries and took an active part in the evolving discussions on how missionaries could best live out their faith and their calling in India. Over time they viewed themselves ever more as witnesses to God’s abundant grace in the world and saw the church as the active expression of God’s love for the well-being of the whole person and the entire community.
Jim was called back to St. Louis, MO in 1966 to become Area Secretary for Missions in Southeast Asia for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS).
Jim and Sammy’s time in India was transformative in many ways, including broadening their view of mission work as a two-way street and strengthening a focus on social justice and liberation theology.
The heart of their new vision for mission gave birth to “PIM” (Partners in Mission). Jim Mayer and Paul Strege, with the help and support of their spouses Sammy Mayer and Vercile Strege, founded Partners in Mission in 1974. PIM eventually became IPM, an interfaith organization under the directorship of Joe Cistone. Sammy served as a board member emeritus for both PIM and IPM long after her AARP membership started.
In the 1970s, many changes in the Lutheran church led to Jim’s departure from the LCMS and the development of what eventually became the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). One fundamental change of the new church was a decision to welcome and strengthen women’s essential role as pastors and leaders.
Sammy brought her unique vision for mission to many boards and organizations. She served on the ELCA Counsel for Women. Sammy also helped develop Women in Action for Mission (WAM) and worked one on one with transitioning prisoners in mission work and rehabilitation at Project Cope. When her children were of school age, she would substitute teach at the Lutheran elementary schools in the area. Sammy was an active member at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and then St Thomas Holy Spirit Lutheran Church. She continued to remain active as a church member at Gethsemane Lutheran into her 80s.
In addition to all this service work, Sammy managed to serve a home-cooked sit-down dinner every night at 6 pm for ten people. She loved cooking and caring for her children. After Jim passed away in 1984, she would spend several months out of the year visiting her daughters, especially helping out when grandchildren were born.
Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren were precious to Sammy. She had a beautiful melodious voice and loved singing, and when she didn’t know the words, she’d make them up. Most likely, each of her grandchildren had the benefit of hearing “Jesus Tender” and various other hymns sung to them at bedtime.
Her appreciation and acceptance of others and her forgiving spirit are something we all cherish.
If you wish to send a memorial in honor of Sammy Mayer, please send to:
Thank you, Sammy, for all you’ve given, and your generosity of spirit.