Leaven Blog

Happy Birthday Esther

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

When I interviewed Esther White back in 2008, I found her to be a vibrant and upbeat woman.

That surprised me.

I knew from my research that Esther had just sold her family’s business — the White Haven Motor Lodge, a landmark on Metcalf Avenue in Johnson County since the White family built it in 1957.

Esther and her husband Bob raised their three children there, working side-by-side with other family members.

How hard it must have been to let go of that legacy.

I also knew that Esther’s husband had died in June 2007, shortly before she sold the business.

And a few months prior to her husband’s death, she had lost her son and her sister.

So much tragedy; yet, she was such a friendly, kind and happy person.

“It’s amazing,” she told me back then. “You carry on and people say, ‘How do you do this?’

“And I say, ‘I have faith. God is in charge. I can’t argue with God.”

Esther went to Redemptorist Grade School in Kansas City, Missouri. She took her lessons in Catholicism to heart.

“Those nuns,” she said. “Everything that they taught me about faith, I remembered.”

And she lived her faith.

I was reporting on her back then for her dedication and work with the Catholic Education Foundation.

She and her husband also belonged to the Legion of Mary for 40 years and were members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.

They were important supporters of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. James Academy high schools as well.

And Esther was head of Respect Life for 14 years.

The couple also led volunteers in helping building the St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park shrine in Osawatomie, Kansas.

Esther worked tirelessly at living her faith and she told me it was her secret to getting a good night’s sleep.

“I have no hate in me,” she said. “I’m not bitter, I can’t be mad at anybody. God has to sort all that out.

“I’m just very happy, and I just have faith. So I sleep like a baby.”

I re-encountered Esther when her family invited me to help celebrate her birthday last week.

I was happy to see she hadn’t changed. She was older, slower, and had given up her home for assisted living. But she was still vibrant and happy.

She delighted in her birthday cake and all her family there to celebrate. She laughed and rolled her eyes as her children hovered around her, worried she might fall as she walked from guest to guest.

She amazed and inspired me.

The sign that once stood in front of the White Haven Motor Lodge was purchased by the Johnson County Museum and is on display in its Arts and Heritage Center, which opened early this year.

It’s a neon artifact of great historical significance to the suburbanization of Johnson County.

But to me, Esther White is the real treasure — a beautiful example of a life well lived in faith and love.

“I say my rosary every day,” she told me. “I have morning prayers, noon prayers and night prayers.

“My faith sustains me completely.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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