The Rev. Sally Fahrenthold — one of Wichita’s first female pastors and a tireless social justice advocate who devoted her life to helping people with disabilities and others in need — died Wednesday afternoon at her home. She was 81.
Rev. Fahrenthold, who was retired, had been battling terminal colon cancer for five years and was told by doctors in October 2017 that she had six months to live — time she spent championing equality for people with limited resources. She survived more than a year after receiving the prognosis, attending social justice rallies and protests in her final months in her wheelchair to continue the fight, her younger sisters said Friday.
“I think that Sally was kind of like St. Francis,” Mary McCrea, the sister who lived with and helped care for Rev. Fahrenthold, said. “Wherever there was poor, needy, hungry or social injustice — that’s what Sally advocated for.”
“It was important for her that the work continues,” said Joan Curtiss, another sister.
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Rev. Fahrenthold died Wednesday at around 3:30 p.m., according to a post on her Facebook page. She helped launch or served with several organizations in Kansas City including Harvesters-The Community Food Network food bank, the Warmth and Light Coalition and Kansas City Community Gardens.
In Wichita, she helped start and lead Partners for Wichita, which launched Bags of Blessings, Filling the Gap Lunches for Kids and other programs for people in need. She was also active in Inter-Faith Ministries, the Greater Wichita Ministerial League, the former Kansas Ecumenical Ministries and the former Lutheran Social Services of Kansas and Oklahoma.
Two services will be held next week in Rev. Fahrenthold’s honor. The first will be at 11 a.m. Nov. 29 at Reformation Lutheran Church, 7601 E. 13th St. in Wichita. The second will be at 11 a.m. Nov. 30 at Atonement Lutheran Church, 9948 Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park.
Downing and Lahey Mortuary in Wichita is handling her arrangements. She’ll be inurned at Johnson County Memorial Gardens in Overland Park.
Rev. Fahrenthold was born on June 23, 1937, in Kalamazoo, Mich. She grew up in Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, and graduated from high school in 1955. As a teen she was already “really full of compassion,” McCrea said.
She went on to pursue Latin American studies at Smith College, graduating in 1959. That summer, on July 25, she married Glenn Fahrenthold, and they had a daughter and two sons together.
Rev. Fahrenthold became a pastor at a time when having a woman in that role was rare, and sometimes unwelcome.
In an interview with The Eagle earlier this year, said she didn’t plan that career path in childhood. Rather, she “backed into it” after her daughter, Pamela, was born with developmental disabilities.
Doctors told her not to get too attached to the girl because she’d end up living in an institution, her sisters said.
“Sally said, ‘Not my daughter,’” McCrea recalled. “So then she started up thinking what she could do.”
That experience led her to become involved in developing services for people with disabilities and, later, a job with Metro Lutheran Ministry in Kansas City where she worked on food and rent assistance for the elderly, poor and others in need.
“She went from kind of being a debutante in a private girls school ... to getting very involved in social justice issues,” Curtiss said.
As part of Rev. Fahrenthold’s work for Metro Lutheran Ministry “she would walk from house to house and apartment to apartment to make sure that people who were elderly and disabled had blankets and that their heaters were working” in the winter and that they were keeping cool in the summertime, Curtiss said.
She also helped with humanitarian efforts at her church, Special Olympics and was involved in developing individualized education plans for special education students, her sisters said.
While pursuing a master’s degree in social work, Rev. Fahrenthold realized pastoral ministry was her calling and attended Saint Paul School of Theology, earning her master of divinity degree.
She was ordained in 1985.
She served as associate pastor of Atonement Church in Overland Park before moving to Wichita in 1991 to become the head pastor of Christ Lutheran Church. She also served as interim or temporary pastor at Reformation Lutheran Church and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Wichita.
Rev. Fahrenthold previously told The Eagle that bringing people together to create change in her community gave her the most pleasure in life.
The obituary that Rev. Fahrenthold wrote for herself years ago — before being told she had six months to live — says she “died in faith and peace.”
She did so, singing hymns with family in her final days, her sisters said.
Rev. Fahrenthold is preceded in death by her husband, Glenn Fahrenthold, who died in 2006; a son, Thomas Fahrenthold, who died in 1983 at age 17 of Ewing’s sarcoma; and her parents, Mary Louise Brown Curtiss and George Bunnell Curtiss.
She is survived by her son Scott Fahrenthold and his wife, Lindi; her daughter Pam Clair; four granddaughters; her sisters; and other family members.