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Moments in Times: Marian Kundert

Moments in Time

A weekly series featuring recollections of area residents.

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MONROE - Marian Kundert started singing when she was 4 years old. Today, at 85, she said not much has changed.

Whether she's belting out a yodel while representing her Swiss heritage or wrestling the accordion at a local performance, she said she still gets warm and tingly inside at the sound of music and the memories that come along with it.

"It just gives me a good feeling," she said.

The self-proclaimed "Monroe girl" was raised on a farm about a mile west of town. Her parents were from different parts of Switzerland and although it was the same language, their dialect was vastly different.

One thing they enjoyed together, however, was singing.

Every time the family would get into the car to go anywhere - which was often - Kundert said her father, Ludwig Signer, would break into a full-blown yodel and they would croon songs in Swiss. Although she didn't know what the words meant, she absolutely loved the joy it brought to those special family moments.

A love for music was rampant in the family, and she said it was her grandmother from her father's side who brought several instruments along when she came to the United States so she could teach lessons.

The family milked cows and raised pigs on the 80-acre farm. Kundert and her sister, Alice Wyss, were expected to help, and she recalls driving a tractor for her father in the summer while they made hay.

"I just loved working with my dad," Kundert said.

Her time was also spent in the garden with her mother and with encouragement, the girls were very involved in home economic projects and 4-H. Kundert earned the Outstanding 4-H Member Award as a youngster and said she always felt supported.

Some of her best memories are from when she performed with her sister, who played guitar. The duo would attend various events on weekends - anything from a farm bureau meeting to the orphanage in Freeport - to entertain crowds as "The Signer Sisters."

One of their biggest accomplishments was in the 1940s when the WLS radio station out of Chicago came to Turner Hall for an amateur night competition. The sisters won and then made the trek to Chicago to perform for the station. She was only 8 years old but recalls the trip well with her parents, family and God parents staying overnight and visiting the zoo before coming home.

It was unforgettable.

"That was a real thrill for me," Kundert said. "I've just been a really lucky girl all of my life."

Kundert attended Bethel School, a country school she started early and stayed through eighth grade. She then attended Monroe High School where she has warm memories of her band teacher, Mr. Barnard, who wrote songs to showcase her yodeling talent.

Because she started country school so early, Kundert graduated from Monroe High School at age 16.

At the end of her senior year, Kundert got appendicitis and had emergency surgery. When the local doctor realized she didn't have plans after graduation, he introduced her to his medical lab technician, and the experience convinced her to sign up for the Northwest Institute of Medical Technology in Minneapolis. She lived with a family she helped during the yearlong program before returning to Monroe.

She married Jack Kundert in 1952. He worked at the local bank while she worked at the hospital. She enjoyed the job because she could be home in the early afternoons before her children returned from school. Through the years, she worked on and off, helping out when needed as a fill-in at the clinic, she said.

Although she and Alice performed together through high school, they stopped once they were married, but Kundert never really let go. She purchased her own accordion and took a few lessons.

Kundert has been a member of Monroe Swiss Singers for decades and is looking forward to a competition with the group in Toledo this year where she hopes for the group to bring home a blue ribbon. The choir is something she greatly enjoys participating in, especially after Jack died six years ago.

"I love working with my Swiss people and my Swiss choir," she said. "They've been my crutch."

She's always felt comfortable being involved with the community and is a past member of Questers. She's most proud to have been a part of raising $50,000 to put the steeple back on Monroe's historic courthouse in 1985, a wish from her late father-in-law. She was also active in the Jaycettes early on, earning several awards including the State Carol Award. She joined the Woman's Club starting in 1956 and stayed on several years, serving for a time as the group's president. She was also a Girl Scout leader.

She said it was likely Jack who influenced her involvement through the years. He was instrumental in starting the YMCA, and Kundert said she followed his lead when it came to giving back to the community.

"He was a wonderful husband and a wonderful father," she said.

Today, Kundert still performs, now alongside local Swiss friend Martha Bernet, and the duo known as the "Swiss Chicks" play at almost every Turner Hall event. Instead of applause, Kundert said they've noticed their act now brings whistles from the crowd, which is "just fun."

Through the years, Kundert and her family traveled extensively, visiting Switzerland more times than she could ever try to count, along with several other places both in and out of the country. They also loved to be active, riding scooters around town, golfing regularly and taking part in curling and skiing.

When the family took a ski trip to Colorado in 1968, everyone took ski lessons - but Kundert said she was the only one who didn't pass. Instead of giving up, she came home, rounded up friends and took a weekly trek to Devil's Head in Merrimac where she was determined to learn. No one was surprised by that - Kundert has never been afraid to try new things - and from then on, the Kundert family could be found annually on a ski hill.

Today, Kundert enjoys spending time with family, including her three children and four grandchildren, who all live fairly close. One thing they've continued throughout everything is their time together spent on Lake Kegonsa near Stoughton, where several years ago they built a Swiss Chalet - a second home and a place where Kundert can always find comfort surrounded by family and wonderful memories.

Kundert still performs, gathers with friends often, is a member of St. John's UCC in Monroe and shares games of bridge regularly - something she's been doing since she worked at the hospital. She's grateful for Monroe, her longtime circle of friends and is proud of all of the opportunity the community offered her family through the years.

"I'm just a very contented person and very happy," she said. "I like people."