Deborah Lantz Steiner, an active and much beloved member of Claremont (CA) Monthly Meeting for over one-third of her long life, died at her Pilgrim Place Health Center home in Claremont on October 27, 2011 at the age of 103. Born March 1, 1908 in Pendleton, IN, the only child of Elizabeth Morris Lantz and Frederick Lantz, she grew up as a birthright Friend in Fall Creek (IN) Meeting in which her mother’s family was active. After the death, during her childhood, of her maternal grandparents, her father, and her maternal aunt, Louella Morris Burdsall, Deborah and her mother joined her uncle, Elwood Burdsall (her “second father”) and his three sons in Rye, NY where they were active in the Purchase (NY) Monthly Meeting. Deborah spent one year boarding at George School near Philadelphia and the remainder of her school years at a private day school. She had fond memories of those pleasant and comfortable growing-up years in Rye.
When she was 17 Deborah met her husband-to-be while on a cross-country train trip with two of her cousins. When the train paused in a rural setting to take on water. Deborah alighted to walk around but the train began to move. From the dining car a 25 year old Washington State College English teacher, Richard Steiner, spotted the young “damsel in distress”, leaped from the slow-moving train and helped Deborah as both of them re-boarded.
A day later, following dinner at The Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Park, Richard proposed. Deborah wired her mother who checked out Richard’s bona fides. She was reassured after learning Richard was a teacher and that his father was Edward A. Steiner, Professor of Applied Christianity at Grinnell College in Iowa. She wired back that Deborah might marry Richard in one year, if by then she still wished to do so. Richard meanwhile moved from Washington to teach at Bradley College in Peoria, IL. The couple met again at Christmas in New York, and following a Peoria newspaper announcement of their engagement (“Quaker Maid to Wed”), the couple was married at Purchase Meeting when Deborah was 18. They lived at first in Peoria, but when Richard decided to become a minister they moved because he enrolled in the University of Chicago Theological Seminary where he received his Bachelor of Divinity degree after which they lived in Grinnell, IA for two years while Richard taught his father’s courses during Edward Steiner’s recovery from serious surgery.
On the recommendation of the Chicago Seminary’s Dean, the First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon invited Richard to be a candidate when it was searching for a new minister. Thus, it was in Portland that the couple raised their two sons, Henry York and David. Deborah was active with her husband in church affairs and with her love of gardening. In the 1950s Deborah’s mother came to join them in Portland where she attended Multnomah Monthly Meeting.
When Richard retired from the church in 1966, the Portland Unitarians arranged for construction of a house for the couple at Pilgrim Place, an active retirement community for Christian workers in Claremont, CA (adjacent, as it happens, to the Claremont Meetinghouse). Deborah became active at Pilgrim Place, participating in residents’ council activities, the annual Pilgrim Festival and devoting much time to her beloved gardening. Following Richard’s death in 1975, Deborah became more active in Claremont Monthly Meeting where Richard’s stepmother, Elizabeth Perry Steiner (also a birthright Friend and resident of Pilgrim Place) was an early and cherished member.
Deborah’s loving and cheerful spirit never ebbed as she faced the restrictions of age. Her last room opened out on the courtyard garden she had helped to create and she delighted in watching younger Pilgrims working there. On her wall was her hand copy of this quote attributed to the Talmud: Every little blade of grass has its angel leaning over it whispering “Grow! Grow!” As Deborah passed her 100th birthday members of Claremont Meeting wheeled her to Meeting on most Sunday mornings.
Her decades of Meeting service are gratefully remembered and appreciated by Claremont Monthly Meeting where she served both on the Property Committee, where her gardening skills were especially appreciated; and on the Caring Committee, where her positive outlook and kindness were both helpful and comforting to many members and attenders . At Deborah’s request no Memorial Meeting was held. Her legacy of love continues to be strongly with us. In addition to her two sons and daughters-in-law, she leaves five grandchildren, eleven great-grandchildren, and devoted cousin, Martha Morris, of Winter Park, (FL) Monthly Meeting.