Esther was born on April 7, 1924 in Wilmar (Now called either Rosemead or San Gabriel), California into the family of Buford and Mary Barrick (Butler) and their first-born daughter, Aloha. Buford and Mary were both from Colorado farm/ranch families, but travelled across the western United States working as itinerant agriculture workers for several years. Buford’s dream was to start his own family farm, and he and Mary eventually made that a reality by purchasing acreage in what is now called Parachute, CO, but at that time went by Grand Valley. Esther and Aloha grew up in this small, mountain community and graduated from the one-room schoolhouse some distance from their home. Esther’s family loved to hear her stories about school - riding a horse there with her sister, fighting off rattlesnakes along the way, and of freezing - first front and then back - while huddled close to the sole heat source in the schoolhouse – a fireplace. Esther and Aloha fully participated in the many home and farming chores which provided them with a strong work ethic and an impressive set of skills.
Esther had ambitions to experience a different life style, and following high school graduation, headed to Denver. Her ultimate goal was to become a registered nurse, but lacking the financial requirements for tuition and board, decided to become a secretary. She attended a trade school and soon found a job. She enjoyed the freedom and the opportunities available to city dwellers. One day while walking in Denver’s City Park with a friend, she was approached by an army officer, in uniform, who asked for permission to take her picture. Being intrigued by this handsome young officer’s manner and foreign accent, she agreed. This led to a first date and rather quickly to their wedding, which was held back in Grand Valley in her hometown church. This dashing man’s name was George Margonis who had immigrated to the United States from Greece when 13 years old. He attended college and obtained a degree in microbiology from the University of Illinois and at the time of their wedding, was serving in the Army Medical Corps caring for soldiers during WWII. Of course, he soon needed to return to his post in the Pacific and Esther moved back with her parents. Their first daughter was born in Grand Valley while George was overseas. He saved the telegram announcing the birth of a daughter which reads – “Daughter born please dont worry fondest love and kisses Esther Mae Margonis.” This daughter was named Elizabeth Ann. George sent hundreds of long letters during their separation, describing in detail the events, thoughts, and emotions that filled his life. His love shone through clearly and Esther saved every one. This treasure trove is now in the hands of her children.
Following the end of WWII and George and Esther’s reunion, they returned to Columbus, Indiana where George was stationed at Camp Atterbury. While living in Columbus, daughter number two, Diane Lee, was born. Several months later, the family moved to a suburb of Detroit, MI where George managed the laboratory at the Detroit VA hospital. While living in Michigan, their third daughter, Cynthia Triane, arrived. George continued looking for career enhancements and moved his family once again to Hopedale, a small community in central Illinois, where he opened and managed the laboratory in a new hospital. It was while living in Hopedale that their fourth and final child was born – this time a boy they named Frank George in the Greek tradition of naming first sons after their father, with the order reversed. Four children and four different birth states! Eventually, George opened his own medical laboratory in another Illinois town called Pekin. All four children graduated from Pekin Community High School and attended college at University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.
Esther consistently contributed to the family income by working in various positions. With the purchase of their own lab, she received training as a lab technician, and helped with all aspects in the lab operation. She even managed the financial records and tax filing. In 1968, at 44 years old, Esther enrolled in the 2-year Registered Nursing program at the local community college. In two years, 1970, her long-held dream came true and she graduated, passed her RN license exam, and took a job at Pekin Community Hospital. In order to continue her support to her family and the business, she worked the night shift and shortened her daily sleep schedule. Relinquishing formerly done tasks did not seem to be an option to her.
She loved her experiences as an RN and was highly valued at the hospital. She continued her employment there for 25 years and only retired at 71 years old to move back to Colorado with George who was ready for new adventures. They relocated to Grand Junction in Western Colorado and enthusiastically jumped into the many opportunities offered in this new environment – hiking, birding, volunteering, attending craft and exercise classes, going to many educational Elder Hostels, and travelling internationally. This was a happy and active time for them! Sadly, in 2000, George passed peacefully in his sleep. Esther continued to exercise and hike on her own and with her family whenever they were together. A few years later, she started enjoying the companionship of Don Foster, who had been a friend to both her and George. He was also an avid outdoorsman who relished exploring the mountainsides on his horse or in an off-road vehicle. Esther encouraged him to hike and walk with her, which he grew to also love. In return, Esther found joy in heading over mountain trails with Don driving his trusty 4-wheel drive. They definitely surpassed the younger family members in their willingness to defy gravity on those tiny mountain trails.
After many years of sharing their lives together, Esther and Don decided to move into an assisted living facility. They appreciated the companionship of the other residents and participated in many of the activities provided. But Esther’s favorite times were when her family visited which they often did in spite of being spread across wide distances. In 2019, Don passed and it was clear Esther would be happier in a location closer to family. Therefore, in the summer of 2019 she moved to an assisted living facility in Salt Lake City, which was very close to the home of Frank and his wife, Donna Deyhle. Both Frank and Donna made frequent visits to her apartment and, until Covid restrictions took effect, often took her out to restaurants, on nature-viewing trips, or to their home. Esther thrived with this consistent attention from loved ones.
The Covid pandemic was difficult for her when it hit in March 2020. She relied on her family contacts, which were then only allowed through windows or virtually. Along with several others in her facility, she contracted Covid early in the pandemic and fought valiantly for her life. She was once again successful and enjoyed life for a full year following her illness. The distribution of Covid vaccinations offered the ability for on-site visits once again in the spring of 2021 and Frank and Donna were able to resume in-person visits. Diane and Cynthia also flew to Utah from their homes in Indiana and California to visit with their Mother and each other in April. It was a joyous experience and delighted Esther to have her children together. It turned out to be the last time as Esther passed three weeks later. She is missed by all who knew her.
She is preceded in death by her husband, George Margonis, her partner, Don Foster, her sister, Aloha Gillard, and her daughter Elizabeth Austin. She is survived by her three children, Diane Bingham, Cynthia Jeffries, and Frank Margonis; her grandchildren, Laura Reynolds Smith, Bryan Bingham, Stanley Kurdziel, John Kurdziel, James Kurdziel, Julie Doyle-Madrid; and her eleven great-grandchildren. A memorial is planned for later in the summer.
Expressions of sympathy may take the form of donations to
Western Colorado Botanical Gardens (wcbotanic.org)
National Park Foundation (nationalparks.org)