Iris Ela MaGill Gardner, giver and teacher

WEST BERLIN – Iris MaGill Gardner, 86, dearly loved mother, grandmother, and sister, died peacefully Monday, February 25, 2019, at her beloved home of 68 years with family around her.

Iris Ela MaGill was born on August 25, 1932, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where she grew up on a farm in a large extended family. She attended high school at St. Johnsbury Academy, playing softball, varsity basketball, and was a majorette on the drill team. She taught baton twirling and started the North Danville youth drill team. She was awarded the Legion Auxiliary Prize for the girl graduating with the highest character and personality rating. She earned her Associate’s Degree in Administrative Services from the Community College of Vermont.

On October 6, 1951, she married Kenneth Gardner of North Danville and made a warm and loving home in West Berlin. They lived, loved, and worked together as a team for over 60 years. She loved each of her five children as unique individuals, nurturing, guiding and challenging them. She treasured her seven grandchildren, and three foster grandchildren.

Deeply spiritual, her life was rooted in her faith. Iris was a member of the McKenzie Memorial Church in West Berlin, and then Bethany United Church of Christ in Montpelier. She taught Sunday school, organized fundraising and was the youth fellowship advisor who encouraged teenagers to be leaders. She planted seeds of hope and renewal through making Lenten gardens in Bethany UCC, Barre UCC, the Vermont UCC Conference, and the National Women’s UCC  Conference.

Iris devoted her life to community service and educational advocacy. She worked to have a kindergarten program in Berlin, advocated for West Berlin in the development of the school district, and advocated for U-32 high school to develop holistic curricula.  Fran Rice and Iris were founding members of the Vermont Association for Learning Disabilities; as advocates they were respected for their knowledge of the law as well as being thorough and not backing down in their fight for educational rights and literacy for all Vermonters. Their battle for the recognition of Vermont children’s dyslexia and specific learning disabilities was won in Washington D.C. through the U.S. Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights. Iris wrote: “What is it that we love? What is it that we treasure? Is it materialism? Status? Intellectualism? Self-indulgence? Power? My treasure and my love lie with our children. What can we give them and succeeding generations that will be of value to them and society?”

Iris was a natural teacher. She taught home nursing, instructed arts and crafts for recreation programs in Northfield, Barre, and Brattleboro; and instructed square dancing along with Al Monty to hundreds of young adults in central Vermont. Iris worked as a paraprofessional at the Barre Street School Library where she introduced children to the love of reading, art, and music. She created book fairs, art galleries, and invited authors, illustrators, and song writers to speak about their craft.

As an artist and craftsperson, Iris  expressed beauty through drawing, painting, home decorating, refinishing furniture, creating elaborate Christmas packages, designing Halloween costumes, sewing, cake decorating, making wreaths and flower arrangements. Iris was a Floral Designer at Trombly’s Flower Shop in Northfield. She loved working in her extensive gardens raising vegetables, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and flowers. She loved to have the sun on her back and her hands in the soil.

Iris and Ken belonged to the Central Vermont Square Dance Club and enjoyed dancing throughout New England with the friends they made there. They traveled extensively throughout the United States and Canada and with family and friends to Europe, the Caribbean, Scotland and Northern Ireland, her ancestral homeland, where she made wonderful friends who became extended family.

Iris will be remembered for her vision, tenacity, determination, integrity, creativity and energy. Most of all Iris will be remembered for her love. Her behest to us is expressed in her favorite prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson; “… give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and, down to the gates of death, loyal and loving, one to another.”


Family Information

Iris is survived by her children:  Marshall Gardner of Dallas, TX; Martha and Michael Bonneau of Dover, NH; Mack and Cynthia Gardner-Morse of Calais, VT; Shawn and Holly Gardner of Dallas, TX; and Meikle and Jacqueline Gardner of Porter, ME; her grandchildren, David Gardner and Elena Harding, Kenneth Gardner, Erin Bonneau, Eric Bonneau, Ira Gardner-Morse, Eliza Gardner-Morse, John Gardner-Morse; and foster grandchildren Hram Lian Mang, Musa Onge, and Ramadhani Mwenda.

Iris is predeceased by her husband Kenneth Gardner, her daughter-in-law Diane Gardner and brother Oliver MaGill.  She will remain in the hearts of her sisters Gloria Russell and Joyce Ryder, brother Norman MaGill, numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, friends and neighbors.


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