Lilyan Louise Tanke

August 2, 1916 ~ October 23, 2022

Lilyan Tanke (born Temp) passed away peacefully on October 23, 2022, in La Crosse at the age of 106. According to the United States Social Security Administration, only 140 Americans live to 106. That is .14% – or less than one-tenth-of-one percent – of our population who are blessed with the gift of a life this long.

Lilyan Louise Tanke

Lilyan Louise Tanke

Lil began her life in La Crosse on August 2, 1916, as the eleventh of fourteen children born to her parents her parents Rudolph Ferdinand Temp and Amelia Temp (born Horn). Her father immigrated to the United States from Danzig in Germany (now Gdansk in Poland) at the end of the 19th Century. He was among five million German Americans who arrived on American shores during that time. Lil was the last surviving member of her immediate family. She, her parents, and her siblings, lived through tumultuous times that included the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War. She also experienced more than three-quarters of the 20th Century – and nearly one quarter of the 21st.

Lil lived and worked with her family on a farm when she was young tending chickens, ducks, geese, cows, and pigs. When her family moved to the city and her father became a La Crosse saloon owner, she and her sisters made sandwiches for the sumptuous “free lunches” that were served to the saloon patrons of the time at little or no cost. The family spoke German, known as Low German, as well as English at home, but the strong emphasis on assimilation soon reduced the German retained by the Temp children to selected words and phrases. Very little was passed on to the next generation.

German immigrants of the time and place acquired their religious traditions form Reformation Germany where faith mirrored the belief systems of local rulers. They tended to be Lutherans or Catholics depending on their German regional origins. The Temps were baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran tradition. Lil was a dedicated and lifelong member of First Evangelical Lutheran Church (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod or WELS) in La Crosse. Both of her children were baptized and confirmed in that Church. She and her husband Bill (William A. Tanke) worshiped there for decades.

Lil’s Lutheran Christian heritage was her beacon in faith and in life. She spent countless hours as a member of the Ladies’ Aid which provided a meeting place for women of the congregation and an avenue for hospitality outreach through homemade food and beverage service for weddings, funerals, and other events. Lil’s life will be celebrated in her home church with a service on Saturday December 3, 2022 11:00 A.M. at First Evangelical Lutheran Church 400 West Ave S. La Crosse, WI 54601. Her pastor, Rev. Richard Pamperin, who shared the faith with her, prayed with her, and served her communion at home during the last decade of her life will officiate at the service. Her Lord will guide her going out as He did her coming in. (Psalm 121:8; John 10:9.)

Lil’s legacy lies in her boundless giving to her family, her friends, her Church, and those whom she encountered. She had an unquenchable love for people in all their diversities and varieties. She accepted and befriended everyone, occasionally remarking that someone was “interesting” or “different” while she embraced them in all their differences. For decades at the close of her life, she focused her attention on the present and ministered to those around her. Not frustrated by attempts to recall or live in the past or fearing what might lie ahead, she expressed her gratitude and appreciation to her constant caregivers and her visitors at home and elsewhere. Whatever challenges she might be facing, she endeavored to place them before herself by affirming who they were and what they were doing for her. Her last birthday party on August 2, 2022, was her celebration of the nursing students and other caregivers who were her daily companions, as well as their celebration of her presence in their professional and personal lives.

Lil was always grateful for the gift of living in her own home throughout her life. She had moved into her homestead at 2321 Winnebago Street in 1953 when her son Tony was 20 months old. She remained there with the support and assistance of her children, Teresa and Tony, and all her caregivers from that time until she passed away in 2022 – a period of 69 years. She was a constant bellwether of permanent values and positive feelings in a sea of change in her neighborhood, her community, and her country.

Throughout her life, Lil shared her superb baking and food preparation skills to honor and celebrate her family and friends. She took classes in cake decorating and developed her own models. For confirmations, graduations, and birthdays, she crafted hundreds of cakes sculpted into open bibles and crosses with personally lettered and inscribed with favorite bible verses and prayers, horseshoes bearing with congratulatory messages, and doll houses and rodeo scenes – among many others. Although her high level of performance made these cake decorating creations professional, she never sold her skills, instead extending them time and again to family members, friends, and their children and grandchildren. Apart from specialty cakes, she produced year-round, and gave away, thousands of homemade coffee cakes, cookies, and candies. Her constant greetings to others visiting her home were: “Help Yourself” and “Take Some Home.” During the zenith of her baking career, she began to keep a count of her creations. Her Christmas cookie totals alone often exceeded 1,000.

Lil is preceded in death by her husband William A. Tanke, and 8 brothers and 5 sisters.

Survived by her son Tony (Elizabeth) Tanke, Davis CA, Teresa Tanke (Terry Christopherson) Onalaska WI. , Step Grandsons Luke (Brooke) Christopherson, Joel Christopherson. Step grandchildren Cooper and Chloe Christopherson, and honorary granddaughters Adia and Lila Addis, and many nieces and nephews.

The family would like to acknowledge Roberta “Bobbi” Woodruff, The Winnebago St neighbors, and the 50 plus caregivers Lil had in her own home right up to her time of passing. We could have not done this without the love and support of everyone.

A special thank you to Dr. Mary Bassing and Dr. Michael Case. Memorials preferred to First Evangelical Lutheran Church or Viterbo University Nursing Program.