Obituary: June Herrell
September 3, 1931 to December 3, 2020
June Herrell (everyone’s Nana) passed peacefully away at home surrounded by her loving family on December 3, 2020. June was a woman of considerable Christian faith and she faced death with her customary grace and humor. When we told her that she could not win this fight and she was spiraling down quickly, she just smiled. “I’m not going down, I’m rising up to see Tom and Tommy in heaven (husband and son).”
June wrote a short autobiography for her PEO club (a women’s philanthropic education organization) in 1999. We will quote her directly throughout this celebration of a life well lived.
From her autobiography: Life is not a statistic. Life is a series of experiences from which we gain knowledge, experiences that teach us lessons.
My mother came from hard-shelled Baptist stock – her aunts bragged that lips that touched liquor would never touch theirs. Most of them never married. My father was a beer drinking Lutheran but was not allowed to drink at home. When I was four years old he started taking me to his neighborhood tavern where he would sit me on the bar and have me sing. Per my mother’s instructions I would sing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ to convert the patrons. Lesson: There are many paths to heaven.
My father was originally a street vendor hawking vegetables and fruits in St. Louis, Missouri, and would sit me between the potatoes and cantaloupes as he made his rounds. He was an ingenious businessman and quickly parlayed that into the first supermarket in St. Louis county. By the time I started school we moved to a large house in the country with stables, horses, and a maid that liked my brother but didn’t like me.
June would not tell you, but she won numerous trick riding trophies as a young girl and was an accomplished rider, English and Western, for her entire life. June actually hated being honored or recognized for her accomplishments in any shape or form because she always thought she could have done more. Her innate kindness was a completely altruistic expression of her character and faith.
My dad kept expanding the store and then invested in a potato chip factory with a man that turned out to be a crook. Within a year Dad lost nearly everything, the big house was sold and we moved into the stable-keeper’s house. I recall this period as one of the happiest in my young life. For the first time Mom was home with us and even made me a dress for a school play out of one of her gowns that she had worn to charity balls. Lesson: Happiness is not determined by money.
Eventually, June’s father turned the now empty store into a down payment on a summer resort in the Ozarks. June was the oldest of four children and bore much of the responsibility for raising her siblings when her father was drafted for WWII. The family ran the resort in his absence for three years and June ran the kitchen and serving areas unpaid – she was family and had to “do her part.” She continued working at the resort all through high school and in the summers when she was in college, for only a share of tips. To her dying day June was a very strong tipper, and passed that on to her children and grandchildren as a life lesson.
Dad believed that no man in his right mind would marry an educated woman and thus my plan to attend college became a battle. He insisted that I work for a year first in the hope that I would change my mind, and then reluctantly helped pay my expenses when I didn’t. In my sophomore year I became pinned to a man from New York – the ultimate sin – and Dad withdrew his support. That relationship ended and so did my education – for a while. It was during that interim when I was working full time again that I met Tom in a night school class at Washington University in St. Louis. Tom was a marine veteran taking college courses on the GI bill. Lesson: Setbacks can bring special blessings. Tom was the greatest blessing of my life.
With Tom’s help, a little assistance from my folks, and several part time jobs, I was able to return to Valparaiso University and graduate. After graduation Tom and I married and moved to Louisville, Kentucky as Tom wanted to attend the University of Louisville which had an excellent intern program for prospective CPAs. Lesson: Persistence pays.
June lived with Tom in Louisville for eight years and had three children along the way, Tommy, Bobby, and Debbie. She worked as a personal assistant on the Louisville Courier-Journal and became a lifelong grammar-Nazi before using her bachelor’s in psychology as a social worker for the City of Louisville. By this time Tom was a CPA working for the IRS and requested a transfer to Florida to be near June’s family who had retired to St. Petersburg.
June returned to college while working full-time as a teacher, obtaining her master’s degree in psychology, and raising three children. She would race home after school, get dinner on the table (5:30 sharp!), ask about our days, grab her books and speed an hour away to Tampa for her graduate studies. (June didn’t believe in wasting time driving – she was an extremely fast driver well into her eighties, with a large collection of business cards from the GSPD that served as “warnings.”) It was not a prototypical life for a mother in the sixties; every other mother on the street was a stay-at-home Mom that played poker all day and ate bon-bons (literally). As children we didn’t understand how strange the neighbors thought our parents were until we overheard some gossip at the afternoon poker game. The usual four ladies were playing poker, drinking, smoking, and gossiping about the neighbors as we kids were running around the house. One of the ladies remarked in our hearing, dead serious, “Why does June think she needs to go back to school? She’s already GOT a man.” When we related this to our parents, they both howled with laughter and then explained that Mom wanted a career of her own and education was a lifelong pursuit.
June went on to enjoy an extremely successful career in guidance counseling, was Counselor of the Year for the state of Florida and had her pick of jobs across the state. Tom was transferred to Ft. Myers, Florida and June was hand-picked by Estero High to head the guidance department of a brand-new target school.
During our early fifties, Tom and I experienced one of the happiest periods of our lives. The children were grown and self-supporting and we were both content in our jobs. We spent every school vacation travelling – around the country, around the continent, around the world. We loved each other’s company and at night we would giggle and plan adventures and realize how blessed we were. Lesson: Recognize and enjoy God’s blessings to the fullest each day.
The following decade would see the deaths of June’s beloved son Tommy, and husband Tom, the love of her life. She called those “the tough years.”
Through it all, God has taught me many lessons. Never take your life for granted. Be grateful for today’s blessings today. Never assume that someone you meet is problem-free. That big smile may cover a face that is straining to mask pain.
In 2001 June moved to Glenwood Springs to be near her grandchildren and started the “Nana” years. With the family in mind, she bought the “Big Yellow House” (now blue) on Midland Avenue with Bobby and George (adopted son) and founded what is now known as “The Herrell Family Compound.” She was surprised when her friends thought buying a fixer-upper at her age was too large an undertaking. She commented in rebuttal, “I’m 76, not dead!” On her 80th birthday June went parasailing because she had always feared heights and “I need to just get over it.” When she was 84, she tried to learn to ride an adult tricycle on a rails-to-trails bike path because she didn’t trust her balance on a bicycle. She ended up rolling down a 20-foot embankment and landing on some rocks. Back on the bike trail, battered, bloody, and bruised, she was angry because, “I should at least be able to finish a 15-mile bike trip!”
June was the most empathetic person any of us have ever met. She instinctively felt someone else’s pain or discomfort and immediately moved to assuage it. She spent her life in service to others, from membership in church groups, volunteering at Valley View, and maybe the most important, her lifelong goal to try to perform “little acts of kindness every day.” June was particularly proud of her membership in PEO and the wonderful friendships she made. The sheer volume of birthday, anniversary, get-well, Easter, and “just because” cards that she made on her computer would fill a warehouse. She mailed these hand-made cards to PEO members, Helping Hands (her church group), friends, relatives, and pretty much anyone for whom she had an address. “Making others happy is the surest way to make yourself happy.”
June loved to travel, and vacations were long discussed, meticulously planned, and poorly executed. She traveled the world on individual trips with each child and grandchild to “Make special memories together.”
Her grandchildren, Courtney and Luke, were the joys of her life. Her children, Bob, Deborah, and adopted son George were more-or-less tolerated. OK, her love was unconditional. ALWAYS.
The kids and grandkids will never forget their favorite quotes from this loving, generous, caring woman – who was also a sarcastic, humorous, no-nonsense, complicated, REAL human being…
On raising children:
“No blood, no tears!”
“The more you whine, the less you get.”
“I must, I must, Improve my bust!”
“Use it or lose it, honey!” tr
On travel: avel:
“We can’t be lost, there’s the Acropolis.”
“We can’t be lost, there’s the Eiffel Tower.”
“Do you think that SWAT team speaks English?”
“I’m so glad we talked to that motorcycle gang at breakfast. They seemed nice.”
“Just boost me through the window. I’m sure it’s our condo.”
“How can we be lost? We don’t know where we’re going.”
“Love everyone. Period.”
“Do everything in your power first, THEN let go and let God.”
“Man plans, God laughs.”
“If there is something wrong in your life, look in the mirror and fix what you see.”
“Your life is the result of your OWN choices.”
“Don’t SHOULD on yourself.”
“YOU make the choice every single day whether to be happy or sad.”
Thank you, Mom and Nana, for all the happiness.
“Good, Good, Good!”
The family will announce a Celebration of Life in the spring, June’s favorite time of year.
In lieu of flowers or donations, please take your loved ones out to a nice dinner and leave a large tip!
The Herrell family wishes to thank everyone for their love and support.
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