Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Born a Century Ago

Eugene Shepard with wife Maida
San Diego, 1975
Today is the 100th birthday of my father Eugene William Shepard (1921-2003). He was born exactly 100 years ago, out on the family farm in the rural community of Logan, Oklahoma, some 15 miles southeast of the county seat of Beaver, Oklahoma. He was the third child of William Shepard and Bura Davis Shepard, whose family struggled to make ends meet farming in the Oklahoma Panhandle. My father was a kind and gentle man who never thought too highly of himself. He was a devoted father of his and Maida’s 6 children and thoroughly enjoyed them as well as his 9 grandchildren, who were born between 1968 and 1993. He also had great respect for his own parents who both finished their lives living in Mom and Dad’s home. 

His first 8 years were spent on the farm in Beaver County. The family then lived for 12 years in rural Southeast Colorado where he graduated from Two Buttes High School, being one of just 7 graduates in the class of 1939. In 1940, as a lanky 19 year old, he and his family migrated from Two Buttes, Colorado to San Diego, California. It was not only a great distance geographically, but an even greater distance socially and economically from quiet, dusty Two Buttes to wartime Southern California and the burgeoning city of San Diego. 

Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower
December, 1976
Soon after arriving in San Diego, Gene met a young woman named Maida Gower. Theirs was a challenging wartime romance. Since he was in the Navy and stationed 100 miles away in Orange County, he could only visit her on the weekends. But finally his military stint ended and they were married at the El Cajon Blvd Church of Christ in the spring of 1945. Their life together began just as WWII was coming to an end. They spent the next 33 years together making a good life for themselves in San Diego and raising their 6 children. In 1978 they left the big city for small town life in Anacortes, Washington where Gene spent the last 25 years of his life. His family and his Church were the two most important loves of his life. A big reason for his and Maida's move to Washington was to support the Fidalgo Island Church of Christ.

I honor my father on this 100th anniversary of his birth. He died in 2003 at home on Wildwood Lane after a long struggle with COPD. I accept the honor of helping his memory live on. I owe him that much. He came from a wonderful set of parents, and he left a great legacy: a wife who has now outlived him by 18 years (and counting), 6 children, and 9 grandchildren, all of whom have great respect for his memory and who proudly affirm their family of origin. We his children and grandchildren continue to lift up his memory and remember with fondness the great person he was. Thanks be to God for the life of Eugene Shepard.

Phil Wilk and Beverly Russell
San Diego about 1965
I cannot remember my father Eugene Shepard without also remembering two other family members, one of whose birthday was also today, and the other whose birthday was yesterday.

Nola Shannon Gower (1903-2004). My maternal Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower was born April 28, 1903 in Mountain View, Arkansas. Her early years were spent in Arkansas until she and husband Leroy Gower moved to Oklahoma in 1925. They then settled in San Diego in 1942 and lived there until Leroy died in 1974. Grandma Gower remained in her home on Lynne Street for 23 more years until she moved to Anacortes, Washington in 1997 where she died at 101 years old in 2004. 

Beverly Russell Wilk (1939-1974). Yesterday would have been the 82nd birthday of my cousin Beverly Russell Wilk, had she not died tragically in 1974 of a brain aneurism. Beverly was a beautiful woman whose life was cut tragically short but whose family line continues through her daughter Shannon Wilk and her granddaughter Emma Wilk. Shannon and Emma live today in Atchison, Kansas. Yesterday Shannon posted on Facebook several old pictures of her mother Beverly. It was great to see these old photos and to remember those days. One of those pictures I have included in this post.
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Steve Shepard

Monday, April 26, 2021

Remembering Aunt Vicki

My aunt Vicki Gower Johnston of Chandler, Arizona died earlier this month on April 13. Vicki has been one of the great treasures of our family as one of the senior members of our clan. At 87 years old, she experienced all that life had to offer. 

Vicki (on the right) with sister Maida
and parents Nola and Leroy Gower
taken about 1942
Early Life. She was the third of the three children of my grandparents Leroy and Nola Shannon Gower. Her older siblings were Hendrix and Maida. She was the only member of our family to be born in Okemah, Oklahoma during the years the Gowers lived in that small town about an hour's drive east of Oklahoma City. Born in the fall of 1933, her first 9 years were spent in the quiet country confines of Okfuskee County, Oklahoma. In 1942 Vicki, with her sister Maida and her mother Nola made a difficult bus ride from Okemah to San Diego, California. They joined the rest of their family who earlier that year had driven to Southern California to find work during the economic boom of World War II. Vicki and her siblings were very much a part of the Gower clan that prospered during the post war years in San Diego.

Vicki was a free spirit who often resisted the status quo in her life. She married for the first time at just 17 in 1951 and had her first two children, Paula and Gloria, by husband Jerry Kerr. In her second marriage to serviceman Carl Harrell she gave birth to sons Michael and David during the time Carl was stationed in Japan. Her parents named her Melva Bernice Gower at birth, but as a young woman she legally changed her name to Victoria. It was the name she carried for the rest of her life.  

Vicki with husband Carl Harrell and children
Gloria, David, Michael and Paula in 1959
In Western Washington. After living in San Diego for over 30 years Vicki and then husband Al Perry chose to relocate to Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island in Western Washington in 1975. Vicki was the first of our extended family to move to Washington when she and Al Perry moved there. Three years later my parents Maida and Gene Shepard retired and moved from San Diego to Northwest Washington. Today at least 20 members of our Shepard and Gower families live in that area, and it all started when Al and Vicki settled in scenic Northwest Washington.

Unfortunately her husband Al died after only four years in Oak Harbor. Vicki continued to make a good life for herself in Oak Harbor for 40 years. One of the best things to happen to her there was to meet and then marry Judge Duke Johnston. After 28 years of marriage to Duke, Vicki was widowed once again when Duke passed away from cancer in 2015. Later that year Vicki moved to Chandler, Arizona to live in a care facility near her daughter Paula.

Vicki with brother Hendrix, sister Maida
and mother Nola Gower in 2004
Her Life's Journey. Vicki's life journey took her from the dusty little town of Okemah, Oklahoma to the bustling city of San Diego to Whidbey Island in Western Washington. Her final move was in 2015 to the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, where she lived comfortably until her death earlier this month.

Vicki's remarkable life was multifaceted. She suffered her share of hardship, but also enjoyed all that life offered her. It was a great sadness for her when daughter Gloria died in 2016 in Knoxville, Tennessee. One of her great joys was her granddaughter Heather Robson Cotten of Plano, Texas, and her great-granddaughters Victoria and Alexandria. 

Vicki is survived by her daughter Paula Harrell Tuzzolino of Sun Lakes, Arizona, and her sons Michael Harrell of Zionsville, Indiana, and David Harrell of Whidbey Island, Washington. Paula plans to take her mother's ashes and bury them in Oak Harbor. Our best wishes and sincere condolences are extended to Vicki's family in this time of loss. We will miss her very much.
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Steve Shepard