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.
- - -
Steve Shepard

No comments: