Shirley Lea Gillespie passed away peacefully on September 4th 2022, at her home in Linwood Township, with her family by her side. Quite ironic, because her life was anything but peaceful and having family around her wasn’t always a comfort. But she could count on her children to be there for her, because to them, she was the finest person they knew.
Shirley was born July 13th, 1934, to Frederick and Nettie (Maybohm) Neumann in Preston, Iowa. She was raised in the quiet little farm town not far from the banks of the Mississippi River where she spent weekends at her uncles’ cabin and enjoyed her time with family and friends. Shirley graduated from Preston High School in 1952 and that summer married Gerald Kling on her 18th birthday. Tragically, she became a widow in the winter of 1954, leaving her with an infant son and another son on the way. She married Eugene Gillespie in February 1955 and added 5 more children to their family. With her husband Gene, Shirley moved their family to a small farm outside Chisago City in the late 1950’s and on to Martin Lake in 1963, where she raised their children with love and laughter amongst the chaos, nurtured their strong spirits, refereed arguing as if it were a sport, practiced tough love and never missed an opportunity for a teachable moment. In other words, she was the best mother a child could have. Always present, always in their corner, Shirley made it her life mission to be there for her family. She strived to bring happiness and beauty to everything she did. She was an accomplished cook and baker, worked diligently to keep her house in order and her yard beautiful, she loved growing flowers, enjoyed reading a good paperback and coffee; always a cup of coffee in front of her. She had an eye for decorating and took pride in making her rooms cozy and her house a home. If there was something she didn’t like, she’d grab a hammer and get to work remodeling or rebuilding until it met her standards. Unselfish, compassionate, and thoughtful, she set the bar high on the decency scale.
Shirley drove school bus for several years, keeping the kids in line, correcting actions in ways that surely left memorable impressions on many. She helped open a teen center so neighborhood kids could have a place to hang out, opened an ice cream shop to serve the lakeside community and later brought her culinary skills to the kitchen in a small restaurant with her daughter and son-in-law. She enjoyed playing cards, occasionally “sandbagging” her opponent or losing graciously in cribbage to her son and grandsons. She valiantly gave the internet a whirl and learned to navigate Google, kept up with friends and relatives on social media and lost a hand or two to online card games. Shirley was fortunate to travel with her family, visited most of the 50 states including Alaska and Hawaii, traveled through Europe, enjoyed the scenic beauty of Yellowstone, rode horses in Teddy Roosevelt National Park, played the slots in Vegas, experienced the wonder of Niagara Falls, the sandy keys of Florida, the glorious peaks of the Rockies and the quiet beauty of the Badlands.
To say she loved her grandchildren is an understatement, she had more time later in life to become a huge presence in the lives for many of them. She never missed an opportunity to send a birthday card, acknowledge accomplishments, be available to lend a hand, cheerlead when necessary or listen to a family member who needed an ear. She gave her family her time and attention tirelessly, putting her needs aside so that someone else could benefit from her help. Shirley left an indelible impression on those who knew her and although she will be missed by many, she will be carried in their hearts indefinitely.
Shirley is survived by her children Jeff (Denise) Gillespie, Jerry Gillespie, Susie (Bob) Carlisle, Laurie (Bo) Olson, Ben (Michelle) Gillespie, Melody (Steve) Regenwether, 15 grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren and 11 great-great grandchildren. Shirley is preceded in death by her husband Gene, son Willie, grandson Michael, her parents, siblings Marjorie, Cleo, Nancy, Frederick and Darryl. A Private Memorial Service will be held on September 11th, at Linwood Township Cemetery. Special thank you to Accent Care Fairview Hospice and their wonderful nursing staff.
Everyone who remembers her is asked to celebrate Shirley’s life in their own way, enjoying a good cup of coffee, baking something delicious, planting flowers, or spending time with your family in her memory would be quite appropriate.