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Shirley Mae Conway died peacefully, surrounded family and care givers, on Tuesday August 23, at the age of 91, in the home she shared with her daughter Julie in Santa Cruz, California.
Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 1, at the Church of St. Mary in Willmar. Interment will be in the church cemetery. Visitation will be from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, September 30, at Peterson Brothers Funeral Home and will also continue for one hour prior to the service at the church. In lieu of flowers memorials are encouraged to the family in honor of Shirley to the Barn Theater, the Willmar Food Bank, or Hospice of Santa Cruz County. Arrangements are entrusted to the Peterson Brothers Funeral Home. www.petersonbrothers.com
Shirley Mae (Struck) Conway was born on a farm outside of Victor, South Dakota on May 24, 1931, the fifth of ten children born to her parents, Ortwin and Hazel (Leen) Struck. Shirley delighted in being part of a large close family and was a key instigator of a lifetime of gatherings requiring careful planning, occasional costumes, and high hilarity.
In 1950, Shirley went to Willmar, Minnesota, to answer a call for nurses, a period marked by hard work and the start of many life-long friendships, the forging of which is one of the accomplishments of her life. She loved fun — fishing and dancing and parties and getting dressed up. She loved her friends deeply.
Not long after she started nursing, Shirley was introduced to James Walter Conway (Jim), a Willmar native. Jim and Shirley married in 1955, settled in Willmar and raised four children: Dan, Julie, Steve and John.
Jim’s family and wide network of friends added to Shirley’s growing community of lifelong friends who raised their children in a tight community who stuck together through brilliant highs and some devastating lows. They supported each other through every challenge— and held a fundraiser to pay for whatever was needed. They helped each other out with the weddings, the showers, and the occasional crisis in the middle of the night.
Shirley was an engaged mother who supported her kids in their varied interests including music, theater, sports, camping and travel. Shirley welcomed kids to her home, and she maintained relationships with many of her children’s friends right to the very end.
Shirley loved being a nurse and continued to work as a nurse at Rice Memorial Hospital, the Willmar Clinic, later HCMC and several nursing homes and board and care facilities. In an era when it was not common for mom’s to work outside the home she made sure there was something freshly baked on the counter every day. She did enjoy sharing the grossest stories at the dinner table with a glint in her eye. She had a great sense of humor and employed it to her last days.
Shirley was active in the community; she was active in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, serving, as Girl Scout and Cub Scout leader, co-chairing the Funeral Committee, starting the Social Justice Committee and working endless hours on Fall Festivals among other involvements. She was active in the Democratic Party. She and Jim were early members, of the Willmar Hockey Association. When their son Dan died of AIDS in 1991 Shirley and Jim showed everyone what unconditional love looks like and were embraced by the whole community.
In 1981, Shirley was awarded the Eagles Humanitarian of the Year Award, and this recognition is a reflection of the leadership, compassion and generosity she offered the community over many years. She rolled up her sleeves to take on work that just needed to be done and kept at it for years. Her selfless endeavors included serving as chair of the Willmar Area Food Shelf, steering it to long term stability, she was the “Big Ham” for God’s Hams serving people who received little in-person entertainment. She and Jim started the AIDS Walk raising funds and awareness of the impact of AIDS. She served on the board of her Condo Association and organized breakfasts and exercise classes. She volunteered for Hospice, as a Reading Aide, and she worked to teach Somali women how to sew.
And Shirley played bridge. Oh did she play bridge; by her report she was playing in five clubs when she went to visit California for the winter, and she played there too, until COVID prevented even small gatherings. The importance of her Bridge Clubs can’t be overstated, she did love to play, but it was the friendships she missed.
Shirley was many things, a nurse, a friend, an active community member, most of all she was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a great grandmother. Shirley was always “there” for her children, supporting them in anyway she could; even though they moved thousands of miles away to California and Alaska. Jim and Shirley would fly or drive to both California and Alaska to be with their grandchildren, and their children, always stopping to visit relatives along the way. Shirley drove the Alaska Highway 6 times, and to California uncounted times. She was very close to her grandchildren despite the physical distance.
Shirley continued these trips after Jim passed, making numerous trips to both California and Alaska. Her last trip landed her in California for the 2019 Holiday season. She never returned to Willmar as Covid 19 and her age made traveling impossible. She missed “home”, but she lived with Julie, and across the street from John and Ashley. She was surrounded by love and never alone.
Shirley was predeceased by her husband Jim; her son, Dan; her parents; three brothers, Wallace, Donald and Orlyn; two sisters, Marlys and Dorothea, and her nephew, Brett; as well as her Conway in-laws and out-laws.
She is survived by three of her children and their families, Julie of Santa Cruz, CA, Steve (and Diane) of Anchorage, AK, and John (and Ashley) of Santa Cruz, CA.
She has five grandchildren: Julies’s son Isaac, Steve’s daughters Emily and Marlee; John’s children Lisa and James and two great grand children, Emily’s sons Donovan and Griffin. She is also survived by Julies’s step daughter Faye Perry (Bevan) and their children Cassidy and Sawyer who joined their “Grape Grandma” for every event large and small while she lived in California.
She is also survived by four of her siblings, Charles Struck, Ruthann Ulstad, Larry Struck and Ron Struck and their wonderful families.
Shirley managed to forge connections and make friends in California even during a global pandemic and, in particular, she was lovingly cared for by Ben Drury and Allison Young.
Friday, September 30, 2022
5:00 - 7:00pm (Central time)
Peterson Brothers Funeral Home
Saturday, October 1, 2022
10:00 - 11:00am (Central time)
Saturday, October 1, 2022
11:00am - 12:00pm (Central time)
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