Lavona Fern Shelley

Shelley, Lavona Fern
88, passed away into God's loving arms on November 12, 2013, in Mesa, Arizona. Lavona was born to Suzanne Lezeth and Justice Bennett on September 23, 1925, in Columbia City, Indiana. She was preceded in death by her husband Jim Shelley, first born son James E. Jr., daughter Terri, parents, brothers Garland and Jim Bennett, and sister Rosalie Steller. Survivors include her children: Cheryl, James A. Jr., John (Shawna), Joseph (Julie), Robert (Jackie); her grandchildren: Brittnye, Kevin, James John, John II, and Steven; her older brother Charlie (Vesta) and their extended family; and her sister Phyllis Beck and her family. Lavona graduated from South Whitley Grammar School in 1935 then South Whitley High School in 1943. After high school, she worked for a short time at Bendix Aviation in South Bend, Indiana. While visiting her aunt in Mishawaka, Indiana, Lavona met James E. Shelley, the nephew of a neighbor; he was home on leave from the United States Army Air Corp. After a short courtship, they were married by a Methodist minister on November 14, 1943, in Boise, Idaho. After she converted to Catholicism, Lavona and Jim were married in the Catholic Church on December 14, 1943. They suffered the heartbreaking loss of their first son, James E., at birth. Like many of the "Greatest Generation" who faced tragedies, Lavona and Jim were determined to carry on. Lavona worked at the Westward Ho Hotel until Jim was shipped overseas; then, she returned to Indiana. Upon his discharge, Jim attended St. Joseph College in Rensselaer, Indiana, his hometown. In 1949, the couple moved to Mesa, Arizona, and settled in Tempe shortly thereafter. Jim attended and graduated from Arizona State Teacher's College. After Jim was a school teacher for a year, they both decided to go into business for themselves. Strong believers in the free enterprise system, they began their lifelong career as small business owners in Downtown Tempe. Jim worked in a furniture store until they opened Shelley's Market, a grocery store, on First Street; then, they moved to 409 Mill Avenue, where they remained for over 20 years. Eventually, the grocery store gave way to Shelley's Café and, eventually, they opened the Old Mill Town Café a few doors down at 405 S. Mill Avenue. Over the years, Lavona and Jim's six children were born, and the family lived in an apartment behind and above the original store on Mill Avenue. They were members of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, and all but one of their children graduated from its school. Throughout the years, Lavona and Jim worked together to open and maintain successful small businesses. With Lavona's support, and the aid of their young children, they "walked the precinct" and helped Jim win a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives, where he served for eight years. During those years when Jim attended the legislative sessions in Phoenix, Lavona and their children kept the businesses running. In the late 1970's, as a result of the City of Tempe's Downtown Redevelopment Program, Imminent Domain was used to force the takeover of Lavona and Jim's properties on Mill Avenue. After a small settlement was reached, they relocated to Yarnell, Arizona, where they intended to "retire". They purchased a small, eight room motel (The Sue San Motel) which included a small home for Lavona, Jim, and their youngest two children. They renamed the hotel the Hillcrest Inn and Lavona ran this business, along with a Greyhound bus stop that she managed out of the hotel's office. They also purchased a barber shop and residence and converted into a hardware store which Jim ran and in which their two oldest sons continue to work - Yarnell Hardware. Lavona Shelley loved her children; they were the focus of her life. Together with Jim, they raised six hard working, honest, adults whose careers were influenced by their parents' Mid Western work ethic and belief in helping others: an RN, a Mesa PD Commander, business owners, a teacher, and the Court Improvement Program Manager for the Arizona Supreme Court. Lavona's grit, determination, and self-less love during the rough times set an example for her children to emulate. Their mother was the glue that held the family together. "You can do anything you set your mind to" was her mantra. Lavona believed in her children and gave them unconditional love, which they returned to her. When Lavona and Jim finally sold the hardware business to Jim Jr. and retired, they traveled Arizona to see the beauty of this great state. Unfortunately, tragedy struck when Jim was diagnosed with ALS in 1994; thus ended the excursions they both loved. Terri, a registered nurse, moved them to Mesa to live with her. Lavona and Terri were Jim's caregivers until his death in 1995. Both Lavona and Terri loved to travel, so among their trips were two cruises to Alaska and a tour of the East Coast, including New York City. During their final trip to Indiana, Terri, who had had crohn's disease in the past, became gravely ill; she succumbed to its effects on June 2, 2000. Having lost two children and her husband, people might think Lavona would be emotionally distraught or bitter. However, this strong woman refused to be defeated by self-pity or anger. Instead, she embraced life and focused her attention on her grandchildren. In Yarnell, Lavona's grandson John II, John and Shawna's son, spent many hours with her. She helped him with his studies of the Catholic Church that led to his baptism and communion in the Church. In the Valley, Lavona attended Brittnye's, Kevin's, and JJ's (Rob and Jackie's children) school concerts or activities. Of course, she also babysat them when they were young. When Steven was born, Lavona loved to "spoil" him too; she cherished him and his individuality. There is something else that is very special about Lavona: she was very proud to have been a part of her family's lives and to be a part of the American Dream. She took pride in her family's accomplishments and their moral fiber. She was proud of her children who became independent, hard-working, kind, loving individuals who stood up for what they believed in and became successful, each in his/her own way. She was proud of her grandchildren's uniqueness and who, like their parents, use their intellect to become better people and help others. She was especially proud of her husband Jim who, like her, grew up in a rough time, but was able to rise above, eventually becoming a State Representative who made a difference and made an honest living through hard work and a sharp mind. Lavona was humble and drew her strength from her faith as a Roman Catholic. She took to heart the lessons of her faith, approaching life and people with a kind and welcoming attitude. She was at peace when her husband and children were at peace. Eventually, when faced with the terminal diagnoses of liver and pancreatic cancers, she calmly offered, "I am 88 - I've lived a long life and am not afraid of dying." Lavona died as she lived, with a strong yet gentle spirit that lives on in her children, grandchildren, and all who were fortunate enough to call her friend. The Shelley family wishes to thank all those who cared for and loved their mother over the years especially Dr. Frank Metzger, her primary care physician; everyone she met and loved in Tempe, Mesa, and throughout the Valley; and those who were a part of her life in Yarnell. Companion Hospice provided gentle, thorough in-home care that was greatly appreciated. Visitation will be held on Thursday, November 14, 2013, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. with The Recitation of the Rosary at 7:00 p.m. at Queen of Heaven Catholic Mortuary, 1562 E. Baseline Rd., Mesa, AZ . The Mass of Christian Burial will be held at Holy Cross Catholic Church, 1244 S. Power Rd. Mesa, AZ, on Friday, November 15, 2013, beginning at 10:00 a.m. Interment will follow in Yarnell/Peeples Valley Cemetery in Yarnell, AZ at approximately 2:30 p.m. Memories and condolences may be made by visiting the online obituary guest book at Arrangements entrusted to Queen of Heaven Catholic Mortuary.


Funeral Home

Queen Of Heaven Mortuary
1562 E Baseline Rd Mesa, AZ 85204
(480) 892-3729

Published in The Arizona Republic on Nov. 14, 2013