A devoted mother and grandmother, a master gardener, and a generous gift-giver, Shirlee O'Keefe died in her home of natural causes, on Friday, January 18, 2013. She was 77.
A funeral will be held Monday at Boston Funeral Home in Stevens Point. Visitation will be 4-6 p.m., followed by a celebration of her life, beginning at 6, at the funeral home. Burial will be Tuesday at 8 a.m. at St Mary's Catholic Cemetery, in Custer, next to her husband, Maurice, in the same cemetery where generations of O'Keefes have been laid to rest.
She is survived by two sons, Mark and Peter O'Keefe, four grandchildren - Timothy O'Keefe, Kenan O'Keefe, Connor O'Keefe and Katie O'Keefe - and three siblings, Chester Smith, James Smith and Catherine Smith.
Shirlee was born on March 27, 1935, in Stevens Point, the daughter of Clarence Smith and Susan Golla. She graduated from St. Joseph's Academy, later renamed Maria High School, in 1953. That same year she was named the school's "Miss Academy," the school's highest student honor. According to an article about her coronation in the Stevens Point Journal, "high scholastic rating, high personality traits, teacher vote and student popularity all are considered in making the choice."
Shirlee attended and graduated from Cardinal Stritch College in Milwaukee. An art major at the all-girls school, Shirlee was instructed and highly influenced by Sister M. Thomasita Fessler, a celebrated artist, who showed Shirlee how to create religious paintings, sculptures and murals, which Shirlee later displayed in her home.
Shirlee married Maurice, also from Stevens Point, in 1959, and resided in Hartford until they moved their family to a home in the Village of Whiting, part of Stevens Point, in 1965. The couple had two children, Mark, now owner of Assist Communications, an Internet marketing company in Washington, D.C., and Peter, Donations Manager for Habitat for Humanity in Minneapolis.
As a child, Shirlee picked green beans to earn money during the summer and was determined to pass on a similar agricultural experience to her two sons. For two consecutive years, she rented three-fourths of an acre from a farmer in the Town of Stockton, who planted row after row for her sons. It was their responsibility to pick the cucumbers, which involved straddling a row, bending over the leafy plants, and finding the prickly cucumbers with one's fingertips so they could be picked and put into burlap bags.
The experience motivated Mark and Peter to seek desk jobs.
To her credit, Shirlee accompanied her sons each day to assist with the picking and prevent what she called "shenanigans" between the teenage boys and their friends, who were hired by the brothers to help keep up with the demands of the large patch.
This strong work ethic served Shirlee well in several jobs. She was employed as an art teacher in Hartford, Wisconsin; and later as a part-time teacher's aid at McDill Elementary School, in Whiting, where her sons attended. She also served as an agricultural census taker for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. In that position, she drove around central Wisconsin in her red Barracuda and knocked on farmers' doors to ask them questions about their crops.
Shirlee worked for more than a decade as a full-time administrative aid for the Portage County Health & Human Services Department, before retiring in 1997, after her husband's death. In retirement, she lived contentedly alone, devoting herself to gardening a large backyard. She took instructional courses to become a master gardener.
She considered her family the greatest fruit of her labor. Shirlee prided herself on never forgetting to send a generous gift and a card by mail well in advance of birthdays, with packages sometimes arriving weeks in advance.
Online condolences may be made at www.bostonfuneralhome.net.
Published in Stevens Point Journal on Jan. 21, 2013
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