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June Freed Wilcox

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June Freed Wilcox Obituary
June Freed Wilcox

Memphis, TN

June Freed Wilcox died April 14, 2017, two months short of her 100th birthday. Born Dorothy June Freed, the daughter of Walter C. and Dorothy Y. Freed of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, she was always called June to avoid confusion with her mother. She completed her high school education in Williamsport, where she met the love of her life, Harry H. Wilcox. They went off to separate colleges but stayed in touch. June completed her undergraduate degree at Lock Haven State College in Pennsylvania, followed by a master's degree in Education at the Pennsylvania State University. She was an honor student throughout.

June had plenty of experience with children, having been the eldest of six children at home. She enjoyed her first year of teaching in Mount Lebanon near Pittsburgh. Meanwhile Harry completed his first two degrees at the University of Michigan. They married in 1941 and would spend the next 68 years together. They lived in Ann Arbor, MI, the first several years. Harry worked on his Ph.D. and did student teaching; June did substitute teaching and worked in the Health Service at U of Michigan. Daughter Joyce was born in Ann Arbor.

During WWII, while Harry was in the army in the Pacific, June went home with one-year-old Joyce to live with her parents in Williamsport, PA. Her three brothers, brother-in-law, and a cousin were also in service. Only her youngest brother was at home, in high school. Daughter Margaret was born there. Harry returned on Margaret's first birthday, much to the joy and relief of the entire family. All their young men survived the war.

June and Harry moved back to Ann Arbor where Harry completed his Ph.D., then to Iowa for his first job, then to Philadelphia where he taught Anatomy in the medical school. June directed Christian Education at the Church of Our Savior, and did some substitute teaching. Joyce remembers going with her mother, where she was to sit in the back of the room, do the assigned work with the other children, and call her mother Mrs. Wilcox. Margaret stayed with a neighbor newly arrived from China.

After four years in Philadelphia, they moved to Memphis, TN, in 1952, where Harry taught Anatomy at the University of Tennessee Medical Units for the next 35 years. June and Harry quickly became transplanted Memphians. They joined St. John's Episcopal Church.

Son Jim was born in Memphis in 1953. June stayed at home with Jim until he went to first grade, then went back to teaching. She taught first grade at St. Mary's 1958-60, Grahamwood Elementary, and later Lester and Locke Elementary Schools, altogether 25 years. She was an award-winning reading teacher, taught various grades at Grahamwood School, and organized child volunteers in the Safety Patrol.

One job was never enough for June. In addition to raising her children and teaching she was an active volunteer on multiple fronts. She was a Girl Scout leader and a Room Mother for at least one of the children. She taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, served on the Vestry and Altar Guild, and was active in the Episcopal Church Women (ECW). She served as President of the Memphis branch of the Association for Childhood Education International. She was a charter member of the Beta Gamma chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma International Society of Women Educators, was President 1974-76, Vice President of the state chapter 1977-79, and helped to start a chapter in Guatemala. She was active in the Faculty Wives at the University. She and Harry could always be counted on to drive the children and their friends to school events, in or out of town, and to support their many activities.

As they approached retirement, she began planning activities to keep them occupied and happy. For herself it was teaching reading to adults. For Harry it was working as a docent at the Memphis Zoo and delivering meals on wheels. All were things they could do together. The Zoo quickly became their passion. They served as docent and librarian at the Memphis Zoo for 25 years and were honored for their service. They also assisted Father Nicholas L. Vieron for ten years in his teaching of Greek to adults. June also wrote a brochure, "Description of the Murals of St. John's," and conducted guided tours of the church and its murals.

They enjoyed a bit of international travel to Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Tahiti, Central America and Europe before Harry's mobility decreased. Through his decline June managed the caregivers he needed. To keep herself busy she crocheted afghans for all her nieces and nephews and their children and grandchild as well as local friends – a total of more than 200 afghans. When she attended a caregiver support group, she discovered that she was the senior member of the group at 91. Harry passed away in 2010, at the age of 91. June was 92.

Rather than live on in her single-family house, June moved to Trezevant Manor, where she had a number of friends from teaching and from the University. "And," she told Joyce, "I still have the capacity to make new friends!" There she also met a number of retired physicians who had been Harry's students. June spent the next seven happy years at Trezevant, active in several volunteer jobs there. She assisted in the Little Store, was on the Chapel Committee, planned and conducted Tuesday night prayer services, helped to form a choir and served as its President for several years, assisted with the chapel services once a month at Allen-Morgan, resigning from that position in March 2017.

Once asked how she had kept her mind so sharp, she responded, "I guess I just took it for granted that I am expected to remember things." Every night she said a prayer for all her siblings and their children and grandchildren, listing them all by name.

As her mobility declined, she happily accepted the help of a motorized scooter so she could continue to visit friends throughout the complex. One of the first signals we had that she was needing more help was that she asked her regular bridge group to find a substitute. For the next three weeks her mind continued sharp, but her body wore out. She died peacefully, surrounded by family and friends. As she passed, as if on cue, at the end of the hallway a previously scheduled Hymn Sing began, with all her favorite tunes, a fitting recessional for her.

She is survived by her three children: Joyce Wilcox Graff of Brookline, MA; Margaret Wilcox Smith (Grayson) of Cordova, TN; and James H. Wilcox (Sedenia) of Moscow, TN; 8 grandchildren; and 17 great-grandchildren. The eldest of six children, she is the last to go. Her nieces and nephews and their children – 120 and growing -- remain in close contact, and continue to be cherished.

Throughout her life she taught more than 2000 children. As her husband had done, she donated her body to the University to teach one final class.

A memorial service will be held in the St. Edward Chapel at Trezevant Manor beginning at 1 pm on Saturday, June 10, 2017, followed by a Birthday Party at 2 pm to celebrate her Centennial in the main lobby at Trezevant.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to the Trezevant Foundation, 177 North Highland Street, Memphis TN 38111 or to the VHL Allliance for Cancer Research, 1208 VFW Parkway, Suite 303, Boston, MA 02132-4344
Published in The Commercial Appeal on Apr. 23, 2017
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