We remember the gift of the life of Shirley Ann Kleinlein among us, we comfort and support one another as we recognize her absence, and we hope, as we absorb the good news of Christ’s resurrection, to live together in the communion of saints. “For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and to die. . . . to weep and to laugh . . . . to mourn and to dance.” [Eccles 3:1ff] This is a time for both mourning and celebrating, because of Shirley and God’s gifts to us.
“O Lord, you have searched [us] and known [us].…You formed [us]; you knit [us] together…. [We] praise you, for [we are] … wonderfully made.” [Psalm 139:1-14]
God knows all about Shirley. For Shirley, this is where it all began, in First United Methodist Church, and in Mt. Sterling, Illinois—the forming of a family, a baptism, a confession of faith and a membership in a church, a wedding, and funerals of father and mother…
Here young Shirley was well-trained in many arts and skills. She excelled in school. She played in the school band. Had lessons in twirling a baton and became the “Golden Girl,” the head majorette. The most important training though was in hospitality and accommodating others, and a perpetually positive attitude, taught by an expert, Dovie Bemis. Her father, OL, modeled a commitment to civic service and motivation to improve self and community. There was the motel, in which they all worked, and OL’s other businesses; OL became Mt Sterling mayor and enlisted the help of everyone who cared, reviving and renewing Mt. Sterling’s downtown and community pride.
“What do people get from all the toil and strain with which [we] toil under the sun?” [Ecclesiastes asks,]. “Is this just vanity?” [Eccles 2:22-23] . . . What gain have workers from their toil? …. [In] the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. . . there is nothing better for [us] than to be happy and enjoy [our]selves as long as [we] live; …it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all that [we] do. . . .” [Eccles 3:1-13]. So how did Shirley live and enjoy her life?
Shirley Bemis was already virtually a member of the Kleinlein family when I first entered…1967, Shirley had just graduated from Brown County High School before my first visit that summer. She was going to St John School of Nursing in Springfield to become a nurse. Though they were both born in December, 1949, a few days apart, Shirley had gotten a year head start in school; Bruce’s senior year still lay ahead. She and Bruce had dated in high school and then not dated, and then dated again. They were sweethearts, and sweethearts they remained these fifty years since.
I soon learned from Bruce that Shirley was not just a proper noun, but also a single word affirmation, and an adverbial answer to most questions, and sometimes all three at once. For example—do we honor someone today who is exceptionally capable, gracious, intelligent, determined, and beautiful? Surely we do. Surely Shirley qualifies in all of these qualities. Are we confident that Shirley’s faith and love find a “home prepared for her” in heaven? Surely. Surely we can treasure that promise for Shirley if we can for anyone.
We were walking along the streets of Mt Sterling on a lovely summer evening in 1968, planning our futures…plans that would be fulfilled. What lay ahead? Bruce was entering college at ISU in the fall; Shirley expected to graduate from St. John’s in two more years, in 1970. They would marry then, in 1970 (here at this church, I would assist in the service). Shirley would qualify as an RN and go to work. They would find an apartment at Towanda, and conceive their first son, Bryan. In 1972, Bruce would finish college at ISU with a degree in business and accounting, and then Bruce would find a full-time job.
There at Towanda Jan and I brought our sickly little baby, Alicia, among many times to follow, when Shirley would be our family advisor on matters of health. Years later, we would often stop at Bruce and Shirley’s place at the beginning of our vacations, only to find that one or another of us was coming down with something—stomach ailment, ear infection, sore throat. We credit Shirley with saving several vacations.
Bruce’s first employer after college was Arthur Anderson Accounting in Chicago, and they found a place to live in Bolingbrook, a new house in a new subdivision. Shirley found a nursing job quickly as usual. And there they continued for several years, bringing their second son, Brannon, into the world. They made new friends and kept old ones.
Being an accountant with Arthur Anderson was consuming and frustrating for Bruce, juggling numbers and little time to make music. They looked for a new job for Bruce, away from the city and long commutes, and a new place to live to go with it. It took a while to sell the house; Shirley laughed at the idea of burying a St Joseph statue upside down in the back yard at Bolingbrook [which was the advice from several neighbors]. But finally one night they slipped out and did just that, and then the house sold right away—one of the stranger exercises of faith we have witnessed. The job that had opened for Bruce was at an accounting firm in LaSalle.
They found a new house at LaSalle with another family room to finish as they also did at their first house, and they added much more to their house through the years they lived there. Shirley continued to work as a nurse at a pediatrician’s office for many years then another doctor. Meanwhile Bruce became Controller at Illinois Fruit and Produce at Streator, later becoming Manager during mergers and buy-outs by Sarah Lee, Monarch, and other companies.
Dropping in on Shirley and Bruce, we always found that she was ready to offer hospitality. She brought out food for a meal together. And she fixed slushies! (She was preparing slushies at Mother’s little house on North Capitol when she forgot to secure the lid on the blender—we got to hear a rare outburst of frustration from Shirley, “Well, _hit the bed, Fred” [Not exactly that, but something close.].
All of the other slushies were more successful. We were frequent visitors at their house between 1980 and 1988 when we lived just 30 miles away, dropping in on Sunday afternoons. Often Bruce and Shirley had just entertained, or were preparing to entertain other friends or business associates. While working, and organizing and supporting all the family operations for husband and those two pre-teen sons, Shirley completed her full bachelor’s degree in nursing at Bradley University in 1984. Four years later she took on an important public health role as Director of Nursing for the LaSalle County Health Department, which she served for twelve years.
“A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels, the heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not harm, all the days of her life. . . . she works with willing hands. . . . she provides food for her household. . . . [she sees to it] that her business is prosperous. . . . Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband, too, as he praises her….” [Proverbs 31:10-28]
Magnificence is a virtue according to Aristotle—a concept that I found hard to grasp until I thought of Shirley. She expanded the space in which she lived—so that she made room for other people as well as herself, making people comfortable. She was generous always and she took care in her personal appearance, to look good (helped by a natural beauty that could make old work clothes look fine…). She approached Aristotle’s golden mean of magnificence— not too little by penny-pinching and not too much as a spendthrift; not too little by being petty and not too much, which would be self-important; not too little being meager and not too much, which would be grandiose—approaching the goal of virtue which is somewhere between too little and too much, which is called magnificence, according to Aristotle. Shirley was surely magnificent.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is in me, bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord, and forget not all God’s benefits.” [Psalm 103:1-2] We do not forget all of the benefits that Shirley brought to people around her.
Tired of constant mergers, Bruce opened their own business—Klein Specialty Foods. It was a store and a restaurant, and Shirley had a hand in all of it. We can still see her, filling and decorating the scores of holiday food baskets for every special season that were sold at the store. At the same time, remember, she continued her full-time work at the County Health Department.
As Brannon had gone to college and made his home at Phoenix in Arizona, Bruce and Shirley decided to leave cold weather behind, and join him, and Bryan soon followed, keeping the family together. Bruce and Shirley made their home in The Islands at Gilbert, next to Phoenix, where they’ve continued to live and make many friends.
This opened a special new opportunity for Shirley, to complete a Master’s degree in nursing, and to work as Clinical Assistant Professor of Nursing at Arizona State University, a position she held from 2001 until last year, over fifteen years. All of her nursing experience became available to her students, and she was able to guide many students through hands-on, practical experiences that tested their readiness and practiced their skills. She trained her students to serve the needs of the poor, the homeless, the immigrant, the elderly, everyone in need. We cannot imagine a better-suited role for her nor a better opportunity for those nursing candidates, and the tributes of many students and co-workers confirm this, as well as last week’s “Outstanding Nurse Educator Award,” for which Shirley was nominated in April and awarded to her by the Arizona Nurses Association.
During these years in Gilbert, Shirley got to care for and enjoy her mother, and especially enjoyed her two delightful grand-daughters, Anya and Phoebe, compensating quite well for the quite different task of raising two boys. She passed along some Dovie-ness to her grand-daughters.
The quality of a life is not measured in a certain number of years, but by its fullness and its accomplishments. “All our days pass away under your [will], O Lord. . . . The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then . . . they are soon gone. . . . So teach us to [fill our days well] that we may gain a wise heart.” [Psalm 90:9-10] We expected that Shirley would enjoy a long life like her mother’s. Instead it was more like her father’s. O.L.’s suffering and dying at age 62 were brief and catastrophic, and Shirley’s experience with declining health stretched out nearly four years with reasons to hope for a different outcome.
So we prayed for her, something like Psalm 109 prays, “O Lord, my Lord, act on [our] behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver [Shirley] . For [we are afraid to be] poor and needy [without her], and [our] heart[s are] pierced within [us]. [We are] gone like a shadow at evening . . . . [Our] knees are weak…; [our Shirley’s] body has become gaunt….Help [us], O Lord, [our] God! Save[us] according to your steadfast love. Let [people] know that this is your hand [doing the healing], that you, O Lord, have [healed her].” [Psalm 109:21-27] So we prayed, as much for ourselves as for Shirley.
We remember, as Jesus said, that God “makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” [Matthew 5:45].” We recall that it is not because a person sins or because the parents sin, that one is born blind [or another has some other defect or sickness], but in order to reveal the works of God. “We must do the work of God while it is day, because night is coming [as John 9:3-4]. The work of God is surely healing, and Shirley was involved in healing her whole adult life. The glory of God is a person fully alive, St Irenaeus said, and, if anyone has been fully alive among us, it is surely Shirley.
Everything about Shirley was beautiful, except perhaps her voice, which often sounded like she had come from a high school pep rally. Still it was a beautiful because it was Shirley’s, and because of what she said with it. Her voice was so unique that we can still hear her, as she might sing with Psalm 139, “In your book [O God] were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. . . .I come to the end—I am still with you, [O Lord, my God].” [Psalm 139:16-18]`
And we can hear Psalm 116 speak on behalf of Shirley: “The snares of death encompassed me. . . I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I pray, save my life!’ Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. . . . Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I walk before the Lord in the land of the living” [Psalms 116:3-9]. Shirley surely walks in the land of the living, the land of resurrected life.
“If there is no resurrection [Paul wrote] … our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. . . .If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. . . . But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. . . .Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. . . in the Lord your labor has not been in vain” [1 Corinthians 15:13ff].
So we say with Hosea, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; whose appearing is as sure as the dawn….” [Hosea 6:1-3]