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July 30, 1940 - January 22, 2020
Judy Lee Stephens of Kearney, Missouri, died Wednesday evening, January 22 at her home. She was born July 30, 1940, to Hilgar Lee Cunningham and Helen Gertrude (Barnard) Cunningham in Eldon, Missouri, the youngest of three girls. She was 79.
After graduating high school in 1958, Judy worked as a switchboard operator in Eldon and as a comptometer operator for Sears, Roebuck and Company in Kansas City before she married Carl Dean Stephens on July 26, 1960, in Miami, Oklahoma. Immediately after their wedding, they moved to New York, where, in May 1961, she gave birth to her first son, Mark. She recalled with amused irritation how people would calculate the months between her wedding and her son’s birth. From New York, the family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and back and forth between Los Angeles and Phoenix, where her second son, Philip, was born in August 1966. From Phoenix, they moved back to Missouri and built a house near Kearney, where she continued to raise her sons.
Judy loved to travel, especially to the ocean, to try new foods, to tell family stories, and to meet new people and visit with friends. She loved to read, and each week required a visit to the library. She loved to create: ceramics; painting— landscapes and folk—figurines; sketches. She wanted her family near her, and she wanted them well fed. Her home was never without a pie, cookies, or leftovers. Many Christmases the kitchen filled with the smell of peppermint, spearmint, and wintergreen candy being boiled to a hard crack. Many summers, the house went steamy with the odor of canned tomatoes and green beans. But maybe most of all, she loved to teach, not only her own sons and grandsons, but other children too. Each night, she read to her sons, and she was a proponent of positive reinforcement in education long before it was the norm. She coached girls’ softball, volunteered as a school nurse, and for many years taught Sunday School, directed Bible School, and led the puppet ministry program at Tryst Falls Baptist Church, a task that led her to write scripts and lessons. She had an untapped talent for story and narrative, and an oft-tapped tendency toward wit and sarcasm. Later in life, she returned to school at Maple Woods Community College and at UMKC; she earned straight A’s, graduating Phi Theta Kappa with an A.B., and enough credit hours for her B.A. After college, she worked as a substitute teacher and as an assistant for children with behavioral disorders. She understood their tendencies and their difficulties; she knew how to redirect a student with a piercing stare or a thoughtful question.
Throughout her life, she answered to more than a few names: Judy, Mom, Aunt Judy, Mamaw, and, in high school, Goose. She was feisty; she was kind. She had a cutting wit and a healing hand. On the two occasions she learned she’d be a grandma, she got up and danced. Though in her final years she endured pain and a weakened memory, she didn’t complain; she kept her humor, she maintained her wit, and she knew much love. During her last Christmas, she looked up from the supper table to her extended loved ones and said: “I’m so glad to have my family here with me.”
She is survived by her husband, Carl; her sons, Mark (Molly) and Philip (Jennie); her grandsons, Walker and Garrett; and her sister, Sue Lightfoot.
The family recommends donations to the Alzheimer’s Association: 225 N. Michigan Avenue, Fl. 17, Chicago, IL 60601 (www.alz.org).
Visitation: Tuesday, January 28, 2020, from 1-2:30 pm. The funeral will be held at 2:30 pm on Tuesday, January 28, 2020, at Hidden Valley Funeral Home of Kearney, 925 MO-92, Kearney, MO. Burial: Wednesday, January 29, 2020 Dooley Cemetery, Rocky Mount, MO.