I’ve had Shirley Westfall on my mind.
When I read her obituary in the newspaper, a stream of kindergarten memories played in my head.
You see, Miss Westfall and Mrs. Thelma Nutter (Cookie Cutter, Peanut Butter Window Shutter…) led my three children through kindergarten. And what a team they were.
Mrs. Nutter controlled her boisterous five-year-old students with a warm heart and orderly, firm instruction. Miss Westfall—ever calm, forever patient, and extremely kind—perfected the balance. Together, the two gifted countless children a positive start to formal education.
From day one, Miss Westfall’s gentle spirit eased her students’ preconceived fears. Children took refuge in the soft tenor of her voice, her unhurried movements, and her tranquil demeanor.
It was easy to see that Shirley’s love for children was genuine. When she wasn’t working in the classroom, she spent time babysitting for families. Hers was also a familiar face in the nursery at Simpson Creek Baptist Church.
My children made it through kindergarten, and they grew out of the need for childcare faster than I dreamed possible. Still, I often bumped into Shirley.
We would catch up at church functions, the local mall, or in front of bookshelves in the library. No matter where I saw her, Shirley always asked about my children by name. She chuckled softly when hearing of their latest exploits.
Over the years, I often saw her out walking. Shirley owned a car, and she drove—when necessary. But she preferred to walk year-round—always a spring in her step. Weather conditions had to be on the extreme side of terrible to keep Shirley Westfall from exercising her legs.
When I read of Shirley’s passing, I realized there was a lot I didn’t know about this woman who had shown such love and devotion to a great many children in our community. The “Ann Parks” part of Shirley Ann Parks Westfall’s name was new to me.
And oh how I wish I had known that Shirley held a Bachelor’s degree in Home Economics. Not that I didn’t already harbor respect for her. I did. But had I known about her degree, I would have sought a little guidance on a thing or two or ten.
I took Home Economics as an eighth-grader. Suffice it to say, I did not flourish in the kitchen or behind a sewing machine.
Having cared for my children in our home a few times, Shirley probably recognized my domestic shortcomings. But never, as in ever, would she have offered unsolicited advice. Instead, she probably smiled to herself, content that love would make up the difference.
I was aware of Shirley’s longtime devotion to her church and her church circle. I knew she was active with the Garden Club, a willing volunteer wherever needed, and a loyal friend.
On my first skim of her obituary, my heart grew sad, not only to read of her passing but in feeling Shirley must have been lonely. That she lived on her own for many years was no secret. But reading about her life somehow magnified that one detail.
Good thing my mind caught up with my emotions. Shirley was never alone. She was and always has been embraced by family: her church, her friends, and the many, many children in whom she invested her life.
Shirley Ann Parks Westfall was a bright humble light in the history of Bridgeport, West Virginia. I count myself lucky that my children began their schooling under her wings of protection. I am blessed to have known her.
writer, blogger, columnist