Cover photo for Viola R. Shelly's Obituary
Viola R. Shelly Profile Photo

Viola R. Shelly

d. September 20, 2014

Viola Rose (Lehman) Shelly, homemaker, teacher, and church worker, died Saturday, September 20, 2014, at Schowalter Villa, at the age of 97.

She was born Nov. 13, 1916 to William and Caroline (Flueckiger) Lehman of Berne, Indiana. She grew up on the family farm near Berne, the fourth of seven children. As an adult she helped on the farm, worked for a time for a clothing manufacturer, then with the encouragement of people who noticed her gifts in working with children, she attended Goshen (Ind.) College to become a schoolteacher. After graduation, she taught elementary school at Geneva, Ind., for several years. During this time she spent several of her summers in church related volunteer work in such places as Gulfport, Mississippi, Washington, D.C., and Colombia, South America. It was during her time of school teaching that she met her husband, Andrew R. Shelly, who was soliciting gifts for Mennonite Biblical Seminary, but had also been told by friends to be sure to see an eligible Indiana schoolteacher he might like to get to know better. She married Andrew on June 28, 1952, at First Mennonite Church, Berne. They made their first home together at Chicago, Ill, where she was a substitute elementary school teacher until giving birth to their two children, David and Linda. After six years in Chicago, the family moved to Elkhart, Ind., with the seminary, then a year later to Newton, Kan., when Andrew took up duties as executive secretary of the then Board of Missions of the General Conference Mennonite Church. For several decades she was active in children’s ministries in the church and community, serving frequently in congregations as a Sunday school teacher and in other roles with young children; as a teacher and superintendent for Newton’s Released Time Bible School, and as superintendent for many years of Vacation Bible School at First Mennonite Church. Nothing brought her more joy than interacting with her “little ones,” and the joy was mutual. Other favorite activities included sewing, taking care of her flowers and yard and reading. She collaborated with Andrew in a section of a book entitled How to Live Well and Give Liberally, illustrating ideas of stewardship of resources that were a hallmark of her values. When Andrew took on pastorates at other Kansas churches – Hopefield Mennonite of Moundridge and Emmaus Mennonite of Whitewater – she took on roles in children’s ministries, as well as accompanying him on thousands of visits to members and nursing homes. She also accompanied him on several international mission-related trips, beginning in 1954-55 with a trip around the world to visit Mennonite mission interests; to a series of visits in Asia and Latin America with Haggai Institute; and visits to their daughter Linda in Mennonite Central Committee service assignments in Bolivia and Honduras. In Andrew’s later years he became a paraplegic and then bedfast after an automobile accident, and she lovingly cared for him for almost ten years until his death in 2001. He would often say, “Why would I complain? I spend all my time with the most wonderful woman in the world!” After his passing, she remained active in church and Sunday school until the time came to move to Schowalter Villa in 2011. Even in the latter stages of her life she would offer a warm smile, a thoughtful word, a moment of humorous insight as she was able. She enjoyed the flowers in the patio and the arboretum. She is survived by two children; David, a Spanish teacher at Wichita High School East; and Linda, Latin America director for Mennonite Mission Network, and many nieces, nephews and friends. In addition to her husband, she was preceded in death by her four brothers: Willis, Carl, Dennis and Weldon Lehman; and two sisters, Mary Ann Lehman and Louise Stamm. The following plans have been made:

  • Thursday, Sept. 25; visitation 5:00 – 9:00 (with family from 6:00 – 7:30) at the Petersen Funeral Home
  • Friday, Sept. 26; burial at 2:00 p.m. at Greenwood Cemetery
  • Monday, Sept. 29; memorial service at 4:00 at First Mennonite Church with light supper and fellowship to follow

Memorials can be designated for Mennonite Mission Network or First Mennonite Church Short-term Missions fund and given via Petersen’s Funeral Home or First Mennonite Church.


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