Shirley Jo (Humble) Ulery

December 20, 1938 - November 6, 2020
Shirley Ulery

Shirley Jo Ulery (née Humble) passed away on November 6, 2020. She was 81. Born December 20, 1938, on the old Humble farm in Cherokee County, she was the third of Joseph and Elva Esther Humble’s five children (Melvin, Marvin, Carolyn, and Phyllis).

It was on their small dairy farm she discovered her love of gardening and farm life. She recalled fondly those youthful evenings milking alongside her father and siblings while listening to KMOX—developing her lifelong love of the St. Louis Cardinals, especially players of her youth. Once, leaving a game at which she witnessed a Cardinals player hit a pair of home runs she quipped, “Musial would’ve hit three.”

She had little patience for laziness or animated cartoons. But she loved to go dancing, which is where she met Ralph Dean Ulery, Sr., a McCune farm boy. And he must have danced well enough because she married him and they had four children: Wanda Jo Pendergrass (Joe) of Cassoday; Ralph Dean Ulery, Jr. (Mary Ann) of Scammon; Waona Brennon (Mike) of Arma; and Joseph Ulery (Beth) of Asbury, MO.

But her pride and joy were her grandchildren: Shawn Jurgensen (Laura, Owen, and Lucas) of Lawrence; Randi Leithoff (Jeremy, Emma, and Lily) of Topeka; Whitney Wells (Kevin, Liberty, and Madalyn) of Girard; Toby Ulery (Bridget and Ellie) of Hutchinson; Todd Brennon of Overland Park; Chad Brennon of Arma; Cade Ulery (daughter MayLee) of Miami, OK; Riley Ulery of Weir; and Bailee Ulery of Columbia, MO. Her family was the center of her universe.

She loved attending her grandchildren’s sporting events. Much to their teenage chagrin she regularly brought along her cowbell to ensure they could hear her support. She tirelessly cheered for KU and loved attending games with her family. But her visits to Allen Fieldhouse came to an abrupt end in 2009 when—while happily watching KU rout Missouri—she realized the frenzied crowd was causing the concrete floor beneath her to shake. Afterward she vowed to never return because, “Concrete shouldn’t shake like that.”

A 1956 product of Columbus schools, she was a mathematics whiz. She always wished she could have continued her education, but she never had the opportunity. Regardless, this was always a guiding principle of her life and she steadfastly voiced that each of her children and grandchildren “get their education.” Each of them have.

Professionally, she took great pride in her 42-year career as a bus driver, making sure children arrived safely at school. She was a source of endless energy. She sewed, cooked, doctored, counseled, saved, prayed, loved, taught, and gardened as is always the case when you have four children, nine grandchildren, and run a Kansas farm.

And boy could she garden. She grew organic food long before it became a term of art. She often wondered how many millions of dollars she missed out on from gardening with manure a generation too soon. Her homemade chicken and noodles are the stuff of legend. Just ask the congregation of the Osage Church of the Brethren, where she worshipped. She quilted for leisure, donating the final product to organizations benefiting battered women or those who couldn’t afford to stay warm in winter. Her spit could clean anything, regardless of the severity of the stain. And she loved to play the card game Pitch, teaching it to her children and grandchildren.

She succumbed after a multiyear battle with dementia and Alzheimer’s: diseases that took their toll not only on her. To best honor her memory you should resist the urge to buy flowers and instead extend your generosity to those who could use a hand, a warm meal, or a quilt as she would have done. Locally, the Wesley House provides many of those services to people in need and you could direct your charity there.

Friends may sign the register on November 10 from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. at Brenner Mortuary and may leave online condolences at its website. A private, family graveside service will be held. She will be buried alongside her dancing partner in the Osage Brethren Cemetery.