Wiloma began her life in Crawford, Texas — a small farming community west of Waco. She was the youngest child of William Shakelford and Tot “Lot” Hinds. She was named after her aunt Oma and her uncle Will Cooper who played a larger than life role in her development. She often described her humble beginnings by the phrase “I was a child of the depression”. Over time this became the rationale she used for all sorts of behavioral quirks and idiosyncratic beliefs that made all of us who loved her laugh. She remembered the day the Rural Electrification Administration brought electricity to her home. She learned to read by the light of the single bulb that illuminated her house. Although the family endured many hardships, including the loss of an older brother, she was surrounded by love and believed that she was never deprived of any of life’s essentials. On the modest farm where she grew up she learned the lessons that would inform her development and shape her into the woman she became.
Wiloma attended Baylor University, where she met the love of her life, Glenn Cameron Harrell. She followed her husband to Texas A&M University as he pursued a graduate degree. Her two daughters were born there. When Glenn entered the work force, they settled in Corpus Christi where her two sons were born. In Corpus, she worked as an aide in an underprivileged elementary school. The principal recognized her unique capacity to connect with the students. That educator, Gonzalo Garza (the eponymous founder of the high school where one of Wiloma’s grandchildren would eventually graduate), encouraged Wiloma to continue her studies to become a teacher. Married and raising her four children, Wiloma finished her degree and later obtained a master’s in counseling. She stayed committed to education and young children well after she had retired.
Wiloma had a well-earned level of empathy and compassion that would endear her to virtually everyone she met. Most of the people who were lucky enough to call her friend commented on her smile and warmth, and they typically had a story of how she impacted their life in some special way. While she made lifelong friends in every community she lived, none compared to the friendships she made in Washington. Shortly after her retirement, she and Glenn vacationed in Friday Harbor, Washington. It was love at first sight and they called their children to inform them that they would not be returning to Texas. In Friday Harbor, they found a community of kindred spirits. Wiloma loved quilting, a hobby that she had set aside while raising her family. She was delighted to find a group of women that shared her passion and could support her as she developed her skills. She loved the community at the Mullis Senior Center and was a regular there. Wiloma was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and PEO International. She was active in her church, St. David’s Episcopal Church, but her spiritual identity was grounded in Al-Anon and AA. Glenn passed away in May of 2000 after 53 years of marriage. She later found companionship with fellow widower Gordon Steele. Gordon would become her stalwart friend. They traveled to Africa, Europe, South America, Antarctica, the Pacific Islands together. They had plans to explore the Greek Islands when aging issues confined them to the Village at the Harbor instead. She returned to Texas when Gordon neared the end of his life.
Wiloma was the last of her generation in our family, but she is survived by her children and grandchildren. Her eldest daughter Rebekah Whitney Bolt lives in Friday Harbor, Washington. Becky’s son, Jesse Parker lit candles for Wiloma in Kamakura Japan where he lives with his wife, Yuko Kon. William Bolt celebrated her life in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Kahn rivers in Laos, a prayer for peaceful passage was written, burned and the ashes released by her granddaughter Leah and her husband Matt. Jake remembered her in Vasarani India where funeral pyres have been burning continuously for over 2000 years. Her Austin children (Ruth and Stan Przygoda, Walter and Cheryl Harrell, and Norris and Lane Foster Harrell) were with her during her final days. To the end, she graced her caregivers and family with her smile. She said it was the only thing left for her to give. Wiloma passed peacefully. She was surrounded by family members who had the good fortune to express their love and remind her of those awaiting her arrival.
Upon the news of her passing, friends from around the country have reached out to the family to express their condolences and reflect on the love that they had for Wiloma. One person from Friday Harbor wrote, ” Wiloma had a heart the size of Texas, and a megawatt smile that made Texas look like Rhode Island.” We couldn’t agree more. A celebration of Wiloma’s life will be held later in the year. The family will notify her many friends when the date is determined.