Sheila O’Connor Coleman, a homemaker, age 96 of Youngsville, NY died on Sunday October 20, 2019 at her home surrounded by her loving family.
Born in 1923, Sheila O’Connor lived for a while in New Jersey. Her mother died when Sheila was still a toddler. When her father died in 1932, she and her siblings moved to Brooklyn, New York, and later to Manhattan. It was the height of the Depression. Sheila often referred to their Brooklyn house as “The Ice Palace” when there was no money for coal. The struggling brothers and sisters made certain the one bill that got paid was the gas bill. That way at least the stove would warm the kitchen, though studying often was accomplished under candlelight.
In 1941 at 18, she fell in love and married Walter P. Spence, and lived in North White Plains and then Thornwood until Walter’s tragic accidental death in late 1958. Left with five children, Sheila moved to Levittown, L.I., to be near a brother and sister and their families.
It was there in 1961 that she later met and married Daniel J. Coleman, a professional photographer and widower with four children all younger than hers. Her Levitt house being far too small, the couple moved upstate to Kenoza Lake. Eight of the nine children graduated from Jeffersonville-Youngsville Central School. The children learned at least the bare principles of country life as feeding such a large family required acquiring a cow, a pig and raising chickens.
Despite the odds, the nine children grew up to become a closely-knit family, which is a testament to the strength and compassion of both Sheila and Dan.
After the children were grown, Sheila and Dan split their time travelling around the United States and long stints volunteering in locations including Mobile, Alabama, and New Orleans, Louisiana, and several years in Tallahassee, Pensacola and Panama City, Florida, working for Catholic Social Services.
While in Panama City over a period of about six years, they managed Barnabas House and Naomi House, shelters for the homeless. A Catholic Social Services newsletter from 1998 called them “inspirations to the community.”
In 1998 on a visit to Youngsville for Christmas, Daniel fell ill. His lengthy recovery necessitated settling down once again and they remained in Youngsville. Daniel passed away in 2004. Sheila continued generously giving of her time for years afterward, and her community spirit and volunteerism did not go unrecognized. The Town of Callicoon named her its 2010 Senior of the Year. She was recognized for her tireless efforts by the Sullivan County Retired Senior Volunteer Program in May, 2015. Her giving nature led her to Catskill Regional Medical Center’s Skilled Nursing Unit where she volunteered every Monday for years. The institution honored her with its Volunteer Appreciation Award in June, 2015.
She attended Catholic services at both St. George’s in Jeffersonville and St. Francis of Assisi RC Church in Youngsville, and volunteered her time at both.
She especially loved volunteering at the Jeffersonville branch of the Western Sullivan Public Library system. She chose Wednesdays because, she said, “That’s when the children are there.” Her passion for lending help to community members in need did not diminish her love and devotion to her close family, which by this time had grown significantly to include grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She was able to make several journeys to Alaska to visit her son, Harold, usually spending weeks to months under the Midnight Sun of the far North. An extraordinarily rapid reader, her insatiable love of the written word had her making trips to the Homer Public Library, returning to Harold’s home with a stack of mysteries four or five high, only to return three or four days later for another batch.
The extended family and wealth of friends she left behind can find genuine solace amid the memories of her laughter, her sincerity, her esprit de vie. For us there is no void that isn’t filled with the energy of her continuing presence.
Sheila is survived by her children; David Spence (Maureen), Harold Spence (Lynn), Donald Spence (Cheryl), Sheila Spence Sheppard (Don), Wendy Spence Gaebel, TSGT Joseph Coleman,Stephen Coleman, Mary Coleman, & Anne Coleman Johnson. Her grandchildren; Thomas Gaebel, Jr., Corey Gaebel (Tanya), Dina Gaebel, Todd Sheppard, Robin Sheppard Nervegna (Michael), Kate Spence, Eric Johnson and Troy Johnson. Her great grandchildren Samantha Gaebel, Daniel Gaebel, Nicholas Gaebel, Andrew Gaebel, Emma Gaebel, Jasmine Cuttler and Vincent Nervegna. Sheila was predeceased by her two husbands Walter Spence in October 1958 and Daniel Coleman in August of 2004. She was also predeceased by her son in-law Thomas Gaebel and her grandson Milton Gaebel.
A memorial mass celebrating Sheila’s life will be held on Saturday October 26, 2019 at 11:00 AM at St. Francis Church RT. 52 Youngsville, NY. Father Ignatius Vu will officiate.
In lieu of flowers memorial contributions may be made to St. Francis Church or Jeffersonville First Aid Squad.
Funeral arrangements have been entrusted to Stewart-Murphy Funeral Home Jeffersonville, NY 845-482-4280. To send condolences or for directions please visit stewartmurphyth.com.
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