Rosemary Elizabeth Sewell Wilkey, 84, lived a rich life. She was born January 28, 1919 in Atkins, Arkansas to Mary "Mayme" Elizabeth Jones Sewell and Homer Virgil Sewell, a welcome baby sister to her older brother Garland Allen Sewell. The family moved to southeast Missouri to open one of the first Ford dealerships in the area when Rosemary was only six. She entered first grade in Campbell, Missouri, where both her and her brother Garland later graduated from high school. She was a active youngster who loved the out of doors and to ride her bicycle into the open countryside on small gravel roads. Because of her father's business, she also learned early to drive an automobile, and once said she couldn't remember not being able to drive, as she had to help drive new cars "up" from the train yards in Memphis, Tenn., to Campbell. She also told how hard the family had all worked to withstand the depression years, growing their own food, sewing their own clothes, and working a small farm to avoid closing the dealership. Her mother was also a resourceful adventuress, and when the Pan-American Highway opened, the Sewell family of four took a road trip down to Mexico in a Ford Model T.
It was in Campbell that Rosemary began to study piano and develop a life-long love of music and playing the piano, including a brief period as a professional pianist as well as an occasional accompanist for church, school, theatre, and other community activities throughout her life. Rosemary continued her study of music at Southeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Southeast Missouri State University) and earned her bachelor's degree there with a major in business education. The degree launched a career and years of service as a high school teacher; she taught in Missouri at Bragg City, Malden and Kennett, as well as part time in Frankfurt, Germany and New Orleans, Louisiana after partial retirement.
After college graduation the start of teaching, and a brief exciting trip to Cuba, she was married in Jackson, Missouri to the late Ralph William Wilkey, a promising young civil engineer from Risco, Missouri. They started their more than 50 year marriage under the impending shadow of World War II, and their first child, Marilyn (Eilzabeth), was born in Ft. Knox, Kentucky, where Ralph was training for overseas duty in the Army Air Force. It was while he served in the Pacific theatre that Rosemary and her small child, living temporarily with her parents, moved with them from the Sewell home in Campbell to Kennett, Missouri. The house on 202 Oak Street turned out to be the Sewell and later the Wilkey family home for four decades.
When Ralph returned safely at the end of World War II, the young family grew quickly with the birth of three more daughters--Debbie (Deborah Gail), Cathy (Catherine Jeanne), and Heather (Rosemary)--and one son, Bill (William Sewell). During the busy period of child rearing Rosemary adapted to Ralph's career as a civil engineer and his involvement with the construction business--living in Malden and Risco, Missouri; Mountain Home, Arkansas; Denver, Colorado; Kennett, Missouri; Frankfurt, Germany; and New Orleans, Louisiana. Rosemary would have preferred a more stable life with fewer moves, but she had the gifts of natural charm, understanding, and interest in people that helped her to enjoy new places and develop lasting friendships wherever she lived. Neighbors, fellow bridge players, colleagues and students always remembered her fondly.
The nature of Ralph's work often left Rosemary in charge of their family of five children for extended periods--a challenging task that she made the priority of her life. She was always passionately devoted to her family, especially her children, and later their burgeoning families, making every son-in-law and daughter-in-law fell genuinely welcomed, and every new child celebrated. But she also treasured her many friends, was grateful for their help during her times of need, and was there for them whenever they needed a cheerful understanding ear or a bit of trusted counsel or encouragement. She was keenly attuned to others' emotional needs and always looking out for them, always pleased for their achievements and accomplishments.
After the children left home, Rosemary and Ralph enjoyed a number of overseas trips, traveling throughout Europe while they were posted there, to Latin America where they saw the famous Panama Canal, and even to Kenya, Africa. But they especially loved their visit to see their five children and the family reunions they helped to organize in different parts of the United States where their children lived--currently Marilyn and Gary Merritt in the Washington DC area with their progeny; Brienne, Rusty, Macy, Cole and Wyatt McCabe, Seth and Michelle Merritt; Debbie and Larry Noah in Harrisburg, Ilinois with their two daughters: Amy, Craig and Noah Questelle in nearby Marion, Ginger in New Orleans; Cathy and Rick Bell in Kennett with their two daughters: Amanda and Kyle Windmeyer in Kansas City, Jennifer Bell in Columbia; Heather and Rick Gilbert in Campbell, California with their two sons, David and Kyle; Bill and Sue Wilkey in Avon, Connecticut with their three children Collin, Lauren, and Brienne.
After Rosemary was widowed in New Orleans, she began to spend more time in her former home of Kennett, Missouri, where her daughter Cathy lives, and moved here permanently in 2001. She continued to avidly follow world affairs and the sports and entertainment media, as well as the local rural economy, ever mindful of the amount of rain and sunshine. Though by then in her eighties, she participated in many community activities and loved the Methodist Church, the public library, senior citizens' events, and the music club especially.
She thrilled always to the mystery and great promise of life, and is mourned and loved by all her family and many friends, and everyone who knew her. She was indeed well named for the herb rosemary, since "Rosemary is for remembering."
Funeral services were held at 10 a.m. on Monday, January 26, at the First United Methodist Church in Kennett with Rev. Paul Lanning officiating.
Burial was in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Campbell, Mo.
Pallbearers were Gary Merritt, Larry Noah, Rick Bell Seth Merritt, Kyle Windmeyer, Craig Questelle and Ward Billings.
Honorary pallbearers were Rick Gilbert, David Gilbert, Kyle Gilbert, Rusty McCabe and Collin Wilkey.
Memorials can be made to First United Methodist Church in Kennett or the Bootheel Youth Museum in Malden.
McDaniel Funeral Home was in charge of the services.