Impairments do not dim Curry's zest and love for life

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By Panzi Blackwell

Shirley (Sperry) Curry has always spoken in a soft, demure voice, and had a gentle, unassuming and cheerful, disposition. However, she was firm and steadfast in her beliefs, standards and morals.

She was a pleasant co-worker and a good friend, and always carried her own weight. She never shirked what she felt was her responsibility at the workplace or in her home as a housewife to her husband, Jim Curry, and mother to their four children: John, Marcia, Deborah and Tom.

She experienced 10 years of poor health, then there was an unrelated weakness and the loss of use of her legs, which subsequently caused a fall and fracture. She was rendered her unable to stand and walk, and is confined to her bed or a scooter-type chair.

However, these impairments did not dim her zest and love for life, nor the creative abilities and mental resources to continue living a useful, happy and fulfilling life, for which she gives full credit to God and her family.

Meet Shirley (Sperry) Curry and experience a ray of sunshine.

Shirley’s Story

Shirley wheeled out on the front porch of her modest, neat, little home to extend a warm greeting and a cheery smile of welcome.

The youthful brightness of her friendly personality has not dimmed over the span of years, from a young girl to her present age of 81.

Although humble in the expectation that her story would be of interest, she willingly shared her story, past, present projects and plans for the future.

Shirley is a daughter of Cecil and Ellen Sperry, and grew up in the country, about seven miles north of Vera.

She attended the first eight years of school at Hillside School.

“I went to high school in Vandalia, on the street that is now Kennedy Boulevard. When I started my first year, they didn’t have bus service,” she said.

“My freshman year, I stayed in Vandalia with my dad’s great-aunt, Em Sperry. She wanted everybody to be educated.

“I wasn’t a good student in high school,” she confessed. “It wasn’t because I wasn’t a good student, it was because it was such a cultural shock,” Shirley said.

“When you move from the country and had always gone to a country school, it’s quite a change,” she said.

I had gone to Hillside School all eight years, and I had only one teacher, Donald Metzger.

“He was drafted for World War II and came back, thank  the Lord. I skipped school the last week, just so I could say I just had one teacher. The rest of the kids had Mary Piro,” she said.

She has an old school picture, which is in a frame  that bears the words, “Fayette County, Illinois, Class of 1942 Hillside School.” The frame is made of a board from the School building, which no longer exists.

“Margie Sperry stopped by one day, got a board and sanded it, and my brother made the frame and put the picture in it,” she said.

On the back of the photo are the names of those in it:  Ronnie Sperry, Dwight Nickols, Patsy Cheshier, Cecibelle Ritchey, Betty Boaz, Maxine Henson, Doris E. McCain, Bobbie Sperry, Junior Lash, Paul Break, Joe Boaz, Aileen Sperry, June Boaz, Martin Teter, Kennith McCain, Marion Ritchey, Mildred Teter, Catherine Nickols, Ileen Hall, Norma Sperry, Betty Lou Henson, Shirley Sperry, Patty lay, Donald McCain and the teacher, Donald Metzger.

“I worked at the old shoe factory (Johnson, Stephens & Shinkle) on Randolph Street during World War II, while I was still in high school. I packaged legging for the soldiers on the first floor,” she said.

“After high school, I worked at the shoe factory for about a year and then I married James Curry,” she said. When the children were old enough, she went back to work, coming home at noon to check on them.

She believes the building of the swimming pool was one of the finest things Vandalia ever did. “I’d go home at noon and take the kids to Randolph Street and have them walk (to the pool) from there, because they had eaten some lunch.”

Shirley and Jim reared their family, and Jim died suddenly a few years ago. Shirley adjusted to a life as a widow, leaning on her faith and her children for strength.

Life Today…

Explaining her disability, she said, “My legs gave out and I fell, here in my living room, last September and fractured my sacroiliac (tailbone), but I could hardly walk before that.

“Before the fall, I would get up and make my coffee, and then I would have to sit down, because my one leg wouldn’t hold me.

“That day, I had walked into the front room with my coffee, and my legs gave out and I fell. There I was on the floor, I couldn’t reach a telephone and my door was locked. I was on the floor for about 2 1/2 hours and realized I wasn’t going to be able to get up,” she said.

“I finally used my cane and knocked the telephone off (the hook), where I could dial the emergency number.”  Ambulance personnel and the police came, and they could see her, but couldn’t get through the impenetrable lock.  “Then this big, tall EMT with the (Fayette County Hospital) ambulance used his shoulder and busted my basement door. They took me to the emergency room, and I found out I had fractured my sacroiliac. 

“I haven’t been able to walk since,” she said. Curry has high praises for the Fayette County Hospital ambulance crew.

Perseverance and Determination

Shirley returned home, not to fret and give up, but to adjust and continue on, with the assistance of her “wheels.”

“They brought me back home and I’ve been here ever since,” she said, “And I do well.

“I do nearly all of my own work, everything but my laundry and cleaning the floors.”

“My great-granddaughter, Lacey Merrill, works every day for two hours for me.” she said. “She does my laundry every night. She runs errands for me, scrubs the kitchen floor … she does anything for me I ask her to, whether she knows how to or not,” Shirley said.

But Shirley isn’t sitting idly by; she is continually at work on some projects.

A Few of Her Projects

• Family Cemetery – Seeing a baby’s new grave in the old family cemetery, which was overgrown with weeds and unkempt touched her deeply, and she wrote letters to relatives, attaching a history of the cemetery that she had written, asking for donations to clean up and keep up the cemetery.

Mission accomplished. There is now a fence around the small cemetery, it is now mowed routinely and is always prepared for Memorial Day.

• Leaning to play the keyboard – Armed with several keyboard instruction books, Shirley is teaching herself how to play the keyboard. Her goal is to play “The Little Brown Jug” in a lively fashion.

• Quilting – Although she doesn’t quilt herself anymore, she still is interested in it and has baby quilts made for grandchildren.

• Spiritual blessings – She is a member of the  Crown Point Church.

• Learning to use her laptop computer.

• … And writing  a book about her memories and thoughts, soon to be enjoying her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, attaining more goals, and she will probably have enough subject material to fill another book..