Shirley Jean Gunther was born in Wallace, Idaho, on April 12, 1929, to George and Marian Gilliland. George was a roundhouse foreman when Shirley and her family lost Marian because of complications of childbirth in August 1930 (Shirley was about 16 months old). It was decided then that Shirley would live with her grandmother, Carrie Isabel, who was a retired school teacher in Bend, Ore.
After three years in Bend, her grandmother’s health started to decline, so Shirley went back to live with her father in Wallace until she was about 5 years old, when George decided to move his family to Tekoa, Wash., taking up a new railroad position there. In Tekoa, George worked as a train engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad and Shirley learned how to swim, play the piano, clarinet, flute, cards and roller-skate while going to the local Catholic school (though they were Methodists). George wanted someone to watch over her after school hours while he was still making local train runs for the Union Pacific, so he hired some help and had relatives in town look after Shirley until he got home.
After a few years in Tekoa, Mr. Gilliland moved his family to Moscow and Shirley attended the local Catholic school for about a year, until George married Lola Miller (Olmstead) and they moved back to Tekoa. After some time there, the Gillilands moved back to Moscow one final time and Shirley entered the Moscow school system while in junior high. There she flourished in music, winning second chair clarinet in a tryout for the Moscow High School band (her brother Elmer was first chair) and orchestra while still only in the eighth grade. She also played the flute when the musical score called for more flutes, and sometimes played the saxophone.
In January 1941, while Shirley was practicing her clarinet upstairs in their house on South Jefferson Street, George died in the family living room in Moscow from complications from a heart attack he suffered earlier, while driving a train to Umatilla, Ore. After her father’s death, she had the choice to live with her 17-year-older sister, Georgia, or her stepmother, Lola, and she chose Lola in order to keep living in Moscow with her brother, stepbrother and stepsister. Shirley started working at the age of 12 as a waitress after school, because of the lack of help during WWII, thus starting a long career of serving the public and her family.
While in high school, besides being active in band and orchestra, she also got involved in Job’s Daughters, Girl Scouts, and the Civil Air Patrol Cadets (where she started flying at age 15 and soloed at 16, looking for Japanese planes), and took train rides to California and to the South and Midwest with her stepmother, Lola, while both used her dad’s still-valid railway pass to see relatives and go to a national conference. She was also involved in a wintry car accident on the Pullman road, after a Moscow-Pullman basketball game, which seriously damaged one knee that bothered her for the rest of her life.
Besides working at Jerry’s Ice Cream shop, the Moscow Hotel and for one of the Tunney’s restaurants in Moscow, she later met Harlie Gunther while working at the Derby Restaurant on the southeast corner of Sixth and Jackson streets, while he was on lunch break from his job at Hale Motors following his U.S. Army service in WWII (Harlie started working at Washington State University in 1953 and retired from there in 1980). They were married Sept. 27, 1947, and had their first child, Teresa, in 1948, followed by Karen in 1950, Herbert in 1953, Keith in 1955 and John in 1958. Around 1948, she became the first white woman seen in the vicinity of Perd’s cabin, which was situated on the wild North Fork of the Clearwater River, when Harlie brought her there to see Perd Hughes and the area where he lived with Perd for a summer as a child.
After Shirley was married, she got involved with various programs, including: the Girl Scouts as a scout leader, and as a trainer of Girl Scout leaders (she loved training them), which lasted about 20 years; as president of the Moscow American Cancer Society for about seven years, being involved with them for about 30 years; and being instrumental in founding Moscow’s Meals on Wheels program. She said that it took about six months to plan it and was its president for the first three years and coordinator for the next 27 years. It was the first Meals on Wheels program in the state of Idaho — before Lewiston or Spokane had such services. Shirley’s real pride with the program was that they never missed a day delivering meals to their clients, even when Mount St. Helens erupted, causing local transportation hazards.
She also served as an American Lutheran Church Women United president for the Washington/Idaho Palouse Conference of the North Pacific District that included 17 local churches; president of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Moscow for a hectic year; a longtime member of the Moscow Church Women United and eventually becoming a vice-president and president; and was also active in three Emmanuel Lutheran Church women’s circles.
Shirley also frequently volunteered filling in for and/or assisting the Emmanuel church secretary, taught fourth grade Sunday school, organized funeral and wedding dinners, sang in the choir, helped count money from the offerings and finally, late in life, was heavily involved with Emmanuel’s Christmas for Kids program, where she often worked closely with her good friend, Helen Frye. For some time, she spent 40-60 hours a week working at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, which was quite often the normal routine for Shirley!
She also loved to play bridge and other card games with family and friends, whether at home or at their homes. She also learned a fair amount of German, so she could speak and write to all of Harlie’s relatives in Germany, and sing an occasional beer drinking song when she felt it was needed. Mom was also active working at sudoku and crossword puzzles, until the last couple of years when she remained at home.
At Aspen Park Rehabilitation Center, where Shirley was a resident, she often liked to wheel herself up and down the hallways in her wheelchair, looking at all the things going on in the various rooms, often stopping to talk to the various residents, and getting involved in some of the activities provided there. Often, she was known to the staff and visitors there as trying to help clean up the facility! Alzheimer’s/dementia, however, increasingly took its toll on her last days, and her fine mathematical mind that once had the ability to remember every member of a church that at one time had almost a thousand members, lost its ability to remember even her family members’ names.
She passed away Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, at Aspen Park in Moscow. The funeral will be 11 a.m. Friday, at Emmanuel Lutheran Church at 1036 West A St. in Moscow, with a meal served immediately after followed by a graveside service at 2 p.m. at the Moscow Cemetery.
Mom, we will miss you and will see you again someday! Thank you so much for those varied and delicious Christmas boxes of your homemade fudge, cookies and love! You always remembered us!
If you would like, please remember Shirley with a memorial in her name to Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Meals on Wheels, and/or the Alzheimer’s Foundation c/o Short’s Funeral Chapel, 1225 East Sixth St., Moscow, ID 83843. The first two were “near and dear” to her heart. The third, to help find a cure for this devastating disease. Thank you!
Arrangements have been entrusted to Short’s Funeral Chapel of Moscow and condolences can be left at www.shortsfuneralchapel.com.