URBANA — Phyllis Diane (Sammons) Steward, formerly of Champaign-Urbana, passed away peacefully on Oct. 25, 2019, in the San Francisco Bay Area with her daughter, Kirsten, at her side.
Phyllis was born May 5, 1943, in Stockton, Calif., to Gerald and Lorene (Vogel) Sammons, while her father was stationed there as a pilot for the U.S. Army Air Corps, prior to deployment.
Her family then moved to Illinois, where she spent the majority of her life. She attended Hillsboro schools, graduating from Hillsboro High School in 1961. Along the way, she became an accomplished, concert-level pianist and played 13 different wind and percussion instruments. She was awarded a full scholarship based on her musical talents to Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, from which she graduated in 1965, and during which she picked up the dance title of Miss Twist 1960-something.
She married Michael Steward in 1965, later divorcing. They had two children, Randall Steward of Dawsonville, Ga., and Kirsten Steward Beckwith of Marin County, Calif. She married Ron Reinhart in 1978, divorcing in 1983, although he remains a close and important friend of the family. In between and after marriages, she was the model of a strong, single mother, shuffling her young kids to sports, music lessons, scout meetings and jobs.
In Phyllis’ early career, she taught high school English and Spanish in Bexley, Ohio. She then spent 25 years working at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Human Resources Department of the Operation and Maintenance Division, retiring in 1999. In 1987, she completed all the coursework for a master's degree in labor and industrial relations at the University of Illinois.
As she was working on her thesis, she was diagnosed with and treated for a brain tumor and was unable to complete her educational pursuits. However, she was a fighter and eventually returned to work and even cared for her own ill father nearly every weekend for several years while nursing her own health back to what became her new normal. She was inspiringly unselfish, always taking care of and offering help to family members, friends and neighbors. She was incredibly generous and thoughtful, often cutting out articles and sending various things to her kids and others with a “thought you might be interested” note.
After retirement, she moved to Arizona, her lifelong dream, where she adored the desert flora, mountains, deep blue skies and oddly, the heat. She moved for a stint to Georgia to be near Randall and his family, then spent the last five years of her life in Marin County in a care facility near Kirsten and her family.
Aside from her family, close friends and Coca-Cola®, her passions included classical music and show tunes (loud and perpetual in the house), performing arts (lifelong season ticket holder at Krannert Center), gardening (vegetables and flowers), animals (she would giggle and beam when her blind dog, Shadow, would come bounding toward her to snuggle), reading (mysteries and the classics were favorites) and playing bridge (her longtime bridge group was one of her ultimate highlights). She also loved to camp and drove her kids all around the country to experience national and state parks via tents and an old-style pop-up camper.
Phyllis’ sassiness, sense of humor, love and generous spirit touched many lives, and she will be greatly missed and lovingly remembered.
She is survived by her children, Randall and Kirsten (and son-in-law Michael Beckwith); brother, Jerry Sammons (and Billie) of Butler; grandchildren, Julian Steward and Lily and Eloise Beckwith; nieces, Kendra Harre, Alison Keepper and Tiffany Sammons; and nephews, Ben Keepper and Jeffrey Sammons.
Phyllis was preceded in death by her parents and sisters, Martha "Marti" and Janelle "Jan."
She will be interred at Waresgrove Cemetery, Butler, where generations of Sammons rest peacefully. A celebration of her life will be held at a later date in the Urbana area.
Memorial donations may be made to the Hillsboro library.