Shirley Stillinger


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URBANA — Shirley Stillinger passed away on Oct. 27, 2018, at her home in Urbana.

She died peacefully in her favorite chair, surrounded by photos of her family, autographed pictures of the movie stars she loved as a girl and a stack of New York Times she needed to catch up on.

She is survived by her four children, Tom, Bob, Susan and Mary, and their families, and by the best group of friends anyone ever had. Those friends (Esther, Barb, Carol, Marty, Jan and so many others) got her to the doctor, to the movies and to Trivia Night, and made it possible for her to live independently and enjoy life to the end. Chris Sankey, Becky McWethy and Lanette Aker also provided much-appreciated assistance.

Shirley Louise Van Wormer Stillinger was born on Dec. 10, 1930, on her grandmother’s kitchen table, in Gainesville, Fla. Her parents were Josephine Shaw Van Wormer and (by adoption) Carl Van Wormer. She moved to Austin, Texas, as a little girl, and later to Houston, where she graduated from San Jacinto High School. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Texas at Austin in 1953. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and was president of her sorority, Alpha Phi.

In 1952, Shirley married Jack Stillinger; their children were born in Austin, Boston and Champaign, as the family moved for Jack’s academic career.  Shirley and Jack divorced in 1970. When the youngest child started school, Shirley went back to school herself. She obtained her master's in social work from the University of Illinois in 1969. She then worked for the Department of Children and Family Services in Champaign; at Cunningham Children’s Home, as head social worker; and at A Woman’s Fund, as Executive Director from 1983 to 1995.

Besides her work, which focused on helping people, Shirley gave her time to the community, putting her passion for social justice into action. In 1971, she was one of the founders of A Woman’s Place, the first battered women’s shelter in Illinois (and perhaps in the nation); she was also one of the founders of Hotline for Youth, Parentline, Homestead and Roundhouse. She served on the Champaign County Board, elected as a Democrat, from 1980 to 1994.  She served on numerous committees and governing boards, including those of Gemini, Champaign County Women Against Rape, CASA, Homestead, the University YMCA Board of Trustees, and the Champaign County Chapter of the ACLU (including service as chair and co-chair).

Shirley balanced her professional life with her role as a mother, a balancing act that was unusual at the time. She made time to sew Halloween costumes and cook for and with her family. Despite her very full life, Shirley’s children and grandchildren always knew that they were her favorite people to be around. Shirley taught us all by her example of ethics, kindness and social responsibility.

Shirley loved music; she knew the lyrics to thousands of songs, and though she didn’t think of herself as a musician, she sang to her children when they were little. Later, she loved to listen to the music made by her family and friends — and she would seek out live jazz played by anyone. She loved movies, and she loved to read; she had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and an uncanny ability to pull up details (which made her a formidable trivia competitor).

She loved people, and people loved her. She threw great parties and was often at the heart of any group of people having fun. She loved to travel and treated her family to many unforgettable trips, including a week each summer in a lovely old house in Pentwater, Mich.

As a toddler, little Shirley jumped up on the stage at the county fair in Corpus Christi, Texas, and sang and tap-danced with Bob Wills and the Light Crust Doughboys. Her Texas roots were strong, long after she left the state in 1953.  She visited often, and in her later years she spent winters with Mary in El Paso or Bob and Shelly in Austin. She appreciated the unique style of Texas courthouses and came only a few short of her goal to visit all 254 of them.  Her ashes will be scattered among the bluebonnets in the Texas Hill Country.

Shirley would want you to know that she already voted in this fall’s elections; in lieu of other expressions of sympathy, please vote! And donations to the ACLU or the University YMCA would honor her memory. No services are planned, but a party in her honor will be held at her home in several months.