“Mrs. Wilkerson” to a multitude of children and sweet mother, grandmother and aunt to her own, Fern Mary Tollis Wilkerson passed peacefully, surrounded by her loving family on Sept. 13, 2018. Our mother was born on Feb. 25, 1939 in Lexington, Nebraska to Arnando and Lillie Tollis. She was forever their “Little Girl” and “Fernanoccia.” There wasn’t a day of her life that she did not express respect, love and gratitude for her mom and dad and all they did for her and her children.
Our mother was both a student and a teacher all of her life and she excelled at both. She had a voracious appetite for political and intellectual conversation, chocolate, and all things sports (Go Yankees! Fighting Irish! San Francisco 49ers!). She had an equal love for her many four-legged canine companions, and in particular, Gucci and Cher.
Our Mother had a reverence for social justice, work ethic and the transformational power of education. The focal point of her life and career were children. She lived by the mantra, “The child comes first.” She had a particular affinity for the underdog and she dedicated her life to her convictions.
Our Mother was a grandmother that broke the mold. She fed her grandchildren not with homemade goods, but with a love for learning, infinite kindness, generosity that was over the top, and without question, knowledge that of the thousands of children she loved in her life, none were more precious to her than her grandchildren.
Our Mother was a role model who led by example. Her dreams of becoming a school teacher were delayed when she did not graduate with her classmates in 1957 as planned. First, she would become a young mother of four and shortly thereafter a single parent. But while dreams die hard, education transforms. After completing her high school education, our mother enrolled at the former College of Eastern Utah in 1969, where her academic achievements earned her a Ford Foundation Scholarship and a trip to New York to accept the award. She graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree from Utah State University, and a master’s degree in education from Brigham Young University. She taught in elementary schools in Carbon County before becoming a principal serving at Petersen Elementary, Durrant Elementary, Castle Heights Elementary and Grand County High School. She was an elementary administrator at the Carbon School District and served as Director of the Utah Principals Academy. Our mother’s heart was in the schools with the children. She completed her illustrious career of service at Bachman Elementary in Salt Lake City.
Our mother’s passion awarded her many accolades for excellence in education: Utah Association of Elementary School Principals Innovator of the Year; Utah Rural School Elementary Principal of the Year, Carbon County Woman of the Year, Carbon County Teacher of the Year and College of Eastern Utah Alumn of the Year. No honor was greater to her than the enduring relationships that were forged between her, her colleagues, and her students.
Our mother was preceded in death by her parents, Arnando and Lillie Tollis, her first-born son Ricky Gomez, and her brother-in-law Mike Valdez. She is survived by her sister Betty Valdez and her brother Arnando “Doug” (Flora) Tollis, Jr.; her children, Tamara Malone, Doug Tollis, and Mary (Tom) Manley; her grandchildren Tyson Malone, Jazmine Pace, Auzlynn Jensen, Kash Tollis, Kole Tollis, Shaylynn Bishop, Talia Fuller, Riley Manley, Delaney Manley, and 12 great grandchildren.
We would be remiss if mention was not made to the special men in her life: Derek Jeter, Tom Brady and most special of all, “The Come Back Kid,” Joe Montana.
Profound gratitude and love to her special friends, Danny and Tami Velasquez for their enduring friendship, love, and care. Special thanks to each and every staff member of the Heirloom Inn who cared for and loved our mother during her final years, and to hospice for the dignified care provided with special thanks to Terri Yelonek and Raeann Fausett.
A celebration of our mother’s phenomenal life will be held Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, 10 a.m., Mitchell Funeral Home at 233 East Main Street in Price, where the family will receive friends one hour prior to service. Burial will be in the Cliffview Cemetery, Price. We invite you to wear your favorite team sporting memorabilia/attire (hats, jerseys, collegiate and professional) and to share your memories.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation of backpacks and other school supplies to your local schools and/or children’s justice centers.
“A hundred years from now . . . it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, nor how much money I had in my bank account, but the world may be better because I was important in the life of a child.” ~Forest E. Witcraft