Mary Elizabeth Wales

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Mary Elizabeth Wales, 74, of Gays Mills, died Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. 

Born Sept. 20, 1945, in Tabor City, N.C., to Mayo and Edith Milligan, came a gentle soul with a heart bigger than the body in which it dwelt.

Mary Elizabeth Milligan grew up in the rolling green of the southland with her nine siblings. Fireflies and fishing, living where the red soil and humidity permeate the soul, she grew and married. From her union to Kenneth Paul, two children were born, Keith David and Elizabeth Anne. 

Following her divorce, she was a passenger in her sister’s car one day in Milwaukee when it broke down. Appealing to the nearest body shop owner for help, the two southern ladies met Edward Wales. As loud and outgoing as she was bashful and quiet, he fell head over heels and eventually convinced her to let him take her on just one date. The rest is history. 

To this marriage, a daughter was born, and named after Mary’s favorite singer, Crystal Gayle. Gardens and flowers, traveling to her sisters in Milwaukee or to the south for visits, baking homemade goodies and canning were the vast majority of Mary’s life during this time. Her garden in Boscobel was so large and beautiful she was featured in the local paper. She crocheted, cooked, read and volunteered at the Boscobel Library. Edward passed away in June of 1991, following a long illness, and Mary returned to the workforce. She worked a few factory jobs before entering the world of WalMart in Prairie du Chien, loving the interactions she enjoyed as a door greeter. This season of Mary’s life saw her blossom from her lifelong shyness. During her years as a door greeter, she often spoke of the small children and babies she loved to see come in. 

She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and began the journey ahead with an inspiring amount of dignity and grace. Her later years required more help than she could get in her home community and she became a part of the loving family that is Bethel Oaks Memory Care in Viroqua. The care, love and tenderness she enjoyed there from the staff is truly unprecedented. During this time, Mary enjoyed going to visit Crystal and Kurt and the kids. They enjoyed many many games of Uno, playing with Play Doh, going on rides for ice cream and cooking soul food with Crystal—the soul food they both loved so much. She enjoyed the menagerie of animals that keeps up a steady stream through the Wallin household, playing with kittens and dogs, bunnies and even a hedgehog. As the disease progressed, the faithful love and encouragement of the staff when family could not be present always saw to it that Mary was never away from the care of someone who truly loved her. She loved to see the families and pets who visited, enjoyed listening to music there (both live on Mondays and Daniel O’Donnell on DVD), and participated in many activities including baking with “the girls.” Her beloved Alexa device allowed her freedom to listen to music, check the weather and news, and call Crystal as often as she liked. Seeing Crystal on the screen and hearing her voice often calmed her during a symptomatic day, and staff was exceptional in utilizing the device when Mary needed a little bit of reassurance that all was OK. Her grandchildren were a joy to her, and when rehabilitating during a hip fracture at Bethel Nursing Home, she loved that her granddaughter Savanna was one of her CNAs. She returned to “home,” as she firmly called it, Bethel Oaks, and her girls there saw her the final leg of her journey. 

As Mary’s health steadily declined for the last time, family never left her side. All family was able to say goodbye the weekend before she passed, and goodbyes were said with dear friends as well. Her Bethel Oaks girls kept up a steady stream of visiting her bedside, hugs, kisses, loving on her, and sitting cross legged on the floor whether it was a day off or during their work break. Every chance they had, they were by her, even when she wasn’t able to wake up and answer them anymore: curling her hair, putting lotion on her hands, telling her their confidences just as they had when she was alive. These girls of Bethel Oaks were as present during her final week as her daughter Crystal, who slept by her side night and day. One night, as the shadows became too much for Crystal sitting there alone, a staff member who was off that night creeped in long after midnight with a blanket and slept on the floor with Mary and Crystal in silent, present comfort. In the final hours, St. Croix Hospice was top-of-the-line in the care and comfort they provided, never leaving, as staff member after staff member took turns sitting vigil. Mary died with Crystal holding her hand, her beloved music playing softly and with complete peace.

Mary is survived by her daughter, Crystal (Kurt) Wallin of Prairie du Chien, and daughter Elizabeth Paul, N.C.; grandchildren, Miranda Paul (Michael Alft); Renna, Eric and Annie Johnson; and Devin, Savanna and Brennan Wallin, and a great-granddaughter, Avalon Alft Paul; four sisters, Caroline Ward of Milwaukee, Terry Milligan of High Point, N.C., Kathy Sue and Gloria Jean Thomas of Thomasville, N.C.; and one brother, Dennis Milligan of High Point, N.C. 

She was proceeded in death by her parents; her husband, Edward; a son, Keith; as well as siblings Francis, Davis, Linwood and Diana.

We are all bereft of the beauty found in her smile, with the light of her soul that shined to mother all who knew her. We mourn not as others mourn, however, for we have the blessed assurance that we will see Mary again in the presence of her Savior. Mary received Christ as her Lord and Savior in 1982 through the verse of John 3:16 and knew with certainty that she was saved by the blood of Christ. She is free now of the Earthly body she endured with much grace and acceptance, and stands whole before the throne of Grace. Good night, Mama. We will see you in the morning when Jesus comes again, or we are united in glory. Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift. II Corinthians 9:15. 

A funeral service for Mary was Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Vosseteig Funeral Home in Gays Mills. Speaker Kent Hendrickson officiated. Burial followed the service at Mt. Sterling Evergreen Cemetery on Highway 27. In lieu of memorials, donations may be made to the Bethel Oaks Memory Care. Mary was carried to her final resting place by the Bethel Oaks girls who loved her so much and cared for her so very well. Online condolences may be offered at www.vossfh.com.

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