Marvel "Penny" Harris

May 16, 1927 - August 12, 2016
Medina, OH



Saturday, August 20, 2016
10:00 AM EDT
Mt. EverRest Cemetery
3941 S. Westnedge Ave.
Kalamazoo, MI 49008


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1830 S. Westnedge
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 349-4961
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Life Story / Obituary


Marvel Harris was a dynamic woman who put her heart and soul into all she did. She retained a positive spirit in difficult times, and at all times, she drove herself to do the best she could. She worked hard and played vigorously, setting an example of responsibility and enthusiasm for life. Her husband, children and grandchildren are the beneficiaries of a life well lived.

Marvel’s story began in Kalamazoo, Michigan where she was born at Bronson Hospital, the youngest child of Joseph Wesley and Eva Marie (Long) Buckallew. At the time, America was moving ahead in industry and transportation with Henry Ford’s innovation of producing automobiles along an assembly line. Charles Lindbergh made his solo flight across the ocean from May 20-22, 1927 in 33.5 hours. Days earlier, Marvel was welcomed into the Buckallew home on May 16, 1927 and, over the years, proved to have that same can-do spirit.

The economic depression that closed out the decade also shaped the character of Americans as they lived frugally and pitched in to help one another. Working at a paper mill, Marvel’s father also farmed livestock and grain. Initially, the family lived in a two-room house but as the family grew, additions were built to accommodate eight children. It fell to one of the older girls to look after Marvel, which was a tough assignment because Marvel got into everything. She rarely wore shoes and her mother was constantly reminding her to “put shoes on.” One day, after Mother’s caution went unheeded, Marvel stepped on a pop bottle, fell and broke her leg. Even that incident may not have totally convinced Marvel to put shoes on, but she had to wear them to compete in the many track events she entered with her sister Bev. She also played football and basketball with neighborhood kids and enjoyed roller- and ice skating. Even though she wasn’t a great singer, always-active Marvel sang alto in the school choir.

Growing up, money was tight and Marvel worked to help the family. Picking and selling strawberries, she was able to buy her clothes. She had just one good dress, no doubt ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalog that would eventually make its way to the outhouse. Nothing went to waste during lean times.

Despite scarcities, Marvel had a rich childhood in a neighborhood where parents also enjoyed getting together for cookouts of hot dogs and hamburgers. She and her siblings played hard and joined neighbor kids in innocent mischief. They liked to rake leaves into the ditch, then hide in them and jump out to scare other children. They also thrilled to snatch the neighbor’s watermelons, but some of their excitement was squelched when the local police show up (the officer was a friend of Marvel’s parents). That put a genuine scare into them, but playful scares were the stuff of Halloween celebrations. Marvel always dressed up, and even when she was an adult she put on costumes—much to the embarrassment of her own children.

Marvel left school after the 11th grade and went to work at Lawrence Grocery Store. But when her boss got “fresh” so that she ended up throwing coffee on him, Marvel quit. Her friend Gladys put in a good word for her with her own employer, and Marvel went to work at the Tea Pot Dome restaurant in Paw Paw. It was there that she met a young man who was on furlough from military service and was visiting his brother in Paw Paw. Mirl Harris took special notice of Marvel Buckallew, and she felt the attraction between them, too. They went on a first date to a western movie at the Strand Theatre in Paw Paw, and as they continued to date, Marvel “earned” a new name. Mirl affectionately began calling her "Penny," because for some reason she seemed to be dropping pennies all the time. Over the years, the name stuck and Penny actually preferred her nickname to her given name.

After a romantic six-month courtship, Mirl and Penny were happily married on May 2, 1946. The newlyweds moved to Penny's family farm in Kalamazoo, called the Old Gray Farm, until they bought property of their own in Paw Paw. They began building their home straightaway and lived in the basement while the rest of the house was being constructed. Routinely, Mirl would come home from his day job at Bryant Paper in Kalamazoo, and he and Penny would work on their house—sometimes until midnight. Penny's family often joked that the couple would live in their basement forever, but after two years, they completed the upstairs and moved in. Because they were very thrifty with their money and only built what they could afford, they never had a mortgage to pay. They took great pride in their home and in the two beautiful daughters they raised there: Delcia Marie, named after Mirl's mother, and Diane, who was born on the day of Thanksgiving.

In marriage, Penny and Mirl shared all their responsibilities, including childcare. When Mirl worked during the day, Penny took care of the Delcia and Diane. Penny had a few different jobs in which she worked during the evenings and Mirl looked after the girls. Penny first worked at Pet Milk, then during a lay-off, she served in the kitchen at Lakeview Hospital. Once she was called back to Pet Milk, she stayed with them for 19 years until her retirement in 1977.

Penny and Mirl also owned 40 acres in Almena Township, where they raised pigs and a few cows. They enjoyed farming and were dedicated to doing things right. Hard work never scared them, but they were wise to take time off for fun. Family life was very important and every year they took a vacation down south to Mirl’s family or north to Canada or to other memorable places such as Elvis Presley’s Graceland. Wherever they went and whenever possible, the family stopped along the way to do some fishing. At home, Penny and Mirl regularly went roller skating, ice skating, sledding, golfing and bowling with the kids; took them to softball games and played horseshoes; and Penny served as a den mother for the Boy Scouts, even though she had no sons. The children stayed active, in part because of who their mother was and also because they didn’t have television in the home until 1952. Penny didn’t watch much TV, but over the years she tuned in to such shows as Law and Order, Price is Right, Family Feud, Jeopardy and cooking shows.

After retiring, Mirl and Penny enjoyed their well-deserved time together golfing, bowling, mushroom hunting or playing horseshoes. She was always a little better golfer and bowler than Mirl and good-naturedly teased him about it. But he must have chuckled to see her try to learn to crochet. It nearly drove her crazy to have to sit still for any length of time. Instead, she took up the craft of Art Tex Painting—painting on tablecloths and other fabric. Also in her leisure, Penny read many books on health and nursing care because she had always wanted to be a nurse.

Penny had always wanted to have eight children, as well—four boys and four girls. It was heartbreaking to have had five miscarriages over the years. Still, she adored her two daughters (even when one of them accidentally threw away her button collection) and waited on her husband hand and foot, happy to treat him like a king.

Penny was a wonderful wife and caring mother who will be dearly missed and lovingly remembered by her beloved family and friends.

Marvel “Penny” Harris, age 89 of Medina, Ohio and formerly of Paw Paw, Michigan, died on August 12, 2016 in Medina. Penny was preceded in death by her husband Mirl and by an infant daughter, Judith Ann. Surviving are 2 daughters: Delcia Marie Able and Diane (Scott) Orr; 2 grandchildren; 2 great grandchildren; 3 great-great grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. Services will be held Saturday 10:00 AM at Mt. EverRest Mausoleum. Please visit Penny’s personal memory page at www.lifestorynet.com where you can read her life story, archive a favorite memory or photo and sign her guestbook. Betzler & Thompson Life Story Funeral Home, 60900 M-40, Paw Paw (269) 657-3870.