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Life Story / Obituary
Shirley Cleone Cunningham Woodworth was born January 6, 1929. She was the second of three children and raised during the difficult years of the Great Depression. Her father, Homer, a machinist and die maker, died of a sudden heart attack when Shirley was 17, leaving her mother, Ferne Scobey Cunningham, to raise Shirley and her two siblings, Verda and Gordon.
Shirley loved academia and excelled at school. After graduating from Godwin Heights High School in 1947, she moved to Kalamazoo with her friend Deldee Herman to enroll as a student at Western Michigan. The two young students shared a room and worked at Schensul’s Cafeteria. Later, Shirley worked as a waitress at the lunch counter in Gilmore Brothers Department Store, where she made acquaintance with Richard Woodworth, a Kalamazoo native, who often appeared at the end of her shift to say ‘Hello’.
While a student at Western, Shirley developed her skills and her passion for collegiate debate, winning many national awards as a debater. She graduated from Western in 1951 with a degree in History. Thanks in part to her talents as a debater, she was offered and accepted a fellowship from Purdue University, where her passion for education flourished. After receiving her Masters Degree in Education from Purdue, she accepted her first teaching position in Traverse City. After a one year in Traverse City, she accepted a teaching position in Battle Creek, and a marriage proposal from Richard.
Shirley and Richard were married on June 26, 1954 at St. Augustine’s in Kalamazoo. Together they raised four children; Benjamin, Paul, Marcia and Gail.
In 1964 Shirley accepted a part-time faculty position at Western after an interview conducted by Paul V. Sangren, whose comment upon hiring her was that she couldn’t do too much damage in one-year’s time. She loved her time at Western; her experiences, her colleagues, her students, her friendships.
In 1975 she earned her Doctorate in Education, in Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University. She challenged the University in the arena of gender-biased wage discrepancy and her victory set the precedent for pay equity going forward.
After Richard’s death in 1980, Shirley immersed herself into her career. Her accolades include WMU Woman of the Year, Undergraduate Advisor for the Department of Communications, member of the American Association of University Professors including terms as each AAUP President, Faculty Grievance Officer, and Contract Negotiating Team member.
As retirement approached, so did new passions and responsibilities. Among them, an aging mother, an older sister with Alzheimer’s, five grandchildren, and her beloved canine companion, Dixie Queen. Shirley traveled with friends throughout the U.S., to Europe, and later on spent a week annually at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario with her dear life friends, June Cottrell, Mary Cain, Jean Pataky and Ursula Barrett.
She was a daughter, a sister, a student, a debater, a teacher, a wife, a mother, an aunt, a doctor, a caregiver, a widow, a grandmother, a friend. Above all else, Shirley was a fierce defender of the people she loved.
Dr. Shirley C. Woodworth, age 86, of Kalamazoo died peacefully Thursday, February 26, 2015 after the slow decline of Alzheimer’s Disease. She is survived by her children: Benjamin (Linda) Woodworth, Paul (Debra) Woodworth, Marcia (Ty) Cudney, Gail Holton, and her grandchildren: James Woodworth, Aaron Holton, Kiersten Cudney, Skylar Cudney, Jason Woodworth, and her step-grandchildren Jeremy Mulac & Matt Mulac. She is also survived by her brother Gordon H. Cunningham (Holland).
Shirley's family will receive friends from 5-8 pm on Friday, March 13, 2015 at the Life Story Funeral Home, Betzler, 6080 Stadium Drive (375-2900). Memorial Services will be at 11 am on Saturday, March 14, 2015 at the same location. Immediately following the memorial service a light luncheon will be served. Memorial Contributions may be made to the Michigan Great Lakes Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, Hospice of SW Michigan, or the SPCA of SW Michigan.