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Irma JoAn (Edwards) Caldwell

October 25, 2023
Kalamazoo, MI




Irma JoAn (Edwards) Caldwell, 90, of Kalamazoo, Mich., was called to be with our Lord on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023.

After a lifetime well spent by tending to the needs of her family, helping young people, and caring for the sick, Irma JoAn (Edwards) Caldwell was called to be with our Lord on Oct. 25, 2023.

A wife and mother, Mrs. Caldwell suffered with health issues for several years as well as a lingering illness. She was age 90.

Born on Jan. 8, 1933, in Wewoka, Okla., Irma and her family relocated to Manhattan, Kan., when she was very young. She was an only child, but was raised there surrounded by members of a large extended family.

Born Irma Jo Edwards, she later changed her name to Irma JoAn. Known in her family as "Josie," she was considered a peace-maker in a family with strong personalities, living during tough economic times.

Irma's mother, Thelma L. Holowell, married at age 16 and divorced when Irma was very young. After that, Irma's mother, who would eventually remarry and take the name Woods, did various jobs to make ends meet during the Great Depression years, including a job as a domestic that required her to travel. During that time, Irma lived in the home of one of her aunts and learned from many family members.

After years of work, her mother was able to buy a house and rented rooms to boarders, primarily Black students who were not allowed to live at that time on the campus of nearby Kansas State University.

Irma attended public schools in Manhattan and attended Marymount College in Salina, Kan. She graduated from there as a registered nurse and began her working career, caring for newborn babies. From there, she relocated to Chicago and found work at Michael Reese Hospital. She met Johnnie Lee Caldwell when he was a college student at Kansas State University. They courted and were married in 1954. She joined him after he relocated to Kalamazoo to work find work opportunities that were not available to Blacks in Kansas. He transferred here to become associate director of the Douglass Community Association. He later became a teacher and principal in the Kalamazoo Public School.

In Kalamazoo, Irma worked in neo-natal care at Borgess Medical Center, then worked at BCIU (the Bacterial Clinical Investigation Unit) at Bronson Methodist Hospital. It is presently the Jasper Clinic at Bronson HealthCare. At BCIU she was among the lead nurses. She worked as a registered nurse for a total of more than 44 years before retiring from the Jasper Clinic in 1993.

At one point in her career, Irma also worked as a nurse for the Head Start program in Kalamazoo and volunteered her time for several years with the Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes food pantry. She was a lifetime member of the NAACP, working locally with the Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch of the civil rights organization. And she was a lifetime member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She was a member of Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church in Kalamazoo.

Irma was preceded in death in 2022 by her husband of 66 years, Johnnie Lee Caldwell, of Kalamazoo. She is survived by: her son Christopher (Betty) Caldwell, of Kalamazoo; grandsons Paeton R. Caldwell and Nathan S. Caldwell, both of Kalamazoo; great-grandchildren Kinleigh Jackson, Zeegwun Caldwell, Nathan S. Caldwell Jr., and Kai Caldwell; her brother Clarence A. Edwards Jr., of Los Angeles, Calif.; her aunt Mae Johnson, of Spring, Texas; and several members of her extended family.

No services are planned. Mrs. Caldwell requested her remains to be donated to the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine where they will be used in research to advance medical, anthropological, and anatomical science. The medical school stated that through her selfless donation "Irma will for years be teaching graduate students, medical students, and doctors in various specialties."

Memorial contributions may be made in Irma's name to Gentiva Hospice and/or to Comfort Keepers of Portage. The Caldwell family especially thanks Gentiva Hospice nurse JoAnn Mowery and home health aide Sydnee Wooden. They also thank Comfort Keepers home care aides Brittany Grayson and Cynthia Streeter.