Stella Marie Stillwell

Stella Marie StillwellAfter a wonderful life of 93 years, our beloved mother, Stella Marie Stillwell, peacefully passed away from this life and into her promised eternal life with God, reuniting with her loving husband James Francis (Jim) Stillwell, her parents, brothers and sister.

Services for Stella will be held on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, at St Ann’s Catholic Church in Ridgecrest, and will include a Rosary at 10:30 a.m. followed by a Funeral Mass at 11 a.m. A reception will immediately follow at St. Ann’s Parish Center.

In lieu of flowers, we ask for donations to be made to St Ann’s School, which was Stella’s favorite charity. Interment services will be held on Monday, Feb. 18, at 1 p.m., at Miramar National Cemetery, where she and Jim will once again be reunited.

A devoted wife, mother and grandmother, she had a sharp wit and bright smile that will be missed by all who knew her, but especially by her family. True to her name, Stella was the star of our family and the glue that kept us together. Always ready for a celebration, Stella truly was the life of the party.

Born near Owensboro, Ky., she was the fourth child of Patrick and Connie Murphy. At the age of 12, she lost her mother to cancer and was thereafter raised by her older sister Mary Jane, who dropped out of school to become the matriarch of the family. After graduating from St Joseph’s Catholic School in 1944, Stella worked in quality control inspecting radio vacuum tubes that were manufactured at the local General Electric plant.

Stella first met our father on a blind date in summer 1948, while visiting her sister Mary Jane who had moved to China Lake when her husband took a job at the Naval Ordnance Test Station. Although Stella’s visit ended before a second date was arranged, as destiny would have it, their paths would cross again in September 1950, after Jim was called to active duty by the Army National Guard. Jim was sent to Fort Knox, Ky., for tank commander training, and he called on Stella for that second date, which turned into another and another. Soon they fell deeply in love.

After Jim’s training ended, he received immediate orders to ship out for Korea. With the prospect of a long separation ahead, Jim proposed to Stella, starting a mad dash to the altar. He wired Stella money to buy a dress and an airline ticket, and following her heart she boarded her first airplane flight bound for Los Angeles. They were married on June 9, 1951, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.

After a quick honeymoon to Tijuana, Mexico, Jim hitchhiked from Los Angeles to the Bay Area to catch his transport ship headed for the war, while Stella moved in with Jim’s mother in Pasadena to await his return. During his time away, Jim wrote the most beautiful letters to Stella expressing his deep love for her, which she kept and treasured and have now become family heirlooms. Fortunately for Stella, Jim’s active duty service expired just before his unit was to be shipped to the front lines. After his discharge, the happy couple moved to China Lake to start their life together. They lived in base housing until April 1955, when they purchased a small house in Ridgecrest Heights that became their lifelong home. During the 53 years that followed, they filled that little house with love and family, caring for Stella’s father and Jim’s mother, raising five children and then filling the house again and again with frequent visits from their grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Besides her duties taking care of home and family, Stella worked for 21 years with the Sierra Sands School District’s school lunch program, was an active member of St Ann’s Parish and was an avid bowler participating in leagues in both China Lake and Ridgecrest. Stella also loved playing all types of games, especially cards, dominos and board games. She regularly played Bunco at the Ridgecrest Senior Center, played Mexican Train with a group of friends and played our family’s favorite domino game, “Chickenfoot,” anytime we could get together.

After losing Jim in 2008, she continued to live in Ridgecrest, using it as her home base between trips visiting her children and grandchildren in California and Texas.

In January 2015, when living alone was no longer practical, she moved to Spicewood, Texas, with her daughter Jayne, making frequent trips back to California to see her children and grandchildren. These trips included visits back to Ridgecrest whenever possible. You see, she loved being in her little house that contained her most cherished memories and allowed her the opportunity to catch up with her long-time friends.

Stella was preceded in death by her husband Jim, her parents, her brothers Patrick and William and her sister Mary Jane. She is survived by her children and their spouses, including Cathi Zanolli and husband Bob, son James and wife Kathy, daughter Jayne Bradley, daughter JoAnn Lynn and daughter Stella and husband Val; and by her 13 grandchildren and five great grandchildren, who will all greatly miss her love and affection.

We would like to thank the staff at Querencia at Barton Creek located in Austin Texas, who diligently cared for Stella and kept her comfortable in her final days.

— Submitted by the family of Stella Stillwell

Story First Published: 2019-02-08