Obituary: Mary Avonelle Acton

August 11, 1932 – May 10, 2024

Mary Avonelle Acton, 91, of Mitchell, passed away Friday, May 10, 2024, at Indiana University Bloomington Hospital.

Born August 11, 1932, in Bedford, she was the daughter of Gordon and Diana (Jarvis) Thomas.  She married W. Charles “Sonny” Acton on July 1, 1950, and he preceded her in death on April 21, 2004. 

Author, grandmother, lab technician, secretary, musician — all could describe Mary Acton during her 91 years. Whatever role life provides, she played with an enthusiasm that befits the one-time cheerleader.

During the early years of her life, Mary saw the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II. Her parents, Gordon and Diana, came through some lean times. After her father lost his job as a mechanic and millwright, he worked with the WPA. Grandparents Millard and Delorah Jarvis supplemented the family food budget with produce from their farm near Mitchell.

The situation changed when the family, which included Mary and her sister Patricia, moved to Indianapolis in 1940 to allow their father to work in war production. The job paid well, but Mary recalls when her father was required to stay at the factory for about a month on a top-secret project. He was the foreman of a team involved in dismantling a captured German rocket. Her mother went to the gate to deliver clean clothes and pick up his laundry but was not allowed to see him.

During that time, rationing was in force, and gasoline was scarce. Bicycles were a popular mode of transportation, and Mary remembers sometimes ice skating to her nearby School, No. 34, in the winter. Rationing of food was also a problem, and the much-enjoyed visits to the grandparents’ farm were rare because of the lack of gas for the car. Grandmother Jarvis sent honey by mail to serve as a substitute for the rationed sugar.

With improved circumstances, the family moved to a nice home adjacent to Garfield Park. Mary was privileged to take gymnastics, ballet, and piano lessons during that time. Even though the park pool was nearby, the girls were not allowed to go swimming because of the polio scare. One of Mary’s school friends was a polio victim who was confined to an iron lung. (The Salk polio vaccine was not available until 1955.)

The Thomas family moved to Mitchell on Sept. 3, 1945, the day after VJ Day marked the end of World War II. Her parents were anxious to leave behind big city living and its safety concerns, but their youngest daughter hated leaving her gymnastics, ballet, and music lessons. She kept up her music by singing in the choir of Mitchell First Baptist Church, starting at age 14. Mary had been a church member for over 60 years.  For most of those years, she added her superb alto voice to the choir, sang in a women’s quartet, and occasionally served as choir director.

Mary’s high school days at Mitchell were good times. Her gymnastics and dance skills were useful when she was a cheerleader, and music classes were always a joy to her. She graduated in May 1950 and married Charles “Sonny” Acton on July 1, 1950. Three children—Cindy, Tom, and Tim—were born to them. They were happily married for 54 years until Sonny passed away in 2004.

Mary worked first in Bedford as an executive secretary at Robertson Corp. She signed on in the lab at Bedford Medical Center (now Indiana University Health) when that hospital opened in 1970, then went to Dunn Memorial Hospital in 1977. She then worked in the office of Dr. Lawrence Benham from 1982 until her retirement in 1994. In her indomitable style, she gave immediate notice when a new physician paged her “stat” to announce that he was ready for his tea.

In retirement, she cared for her mother and began another career of writing historical novels inspired by the lore of Civil War times in the local area. She has five books to her credit: “Shadows in the Snow,” “Heritage of Honor,” “To Hear the Night Bird Sing,” “This Forever Land,” and “Sins in a Quiet Town.”

After living a few years in Texas to be near her daughter, Mary returned to Indiana. She kept busy with church and clubs and enjoyed time with her ten grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren. 

Mary had been a member of several organizations, including the Phi Beta Psi Sorority, Fleur de Lis, and the Order of the Eastern Star 503.  Mary was active as a Guardian of Job’s Daughters and the Lawrence County Cancer Society chair.    

Survivors include her children, Cynthia Jo (Mike) Matlock of Bedford, Thomas Wesley (Becki) Acton of Bedford, and Timothy Dale (Dawn) Acton of Oolitic; grandchildren, Jessica Jo Harvey, Dustin Matlock, Donald Dean Hall II, Aaron Matlock, Wynter Brooke Elliott, Ashleigh Hope Cummings, Andrew Collyn Acton, Heather Bree Acton, Jordan Wiley Acton, and Noah McKinley Acton; 16 great-grandchildren; and four great-great-grandchildren.

Her parents, husband, and sister, Patricia Beeler, preceded her in death.

The funeral service will be at 12:00 p.m. Thursday, May 16, at the First Baptist Church, with Reverend Reggie Clark officiating. Burial will follow at Cresthaven Memory Gardens. 

The family will receive friends from 10:00 a.m. until the time of the service on Thursday at the First Baptist Church.

Memorial contributions can be made in Mary’s memory to the Lawrence County Cancer Patients.

Excerpts used from Times Mail article by L. Joyce Mundy

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