Olieta M. Edwards | Obituary

It is always difficult saying goodbye to someone we love. Family and friends will miss Olieta Mae (nee Russell) Edwards of Columbia, who was born on Jan. 8, 1932, and died Dec. 1, 2023, at the age of 91. 

Olieta was born and raised in rural Dent County, Mo. She graduated from Salem High School third in her class in 1949 and married her childhood sweetheart, Kenneth Edwards, on Nov. 11 of that year. The young couple moved to St. Louis and then Columbia, where they raised their six children.

Olieta was a busy stay-at-home mom and was active in the local Baptist church, where she taught Sunday School. She was known for her baking: cookies for school lunches, pies for special occasions, cinnamon rolls for the end-of-school carnival and any time anyone could talk her into it. 

She was a seamstress; she made clothes for the family, built and regularly recovered a favorite footstool and once even figured out how to reupholster the couch. 

When four of the children got chicken pox from the first infected sibling (the youngest wouldn’t arrive for a few more years), she made the rounds with calamine lotion.

Olieta found many ways to express her creativity. She always had a project. She helped Ken with the garden every year and did a lot of canning. Before color film was widely used, she hand-colored photos Ken took for his photography business. She researched family genealogy before Ancestry.com made it easy. She also served as a school crossing guard for a while. Eventually, because she loved finding pretty stones, she learned to cut and polish rocks and gemstones. She and Ken joined a local rock club to share their lapidary interests, and Olieta even opened a lapidary shop where, for a time, she sold jewelry made with the stones she had polished. She also wrote poetry throughout her life. In 2000 she published a collection of her poems, and in 2019, she published her memoirs.

Once when the children were bored, Olieta told them, in jest, to go climb a tree. Excited, they raced outside to do just that. Most of the time, however, they hesitated to claim boredom because she could always find a chore for them. 

“Always do your best,” she’d say, and whenever anyone was feeling downhearted, she would remind them that things would look better in the morning. Even after the children were grown and on their own, she had a sixth sense for whenever things were not going right; often at such times, she would call to check in. And she tried to help however she could. Her daughter-in-law Karen especially appreciated the delicious roast beef dinner Olieta brought when their daughter was born and the help she provided getting their house “company ready” when Karen’s son passed away.

Olieta never had a chance to learn to play the piano as a child, but she made sure her children got that chance, and she learned along with them. When they were all grown with their own children, she encouraged annual talent shows at family reunions. And once the children were all out of the house, she went to work at Jefferson Barracks Veterans Hospital. She worked in various departments but most enjoyed the prosthetics department. She took pride in making sure the veterans she served had whatever equipment they needed and that it fit them properly.

After retirement, Olieta and Ken traveled a bit. At home, Olieta was always the central contact for the family, always just a phone call away, and she hosted many memorable family gatherings. After Ken passed away, she lived alone for several years, during which time all her children assisted in one way or another. Finally, she went to live in Tulsa for nearly three years until a debilitating fall brought her to the nursing home, where she had skilled nursing care for her last eight months.

Olieta has taken up permanent residence in heaven now. She was a loyal and multi-talented daughter, sister, wife, mother and grandmother. She loved the Lord and she loved her family. We have been blessed to have her in our lives.

She is survived by her children Penni (John) Barrett of Tulsa, Okla., Karen (Noel) Patterson of Homewood, Jeffrey (Karen) Edwards of Bridgeton, Mo., John (Robin) Edwards of Glen Carbon, Celia (David) Gutierrez of San Antonio, Texas, and Darla (Robert) Toenjes of Columbia. She is also survived by grandchildren Jason Barrett, Audrey Patterson, Kimberly Edwards, D.O., Jacob Edwards, Samuel (Stephanie) Pecaro, Rachel Pecaro, Philip Pecaro, Jessica Prosser and Kenneth Prosser; great-grandchildren Aria and Luca Pecaro; and other relatives and friends. 

She was preceded in death by her parents Ray and Myrtle (nee Springman) Russell, husband Kenneth Edwards and her siblings Donald Russell and Oneta Vance.

A funeral service was held Dec. 19 at the Salem, Mo., Chapel of James & Gahr Mortuary with Dr. Mark Johnson officiating. 

Interment was held in the North Lawn Cemetery Salem, Mo. 

Serving as Pallbearers were Jeffrey Edwards, Jon Edwards, John Barrett, Robert Toenjes, Samuel Pecaro and Jason Barrett. 

Memorials are suggested to: charity of choice; or buy a flower for someone.

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