Our loving mother, Winona (Nona) Ferguson Wheeler, passed away peacefully at the home of her eldest son in Brainerd on Jan. 5, 2013, at the age of 90 years, 11 months, 14 days.
Nona was born the second daughter of Leslie Walker Ferguson and Hilda Albert Ferguson on Jan. 22, 1922, in Grundy County, Iowa. A younger sister completed the family 22 months later. When their parents divorced, the three girls and their mother moved to their maternal grandparents Iowa farm home to live. The three girls grew up with their mother, grandparents, four unmarried uncles and one unmarried aunt. The family remained on the farm until the girls had all graduated high school and moved on.
Nona started school at age 4 because her older sister was afraid to go to school by herself. As a 16-year-old high school graduate way back in 1938, she could not go to college or get work — she was too young, so she returned to high school for a year of post graduate studies. Her dream of becoming a doctor were quashed because her mother refused to help pay for college, believing that was not an occupation suitable for a woman, but she would help pay for nursing school. So, after her second high school graduation Nona went to Mercy School of Nursing in Dubuque, Iowa, for three years and became a registered nurse. Nona worked as a registered nurse from the time of her graduation in 1943 until 1971.
Nona met and married Roswald (Roz) Robert Wheeler in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Roz was a Brainerd native, but after his years in the Army he found work in Cedar Rapids. Three children were born to the couple in Iowa, Jeanne, Rosalind, and Michael (Mike). Roz’s sister in St. Cloud, Minn., needed nursing care during a pregnancy, so the family moved to Minnesota so that Nona could be her nurse. Roz and Nona lived in Minneapolis where Wendy and David joined the family. They moved to Enfield north of Monticello in 1958 and Michele joined the family there in 1961.
In 1962 Nona’s oldest daughter, Jeanne was killed in a car accident and Roz was also injured that year and could not return to his former labor job, so the couple went resort hunting in the Brainerd area. In 1963 they purchased Dellwood Resort on Gull Lake and the family spent eight wonderful years there. Nona continued to work as an RN at St. Joseph’s Hospital through all these years. She also worked at the clinic for Dr. Muesing and at the hospital in Staples. She was loved by her patients and her co-workers and very much enjoyed a reunion luncheon with several of those nurses earlier this year.
Nona was preceded in death by her older sister, Imogene Bledsoe; husband; daughters, Jeanne Wheeler and Rosalind Zavada; and son-in-law, G. Paul Leatham. She leaves behind her younger sister, Margie Colarelli, of Colorado; son-in-law, Greg Zavada, of Lake Shore; his two children and four grandchildren, eldest son, Mike, of Brainerd (Sharon Fodness), and their two children; daughter, Wendy Leatham, of Utah, her nine married children and 33 grandchildren; son, David (Treyce), of Massachusetts, and their two children; daughter, Michele Wheeler, of Brainerd; two sisters-in-law; seven nieces; five nephews; many cousins and other extended family.
A memorial service for Winona will be held 11 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 9 at the Nelson-Doran Funeral Home in Brainerd with a visitation one hour prior to services with the Rev. David Grotzke officiating.
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