Lifelong Sharon Springs, Kansas, resident Wilma J. Whitney, 74, died Wednesday, May 20, 2020, at El Dorado, Kansas.
She was born January 11, 1946, in Goodland, Kansas, the daughter of Loren Bradford Armstrong and Hazel Alvina (Wilson) Armstrong. She graduated from Wallace County High School, Sharon Springs, and attended Colby Community College.
On December 18, 1966, she and Billy Dean Whitney were married at the United Methodist Church, and they made their home in Sharon Springs, where they raised two daughters. Throughout their lives together, Wilma and Billy faced much adversity, but they raised their daughters with the values of resilience and community service. As the late county historian and newspaper columnist Ruth Jackson wrote in 1995 in The Western Times, “I’ll salute […] Bill and Wilma Whitney. They have had their problems, but manage to survive. They are a great couple, always smiling and helping each other and the community at large.”
Wilma often worked multiple jobs to support their family, and taught her daughters by example that hard work and service to others are important. She was the longtime manager of the Strand Theatre and curator of Fort Wallace Memorial Museum, worked at the Sharon Springs Public Library, and served for many years as the director of the Sharon Springs Housing Authority, amongst other jobs. She also owned and operated a business, Whitney Tax Service, for several decades.
From her childhood years in Smoky Valley 4-H Club to leading the Wallace County Historical Society as president for several terms, Wilma literally spent most of her life in public service, all of it in Wallace County. She was a former president and longtime member of Smoky Valley EHU, leading and helping with countless volunteer efforts over 50 years; served as treasurer of the Wallace County history book second volume; was a former member of the Wesleyan Women's Circle and longtime United Methodist Women member; and a lifetime member of Fort Wallace Historical Society and the Sharon Springs United Methodist Church. In 1986, she served as chairwoman and organizer of the Sharon Springs Centennial Celebration. Wilma was deeply touched when she was awarded the Lifetime of Service Award in 2017 by the Wallace County Foundation.
But she was known by her friends and neighbors especially for her baking. Wilma baked often for others, taking meals and treats to shut-ins and helping with monthly birthday parties at the nursing home. This volunteer spirit continued even in her final months staying in Emporia for healthcare reasons, baking muffins and cookies for her new neighbors. She didn’t know a stranger. She would often find a sack of bananas on her door with a note asking if she’d like to make banana bread or muffins today.
She taught her daughters to make and give May Day baskets each year, as well as platters of Christmas cookies and candies. Her grandchildren were welcomed each year to “Camp Grandma,” when she planned arts and crafts projects, baking, Bible school, and helping with their 4-H projects.
Wilma deeply treasured her trips in later years with daughter Tiffany, “bonus sister” Barbara, and her aunt Marvel. She enjoyed visiting Las Vegas, Georgia, Branson, taking an epic road trip to Nashville, and last year, a trip-of-a-lifetime Alaskan cruise.
Preceding her in death were her husband, Billy; infant son, Dallas Dean Whitney; her parents; and three brothers, Robert Armstrong, Ben Armstrong, and Billie Armstrong.
Surviving family includes daughter Charity Horinek and her husband Mark of Sublette; daughter Tiffany Ochs and her husband Troy of Emporia; eight grandchildren, Lorrin Ochs and fiancé Caleb Strohm of Burlingame; Cassidy Ochs of Emporia; Hope Horinek, Hannah Horinek, Noah Horinek, Elizabeth Horinek, Ainsley Horinek, and Trelawney Horinek, all of Sublette; great-granddaughter Naomi Orth of Sublette; sisters Betty Yotter of Leoti and Donna Price of Tribune; brother Jim and his wife Cindy Armstrong of Ulysses; sisters-in-law Barbara Engel of Sharon Springs, Marilyn Armstrong of Leoti, and Marilyn D. Armstrong of Wichita; and many beloved nieces, nephews, and cousins.
Sharon Springs Cemetery