Among the traits distinguishing Edna was the red hair she inherited from the Purvis side of her family via the Powells, which she in turn passed on to several of her own children and grandchildren. In later years her hair turned snow white, making a stunning contrast to the red dress she wore for special occasions.
Another memorable feature was her exceptional mind which she retained until the end. In spite of having such a large family, she could recite full names and birth dates of each child and grandchild.
1910-11 Shortly after her marriage, Edna received a letter from her mother in which she talked about activities and well-being of other family members as well as he own fatal illness.
In 1943 she was working at the Brown Shoe factory with a yearly income by 1949 of $2392.99. Later until about 1972, she worked as a patient aide (private duty sitter), many of her patients being younger than she was.
Following Robert's death she lived in a tiny 2 bedroom house, probably not more than 800 sq ft total, on Champaign Ave in Mattoon but could squeeze in 40-50 people every week-end when the children came back to visit. It seemed like there was a revolving door with the guest list changing hourly.
She loved to travel and did so every chance she got, either to visit relatives or with them on their trips. On one occasion she spent 6 weeks in CA with her brother, Joe.
From "Gifts of Our Heritage" by granddaughter, Pat Van Gundy Courtney, is the following tribute to Edna and the family:
"Our parents gave us the gift of knowing 'Daddy's people' and many a thread in my life's tapestry is an Illinois one. There was hardly a summer we missed going to Illinois to see Grandma VanGundy and everyone. Our aunts, uncles, and cousins are much loved and thought about because of the Illinois visits. Grandma Van Gundy was the prettiest grandma; she always smelled wonderful; and called everyone 'honey.' It did not matter how many grandchildren she had, the newest one was always special. Even after we were grown, she sent us birthday cards and letters. Sadly, there are only whispers of
memories of Grandpa VanGundy. He died on my sixth birthday.
At Grandma's house, whoever was up first or through the back door first made the coffee. No one complained how it tasted, but Uncle JD was fond of saying that he could drink one cup of Daddy's coffee and just add water to it the rest of the day. Also, one did not throw away the coffee grounds--they were put (along with egg shells) in a
metal pitcher kept by the kitchen sink.
I especially remember Grandma's long table and all the activity centered there--a lot of it having to do with playing pinochle and telling tales on one another. As a child and even later, I would stand quietly and listen to the grownups talk. I most enjoyed hearing about 'olden days'--of times before radio and television when the only entertainment was self-made. They talked of singing at night. Daddy's favorite song was 'In the Garden' which I have since learned was the last song they would sing in the evening before going to bed. Of course, when telling about school days and walking to school, the walk became longer and the snow deeper. They talked of having boarders living with them and how the long table was set twice for every meal. Grandma told of the devastating flu epidemic when their hired hand died. She talked about when Aunt Dorie Jean was born and how she had a dream in which she was at total peace and walked through fields and fields of the most gorgeous flowers she had ever seen. Only later when she came around, as she put it, did the doctor say that they almost lost her.
And Grandma told of seeing Mother for the first time. Mother, from the hills of North Carolina, had never been away from home before when she went to Illinois on the bus. She was dressed in a brown suit and Grandma said she looked like a pretty, little brown bird. Mother always said that Grandma taught her how to be a mother-in-law; and I only hope that I have learned from our Mother how to be one.
We also loved Grandma VanGundy to visit us in North Carolina. Back before the interstates, she would ride the bus from Illinois to Charlotte. How she endured those bus trips is beyond me. Just the thought of being on the bus for the two-days journey makes me experience car-sickness all over again."
Up until the last months of her life, she had lived independently, but finally moved in with daughter, June Fitt, where she died. The cause of death was recorded as arteriosclerotic heart disease with chronic heart failure. Her obituary said that besides her children she
left 57 grandchildren, 80 great grandchildren and 11 great-great grandchildren.
Her will read:
"I, Edna Powell Van Gundy of Mattoon in the County of Coles, State of Illinois, being of sound mind and memory, and considering the uncertainty of this fail and transitory life, do therefore make, ordain, publish and declare this to be my Last Will and Testament. I do hereby revoke all and every former Will or Wills made by me or for me.
First: I order and direct my Executors hereinafter named to pay all my just debts and funeral expenses as soon after my decease as conveniently may be.
Second: I do hereby make, constitute and appoint J.D. Van Gundy and Laura Van Gundy Young, Executors of this my Last Will and Testament and it is my wish that they may not be compelled to give bond or security as such Executors, and that they may settle the estate by selling of the real and personal estate, at private or public sale as they may think best and pay the debts without being compelled to account to the probate or any other court; estate to be closed within one year after decease.
Third: After payment of such funeral expenses and debts it is my desire that my children who contributed to the "Kitty" be re-imbursed in proportion as the amount contributed bares to the total amount contributed.
Fourth: After the payment of such funeral expenses, debts, and the "Kitty" it is my desire that the remaining monies be divided equally between my lawful children and in the event that one or more of my lawful children predecease me in death then their share is to be
divided equally between my lawful childrens lawful children. It is also my desire that Robert Elmer Neaves share in my estate, both real and personal, on the same basis as a lawful child. IN TESTIMONTY WHEREOF, I have hereunto subsecribed my name and affixed my seal this 30 day of June, 1954."
The will was witnessed by J.G. Powell and Nelson Earl Powell, her brothers. (The "Kitty" was a fund established by the children to help support their mother.)
The funeral was held on a Thursday at 2 PM in the First Christian Church of Mattoon with Rev Robert Clark officiating. Pallbearers were grandsons, Mark Fitt, Joe, Dale, and John Van Gundy, Van Webb, and Jim Neaves; honorary pallbearers were her sons. Meals were served to the large crowd of family and friends by both the First Christian and First Baptist Churches.