Rosa Mary (Sutton) Zell
January 11, 1917 - October 1, 2007

Joe William Zell
April 14, 1913 - November 10, 2007

RosaMary at a USFW meeting in April 2007.

Joe at Randolph Nursing Home in December of 2006.

Rosa Mary Sutton was born on January 11, 1917, in her parents' farmhouse north of Parker City in Delaware County, Indiana, the first child of Don and Ethel (Doughty) Sutton. She later gained a sister Martha and three brothers -- Albert, Robert, and Otis Sutton.

Rosa Mary grew up around the Parker City community and attend the Stony Creek School. Her childhood, like those of other Indiana farm girls in the early 20th century, was one of chores, acquiring homemaking skills, and being part of a large family. While still in school, Rosa Mary won awards at the state fair for her sewing abilities. From a fellow student, she learned to play the piano and organ, skills she put to good use well into her adulthood accompanying hymns and special music at the churches she attended.

After graduating from Stony Creek High School in 1936, Rosa Mary studied English at Ball Teachers College in Muncie for one year. She then worked briefly helping local farmers market their produce in city markets in the area. That ended up being the last job for wages Rosa Mary would ever hold. In the months after finishing high school, she had begun dating Joe Zell, a young man who had graduated from Stony Creek four years earlier and was working on farms around Parker City and for a local grain elevator. They were married on February 5, 1938, at the home of pastor/evangelist Zelma Mills north of Lynn and began housekeeping on a farm south of Farmland. Their first son Tom was born about six years later, followed over the next several years by brothers Steve and Aaron.

The Zells farmed south of Farmland and lived at two different locations during the first twenty years of their marriage. Until they moved closer to Winchester, the Zell family related mostly to Farmland and attended Farmland Friends Church, where Rosa Mary played the piano and organ regularly. In 1957 or 1958, the family moved to the farm along Huntsville Pike southwest of Winchester where they would reside for the next 44 years. As a committed, hardworking farm wife, Rosa Mary helped Joe for many years to raise livestock and grow corn, soybeans, and other crops. Her sons remember her as an outstanding homemaker and an excellent cook.

As Winchester became more central to the Zells' lives, they began attending Winchester Friends Meeting, and in 1965 they moved their membership to the Winchester church. Rosa Mary served actively and faithfully in many ways, including playing the organ and piano when needed, and clerking the Monthly Meeting for a few years. She was active in the outreach and missions work of the United Society of Friends Women. When the church decided to build the education annex onto the meetinghouse in 1970, Rosa Mary helped to initiate annual Holiday Bazaars that raised a significant portion of the cost of the new structure. In addition to her family and church commitments, Rosa Mary also was a regular participant in the Lincoln Club home extension group.

Rosa Mary's family could always count on her commitment to their well-being. Her grandchildren recall her consistent love for them, and her unquestioned devotion to her husband. All her family agree that Rosa Mary had an agreeable, even disposition and always treated others considerately. Joe's comment was, "We never fussed."

Rosa Mary and Joe worked as a team late into their life together. When Joe's strokes and hip fracture significantly reduced his mobility, Rosa Mary "became his legs;" and when Alzheimer's-like illness deprived Rosa Mary of memory and reasoning, Joe covered those bases for her. As their health declined further, Rosa Mary and Joe moved to the Summers Pointe assisted living center in the fall of 2002, and Rosa Mary resided there until her death at age 90 at St. Vincent Randolph Hospital on October 1, 2007, after a relatively short illness. She was preceded in death by her parents, her brother Albert Sutton, and her sister Martha Burch. She is survived by her husband Joe; by her sons Tom (Winchester), Steve (Texas), and Aaron (California) and their wives; by eight grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren; and by her brothers Robert Sutton and Otis Sutton.



From Remembering to Reminding
Message Given at the Funeral of Rosa Mary Zell


Soon after Pam and I met Rosa Mary and Joe in 1998, it became apparent to us that Rosa Mary was having trouble remembering things. Before long, Joe spoke to us about his concern for her and his distress over being unable to help her improve. Despite the significant challenges they faced, we were impressed by their commitment and ability to help each other to stay on the farm as long as they did. Rosa Mary's struggle with loss of memory and reasoning ability progressed slowly but steadily for the years that we knew her. Pam and I were grateful to those in her family and in the church who made the effort to stay in normal, loving relationships with Rosa Mary, even when she could not reciprocate very well.

It seems to me that in the years I knew Rosa Mary, her role in life increasingly transitioned from remembering to instead being a reminder. One of the things Rosa Mary reminds us to do is to invest ourselves in the things that are most important in life, in the values that are most precious, in treasures that are not available from banks and brokerages. Rosa Mary invested deeply in her marriage, and in her parenting and family responsibilities. Her pride in the ever-present family photos told us that she treasured her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She invested herself in service to God through the faith community, taking full advantage of opportunities provided by the church to help others. The beauty of the farm she and Joe built reminds us to invest in caring for the earth.

A second reminder that Rosa Mary's life should be to us is of the importance of solid foundations. Five years ago, Pam and I took a trip to Arkansas to visit what is left of Southland College, a teacher's training institute established during the Civil War by the first pastors of Winchester Friends to help educate the thousands of slaves freed by the war. The ravages of time took a heavy toll on the Southland building, and it had to be torn down. All that remains today is the concrete foundation, but it was unmistakable that something important once stood there. In a similar way, time badly degraded Rosa Mary's ability to remember and control her thought processes, but the solid foundation of loving relationships and her even disposition remained. Her life reminds us that when life's storms batter us, our foundations will be exposed, and whatever we have built upon will be revealed. Rosa Mary's example reminds us to build and then preserve a firm base of love and godliness in our lives.

A third thing Rosa Mary's life reminds us of is the importance of promptness, and of not procrastinating. We must not put off doing or saying the good we should do or say, because our capacity or opportunity to do it may slip away suddenly and be lost. Back in the 1990s, friends of ours living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, had a missionary friend who boarded a plane to Nairobi, but he ended up dying when the plane was hijacked by dissidents and crashed into the Indian Ocean. His wife told our friends that the loss of her husband had taught her to "keep short accounts" with people, to take care of relationships when the opportunity is there, because it can be lost in an instant. Rosa Mary's incapacity had a slower onset, but it was obvious that there were times she wanted to express love but could no longer do it. Her example teaches us to "work while it is day, for night comes when no one can work."

One other reminder Rosa Mary gives us regards the promises of God. According to Psalm 25:6,7, God's memory is selective, and it is perfect. When God is our Savior, and when our hope is in Him, He promises to remember His great mercy and love, and to remember not our sins and rebellious ways. That is a promise that is repeated throughout the Bible. In Genesis 9, He promises He will always remember His covenant with humankind. Luke's Gospel tells us that God knows every sparrow that falls, that not one is forgotten, and that He loves us far more than the birds. In John 10, Jesus promises that God knows and remembers our names. And at the very end of human time, John's Revelation contains a promise from the One seated on the throne that He is "making all things new." Rosa Mary's struggle with memory reminds us of God's promise to forget our sins, to remember His love and mercy towards us, and in the end to provide us with new, glorified bodies to replace those worn out by life on earth.

We can best honor Rosa Mary's long life by remembering her love, by remembering God's work in and through her, and by letting her remind us (a) of the importance of investing our lives in what is truly essential; (b) of establishing our lives on a solid foundation of godly love; (c) of the importance of taking care of relationships and responsibilities while we have the opportunity; and (d) of God's promise never to forget us, always to remember His great love and mercy towards us, and to welcome us to newness of life in His presence so long as our hope is in Him.


Ron Ferguson
5 October 2007

 

 

Joe was born on April 14, 1913, in Stoney Creek Township south of Parker City, Indiana, the only child of Omer and Effie (Moredock) Zell. According to Joe's sons' research, his name was written on the birth certificate as Josiah William Zell, but on every other legal document they ever saw, his name was listed as Joe W. Joe grew up on his parents' farm near the Randolph-Delaware County line. The U.S. entered World War I when he was four years old. Joe walked or rode in a horsedrawn "hack" about two miles to the Stony Creek Schools for his education.

Throughout his childhood, Joe and his parents walked or rode half a mile on Sundays and on most Wednesday evenings to attend the Union Congregational Christian Church. When he was 13 or 14 years old, with no external pressure or public invitation, Joe stood during a worship service and told the congregation that he had decided to commit his life to Christ.

Joe remembered being taught about President Calvin Coolidge during his high school years. He graduated from Stony Creek High School at age 17 in 1930 and went to work full-time on his family's farm as the Great Depression took a firm hold on rural America. Sometime in the mid-1930s, he got a job working at a local grain elevator for $15 per week. He remembered not liking it very much when President Roosevelt introduced the new Social Security program that ended up taking 15 cents out of his weekly pay.

On February 5, 1938, Joe and Rosa Mary Sutton were married at the home of evangelist/pastor Zelma Mills north of Lynn, Indiana. They started housekeeping and farming on land southwest of Farmland, then after several years relocated to a different farmstead in the same area. Over those years, their three sons Tom, Steve, and Aaron were born.

In 1957 or 1958, the Zells moved to the farm on Huntsville Road southwest of Winchester that would be their home base for the next 44 years. With Rosa Mary's help as a traditional, self-sufficient farm wife, Joe raised a variety of crops and livestock and earned a reputation as an excellent and hardworking farmer. He loved farming and the family farm life and considered it spiritual ministry, and it showed in his work and in his stewardship of the land. After their sons married and moved away, the Zell farmstead became a "preferred destination" for the grandchildren who eventually came into the family and who loved being with their grandparents who loved each other so beautifully and who proudly loved their grandchildren so unconditionally.

In the early years of their marriage, the Zells were active participants and leaders in the Friends Church at Farmland. After moving closer to Winchester, they began attending Winchester Friends Church and soon were recognized as devoted, committed Friends. They transferred their memberships from Farmland to Winchester Friends in 1965. Joe served on many committees and in many leadership positions, and he was valued as a quiet, wise, deliberate elder of unquestionable integrity. He had an easy sense of humor and enjoyed a good laugh. In his 2006 "personal Advent story," he told the church that he had always appreciated both worshipful silence and good preaching, and that he was especially helped and challenged by the writings of the apostle Paul.

Joe continued farming into the 1990s as much as his health allowed, even after he was partly immobilized by strokes. The Zells' failing health finally necessitated their move in late 2002 to the Summers Pointe assisted living center in Winchester. As Rosa Mary's Alzheimers-like symptoms worsened, Joe patiently and kindly helped her manage, even as she helped Joe cope with his immobility.

In his final year of life, Joe's healthcare needs required that he move to Randolph Nursing Home while Rosa Mary remained at Summers Pointe. Despite that discouraging reality, Joe's steadfast faith and quiet strength kept him from becoming resentful, kept him looking to God for comfort and endurance, and kept him aware of the possibilities for ministry to other nursing home residents and to the staff and visitors who came into his room.

Joe died at age 94 after a brief hospitalization at Winchester's St. Vincent Randolph Hospital on November 10, 2007. He was preceded in death by his parents, and by his wife Rosa Mary just five weeks earlier on October 1, 2007. Joe is survived by his sons and their wives, Tom and Cheryl of Winchester, Steve and Carol of Cisco,TX, and Aaron and Kim of Moorpark, CA; by eight grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren; and by his friends at Winchester Friends, Summers Pointe, and Randolph Nursing Home who are grateful to have known Joe and who will miss his friendship and ministry.