June 2, 1915 - August 10, 2019
Jean Tunnell, 104, of Van, passed from her worn out body and the arms of loving family to her new life in Jesus Christ Saturday, August 10. A celebration of her life will be held Wednesday, August 14, at 10 a.m. at Van United Methodist Church with the Rev. Erin Muckleroy officiating. Graveside service will follow at Colfax Cemetery.
Jean was born June 2, 1915 in Denison to John Harold “Harry” Wilson and Helen Fern (Nelson) Wilson. He was superintendent of Collins Institute, a native American boys’ boarding school in Southeastern Oklahoma. He met his wife when she came to Collins as school nurse after her graduation from training in her native Kansas.
Jean was reared in Van Zandt County where several related Wilson families had relocated from Missouri some years earlier. Economic depression had already settled over Texas agriculture and conditions were brutal. She walked or rode horseback to school at Browning, Colfax, and Ben Wheeler. At age 12 she demonstrated the determination typical of her life when she broke a horse to saddle by riding it to school. Her parents, from fairly well schooled backgrounds, pushed her to find her way out of poverty through education. When the discovery of oil in the Van area made possible a new school system and the potential of an additional year of classes to prepare her for college, she rode her bay mare Janice seven miles each way from the family farm to graduate first in her class in 1931, the first year of the new Van ISD. Two scholarships and several part-time jobs later, she graduated from Trinity University then in Waxahachie, and began teaching school. In 1943 she married Forrest Truman Tunnell, a childhood neighbor and schoolmate, and moved to Dallas. There she was employed as a social worker for Old Age Assistance (Social Security) enrolling elderly residents of the village of Grand Prairie until she resigned in 1945 to rear a family.
In 1959, having sold his business interests in Dallas, Truman relocated Jean and their two children to Van to rural life and cattle ranching. In 1962 Jean returned to her passion of teaching when she secured an English position at Van High School under her beloved former superintendent, J.E. Rhodes. For 12 years she lived her dream job of teaching American literature and coaching successful UIL competitors in spelling and essay writing. She also traveled as marching band “mom” during football season.
After Truman’s death in a traffic accident in October 1973, she retired and embarked on a new career of volunteerism, grandparenting, and travel. She participated with dedication and energy in every project she undertook, including volunteering with East Texas Food Bank, Van Zandt County Library, and CIA Tutorials. She taught an adult women’s Sunday school teacher at Van United Methodist Church, where she was a member, until she was 91. She served as president of the Van Zandt County Republican Women for three years, helped organize the C.C. Moore Scholarship committee and served as its president. She was the first woman on the Van ISD board of trustees. She also held leadership positions in Kiwanis and the Fine Arts Club. Community recognitions include Woman of the Year by Van Chamber of Commerce, Van ISD Faculty & Staff Hall of Fame, and Woman of Yesteryear for Van Oil Festival. She traveled on every continent but Antarctica.
Jean excelled as an enthusiastic grandmother, giving generously of her time reading, providing enrichment opportunities, and taking grandchildren on trips. She provided seed money that resulted in totally paying for the college education of her grandchildren.
In later years, although less active physically, she remained involved in the lives of the generations of her family, preparing delicious country-style meals, counseling and loving them, and attending events as her health permitted. When her eyesight failed, she endured painful experimental treatments so that she could continue reading even for short periods with a magnifying glass. To the last week of her life she enjoyed discussions of literature and politics, and she never lost her interest in learning and the world around her.
A school publication article said of her in 2007, “Jean Tunnell’s friends know her as a sympathetic listener, a defender of the truth as she understands it, a dangerous bridge opponent, and a happy traveler to practically any destination. Her children agree that the only thing she would fight about at home was peace and quiet.”
Jean was preceded in death by her parents, her husband of 30 years, and two sisters, Anne Meredith Wilson and Frances Fern Jackson.
Survivors include two children, Joan Driver (Gary) of Van and Forrest Truman Tunnell (Joni) of Dallas; six grandchildren, Rachel Parker (Charlie) of Athens, Ellen Thompson of Van, Daniel Driver (Mandy) of Winnsboro, Lauren Tunnell Verdeyen (Kris) of Houston, Wesley Tunnell (Ellen) of Dallas, and Jane Burns (Ernie) of Van; 13 great-grandchildren, Caleb, Jacob, and Micah Parker, Meredith, Makayla, and Joseph Thompson, Madison, Makenzy, and Denver Driver, Milo and Oscar Verdeyen, Jordan Walthall (Dustin) and Joshua Downey and a great-great grandchild, Jacquelynn Walthall. She also leaves numerous beloved nephews, nieces, cousins, and friends.
The family wishes to express gratitude to the companions who tended to daytime needs of our cherished mother and grandmother during her last months: Suzann Ferguson, Sue Mapp, Debbie Franco, Gloria Brown, and Kathy Anders. You spoiled her outrageously and she loved it. The staff of Hospice of East Texas provided excellent, compassionate and seamless care.
In lieu of flowers the family suggests memorial donations to a Jean Tunnell scholarship fund being created with the Van ISD Education Foundation at P.O. Box 697, Van, TX 75790 or to Van Community Ministries/Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry, PO Box 201, Van, TX 75790.