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Nellie Jean Vinyard Yocum was born to Kathleen P. Vinyard and Raymond H. Vinyard on October 2, 1931. She was named after her grandmother, Nellie B. Pearson. In the afternoon of Friday, May 5, 2023, at age 91, Nell’s spirit transitioned from this world to the next, where she is now in God’s loving care.
She grew up on a farm seven miles east of Harrisburg on old Route 13 in Saline County, Illinois. Growing up, she attended Rocky Branch grade school in Cottage Grove Township with other local farm children. She then attended Harrisburg Township High School (HTHS) where Denzel Simpson and Wilma Banks introduced her to Harry D. Yocum Jr. Their first date was on March 9, 1947, going with three other couples in two trucks to Cave Hill. They married on June 26, 1948, just after Harry graduated HTHS.
Thereafter, Nell‘s life is better presented as Nell and Harry’s life story. In the fall of 1948, Harry started his schooling at Southern Illinois University (SIU) while Nell finished her education by attending the high school on the SIU campus, graduating in 1949. After a year, and with a first child on the way, Harry decided to teach school at Buena Vista grade school near Harrisburg.
They were living in Harrisburg when their first child, Kevin Lee Yocum, was born. Later Nell and Harry moved to Paducah for an employment opportunity, and during this time a second child, Rebecca (Becky) Ann Yocum, was added to the family. In 1953 Harry began teaching in the Carrier Mills school system, and another move was made. While living in Carrier Mills a third child, Susan (Susie) Ray Yocum, was added to the Yocum family.
In 1958, Nell and Harry moved back to Harrisburg, Illinois, where Nell was a homemaker. They were active members of McKinley Avenue Baptist Church and then Vision Baptist Church. They made many lifelong, wonderful friends during their times at both churches. Nell served at the church Beginner’s Sunday School.
With the kids growing up, Nell took courses at Southeastern Illinois College and became a teacher‘s aide working for the Harrisburg school system. In 1974, Nell and Harry decided to accept an offer of employment moving them to El Paso, Texas. This move was quite a change from life in small town southern Illinois! However, in 1975 another coal company came calling and enticed Nell and Harry to move to Indianapolis, Indiana. Harry worked for the company and Nell continued her work as a teacher’s aide. They joined Southport Presbyterian Church, in Indianapolis, where Harry taught Sunday School and Nell knitted prayer shawls for the church ministry.
After Harry retired in 1991, Nell and Harry spent winters on South Padre Island, Texas. They would spend several weeks each winter in the same complex. For many years at South Padre Island Nell enjoyed sitting outside keeping watch for ships and ocean animals. They were very active with other couples wintering in the area as well until Nell‘s health prevented them from traveling.
In 2020 Nell and Harry moved to a retirement facility in Greenwood, Indiana. Late in 2022 Nell‘s health began deteriorating and ultimately led to hospice and her death on May 5, 2023.
Nell maintained great joy from knitting, setting the fanciest of tables, curating an extensive rose garden, collecting antiques, dressing to the nines and serving in the local church. Though ‘artistic’ isn’t a title she would have given herself, she had the hands of an artist. Her knit wares were so perfectly crafted many thought they were purchased at boutiques. She handmade over 100 baby coats and hats, in addition to numerous prayer shawls, blankets, house shoes and afghans. Nell became so concerned she would lose the ability to knit baby coats and blankets for her great grandchildren, that she pre-knit a set for each of her grandchildren. They remain in boxes, ready for the day they are needed.
She put her hands to work in the kitchen too, making many meals. If you ever dropped by for a visit you were sure to smell her fresh sourdough baking away in the oven and filling the house. Her fried chicken, green beans and ham loaf remain among the most coveted of family foods. She understood that food wasn’t just to stave off hunger, but to help soothe the soul. While home cooking was at the top of her list, she loved a good bowl of popcorn with a glass bottled coke at the end of the day.
The garden at the home of Harry and Nell boasted well over 60 varieties of roses, many plants from family gardens and two of the most audacious gardenia plants. Nell’s gardenias grew so prolifically she became unable to keep them in her home. She donated them to the Garfield Park Conservatory in Indianapolis, Indiana, where they can be visited today. Gardenias were Nell’s favorite flower. She repeatedly told her loved ones that gardenias were the scent of heaven.
Nellie Jean loved spending time in church. She proclaimed her love of Jesus publicly at the age of 27, being baptized alongside her husband, Harry. Her favorite verse, which she clung to through the end of her days, was “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct your path.” Proverbs 3:5. Nell was steadfast in her walk with Christ and instilled a love of Jesus in her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Nell is survived by her husband, Harry Yocum; her children, Kevin Yocum, of Glen Allen, Virginia; daughter, Becky Hicks, of San Antonio, Texas; and Susie (Randy) Hewitt of Greenwood, Indiana. She is also survived by five grandchildren and six great grandchildren, one of whom is named “Nellie.” Nell’s earthly remains will be laid to rest during a private, graveside service at Cottage Grove Cemetery, near the farm on which Nellie lived until she was married. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Liberty Baptist Church, 250 Liberty Road, Harrisburg, Illinois 62946.