This week I must digress from our well-beaten path of local history and talk about a fine lady I once knew.

This week I must digress from our well-beaten path of local history and talk about a fine lady I once knew.

Shirley Sites gave I don’t know how many years — more than a decade to be sure — to our Newton County Historical Society. She gave of her time not only on the board of directors, but also, and perhaps more importantly, as a willing volunteer. You have seen Shirley Sites. Perhaps she helped your child or grandchild make a corn husk doll. Perhaps she made them smile with words of encouragement as they dipped a wick into a kettle of hot wax to create their very own candle to bring home. Perhaps you have stopped by her cookfire and been offered a taste of whatever pioneer dish she happened to be preparing, Dutch oven style. You may have seen her alongside her husband, Harold, on any of the multiple occasions he gave talks and demonstrations on Civil War medicine.

If you’ve attended many historical society events over the last 10 years or longer, it is likely you have exchanged at least a few words at some point with this lady. That’s because a friendlier, more genuine, more down to earth, more warm-hearted person than Shirley Sites I have probably never met.

Last week, the historical society said goodbye to Shirley, after she left this life rather suddenly. We will miss her. Everyone says that on these occasions, of course, and I allow it’s usually true to a certain degree. But after I heard the bad news, I realized at once that, for me, I really will miss Shirley.

I have known Harold and Shirley Sites since I was 15 years old, or almost half my life, which is when I started Civil War reenacting. They were always willing to help me, always talked to me (you may not realize how much that meant to a boy incredibly shy by nature), were consistently my friends. But Shirley, especially, was friendly with everybody. You had to know Shirley to know what I mean, exactly. She was lively. She was talkative. It wasn’t chit-chat with Shirley, it was story-telling time.

I also think her spirited personality hid a deeper person, too, one that was sometimes ignored because it was veiled in simple good nature.

Shirley, you were one of a kind. No one can ever take your place. Thanks for being there. Thanks for the sunshine. You sincerely will be missed. Goodbye from us all. And once again from me.

Wes Franklin serves on the board of directors of the Newton County Historical Society. He is also a staff writer for the Neosho Daily News. He can be reached at 658-8443.