Hamilton County

Nilva Jean Riley


OBITUARY - She was a United States Navy WAVE.

Funeral services for Nilva Jean Henderson, Webster City, will be held on Saturday, March 14, 2015 at 3:00 pm at the Stanhope Parish with Pastor Suzie Moore officiating . Burial will follow at Lawn Hill Cemetery in Stanhope. Visitation will be held Friday, March 13, 2015 from 5:30-700 p.m. at the Foster Funeral and Cremation Center in Webster City.

Nilva Jean Riley was a true Iowa girl from the time she was born on a farm north of Stanhope on September 13, 1923, until she passed away at Mary Greeley Hospital in Ames on March 11, 2015. Even more than that, perhaps, for all of her 91 years she felt connected to her hometown regardless of what her address might say.

Nilva Jean's early years were spent on the Riley family farm operated by her father, Ransom Herbert Riley, and her mother, Pearl Schmidt Riley. Even as they worked hard on the farm, her parents doted on their only child. Her dad walked her the quarter-mile to the country school Nilva Jean attended, and she was often with him as he did his chores around the farm. Always industrious, her mother had a young Nilva Jean embroidering quilt blocks at the age of four.

Nilva Jean was just eight years old when her dad died very suddenly at the age of 35, during corn planting season. As the Great Depression loomed, Pearl very shortly lost the land, the livestock, and their home, but not her very sad little girl. Together they weathered very lean Depression years until in 1939 her mother married another Stanhope farmer, Dannie Knight.

When she was just 16, Nilva Jean graduated from Stanhope High School with the class of 1940. Dannie and Pearl made sure she attended Capital City Commercial College in Des Moines before she was employed as a bookkeeper in Des Moines. World War II was underway by then, and female troops were training in Des Moines. On a lunch hour in 1943, Nilva Jean and an office mate went to the Navy recruiting office and enlisted in the service. They selected that branch because the girls thought WAVE uniforms looked better than WAC uniforms.

In October, 1944, going home for leave on a troop train, Nilva Jean met William Henderson, a sailor from Alabama. The couple fell in love that three days on the train and were married on November 18, 1944, in Ceour d'Alene, Idaho, near the Farragut Naval Base where she was stationed. Their union gave Nilva Jean a large extended family down South, always a blessing to her.

In partnership with Nilva Jean's stepfather, D. R. Knight, the Hendersons farmed south of Stanhope after the war, where they raised their family, until retiring from active farming in 1987. They were blessed to be Arizona snowbirds for 18 winters, where they enjoyed new friendships and activities. In 2009 the couple moved to Crestview Manor and Apartments in Webster City.

As a lifelong member of Stanhope Christian Church (later Stanhope Parish), Nilva Jean enjoyed CWF, church circle, and served as church treasurer. She served on the Stanhope library board. She was a seasonal employee of the Farm Business Association in Webster City and later was a bookkeeper for Hove Truck Line, Stanhope. Neighbors and friends were always part of her life, from farm years until Crestview Apartments.

Many folks were inspired by and in awe of the love and devotion between Bill and Nilva Jean, even after he passed away in July, 2010. Nilva Jean was also preceded in death by their son, William Owen, her parents, and her in-laws in Alabama. She is survived by daughters Billie Shelton and Ann Kennedy (David), all of Stanhope; grandchildren Mark Kennedy (Amy) of Webster City, Mike Kennedy (Robyn) of Ames, Jean Shelton and William Shelton (Laura), all of Michigan, and five great-grandchildren. Nilva Jean will be dearly missed, too, by her "adopted" daughters, the four Sonerholm sisters. 

Source: The Daily Freeman Journal, Webster City, IA, March 13, 2015

Nilva Jean Riley and William Henderson met in late October, 1944. Both were in the Navy and on a troop train going home on leave. She was talking to an Army man when Bill intruded because it looked to him like that “little Army guy” was taking up too much of her time.

They spent three days on that train together before she returned to her home in Iowa and he went on to his family in Alabama. Before separating, though, they had decided to get married. While they were apart, Bill didn’t let her forget him. He sent flowers and wrote letters to her. Nilva Jean, 21, was determined to marry Bill, who was 24, even though her parents tried their best to discourage it— including their offer to give her a wedding if she’d just wait until after the war.

But love won out, and the young couple was married after their leave in the Baptist parsonage in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where Nilva Jean was stationed at the naval base. Bill’s ship, the U.S.S. Idaho, was in port at Seattle. They were together as much as possible until the Idaho shipped out in early January, 1945. He was gone until the war ended that fall.

After they were both discharged, the young couple returned to Iowa to join the farming operation of Nilva Jean’s family. It was a lifestyle and a vocation they embraced with their family. Although they knew each other just three days before their simple wedding during the war, the Hendersons were married 64 years before Bill passed away in 2010. Nilva Jean died in 2015.

~Picture compliments of Bille (Henderson) Shelton