Shirley I. Whitener

Shirley I. Whitener, 93, of Onaway died Sunday, March 26, 2017 at Autumn Woods Health Care in Warren.


She was born to Pearl O. (Lewis) and Leo Thorsel February 18, 1924 in London, Ontario. She married William J. Van Conant August 13, 1945 in Croswell. They divorced in 1967. She married Harry S. Whitener August 2, 1977 in Grand Ledge.

Shirley grew up in Pontiac and after graduation went to work at Pontiac Motors during World War II. After their marriage, Bill and Shirley lived in Port Huron and Florida.

They moved to Onaway following the death of their infant daughter Dorothy, and Shirley’s father the following month, to be near her mother. Shirley worked in the office at the Northern Garment Factory, but a few years later when Bill’s weekly commute to Pontiac became too much, they moved to Rochester.

Too independent to be content as a suburban housewife, she went back to work when her youngest child went to school full time. She became assistant to the vice president at American Metal Toys (AMT) and when he left to start Model Products Corporation (MPC), she went along. After MPC was sold to General Mills the company merged with Lionel. She worked at Lionel until her retirement in 1976.

After she married Harry in 1977 they moved to Onaway. She worked for a while as a dispatcher with the Onaway Police Department and as a substitute city clerk.

Although she wasn’t really an outgoing person, she loved company and visiting people. While Harry was able they went to Ocala, Florida each winter. She made many friends while there and kept in contact with them after coming home.

She would make lists each week of the garage sales and try to pick the one to hit first. She loved having her own garage sales and visiting with all who stopped. Her finds decorated her house, but she liked to change them often. She was proud of her flower beds and spent hours picking out plants and decorations for them.

She enjoyed spending time with her family, often bragging to others about her grandkids. She loved going to her son and daughter-in-law’s cottage and riding the pontoon around the lake to see the houses. Fall color tours and eating out with her daughter and son-in-law were high on her list of favorites. Her favorite trips after Harry died were with her friend Margi Berry around the Upper Peninsula and on to Thunder Bay. They always came home with buckets of rocks. The amethyst mines were a favorite stop.

She is survived by her daughter Suzanne (Thomas) Bobola of Onaway, her son William (Linda) Van Conant of Royal Oak and two grandchildren, Tara and Brian Van Conant, both of Royal Oak. Also surviving is her best friend, Margi (Wayne) Berry of Onaway.

She was preceded in death by her infant daughter, Dorothy (1946), husbands Bill (2001) and Harry (2004), sister Evelyn (1939) and all of her sisters- and brothers-in-law.

A memorial service will be conducted at a later date.

Donations in her memory to any Hospice, the Alzheimer’s Association, or to Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5857 would be appreciated. Condolences may be shared with Shirley’s family at