Sharlene Grace Minshall, 86, passed away in Normandy Park, WA, on September 13, 2023, of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. She was born in a log cabin on the Dowagiac Creek near Dowagiac, MI, on November 23, 1936, to Lee and Mildred (Hall) Stilwell, and four older brothers, Ted, Richard, Leo, and Dean, all deceased. She is survived by two daughters, Janet Minshall Wadlington (Bill, Fruitland, WA); Tracey Minshall Norvelle (Tom, Lynchburg, VA); granddaughter, Rebecca Wadlington LaPlatney (Evin, Renton, WA); grandson, William Norvelle, (Reston, VA), sisters-in-law, Pat Stilwell (Dowagiac, MI), and Kay Newell (Caledonia, MI).
She graduated from Dowagiac High School in 1954. Medical Secretarial training took her to the Regional Radiation Oncology Center, Memorial Hospital, South Bend, IN. Ms. Minshall enjoyed night classes in Oil Painting, Creative Writing, Japanese Language, and Photography at Lake Michigan College and Indiana University, later participating in the Niles Art Association.
Sharlene and Jack met in 1954 at Driftwood, Sister Lakes, MI, and married on September 9, 1956, in Silvercreek Methodist Church. They lived in South Bend, IN, until after the birth of their two daughters, then settled in Niles, MI, and the family became active in the First Presbyterian Church where Ms. Minshall was in the choir for many years. They were avid campers, canoers, and RVers.
For ten years, the Minshalls were co-leaders for 12 troops in the Girl Scouts of Singing Sands Council, with the help of many co-leaders and mothers. Mrs. Minshall’s three Brownie GS troops visited the Minshall kitchen five at a time, baking cookies for Vietnam soldiers via Chicago’s WLS Radio Station. Sharlene wrote “The Troop Snoop” by Kelly Green for the Niles Daily Star.
Jack bought, re-engineered, and painted a school bus white and Cadette Troop #160 girls added their colorful footprints and handprints. “Bessie Bus” was pressed into service for collecting glass and newspapers to fund skiing, camping, and winter activities at Camp Shawadassee, and to Chicago’s McCormick Place, or the Labor Day Walk across the Mackinaw Bridge. Major trips included a Colorado Dude Ranch and Florida’s Disney World. And yes, they sold GS cookies. Ms. Minshall was honored as a 1969 national delegate to the GS Convention in Seattle.
In September 1981, Janet and Tracey gave their parents a 25th wedding renewal celebration at the Minshall home. On August 4, 1982, Jack met his untimely death via Bacterial Endocarditis in Indianapolis, IN. The girls will place their mother’s ashes with their father at Silverbrook Cemetery in Niles. There will be a private graveside interment at a later date.
In 1986, Sharlene, also known as “Charlie” and “Silver Gypsy,” became a full-time RVer to fulfill a dream that she and Jack had for early retirement. For the next twenty years, she traveled the North American Continent as a columnist and photographer, publishing books and giving seminars on the full-time RV lifestyle. Her adventure highlights were a 500-mile canoe trip on Alaska’s Yukon River, driving the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay and the Dempster to Inuvik in Canada’s NW Territories, visiting polar bears in Manitoba, Canada, and living on the beaches of Baja, Mexico. “Crossing the Pond” took her to the Orient, Europe, the United Kingdom, and Scandinavia for International visits. During those years, she met with the two families every two years for weeklong reunions in various states.
Charlie eventually bought an RV lot at Escapee’s North Ranch near Wickenburg, AZ, for those times she was not exploring. She joined the Yarnell Presbyterian Church and choir. She published her first novel, “Winter in the Wilderness,” in 2013, and in 2019, her 7th RV book, “Serendipity on Wheels,” a compilation of previously published favorite columns, book chapters, blogs, and tidbits of advice picked up along the way.
In 2015, Sharlene moved from Arizona to Sequim, WA, and lived with the San Juan de Fuca Sound and Canada to the north and the Olympic National Park to the south, until she moved to Normandy Park Assisted Living earlier this year.