June 8, 1945 ~ January 26, 2021
Born in: Canton, MS
Resided in: Zionsville, IN
On Tuesday, January 26, 2021, Wilma “Jean” Lyles, loving mother, grandmother, great- grandmother, auntie and friend lost her fight with cancer at the age of 75.
Family and close friends called her by her middle name, Jean. She was born on June 8, 1945 in Canton, MS to Willie (Grant) and Curtis Brown.
Jean chose Christ at an early age in Canton, MS at her family church, Hopewell Memorial Methodist Church. She was baptized in the pond behind the church. She told this story fondly to her children and grandchildren. She would say that you could see the water moccasin’s black heads popping up as she was being baptized and how hot that summer day was in Mississippi. Jean later practiced several variations of her faith in Christ- Apostolic, Catholic, Baptist and Methodist while living in Gary, IN.
Jean had a passion for helping people. She loved to talk to people and provided encouragement as well as unconditional love to all she encountered. All of the condolences and conversations we are receiving about our mother have had one theme, she was loved, and everyone felt like she was their best friend. A lot of people do not know that she was a freedom rider in Mississippi in the early 60s. The unequivocal racial divide in Mississippi prompted Jean to have a call to action. She rode buses during the civil rights movement as she believed in equality and wanted to be a part of helping to cure the disease of racism, especially as a person growing up in the era of Jim Crow Mississippi.
On January 15, 1968, she moved to Gary, IN and married McArthur Lyles and set out to build a legacy and raise their family. She had 5 children: Minnie Pearl Ferguson, Sharon Lyles-Holly (David), McArthur Lyles Jr. (Nichelle), Andre Lyles (Faith) and Jennifer Lyles.
Jean grew up cooking for her family as a young girl in Mississippi. She was the best cook around based on many rave reviews from her family. She later cooked professionally as a Dietician Cook at Golden Living Nursing Center in Merrillville, IN. She joked that the residents there would request that she prepped certain foods for them when an item would come up on the menu. We would joke that her cooking changed because she was trying to cook too healthy since she had to prep food special for the elderly. We really missed the butter, salt and fats that made her cooking the best!
In the 70s, Jean worked nights at ANCO wiper company in Gary, IN making wiper blades for automobiles. She left ANCO for PULLMAN Standard Rail Cars, where she made trains or “boxes” as she called them, in Hammond, IN into the 80s. In the 90s she worked as an Auto Body Estimator and Body Shop manager for LYLES BODY SHOP in Gary, IN.
She loved working and made lifetime friends at each of these jobs, but she loved her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren more than any job. Her innate ability to fix, create and build things helped guide Jean in her purpose in life. She built her children to be strong and stand on their own feet. She created an environment where they knew how to work and persevere. She fixed anything that was wrong with just a call or conversation. This was accomplished through her ability to make light jokes or have snappy responses to many situations. Most recently, while recovering from brain cancer surgery and learning to walk again, the hospital staff and rehab facility workers would tell her to make one more step and being the jokester that she was, Jean would say, “you make it, I don’t feel like it”. She had similar responses to the prescribed brain check questions as well, like; What year it is? When is your birthday? She would reply with ease, but when it came to the question of: “Who is the president of the United States?” She would reply, “You know who he is, you put him in there.” She never said his name. The staff would get a kick out of it. This proves she was still strong in her beliefs, convictions, sense of humor and personality — no matter what.
Jean was a strong woman and she moved mountains as GOD allowed, to make sure her children and grandchildren were not without. “Granny” as her grandchildren, great-grandchildren as well as ALL of their friends called her, was special. All of the children wanted to be at Granny’s house. She always cooked, fed you and played with you. Her biggest concern two weeks before she left here on her journey to heaven was that she would not get to see Mariah Angel grow up. She wanted to see her grandchildren ALL grow up.
She left 13 Grandchildren: Ronald (Morton) Lyles, Ronell (Morton) Lyles, Bernard Ferguson III, Torrence Ferguson, McArthur Lyles III, David Lyles-Holly, Jordan Lyles-Holly, Andrecia Lyles, Patience Lyles, Gabriel Lyles, Jadyn Harris, Rhema Lyles and Carter Crawley; 10 Great Grandchildren: Ronell Lyles Jr., Elijah Lyles, Jhourni Lyles, Bernard Ferguson IV, Robert Ferguson, Mariah Angel Lyles, Mariah Pearl Ferguson, Amari Lyles, Iyla Lyles and Dahlia-Rose Ferguson.
Some of our Mom’s many sayings were, “If I have, you have” and “We may have been poor, but we were rich in love”. We will forever carry this in our hearts for as long as we live. We love you Mom.