Obituary for Mary Ellen Willburn
Mary Ellen Ruh Willburn journeyed from this world to the next on December 20, 2017.
Born in Chicago, Illinois on August 15, 1941.
Parents: Richard F. Ruh and Margaret Coubrough Ruh.
Married to James J. Willburn on July 2, 1966 in Evergreen, Colorado at Christ the King Catholic Church.
They have three children: Christopher and wife Annette of Houston, TX, Matthew and wife Trish of Salt Lake City, UT, and daughter Meggen of Houston, TX.
There are five grandchildren: Ashlyn, Aubrey, Emery, Connor, and Landon.
Mary Ellen was the eldest of five children. Her siblings are Karen and husband Dave May of Winters, CA, Kathleen and husband Greg Beaufils of Rockford, IL, John and wife Darlene Ruh of Chicago, IL, and Sue Rapp of Littleton, CO.
Mary Ellen was raised in Chicago, graduated from St. Matthias Elementary School, St. Gregory High School, and National College of Education in Evanston, IL (now National Lewis University). She taught elementary school for the Park Ridge, IL and Littleton, CO school districts. After college, she moved to Littleton, CO with her friend Diane Hammond, after being inspired by an adventurous, summer road trip the two single women took across the western U.S. in the mid-1960s. In Denver, she soon met her Texan husband.
In the first few years of marriage, James and Mary Ellen lived in Denver, CO, then Las Cruces, NM. In 1971 they moved to Houston, TX with their three small children for James to join two of his brothers in the family plumbing business. Mary Ellen was one of the founders of Little Learners Early Childhood Program at St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Houston. Later she worked with her husband by training employees in his plumbing services business.
Mary Ellen served in ministry in several Catholic Church parishes in Houston throughout her life: St. Francis of Cabrini, St. Luke the Evangelist, St. Anne’s, and St. Rose of Lima. She was a member of the St. Anne’s Guild and Altar Society. She was passionate about faith, family, friends, ministry work, family genealogy, gardening, reading, travel, and early childhood education. She had a particular gift for connecting with people in a very personal way across all cultural, age or societal boundaries and for teaching young children creatively. She and James welcomed international students and interns to live with them in their home. She described German, Matthias Keudel, and Costa Rican, Fernando Sandi, as two of her “adopted” sons, the other being Mark Williamson, a close neighbor. Mary Ellen had a love for ballet and was a season ticket holder of the Houston Ballet for 25 years. She participated in two mission trips to Guatemala to serve indigenous communities, where she developed a special love for those communities which continued until the end of her life.
Rosary/Vigil service will be held on Wednesday, December 27th, at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Houston. Funeral Mass will be on Thursday, December 28th, at 2pm at the same location.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Guardian Angel Fund of Sending Out Servants www.guardianangelfund.org, which supports the education of the underserved indigenous children of Guatemala.