February 23, 2013
Viola "Vi" Hilda Ruth Branton, a Nevada County resident for 36 years, passed away peacefully on Sunday, Feb.17, 2013, at the Hospice Compassionate Care Home in Grass Valley, Calif., after a short illness. She was 103.
The funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, at Hooper & Weaver mortuary, 429 Hollow Way, Nevada City, Calif. Graveside services will follow at Greenwood Cemetery in Grass Valley.
A celebration of life will be held later at Hilltop Commons, where Vi lived for 22 years.
Vi was born April 15, 1909, to Paul and Freida Bauman Shenk in Quincy, Ill. During her childhood, she lived in several small towns in Illinois, Nebraska, and Kansas, where her father was a Baptist minister.
She received a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees in English and History from Southern Illinois University, graduating in 1932.
Teaching was her profession and she taught all grades from first grade to college over 40 years. Family was central to the Shenks' life, and when her brother Paul moved to Houston, Texas, from the Midwest to be an attorney, both parents, Vi and sister, Grace, followed, so that the family would live in the same city.
Vi married Truman Branton, an executive in the oil industry, in Houston on June 8, 1940. They lived in Houston for 30 years and had one child, Judy. They were married 46 years. Vi taught sixth grade at the same Houston school, River Oaks, for 30 years. She twice received Teacher of the Year. She was always strict but fair, and was able to instill a love of learning in her students. Many times her students would return from college to thank her for putting them on the track towards higher education.
At retirement in 1970, Truman and Vi moved to Canyon Lake, Texas, and traveled extensively by Airstream trailer throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. She was a voracious reader and had a large library of books.
Vi had abundant energy, a brilliant mind and a fine sense of humor. She was known far and wide for her cooking, especially fluffy pancakes, fried chicken, German dishes, cakes and pies. Her grandchildren hope one day to open a restaurant, "Omie's Pies," using her recipes.
When her daughter married Paul Wilkins, a San Francisco attorney, and had two children, Vi and Truman moved to California to be closer. They built one of the first homes at Lake Wildwood in 1977. Vi's nickname became "Omie" when her grandson could not pronounce "Oma," German for grandma.
After Truman's death in 1986, Omie herself chose to move to Hilltop Commons to be around people. She remained there for 22 years, living independently with an alert mind until her death. Devotion to her family was the main impetus of her life.
When asked on her 100th birthday, she credited her longevity to walking at least a mile every day and her life philosophy. She was a Depression-era child, with hand-me-down parish clothes and few toys other than paper dolls cut out from the Sears catalogue.
During her married life, she enjoyed a comfortable middle-class life. She lived by Philippians 4:11-13: "I am content whether in want or in plenty" and gave advice to others "to accept what the Lord gives you and make the most of it."
She also advised to "look for the good in other people and you'll find it in there somewhere."
Vi is survived by her daughter Judy Wilkins, and son-in-law, Paul Wilkins of Penn Valley; grandson, Brian Wilkins of Los Angeles, Calif.; and granddaughter, Cathy Wilkins of San Francisco. She is preceded in death by husband Truman in 1986; brother, Paul Shenk; and sister Grace Shenk.