Mom was born Wilma Bell McCune on November 11, 1920 in Missouri. Her grandfather was a traveling preacher. Her parents were Jewell and Cray (a disabled 1st World War veteran). They gave mom her Cherokee and Irish heritage and temperament. She had a younger sister Lita who predeceased her.
Just before the 2nd World War at the age of eighteen Wilma, with the help of her mother bought a little restaurant. Financially it wasn’t a money-maker, but it affected her entire life; because it was there she met her future husband. Orlando Joseph Riccardi’s father had emigrated from Rome to Detroit a number of years earlier. One day the young soldier visited that restaurant with a few of his Italian-American buddies. That first day his friends put money in the juke box and danced with Wilma and another girl that worked at the restaurant, but all Joe wanted to do was eat and talk. And he came back often to do both. They married a short time after that. While Joe was in the service Wilma attended nursing school; but when Joe was released and wanted to move back to Detroit she gave up that potential career also to bear and raise his children. Her sister, Lita later married a contractor from California and moved to Bakersfield.
Joe and Wilma had five children: Danny, Paul, Sandra, Linda and Ricci. Theirs was not an easy life, but mom always provided for her children. Sometimes that meant humbly notifying the Goodwill they didn’t have money to buy Christmas presents; other times it meant driving the kids to Missouri to stay with her parents for a time until they got back on their feet. Joe’s older sister Dora was a Pentecostal Pastor and Wilma saw that her children attended her little church until the church relocated out West, first to California, then to Oregon. But it was there that mom gave her heart to Jesus, as did some of her children. Thereafter, she encouraged her kids to continue and mature their relationship with the Lord.
Her husband was a mechanic and truck driver and his boys all loved cars and could do amazing things with engines. So mom always had to put up with several vehicles in various conditions of repair in the backyard of each of the many homes they rented over the years. After the kids got older and began living on their own, Wilma and Joe traveled a lot by automobile. Almost always they headed out west. At first it was to visit her parents who had re-located by this time to her sister’s neighborhood in Bakersfield, California. Later it broadened to the Portland Oregon area where her sons Danny and Paul had moved with their families, not far from some of dad’s siblings; and eventually down south where Linda and family moved. So mom’s focus remained on her children even as she aged. On their return from such a vacation they would have literally hundreds of snapshots of mountains and plains which they took, often out of the window of their moving car – because dad didn’t like to stop until he got to his destination.
Mom loved animals – all kinds of animals. So when you visited them, it wasn’t unusual to find various farm animals in their fenced-in yard: ducks, chickens or even a pig. In later years she confined her pets to dogs and cats. And until recently she put in a garden every Spring – a very large garden – which had so much overflow that she gave most of it away to family and neighbors.
Mom cared for family and close friends. After her husband’s death at the age of 67, her youngest son Ricci experienced financial challenges and physical difficulties, so he moved back home where he lived for a few years until he passed away at the age of forty-one while awaiting heart-transplant surgery. A short time later she took in another person fifteen-years-her-junior who was legally blind and who suffered from a number of other maladies. She drove that person all over Macomb County to doctors and hospitals, and provided home care – something mom continued to do up to within the last ten days of her life.
Mom loved all her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren – and the ones who knew her loved her. My three kids loved to visit with their grandma and hear her talk about the old days. And my daughter’s three children not only enjoyed seeing her but talked to her on the phone a few times a week. Early in the day before she passed, mom was laboring a lot in the hospital, but she kept asking about “the kids.” Jean brought the three over that afternoon to visit, and her spirits just lifted up. She sat in a chair beside the hospital bed and three-year-old Leah, sitting on her lap, sang to her “Jesus loves me”. Leah’s twin Lawson and her older brother Nick hugged her and told her how they missed her. The next morning, after she was ushered into her eternal reward, three different nurses came in to tell Sandy and I how much that one simple visit had changed mom’s spirit, and how she just jabbered and talked about it to her hospital sitter all night long, before she gently and peacefully faded away.
Angels carried her spirit and soul to heaven the morning of May 12th.