Wilma Earls, longtime director of the Bethany Center, passes away

By Sam Wildow

swildow@aimmediamidwest.com

PIQUA — The longtime director of the Bethany Center, Wilma A. Earls, 84, recently passed away on Friday, Nov. 19, at the Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton.

Earls was one of the founding board members of the Bethany Center in 1998 after going to Fr. Frank Keferl of St. Mary’s Church at the time. Earls soon helped grow the soup kitchen to a food pantry and clothing bank.

“She loved the people, and they loved her,” said Cathy Large, of the Bethany Center. Large, who was also a close friend with Earls, recalled how Earls impacted the local community by caring for others, especially those who were in need of the basic necessities.

“She had so many things that she wanted to do, and she did accomplish a lot of them,” Large said. “Her main goal was to make sure they were fed.”

Large said the Bethany Center offered other programs throughout the years, such as tutoring, when there were students and others in need. Earls was also a strong advocate of the Bethany Center’s cold shelter.

“It was a joy to work with her,” Large said, describing how Earls would light up when she spoke to the patrons of the Bethany Center. “She was a surrogate mother to a lot of them.”

Earls knew what people needed, Large said, as she offered everything from comfort and prayers to firm guidance and support to those who needed it.

“You couldn’t help but be a better person when you were around Wilma,” Large said.

Earls’ health prevented her from being at the Bethany Center full-time in recent years, but anytime she could be there, Large said they got her there.

“She was always our director until last Friday,” Large said.

Earls’ Christian faith was also a strong part of her motivation for helping others, telling Large and others that “the good Lord’s hand was in it at all times.”

Paul Green, the president of the Piqua Association of Churches, said Earls was the first nominee for and recipient of the association’s Hero of Faith award. Green said Earls was supportive of both the Piqua Association of Churches and him personally, giving him support when he needed it.

“She’s always been in somebody’s corner in one way or the other,” Green said. “Wilma was known because she cared about people, and she let people know that.”

“She will definitely be missed by a lot of people in Piqua and the surrounding areas,” Large said. For Large, Earls was not only a close friend, but an inspiration.

“Everybody has their heroes, and Wilma’s mine,” Large said.

Earls’ family shared a message on social media, describing Earls’ impact on both their family and the community at large.

“We were blessed to have her as our mother, grams, aunt, friend, but we’re also aware of how many lives she has touched outside of our family. She served her community humbly with compassion and kindness,” her family wrote.

When Earls came across a need, she found a way to help, they said.

“She poured her heart and soul into the Bethany Center and was proud of what the organization was able to accomplish, even if there was always more she felt they could provide,” her family wrote. “She set our standard for what it means to be a good Christian, a good neighbor, and an exceptional human being. We will all miss her smile and laughter, but her love and spirit will continue each time we lend a hand, donate time or resources, or advocate for someone not able to do so for themselves. We all very much appreciate the love and respect you have shown her over the years.”

Earls was a member of St. Boniface Catholic Church, and she was also a member of St. Clare’s Chapel at the church. Earls worked at Quality Forms Printing Co. in Piqua for 11 years and at B. F. Goodrich in Troy for seven years. Earls was also a recipient of the Margaret Hinsch award from the Piqua Community Foundation.

Earls married her husband, Phillip, on Oct. 4, 1980. He preceded her in death on Sept. 11, 2009. Earls is survived by two daughters and a son-in-law, four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and one great great-granddaughter. She was also preceded in death by one sister and one son-in-law.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 29, at St. Boniface Catholic Church, Piqua, with Rev. Fr. Daniel P. Hunt. Burial will follow at Forest Hill Cemetery, Piqua. Arrangements are being handled by Melcher-Sowers Funeral Home, Piqua.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Boniface Catholic Church, 310 South Downing Street, Piqua, or the Bethany Center, 339 South Street, Piqua. Condolences may be expressed to the family at www.melcher-sowers.com.