Velma Juanice Pickens of Columbia passed away Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, at Boone Hospital Center after a brief illness. She was 88.
Visitation will take place at 1 p.m. Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, at Memorial Funeral Home, with funeral services to follow at 2 p.m. There will be a private family burial afterward at Memorial Cemetery.
Velma (or Juanice, as she was known in childhood and through mid-life) was born in Winnsboro, Texas, on Oct. 2, 1931, to Loyd Cecil Thurman and Myrtle (Henry) Thurman.
Her family moved from Winnsboro to Dallas when she was 5. She graduated from Adamson High School in 1949 and from Methodist Hospital of Dallas School of Nursing in 1952. In 1956 she earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Texas-Austin.
On June 23, 1956, she married James Milton Pickens, who said she was the most beautiful woman he had ever met. Jim had just graduated from medical school at Austin, and the couple moved to Indianapolis for a year’s internship, then back to Dallas for a two-year residency in pediatrics.
In March 1959, they welcomed their first child, Martha. In June that year they moved to Columbia where Jim had accepted a fellowship in pediatrics at the University of Missouri. Soon they welcomed two more children, Joanna and Greg.
Juanice embraced motherhood, making sure her children had a rich array of experiences and supporting them in each of their own unique paths in life. Summertime camping trips, bird watching in the woods and lots of picnics at Stephens Lake were among the wonderful times the family spent together.
Juanice was also dedicated to healthy eating and exploring new foods, which led to some “interesting” meals (her children are still trying to forget the peanut soup …).
Juanice and Jim both loved nature and being in the country, which led them to purchase a house on 10 acres later in life. Juanice landscaped with native plants, and they put in a pond for wildlife. And while they both loved gardening, they often had more optimism than success, leading them to dub their spot “Maybe Next Year Farm.”
Juanice returned to school at the University of Missouri and earned her master’s degree in nursing in 1985, at which point she began using the name Velma (easier for patients to pronounce).
She had a passion for thoughtful and clear communication, as well as tremendous insight and a talent for putting herself in others’ shoes. She also had a great sense of humor and loved telling jokes and making puns. These skills served her patients well during the eight years she worked as a clinical nurse specialist on the psychiatric unit at Boone Hospital Center, until her retirement 1993.
Upon retiring, Velma engaged in a number of volunteer activities. These included tutoring children at Columbia Public Schools, working with the ESL literacy program at Douglass High School, assisting patients and their families at Boone Hospital Center and of course her beloved sewing group, the Sew and Sews.
She also participated in several folk arts programs around the country where she learned basket weaving and wood carving. Through books and local classes, she continued to develop these hobbies, as well as teaching herself how to make beaded jewelry.
Velma enjoyed traveling and was fascinated by the food, cultures and scenery in other parts of the world. Her son took her to New Zealand where she was able to take in that country’s rugged landscape, tropical plants and unique species of birds.
She also traveled with Elderhostel and enjoyed trips to Scotland, Spain, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico’s Copper Canyon and Alaska (both the Inside Passage and a trip to the interior). She also took several semesters of Spanish, which she put to use on her trips.
Velma was preceded in death by her parents and her husband. She is survived by her daughter Martha (Barb Sonderman), her daughter Joanna, her son Greg and her granddaughter, Madeleine. She is also survived by her brother, L. Donald Thurman (La Donna), sisters-in-law Marjorie Kolman and Nell Holman, several nieces and nephews, and a host of friends.
The family would like to thank the staff at Boone Hospital Center for providing extraordinary care to Velma in her final days.
Memorial donations are suggested to the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, 2101 Vandiver Drive, Columbia, MO, 65202.