Cover photo for Mary Irene McKinney's Obituary
Mary Irene McKinney Profile Photo
1934 Mary 2023

Mary Irene McKinney

October 30, 1934 — October 27, 2023

Jackson WY

Mary Irene Shoemaker McKinney 

October 30, 1934- October 27, 2023

 

Our beloved mother, Mary passed away with her family by her side and in the tender care of St. John’s Sage Living Center and Hospice staff in Jackson, WY. She was a devoted mother, loving wife, steadfast friend, and Jackson Hole historian. 

 

Mary was born in Meadville, PA to William Turner Shoemaker and Irene Lampert Shoemaker. Known as Honey, she was the middle child between sisters Ann and Cindy and her family moved frequently around the country following her father's work. For high school, she attended George School, a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania where she made lifelong friendships. Prior to college, she worked as a camp counselor and met her future husband Ralph V. McKinney, Jr. while teaching swimming with him on the waterfront. Mary attended Denison University, Bowling Green State University, and following a hiatus spent becoming an Army wife—including a year stationed in Augsburg, Germany—she finished her degree at Ohio State University. She became a teacher and taught 7th grade for two years before earning a master’s degree in history from Ohio State. Concurrently, she welcomed their first of four daughters. Mary’s life shifted to revolve around her growing family. They moved to Rocky River, OH; then Rochester, NY; before settling in Augusta, GA where her husband worked at the Medical College of Georgia.

 

Mary actively supported her husband’s career, her aging parents, and her daughters’ many interests, including an exhaustive carpool schedule. She spent her lifetime volunteering and made a positive difference in many lives. She tutored and mentored; but some of her deepest impacts were as a long-time Girl Scout leader teaching numerous girls outdoor skills; educating people on their reproductive health eventually serving as President of the Augusta Planned Parenthood; and serving on the inaugural Georgia Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women. Through those years she also taught as a long-term substitute in grades from kindergarten to high school before moving to full-time teaching at Tutt Jr. High and Aiken Tech. 

 

After her husband Ralph was diagnosed with terminal cancer, they made the decision to cram as much fun and family time together as possible. This included moving the family to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming for the summer. Mary and their daughters all worked for the Grand Teton Lodge Company. It was a wonderful summer, and Wyoming became the place where the family returned to connect for many summers after the girls moved to college and beyond. When her husband of 36 years died, she threw herself into supporting her daughters and grandkids. Grandma Honey provided daycare for several of her grandchildren and developed deep bonds with them. Mary loved celebrations and gathering her family together under one roof for Christmas or at cookouts on the Colter Bay Swim Beach for birthdays.

 

Much to her surprise, Mary found love again with John Busby, a longtime friend from Wyoming summers. In their short marriage, John was her biggest supporter and encouraged her to follow her passion for history. They continued to summer in Grand Teton where she researched Jackson Hole pioneer history for the Grand Teton Lodge Company. She enthusiastically researched, tracked down important valley figures, interviewing them and other old-timers, to write pamphlets on the history of Jenny Lake Lodge and the origins of the historic cabins moved to provide guest lodging at Colter Bay. John passed after three short years together, but Mary continued to return to Wyoming for summers. Her work expanded to include weekly history talks for guests at Colter Bay, Jenny Lake Lodge, and Jackson Lake Lodge. She was a favorite with visitors and enjoyed a bit of notoriety for her local knowledge. As Historian for the Grand Teton Lodge Company, she wrote a book on the company’s history and the Rockefeller family involvement. On her own, she also published a second book chronicling her great-grandparent’s trip around the world in 1907-09, which she distributed to all their descendants.

 

Mary would return to Georgia for the winters, eventually moving from Augusta to be closer to two daughters in Athens, GA. COVID isolated her in her senior apartment and stopped her from summering in Wyoming, but it did not stop her from investing in other interesting projects. She transcribed index cards from World War II concentration camp prisoners into a searchable database. And she worked with some of her first 7th grade students completing the project they started as students—they wrote letters to their future selves which she returned after 10 years, but 23 came back undeliverable. Years later she put her researching talents toward finding those lost students and much belatedly delivering the last letters, connecting closely with several students along the way. 

 

People were what made mom tick. She loved their personal stories, and her talks were peppered with details of Jackson Hole pioneers’ lives. As keeper of her family history, she passed down numerous wonderful stories to her children. She took a personal interest in people and even in the last year when strokes robbed her of much of her memory, she was always interested and concerned for those around her. 

 

Mary is survived by her younger sister Cindy Duncan of Kennett Square, PA; and her four daughters and their families: Heather and Rick Peacock of Scottsdale, AZ and Jackson, WY; Holly McKinney and Chip Collins of Jackson, WY with children Hunter, Bailey, and Hayden Collins; Laurel and Kevin Sanville of Jackson, WY with children Jackson and McKenna Sanville; and Rosemary and Steve Milsap of Athens, GA with children Cody and Brendon Milsap. Respecting Mary’s wishes, no services are planned. Please remember her by passing on your own stories and keeping Jackson Hole and your family histories alive.

 

If desired, memorials may be made to the McKinney-Whitwer Biological Sciences Scholarship at Bowling Green State University. 

Address: BGSU Foundation, Inc.; Mileti Alumni Center; 136 N. Mercer Drive; Bowling Green, OH 43403- Indicate Fund #300741E 

or at https://connect.bgsu.edu/make-a-gift-donation-form?fid=BAE4TcjdDwc%3d&fdesc=MlhbhlUSfgq1VffYTBu30DF4b1OOMAwp%2bE%2fboXMO0SsL1V%2bW3XuDEg%3d%3d
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