Alberta Bee Embry, 85, of Mackinaw passed away peacefully on Friday, January 21, 2022, surrounded by family members and with her favorite hymns playing, at Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, IL, after a brief illness.
Alberta was born June 12, 1936 in Peoria, IL, to Emma (White) and Aaron Raymer and grew up in tiny Allentown, a few miles outside of Mackinaw. She graduated as valedictorian of her Deer Creek-Mackinaw High School class of 1954 and attended Illinois State University on scholarship for a year before joining the workforce. Career stops included State Farm Insurance, Caterpillar Tractor Co., First Security Bank in Mackinaw, Myers Propane in Mackinaw, and Pekin Insurance in Pekin. Despite never mastering a computer or the Internet, her typing and math skills were such that she helped usher in New Technology Age as an IBM keypunch operator at Caterpillar in the 1960s.
Survivors include: her children, Patrick (Trish Luna) Embry of Nashville, TN.; Kitty (David) Hessel of Washington, Utah; Bethany Cottrell of Danvers, IL, Jim Embry of Indianapolis, IN; and John (Tracy) Embry of Mackinaw; her sisters, Cheryl Love of Mackinaw, and Florence Rawlings of Minier, IL.; her daughter-in-law, Kristie Embry of Mackinaw; her grandchildren, Barbara (Rob) Kerns of Chesterfield, MO; Gabrielle Tarrow of Ypsilanti, MI; Michaelyn (Josh) Sherwood of San Francisco, CA; Alison Embry of Denver, CO; Sam Embry of Nashville, TN; Emily Embry of Bloomington, IL; Kate Embry of Mackinaw; and Abby Embry of Mackinaw; and her great-grandchildren, Annalise Tarrow and Isaiah Tarrow of Ypsilanti, MI; and her many beloved cousins, nieces and nephews, and in-laws of multiple generations.
Preceding her in death were her parents, and one son, Peter Embry.
Alberta — Bert to her friends and family — remained nonjudgmental and accepting of humanity and most generous with her time and in her faith. For many years, she taught a high school youth Sunday school class, directed the church choir, and was an integral link in the prayer chain at the Mackinaw United Methodist Church. She helped lead youth groups for a number of Habitat for Humanity trips to build homes from Oklahoma and rural Appalachia to Mississippi and Michigan. She formed and led a Cub Scouts troop before her children were even born.
As a community leader said recently, there’s no telling how many lives Alberta Embry has touched for the better through the years. She remained in touch with many of them through occasional telephone calls.
She would have made a fabulous schoolteacher. Instead, she instilled the love of reading in her six children, and in her retirement she helped in the classroom and lunchroom at Mackinaw’s elementary school as a volunteer. The students called her Grandma Bert, much to her delight, and her many younger relatives fondly called her Aunt Bert.
Her appetite for printed material — historical fiction to nonfiction to newspapers and magazines — was so well-known that she served as an unofficial critic of newly available books at the Mackinaw District Public Library, where she once served as an accountant.
Through the years Alberta remained actively involved with a number of civic groups in Mackinaw, included the Mackinaw history group, where she appreciated the small town’s rich history.
She enjoyed singing alto in gospel quartets and attending community concerts throughout Central Illinois. She would stand fearlessly in front of a reluctant group of adults and practically demand them to join her in singing.
Her children will remember the marvelous homemade Christmas tree made out of crepe paper one year when financial times were tight, and that she’d construct an entire circus scene out of painted empty spools of thread and yarn and pipe cleaners to top your birthday cake. And they’ll recall her disdain for housework, and her self-described “collecting bug” that left no nook or cranny unfilled.
If cats are said to have nine lives, Alberta coaxed about 14 lives out of her 85-year-old body. She survived any number of ailments through the years — leukemia, pneumonia, staph infections, and running over herself with her own car (not all that surprising, if you knew her), among them — but kept her mind and indomitable spirit intact very much to the end.
She even managed to wrestle her new cellphone to, if not a win, at least to a draw. We all will miss her very much, and she will miss us all. But not that darned cellphone.
Memorials may be made to the Mackinaw United Methodist Church, the Mackinaw District Public Library, or the charity of one’s choice.
A Celebration of Life gathering is being planned for later this year, when the flowers are in bloom and the ongoing pandemic is better behaving itself. Haensel-Oswald Funeral Home in Mackinaw is handling the arrangements.