Sharon Joyce (Stephenson) Cooney

Sharon Joyce (Stephenson) Cooney, wife, mother, and grandmother, slipped peacefully into the arms of her Creator on May 5, 2020.

Mass of Christian Burial to be held on Saturday, May 9, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church (2708 So. 24th St., Omaha, NE. 68108). Burial to take place on Monday, May 11, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. at St. Ann's Catholic Cemetery in Lexington.

A woman of intellect, curiosity, determination, and strong faith, she lived a life of grace and was beloved by those fortunate enough to make her acquaintance. She was born on Jan. 29, 1941 in Grant. Shortly afterward, her father moved his family to Denver, CO as he searched for work. Sharon knew what it was like to lose a loved one at an age when no child should. Her mother passed away in 1947 from a kidney condition that only a few years later could have been cured with the arrival of widespread antibiotic use. This death left an irreplaceable hole in Sharon’s heart, but it also meant a change in her family unit. Concerned that her father could not care for two little girls properly, her maternal grandparents took in Sharon and Shirley to live on their farm outside of Overton. There, Sharon learned what it meant to be part of a loving and faith-filled home, and she would strive to emulate her grandparents’ example in her own family. Life on the farm was not easy though. Grandpa Jones woke the girls up every morning at 5am to milk the cows and gather eggs, chores in which Sharon found great delight.

After graduating from Overton High School in 1959, Sharon received a scholarship to Nebraska State Teachers College at Kearney (now UNK). She studied and lived on campus during the week but returned home on the weekends to be with her grandparents. She majored in education and received her Associates Degree in 1961. Her goal was to teach elementary school at one of the one-room schoolhouses in Dawson County. Before she finished her bachelor’s degree, she landed just such a teaching position.

Eventually, she was named the school teacher for District 48, southwest of Overton. This job would change the course of her life story. Just a few miles up the road from the schoolhouse sat the Cooney family homestead. Sharon knew the family a little and had developed a friendship with Patty Cooney. One afternoon, Patty’s brother, Tom, came to see Sharon after school. He had heard that she was in the market for a car motor, but that would not be their only transaction. Not long after that, Tom and Sharon began dating and then got engaged. They married in Holy Rosary Catholic Church on Sept.  22, 1962. Just prior to the wedding, Sharon had embraced the Catholic faith, and it would be her source of joy, solace, and inspiration for the rest of her life.

On July 1, 1963, they welcomed a son, Thomas Michael Cooney III, into their family. For the next 11 years, Sharon, Tom, and their son lived on the farm. Tom worked the land and also got a job with the Union Pacific Railroad. Sharon continued teaching school, keeping a herd of sheep, and raising her little boy. She loved watching him play outside with his animals. While the three lived simply, they used their savings to take trips all around the United States, from New York to Seattle, Wash.

On Aug. 18, 1974, Sharon gave birth to a daughter, Mary Kathryn (Cooney) Robinson. This new arrival as well as the younger Tom’s age, approaching middle school, convinced Sharon and Tom to move to the “big” town of Lexington. Sharon gave up her career as a one-room schoolteacher, but she never stopped teaching. Instead, she devoted herself to raising her son and daughter. She spent many hours practicing baseball with Tom and helping Mary learn to play the piano. To both she leant her expertise in writing composition and especially mathematics.

Once Mary began kindergarten, Sharon took a job as a substitute rural mail carrier. In 1984, this turned into a full-time position. Five days a week, she drove her route of about 106 miles in her silver Dodge Aries. During the winter, when the snowplow would pile up the snow next to the mailboxes, Tom would go ahead of her in his pickup truck and clear a path for the mail lady. In order to put mail in the mailboxes on the right side of the road, she learned to drive her car while sitting in the middle of the front seat and accelerating and braking with her left foot. She would never let a little thing like that stand in the way of fulfilling her responsibility to the people on her route.

She gave up her mail carrier position when Tom was transferred to St. Louis in 1989. Although she had lived in a rural community most of her life, she embraced all that city life had to offer. She attended art exhibits, heard concerts, and found new outlets for her devotions. She carried that same spirit of discovery and curiosity with her when the family moved to Omaha the following year. She and Tom stayed in Omaha for the next 30 years. 

Sharon had an active mind that never stopped learning. She loved to read about almost anything, from medieval literature to American History; from gardening to biographies. She imparted this love of learning and an appreciation for natural beauty to her children. Sharon never sat idle. Even when she was watching TV, she was sewing, organizing, planning. This flurry of activity kept her mind eager for more intellectual sustenance and fueled her love of traveling. She and Tom visited nearly all 50 states as they drove around the country, visiting Tom III in South Dakota and Arizona and Mary in Florida and Ohio. She also visited 13 foreign countries, but not before she had thoroughly researched their history and culture first. Before she passed, she was working on an extensive genealogy project for her children, her nieces, and her nephews, complete with charts and citations. She truly had the heart of a lifelong scholar.

Most especially, Sharon held a deep conviction in Jesus Christ, her Redeemer, a strong devotion to Holy Mother Mary, and a dedication to her Catholic faith. Throughout her life and in all the places she lived, she sought out prayer groups or organized them herself. She also served her parish, especially hosting funeral dinners for grieving families. Her love of her Faith turned her many travels into religious pilgrimages. One of my favorite memories of her will always be visiting the crypt of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. In the midst of a crowd of people she belted out O Come All Ye Faithful as tears streamed down her face. She proclaimed her faith openly, she hoped absolutely in the Resurrection, and she loved her God with all her heart. 

Sharon is survived by her husband, Thomas Michael Cooney Jr., her son, Thomas Michael Cooney III (and wife Deb), her daughter, Mary Kathryn (Cooney) Robinson (and husband Michael), her grandsons Ryan and J. J. Cooney and Eoghan Robinson, her granddaughters, Madeleine and Melisende Robinson, her sister-in-law Rita Hinds (husband John, deceased), and her nieces and nephews.

Many loved ones preceded her in death including her father Hollis Stephenson, her mother, Phyllis (Jones) Stephenson, her sister Shirley (Stephenson) Beyl and her brother-in-law Max Beyl, her maternal grandparents, Edith and James Jones, her paternal grandmother, Edith Stephenson, her father-in-law and mother-in-law, Thomas and Margaret Cooney, her brother-in-law Eugene Cooney (and wife Shirley), and her sisters-in-law Madeleine Winter (and husband Bob), Dorothy Nissen (and husband Len), and Patty Jandebeur (and husband Dave), and her aunts and uncles. As she prayed for all of them in this life, may she now enjoy eternity with them.

We, her beloved family, mourn her passing and feel acutely the pain of such a sudden loss of the heart and soul of our family. This Mother’s Day, there will be an unfathomable void in our hearts, but for her, may she finally get to celebrate it forever with her own mother whom she lost so long ago. Until we can join you, mom, please never stop praying for us. We will always love you.

Memorials have been suggested to the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Holy Rosary Catholic Church of Overton or the donor’s choice.

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