Mrs. Vernal Ulelah “Mamma” “Auntie Vana”, “Aunt Vernal”, “Coach” Reese entered this life on Tuesday, May 6, 1930 to Mr. Ethew Adolphus McGruder and Mrs. Maggie Sawyer McGruder in, Hale County, Alabama. Vernal was the youngest of nine children. She received her education in the schools of Alabama. She attended Dunbar High School; upon graduation (on an academic scholarship for best all around student) she went on to Alabama State (now known as Bishop State). Upon graduating from Alabama State in 1949, with a degree in General Education, she moved to Chicago, IL. and became employed by the largest post office in the world. While working full-time at the post office she attended George Williams College full-time where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education in 1956. After receiving her undergraduate degree, she attended Concordia College in Montreal, Quebec and toured several European countries including, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Austria. After touring Europe, she attended Saint Xavier College in Chicago, IL (now known as Saint Xavier University). In 1972 she received her Master’s Degree in Physical Education from George Williams College. She devoted over 30 years to the youth at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, IL as a Physical education teacher until she retired in 1987. One day, at the age of five, after working in the fields carrying water, Vernal decided then that “this won’t be my life” and has educated herself and everyone around her for her entire life. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”, she would say. In addition to raising her son Edwin, with the help of her two sisters Manuella McGruder Walston and Vlasta Fleming, she raised five grand-nieces Wynona, Pocquilla, Elizabeth, Dominyque and Deana. She was a devoted member of St. Mark AME Zion Church in Chicago, IL. where she served in many capacities of the church including; the Usher Board, Trustee Board, Class Leader, and a short time in the Choir. In 1967, she met her husband, Henry Van Reese. Four years later they united as one where she was a devoted and loving wife until he departed this life, on December 28, 2015. After retirement, she and her husband moved to Union Pier, MI. They traveled all over the United States; they (The Snow Birds) moved back to Mobile, AL in 2015 and attended Hope Chapel AME Zion church where they were faithful attendees. Her favorite pastimes included traveling, flowers, listening to gospel music, watching TV, reading and participating in athletics.
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Vernal was proceeded in death by her mother, father, all eight of her siblings and her husband Henry Van Reese; She leaves to cherish his memory: a loving son, Edwin Echols; a devoted adopted daughter, Pocquilla J. McGruder McNeely (Samuel); two granddaughters, Zoya D. Baker; Mya L. McNeely; a dedicated grand-niece, Wynona (Curtis) Nicholson; eight nephews, Ronald (Constance) Fleming; Earthel (Harolyn) Fleming; Manuel (Margaret) Fleming; Zandy (Charlotte) McGruder; Victor (Veronica) McGruder; Calvin McGruder; Ethew McGruder; Johnny McGruder; two nieces, Patricia McKinley; Ivy McGruder.
Her memory will be forever reverenced by her adoring grand-nieces, Elizabeth Horn; Dominyque Cook; Deana McKinely; daughter, Debra Mabry; granddaughters, Lynette Mabry; Valerie Mabry; great-grand nieces, Courtavia Nicholson; Ulelah Easley; Alisha Easley; great-grand nephews, Curtis Nicholson, Jr; Cordaro Nicholson; Andrew Easley; D’Chon Cook; Jordan Cook; Jaidyn Pierce; Dylan Mosley; Elijah McKinley; Caleb McKinley; friends, Annie T. Allen; Janese Sanders and a host of cousins, nieces, nephews, family and friends.