Before it was fashionable for girls to play sports, a high school-age Mary (Sutton) Bennethum excelled in basketball and even butted heads with the boys in pickup football games. She later would take pride in becoming the first woman to work as a production and shipping supervisor at C-E Refractories in Vandalia.
She was also a skilled seamstress–making many of her daughters’ clothes and an accomplished pianist, and sang for years in her church choir.
After an extended illness, she died Monday morning at age 76 at the Tri-County Nursing Home in Vandalia. Funeral services will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at Waters Funeral Home in Vandalia, with visitation there Thursday from 6-8 p.m.
Burial will be in Vandalia Cemetery.
Born June 15, 1935, in Celina, Ohio, to Arlie and Mary Bixler, Mary Evelyn Bixler grew up in Ohio and lived in Illinois and Iowa before settling with her family in Vandalia. With Paul Sutton, her husband for 23 years, she raised four children. She later was married for 14 years to Carl Bennethum before his death in 1999.
She had been salutatorian of her high school class in Mendon, Ohio, and was fiercely political–a Democrat. But sports remained a thread in her life. Her father, a railroad conductor, was also a talented baseball catcher, and she treasured a local newspaper clipping that detailed a home run he once hit off Babe Ruth in an exhibition game. She would become a avid St. Louis Cardinals fan, and closely followed Missouri football and basketball.
She was a fixture in the stands at Van-Far High School football and basketball games in which her sons played. She stayed active, herself, as a bowler.
The working mother was employed as a seamstress at the Bobbie Brooks clothing factory in Vandalia before joining C-E Refractories, where she moved from the office to her managerial position in the shipping department. The brick plant closed, and she went on to a similar position at GenCorp in Berger, Mo. Mrs. Bennethum was a member of the Vandalia Methodist Church.
Surviving her are two daughters, Paula Wieberg and husband, Steve, of Lawson, Mo., and Lori Sutton of Vandalia; son, Mark Sutton and wife, Cathy, of Hoschton, Ga.; eight grandchildren; and sisters, Roseann Bove of Medford, N.J.; Arline Bixler of LeRoy, Ill., and Nancy Jedlicka of Peoria, Ill.
She was preceded in death by one son, Steve, in 2006, two grandchildren and two brothers.
The family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Vandalia Fire Department Christmas Toy Drive.