Shirley Wolfe

Updated: Nov 5

Remembering Childcare Director Shirley Wolfe


by Robyn


For almost forty years, young mothers attending International Day were welcomed to leave their young children in the warm, capable care of Shirley Wolfe in the Nursery. Shirley’s goal was to create a calm, safe, joyful place for the children to play while their mothers could attend the program and make new friends. And, as she told her volunteer helpers, the Nursery represented everything that International Neighbors did, but in a miniature form. The young children from many different countries, all under six years old, learned from each other, adjusted to being in a new culture, found ways to communicate and become friends. Thus the children could help their mothers adapt to life in Ann Arbor too.


Shirley with children in the nursery


Shirley joined International Neighbors in 1960 when it was new and together with other Founding Mothers shaped our organization.


Shirley with Ann S.



She was also a long time hostess in the venerable Ann Arbor Woods Tea Group, graciously welcoming generations of international guests to her home for her famous applesauce cakes. Leader Homa remembers her kind smile and thoughtful ways. Back in the days before cell phones, Shirley shot and printed up a photo of Homa’s daughter, and brought it to her as a gift. It was so appreciated! Shirley is always in Homa’s heart and mind and she sends this lovely photo.


Ann Arbor Woods Tea Group


When the pandemic began our International Days paused along with the Nursery. Shirley “necessarily self isolated” but continued her 10,000 steps a day walk, even in 20 degree weather, enjoying her neighbor children playing in Burns Park. She was bright and alert, interested in everything going around the world with strong opinions about social justice keeping up with friends and family via lively emails. A lovely writer, she contributed the article celebrating May W’s 100th birthday in our Newsletter.


Once vaccinated she was able to enjoy visits with her family and travel again. Veena gave a party for Shirley’s 90th birthday with many International Neighbor friends and Shirley’s daughter Wendy who was in town for the big day. A great time was had by all.


Shirley and birthday cake


We all wore masks at Shirley’s 90th, but it seemed in a way a coming out, and we all looked forward to many such gatherings. But at the beginning of the summer, despite seeming in robust health one month before, Shirley learned of the cancer that would take her life. In true Shirley style she took charge of her last days, determining that she would be at home, cared for only by her family, entertained with music from her children and jolly messages from friends that Wendy would read to her. And she decided not to linger, passing away peacefully on August 14th. As Veena said, we will all miss that sweet, strong lady.


Shirley’s own words from her annual letter are a nice way to end:

“May loving kindness be with all of us as we continue to promote the health of this fragile world”


A memorial service is planned Saturday, Nov. 5th at 2:00 p.m. at Ann Arbor Friends Meetinghouse, 1420 Hill St. , Ann Arbor.


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