Wilberta Ferris “Willie” Spears of Van Buren was born on Nov. 14, 1925, to Cora Belle King and Howell Ferris in Elkins. She passed away Feb. 14, 2017, in Fort Smith at the age of 91. She was a member of an Arkansas pioneer family that moved to the state shortly after statehood. She was a part of the greatest generation having served in the Cadet Nurse Corps during World War II. She was also a single mother who left her small son with her parents while she completed her education at the Sparks Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in 1950.

She was inspired to become a nurse while in high school when her father had to undergo an emergency appendectomy performed on their kitchen table at the farm near Elkins. The doctors enlisted her to sterilize the instruments. Nursing became her life’s dedication. Nursing is a family tradition as her daughter, Janet Spears RN, and her granddaughter, Julie Adams BSN, APN, carry on in the profession. Willie worked at Sparks, as an office nurse for a local doctor, at St. Bernard’s in Jonesboro, Methodist in Paragould and as a nurse educator before retiring from St. Edwards in Fort Smith.

In retirement, she was a devoted member and volunteer at the Center for Art and Education in Van Buren. She spent many hours painting, taking classes and making many friends through her art. Following her loss of sight due to macular degeneration, she spent many hours listening to books on tape furnished by the library system and knitting using what little eyesight she had and the sense of feel. She was a long-time member of Heritage United Methodist Church in Van Buren.

She married Davis C. Spears Jr., a Navy veteran of World War II, in 1950. They made their home in Fort Smith but later moved to Jonesboro and later to Paragould, where he served on the police force and as juvenile probation officer. Returning to western Arkansas in the late 1970s, they both retired from St. Edwards. In addition to her husband, she is survived by a daughter, Janet L. Spears of Van Buren; two sons, Jim D. Spears and wife Dixie of Fort Smith and Larry R. Spears and wife Debbie of Ozark; five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Memorial service will be 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at Edwards Van-Alma Funeral Home Chapel with interment of ashes to follow at the U.S. National Cemetery in Fort Smith. Cremation is under the direction of Edwards Van-Alma Funeral Home of Van Buren.

The family will visit with friends from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday at Edwards Van-Alma Funeral Home, 4100 Alma Highway, Van Buren.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials be made to the Center for Art and Education, 104 N. 13th St., Van Buren, AR 72956.

To place an online tribute, go to www.edwardsvan-alma.com.