Guenveur H. Burnell, of Kent, passed away gently Sunday evening, March 27, at UH Robinson Hospital in Ravenna, Ohio at the age of 94 after a brief illness. She was a beloved daughter, mother, grandmother, sister and friend to many in her time.
Anne Guenveur Harper was born August 14, 1927 in West Orange, NJ, the third of five children born to S.G. and May (Williams) Harper. Mom spent her early years in West Orange and Atlanta, GA before moving to Ohio in 1939, when her father took a position in sales at National Supply in Springfield. She graduated from Catholic Central High School there in 1945 and worked in the private sector for two years before enrolling in Kent State University to study art and sociology.
While at Kent, she met her future husband, John P. Burnell Jr. a fellow student attending school there after service during the Second World War. Following her graduation from Kent State in 1951, she and John wed in her hometown of Springfield, OH on June 7, 1952. The newlyweds began their married life in Columbus where John continued his studies at Ohio State and mom bore their first-born daughter, Polly. They would then move to Berea where John began his first faculty appointment in the Department of Sociology at Baldwin-Wallace College and Guenveur bore their second daughter, Sally. A successive offer to serve on the faculty of their alma mater Kent State brought the young family to their final home in Kent. There, a third daughter Emily was born though John’s life was cut short due to injuries sustained in an automobile accident in May of 1961 with another child, John, on the way.
Newly-widowed with four children, Guenveur was very fortunate to be a stay-at-home parent in the formative years of her children’s lives, thanks to prudent financial planning and survivors benefits from her late husband’s educational and military service. In the late 1960s, she began what would become her professional career in social work as a volunteer with the newly-created Townhall II Helpline in Kent, an organization created initially by concerned community members to help college students develop coping mechanisms to the significant social changes of the time. Townhall II, which exists to this day in Kent, eventually expanded into greater community outreach efforts and Guenveur stayed with the organization, working her way up from Director of Training and eventually to Education Director, the position from which she retired in 1993. Additionally, she also taught at Kent State’s Experimental College in its brief early-1970s existence, a program created by the university specifically in response to the tragic shootings at Kent State in 1970. It was experiences like this that Guenveur was blessed to be able to develop some very deep and impactful lifelong relationships.
Upon her retirement from Townhall II, she pursued a lifelong love of learning and immersion into the arts. She returned to the classroom, not as teacher, but as Senior Guest student at Kent State, studying languages and literature. She took drawing classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art and wrote and illustrated a number of children’s books for her family and friends. A lover of the spoken, as well as the written, word, she joined the Storytelling Group at the Wilderness Center in Stark County and began a sideline career as a storyteller-for-hire for schools and civic groups. She deeply loved music as well; she learned to play the guitar while still a young mother in the 1960s and participated in the folk masses of the time at her then-parish church, St. Patrick’s in Kent. She listened equally a wide array of music from Mozart to Scott Joplin to James Taylor. She especially loved the Saturday Met.
Mom cultivated in herself a lifelong active intellectual curiosity and she in turn encouraged her family, friends and strangers alike to be likewise. She was generous with her opinions, whether solicited or unsolicited, and she could dispense either with a panache that spawned a lengthy catalogue of amusing family anecdotes. She had a particular distaste for off-key singing and a remarkable memory spanning her nine decades of every instance in which she was subjected to it, including names and/or detailed descriptions of offenders. She was one of a kind and we are forever grateful to the powers-to-be that we had her.
She is survived by her four children, Polly, of Provincetown, MA, Sally, of Kent, Emily (Chris Petrou) of Erding, Germany and John, also of Kent, granddaughters Katina Petrou of New Orleans, LA and Elena Petrou, of Sydney, Australia, brother and sister-in-law Ed and Joan Harper of Oklahoma City, OK, sister-in-law Marian Harper of Kettering, OH, a host of nieces and nephews and cat, Sixto, at home.
She was pre-deceased by her parents, her husband John P. Burnell, Jr., brothers Bill and Michael Harper, sister Mary Lu Walker, sisters-in-law Eileen Harper and Polly Burnell Lynch, brother-in-law Donald Walker and two nephews, Terry Harper and Luke Walker.
Calling hours will be Thursday, March 31st at Bissler & Sons Funeral Home 628 W. Main St. in Kent from 5-8 p.m. A Celebration of Life for family and friends will be held at a later time to be announced.
The family would like to thank the wonderful and compassionate staff of University Hospitals Robinson in Ravenna who cared for her so well in her final days, saw to her comfort and allowed family to stay with her as long as needed.
Services in care of Bissler & Sons Funeral Home and Crematory, 628 West Main Street, Kent, OH 44240.
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