Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Mary Helen Gentry

Sunday, November 22, 2020
Mary Helen Gentry

Visitation and funeral services for Mary Helen Nowlin Gentry will be held Monday, Nov. 23, at J.E. Keever Mortuary in Ennis. Visitation will begin at 9 a.m. followed by funeral services at 10 a.m. Afterward, graveside services will be held at Myrtle Cemetery in Ennis. Pastor Chet Hensley and Pastor Bob Thomas will officiate.

Mrs. Gentry, 91, died of natural non-COVID-related causes Tuesday, Nov. 17, at Bluebonnet Rehab in Ennis, where she had been a resident for the past year and a half. Born May 25, 1929, in Rice, Texas, during the year of the Great Depression, she was the daughter of Chester A. Nowlin and Helen P. Hodge Nowlin. She was the youngest and only girl of four children.

She was a 1946 graduate of Ennis High School, attended First United Methodist Church of Ennis as a child and was later a longtime member of Tabernacle Baptist Church, where she faithfully served in various roles for many years ranging from working in Vacation Bible School to leading the Young Married Adult Sunday School Department.

Mrs. Gentry, who for decades was social editor and columnist for the then Ennis Daily News, held many other positions at the newspaper. She most likely was inspired by her father, who was an organizer and president of United Publishing Company, publishers of the Ennis Daily News, The Ennis Weekly Local and The Palmer Rustler. Through the years, Mrs. Gentry also served as circulation manager, office manager, bookkeeper, company director and secretary-treasurer. Her lifelong career there started soon after she graduated from high school and began working as a proofreader in the advertising department. It continued until recent years with her signature and popular cooking column, “Let’s Talk Cooking,” and a long-established social column, “The Avenue,” in which she wrote on various people and topics including happenings about town and local birthdays.

On May 15, 1948, she and Charles E. Gentry Sr. were married in Rockwall, Texas, after eloping there with another young couple, Buck and Jean Isom. The Isoms didn’t tie the knot that night, as Jean was under age, but the Gentrys did and kept it a secret from their families for six weeks. Mr. Gentry, a farmer at heart and World War II veteran who served in the Fifth Ranger Battalion in Europe, then began working at Upco Print Shop, a subsidiary of United Publishing Company. Mrs. Gentry’s father was still in charge of the business until his untimely death at the age of 51 in 1947. Her brother Weldon took over the helm, but then, too, suffered an early death to cancer in 1951 at the age of 36.

At that point, her two other brothers were not involved in the business. C.A. Nowlin had died tragically in a train-automobile accident on Mockingbird Lane in Dallas when he was only 19 and a student at Southern Methodist University. Gene, who holds the patent on discovering the first boilable plastic and was a pioneer in plastic research, was working for Phillips Petroleum. A gifted chemist, he was not interested in a publishing career, but offered support, advice and encouragement for the new successor, Mr. Gentry, as he took on the role of publisher. This began a lifelong marriage of the young couple to the business of daily news and events in Ennis.

Mrs. Gentry’s desire to write also was encouraged by her father. In high school, when she failed to finish a school report on time because she kept putting off writing it, she got help from her father that stuck with her. He wrote the paper for her, entitled it, “Procrastination,” and discussed the pitfalls of such a practice. She often said it was a lesson she would never forget.

“I cared deeply about Mary Helen,” said Randy Bigham, a writer for the Ennis News. “She was tough, had strong opinions, but always sided with fairness. We didn’t always agree but we respected one another and, I believe, ultimately became friends. This is a sad day for Ennis. She WAS Ennis.”

A lifetime member of the Ennis Chamber of Commerce who raised awareness of the chamber by setting records in enlisting new members, Mrs. Gentry was a member and officer of many other civic, cultural and charitable organizations. She was a charter member of the Ennis Heritage Society, past president of the Ennis Garden Club and remained actively involved in many organizations until she was no longer able to serve. She was a band booster for the Ennis High School Band, was involved with Friends of the Ennis Public Library, the Lions Club and the Ennis Landmark Commission and served many years with the East Ellis County Chapter of the American Heart Association. She was named Outstanding Supporter for the Girl Scouts of America and was honored with the title of First Lady of Ennis by Beta Sigma Phi. She also is the author and publisher of a cookbook inspired by her mother, which features her own personal recipes along with many from family and friends.

“Mary Helen was a big part of the Ennis Garden Club and volunteered at Bluebonnet Trails each year,” said Ennis resident Jimmy Swindell, whose first job was being a paper carrier for the Ennis News. “Nancy [Swindell’s wife] could always count on her to help in everything from maps and souvenir sales to any other area where they were short of helpers. What a pleasure it was to have known Mary Helen Gentry and to call her friend.”

In 2008, Mr. and Mrs. Gentry were honored by Ennis Masonic Lodge #369 for their support of Ennis with the Outstanding Citizen/Community Builder Award. At the time, Masonic officials told the Ennis News there were no more deserving people in Ennis to receive the honor than the Gentrys.

Mrs. Gentry openly spoke of her love for Ennis and chose it as her home for her entire life, though she traveled to many areas of the United States, including Hawaii, and to places all over the world, including Italy, Russia, Switzerland, England, France and Mexico. “Ennis is a great place to live. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” she once told an Ennis News reporter.

“Mary Helen was a leader. She was a strong woman and she knew how to get things done,” said Rick Williams, longtime friend and former Ennis resident. “She was impressive – I really admired that in her.”

Another former Ennis resident and longtime family friend remembers when her grandmother had fallen in the 1980s and the Ennis Municipal Hospital emergency room was unable to admit her. She called on Mrs. Gentry for advice. “I’ll never forget her driving my grandmother and me to an ER in Dallas,” Jeannie Shackleford Wells said. “She didn’t have to offer to drive us. I’ll always remember that act of kindness.”

Her grandsons and grandsons-in-law will serve as pall bearers and include Dudley W. “Lee” Fox, Jr., Sean Hoffeditz, Derek Andersen, Robert Gentry Phillips, Jon Gentry and Roger Nowlin “Lin” Gentry. She was preceded in death by her husband; son, Roger Nowlin Gentry; her parents, and three brothers.

Survivors include three children, Kathleen Gentry Fox and husband, Dudley; Charles E. “Charlie” Gentry, Jr.; Peggy Gentry Phillips; daughter-in-law Pam Gentry; eight grandchildren, Kelly Fox Armstrong, Dudley W. “Lee” Fox, Jr., Michelle Hoffeditz, Chris Bouchillon, Meredith Gentry Andersen, Robert Gentry Phillips, Jon Gentry and Roger Nowlin “Lin” Gentry II; 17 great-grandchildren, Kathryn Armstrong Salik, Micah Wayne Fox, Savannah Armstrong, Joshua Fox, Grant Hoffeditz, Lance Hoffeditz, Reece Hoffeditz, Noah Alexander Phillips, Jonah Kade Phillips, Elijah Bouchillon, Brayden Gentry, Olivia Grace Gentry, Piper Gentry, Delaney Andersen, Dempsey Andersen, Evan Crowley and Cadence Crowley; two great-greatgrandchildren, Gabriel Alexander Fox and Diesel Salik; and host of nieces and nephews.

Donations in memory of Mary Helen Gentry may be made to the American Heart Association.