Jackson County lost a woman Thursday that many believe made the community a better place to live.

That woman, Wilma J. Wessel, 72, of Brownstown, died at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Schneck Medical Center.

Wessel spent many years as executive director of the Jackson County chapter of the American Red Cross, but she touched the lives of far more people through a variety of other community organizations, too.

“So sad to hear of Wilma’s passing,” said Bob Beatty of Seymour. “I had the opportunity to work with her on a number of things while I was working for Aisin USA as safety administrator, and I can say that she was one of the kindest and nicest persons that I have known, but she was no pushover, either.”

Beatty said Wessel had a wonderful sense of humor and truly enjoyed helping people.

“She was a tireless worker for this community, and her work is a shining example to all of us as a way to help make our community a better place to live,” he said. “Her legacy is all of those who came to the Red Cross in need and left with something more than when they came, even if all she had to give at the time was encouragement and a smile or a cup of coffee. She will be missed.”

Wessel organized the county’s first Old Time Basketball tournament, a day when former players from high schools in the county gathered and played basketball — cheered on by cheerleaders from their schools — to raise money for the Red Cross, which also include Scott and Jennings counties. That tournament would be conducted for 19 years.

Wessel was the driving force behind the Artfest conducted by the Brownstown/Ewing Main Street. The event was first held in April of 2013, and this year’s event is set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 25.

She also was chairwoman of Brownstown/Ewing Main Street, established in June 2010, and was a member of the committee working to establish Heritage Park in Brownstown.

Ruth Ann Rebber, former director of Jackson County United Way, said Wessel was a blessing to all she touched.

“She was a team player who worked to make Jackson County a great place to live and work,” Rebber said.

Arann Banks of Brownstown worked with Wessel at the Jackson County chapter for about 19 years — first as a volunteer and later as a paid employee.

“I’ve never in my life seen anyone able to get things done the way that she could,” Banks said. “She would get exactly what she wanted done without any threats or pressure or pushing. She had a knack for knowing everyone’s strengths and weakness and using them the right way.”

Banks said if you even had a passing interest in helping the Red Cross, Wessel would find out and give you a job, and then make you part of the Red Cross family.

“She always encouraged people to go above and beyond,” Banks said. “She was good at that. She was always happy with what anybody gave.”

Banks said Wessel, who was a member of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Brownstown, was active in the church and had a strong Christian with a consummate faith in God.

Wessel, who is survived by her husband, William, and two daughters, Audrey Stonebruner of Austin, Texas, and Anita Goldstein of Trabuco, California, will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Spurgeon Funeral Home in Brownstown. Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. today at Spurgeon Funeral Home in Brownstown.

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