In Memory of

Emma Lou Phelan

July 30, 1926 - April 24, 2018
From: St. Paul , MN | Originally: Cherokee, IA

Emma Lou was born in Newton, Iowa, on July 30, 1926, to James and Helen (Roth) Leeper.  She was the sixth of eight children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. The family lived in the Brooklyn, Iowa, area, where Emma Lou attended the local schools.  Immediately after high school graduation, Emma Lou moved to San Diego to join other family members there and to help with the war effort. As soon as she turned 18, Emma Lou was hired by Ryan Aircraft and became a real-life Rosie the Riveter.  While working at Ryan, she met her future husband, Robert W. Phelan, also from Iowa. After the war ended, they married and returned to Bob’s hometown of Cherokee. While Bob worked at various local automobile dealerships, Emma Lou concentrated on raising their five children, often sewing their clothes and fixing wonderful meals.  Throughout her life, Emma Lou participated in volunteer community activities as time allowed. While her children were young, she served as a Cub Scout leader, was a CCD instructor at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, and worked with the Catholic Daughters of America. Later in life, she participated in Peace Links, volunteered at the Cherokee Archives, quilted with the Cherokee Regional Medical Center Auxiliary, and delivered Meals on Wheels.  She also took paid positions as a home health aide and as an assistant librarian at the Cherokee Public Library. Emma Lou enjoyed golfing and walking with friends. She also began taking piano lessons at age 69 and played regularly.

 Emma Lou was a busy, involved resident of Cherokee for almost 70 years, from 1945 to 2015.  For the last three years of her life, Emma Lou received wonderful care from the staff at the Gardens (Episcopal Church Homes) in St. Paul, as well as devoted attention and companionship from her daughter Laura and daughter-in-law Kris.

 Throughout her life, Emma Lou provided a wonderful example of resilience, strength, and loving service to others.  Her family was always her highest priority, and they are grateful for her lifelong devotion.  She was and will continue to be a well-loved inspiration.

 Emma Lou is survived by her five children: Patrick (Donna) of Tucson, Arizona; Michael of Council Bluffs, Iowa; Joan of Lincoln, Nebraska; Laura (Kris Thornwall) of St. Paul, Minnesota; and Mary (John) Kuhn of New Ulm, Minnesota.  She also delighted in her nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents, her husband, her seven siblings, and her daughter-in-law Ruth.


A funeral service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, April 28, 2018, at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Cherokee.

Father Randy Schon

In lieu of visitation a luncheon will be held at the church fellowship hall following the burial.

Afton Township Cemetery
Rural Cherokee, Iowa


Monday, May 7, 2018 at 9:42 AM
“Dear Phelan Family,
I understand Emma Lou has passed. She was an amazing woman and mother and I am so sorry and I send you my most sincere condolences. Cherry Street has lost one of its finest. She was such a solid person and valued and cherished her family and her church.
She was included in the book I compiled and edited, "A Bag of Penny Candy, Women of the 1930s" and I am so appreciative that she contributed.
Those woman of that generation were special and really never got their "due."
So, as you continue your lives without Emma Lou, I wish you only peace as you remember her and how she was such a true person. I hope you count your blessings and know that after this very short life, we will all be reunited again, more brilliant and vibrant than ever. With sincere sympathies, your ole neighbor, Ann Ursula Loughlin ”
- Ann U. Loughlin
Friday, April 27, 2018 at 11:40 PM
“Aunt Emma Lou is a Saint in Heaven now, in the arms of Jesus with her husband, parents, sisters and brothers. She was the last of The Greatest Generation in our family. May she rest in Peace and may Perpetual Light shine upon her.”
- Janet and Cass Castaneda
Friday, April 27, 2018 at 2:57 PM
“We share in your sadness at the loss of your mother. Emma Lou was always an inspiration--so kind, intelligent and caring. To you her children, Pat, Mike, Joan, Laura and Mary, may you always treasure the memory of the wonderful mother you were fortunate to have loved, who so lovingly cared for you, your spouses, your children and grandchildren. She was always a favorite among my aunts. Her example, I knew instinctively, was one to admire and follow. Now she rests peacefully, having been afforded the best of care in her final days thanks to your respect and concern for her. We will miss Aunt Emma Lou.”
- Joan and Larry Klose
Thursday, April 26, 2018 at 1:12 PM
“So sorry to hear about the passing of Aunt Emma Lou. The whole family is in our thoughts and prayers. I love you all and thinking of you in your time of grief.”
- Dale Griffith
Thursday, April 26, 2018 at 1:12 PM
“My condolences to Emma Lou's family. I shall always remember her as a wonderful member of our parish - one of those who we looked up to as an example of how to live and follow Christ. ”
- Laurie Dreier
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  • Cherokee 216 South 2nd Street
    Highway 59 South
    Cherokee, Iowa 51012
    (712) 225-4886
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    Marcus, Iowa 51035
    (712) 376-4886