Sally Conley beat the odds in so many ways
JOLIET – People often told Sally Conley of Joliet, “You’d make a good nurse.”
Sally’s daughter, Kathy Conley of Joliet, said they’d give reasons like these: “You’re a good mom. “You’re empathetic without being patronizing.”
So Sally, in 1986 at age 52, enrolled in a licensed practical nursing program at Joliet Central High School. Sally retired from Sunny Hill Nursing Home in 2001 and then worked part time at Our Lady of Angels until 2010.
“She liked the old people,” Kathy said. “She was always drawn to them.”
Sally worked hard, too, despite a number of health problems.
“How she made it to 82, I don’t know,” Kathy said. “She would say to me, ‘Why am I still here?’ And I would say, ‘Because you’re Irish and you’re stubborn, that’s why. And we’re fighters.’ ”
That stubborn fighting spirit might explain why Sally survived infant abandonment.
Kathy said Sally’s mother was a 14-year-old girl who abandoned Sally when she was 18 months old. Recalling it often angered Sally, but Kathy said she’d remind her that Sally’s mother was “a baby who had a baby.”
“She put her in a crib with a bottle and walked out of the little apartment where they lived and didn’t go back,” Kathy said.
The baby’s father found her during a random visit.
“She’d been in the crib for two days,” Kathy said. “He bathed her and dressed her and packed up her things and took her home to his mother.”
Sally’s father was drafted into World War II when Sally was 8. Sally rarely saw her father again until they reunited in 1970, Kathy said.
“He was just thrilled,” Kathy said. “We went to Portland, Maine, to visit him, and she was with him the day he died.”
Kathy said the Akron Beacon Journal wrote two stories on the abandonment, and Sally kept the clippings. One story ran when Sally was 8, which commented on “what a tough little girl she was,” Kathy said. The second ran when Sally was around 13 or 14, she added.
Sally met her late husband, Glenn Conley, at a school dance in Akron. She was 19 and he was 22 when they married. They had three children. In addition to Kathy, there are Holly Conley and Alisa Michael.
“She was a wonderful mother,” Kathy said. “She was kind and understanding, and she would play with us.”
With a child’s doctor kit in tow, Sally became “pediatrician” to her children’s dolls, Kathy said. She set up boxes and cans and played grocery store. She’d transform the basement into a beauty parlor.
Sally also shared her love of history with her girls. During the years they lived in Alexandria, Virginia, Sally took them to Washington, D.C., and The Smithsonian, Kathy said.
But after 32 years of an unhappy marriage, Sally was on her own. That’s when people suggested she’d make a wonderful nurse, which she did, Kathy said.
At the same time, Sally struggled with health problems.
“She had rheumatic fever when she was a little girl, and that weakened her heart,” Kathy said. “She found out she had cervical cancer in 1970 and beat that. She had her first heart attack in October of 1982 and beat that. She ended up with a total of six heart attacks and a triple bypass in between all of them.
“She had breast cancer in 1995 and beat that. And then she had a cyst on her colon that perforated her colon, her ovary and then her bladder. Her colon emptied into her whole body. She had six hours of colon repair that left her with a colostomy. Shortly after that, we noticed a change in her mentally. That was six years ago.”
Even so, Sally wanted to return to nursing.
“She missed being with people,” Kathy said. “She always loved caring for people.”
But now it was time for Sally to experience that care.
Kathy said she took Sally on car rides to her favorite places. Kathy would pack a lunch and take Sally for a picnic. They went for ice cream. They played cards. They gambled “on the boat.” They went camping.
Sally died April 13. Kathy said she will always remember her mother’s sweet kindness.
“She had the most beautiful smile and amazing green eyes,” Kathy said. “Those eyes could say, ‘I love you,’ without ever uttering a word.”
• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.