Phyllis Jeanette Gfeller was born at home on July 28, 1926, to Phillip Bernhard Gfeller (1890-1968) and Matilda Lydia Gfeller (nee Keller) (1892-1981), in Fragrant Hill Township, Dickinson County, Kansas. She was their only child, raised on the family farm where she enjoyed beautifully prepared fresh food long before “farm-to-table” became a trend. The family also endured the Dust Bowl years on the farm, battered by the destructive dust storms that swept across the great plains. Her beloved grandfather Adolph Gfeller (1851-1938) lived with the family until he died when Phyllis was 12. He would hitch her pony to a cart and drive Phyllis around the farm while he told her stories of the “old country,” Switzerland, where Adolph and his 10 brothers and sisters were born. Her mother’s family also came to Kansas from Switzerland and settled on the prairie where her grandmother Mary Keller would sometimes offer fresh baked bread to plains Indians as a peace offering. Phyllis attended a one-room school in Fragrant Hill Township (sometimes riding there on her horse) through 8th grade. After her junior year in high school, Phyllis spent the summer in Chicago (Hyde Park) with her cousin Gladwyn Read, where she tested into a program at the University of Chicago and took college courses in microbiology and genetics. She completed high school early and at 17 moved on to Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. Phyllis joined the Tri-Delta sorority and graduated from KSU in 1946 with a Bachelor of Science degree. She moved to Shreveport, Louisiana for training in the lab at Schumpert Hospital, to obtain a Certificate in Medical Technology. In 1948, she married Leslie Yarborough Barnette, with whom she had two children. In 1953, her beloved husband died of cancer, at age 27. She later married Leonard J. Daniels, Jr. (1923-2013),with whom she had 7 more children. Leonard’s career in the oil industry required Phyllis to manage frequent moves of her large family from Shreveport to Wilmette, Illinois (1956); from Wilmette to Shaker Heights, Ohio (1965); from Shaker Heights to Houston, Texas (1972); and then back to the Chicago area in 1974. There would be one more move to Houston (1986) before a final move (for retirement) to Knoxville, Tennessee in 1988, where her two oldest children had settled. Phyllis was a curious and creative lifelong learner. She was passionate about Chicago and architecture, and loved her work as a Chicago Architecture Foundation docent, conducting public tours of Chicago’s architecture and its history. She was also a docent at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Art Museum and the Knoxville Museum of Art, sharing her knowledge about the Museums’ wide-ranging collections with people from all over the world. During her years in Shaker Heights, Phyllis, an avid reader, helped develop continuing education courses at Case Western Reserve University, including a book discussion group with 250 members. In Knoxville, Phyllis was blessed to be near children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She made lifelong friends and participated in numerous community organizations. She was active in Dr. Kenneth Newton’s Human Relations Group, and was a founding member of Cafe Mortel, a “Death Cafe” whose purpose was to talk openly about end of life issues. Phyllis thrived on the exchange of thought-provoking ideas, and she loved engaging in lively conversations with friends and family who lived in or visited her in Knoxville. Phyllis is survived by eight of nine children: Phillip (Judy) Barnette and Leslie (Michael) Versen of Knoxville, TN, Anne D. Daniels of Austin, TX, Leonard J. Daniels, Jr. of San Diego, CA, Claire Daniels (Paul Overman) of Sedona, AZ, J. Christopher Daniels of Knoxville, Juliette E. Daniels of Bellingham, WA and Catherine L. Daniels of Bellingham, WA. She was predeceased by her husband of 59 years, son Paul Jeffrey Daniels, and grandchild Jeffrey Austin Daniels. Phyllis is also survived by 14 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.
Posted online on October 15, 2022
Published in Knoxville News Sentinel