‘HOOSIERS WE’VE LOST’: Lifelong florist never hesitated to help those in need

Editor’s note: This is one of a continuing online series of profiles of the more than 12,000 Hoosiers who have died from COVID-19. The stories are from 12 Indiana newspapers, including The Republic, who collaborated to create the collection to highlight the tremendous loss that the pandemic has created. The series appears daily at therepublic.com.

Name: Dawn Sheets

City/Town: Indianapolis

Age: 93

Died: April 16

Dawn Sheets never hesitated to help a friend in need.

Sheets, a lifelong florist, had no formal medical training, but when her friend Maxine Hessong needed kidney dialysis treatment, Sheets taught herself how to operate a dialysis machine so Hessong’s husband Dale could continue working.

For more than a year, Sheets made three to four trips a week to Methodist Hospital to care for her friend, offering support and companionship during Hessong’s procedures. Eventually Hessong came home, and Sheets continued to run her machine, even showing Dale the necessary steps in the process.

“She cared about people,” daughter Lori Arment said. “She cared about people’s feelings and their well being.”

“That’s one of the highlights of her life to be able to help in that way at that time,” daughter Cathy Hiatt said.

Helping others, faith and family were the pillars of Sheets’ life. Her compassion was matched by her late husband Ken’s, who became her primary caretaker as she dealt with dementia until he died in December.

In early April, Dawn Sheets developed a cough and began running a temperature. She had a COVID-19 test on April 10. On April 13 the test came back positive for COVID-19. She died April 16 at a memory care facility in Hendricks County.

“When people think of Mom, they always think of Dad, too,” daughter Dianne Boyd said. “It was always Ken and Dawn, and Dawn and Ken because they did everything together. They complemented each other, they were supportive of each other.”

Dawn is survived by daughters Cathy, Dianne and Lori Arment, and six grandsons. She is preceded in death by her husband Ken and daughter Deborah Sheets.

Dawn Sheets (Steele) was born May 12, 1926, in Bainbridge. Her family moved to Indianapolis when she was 5, settling on the east side of the city.

Sheets graduated from Warren Central High School in 1944. She met Ken in the seventh grade and they married July 27, 1945, while he was home on leave from the Navy, before he left for Japan during World War II.

The couple’s 74-year marriage was built on a foundation of love and companionship. When Ken attended college in the early ’60s, Dawn ran the household, sewing the children’s clothes, cooking dinner and helping Ken with his homework assignments whenever she could.

Resourcefulness was key. Growing up during the Great Depression, she learned to cook and sew out of necessity, but later in life, cooking and sewing became her passions. In addition to making her children’s clothes, she’d also create little outfits for their dolls. One of her favorite pieces was the replica Navy uniform (modeled after Ken’s Navy uniform) that she created for her grandson’s G.I. Joe figurine.

Her sewing later evolved into beautiful applique quilts, often keeping her up late into the night.

In the kitchen, Dawn’s pies were legendary.

She’d make 10 to 15 pies for church functions. Her fruit pies, especially her blueberry pies with homemade crust, were beloved by everyone who tasted them. Family functions weren’t complete until you tasted her famous angel food cake with pink icing. Her cake pans, cakes carriers and cake knives have become treasured keepsakes since her passing.

Dawn’s other passion was working with flowers. She began her career working for award-winning florist James Carl Hoffman at J.C. Hoffman Florist in Indianapolis. Hoffman saw immense talent in Sheets and sent her to floral design school in Chicago. Sheets finished her career working as a florist in Speedway.

At home, Dawn maintained stunning collections of bachelor buttons, lilies, cockscomb, chrysanthemums, and different shrubs for greenery. She enjoyed making bouquets for the church altar, and to this day, Cathy says she always has fresh flowers in her house as a reminder of her mother.

“She was a very talented person and she was able to pursue those talents,” Cathy said. “All the sewing that she did, and the cooking, and quilting. She was very, very talented and enjoyed the artistic part of her being.”

Her warm, welcoming personality made Dawn and Ken beloved members of their church community. They were members at Fairfield Friends Meeting in Camby for several years. The couple loved to welcome new members to the church, and of course, her baked goods would go quickly at all church functions.

“Her faith as a Quaker really influenced her,” said Phil Gulley, pastor at Fairfield Friends Meeting. “It was her guidestone. She was just a person of real big compassion and concern. She wasn’t self absorbed at all. You could always count on her to show up if you needed to get something done. She was just an exceptional lady.”

Later in life, even as dementia started to affect her memory, Dawn maintained her sense of humor and love for storytelling. She also developed a fondness for golf. She enjoyed watching the bright green grass, tall trees and impeccably kept scenery of the golf courses on TV.

She loved to giggle and laugh as she looked through photo albums with her daughters. The memories sparked by those photos, such as the one taken with her daughters the day before the memory care facility stopped allowing visitors, are how her family wants her to be remembered.

“Remember what a kindhearted and insightful soul she was,” Dianne said. “Such an artistic and creative mind that she had. … I know her and dad are finally together again.”

— Contributed by the Indianapolis Star