Bill and Shirley Stubblefield

Obituary of Bill and Shirley Stubblefield

Bill Stubblefield, September 20, 1929 — December 25, 2023
Shirley Stubblefield, June 20, 1935 — February 9, 2024
Yuba City, California

Both Bill and Shirley Stubblefield knew hardship from young ages. His family was chased by the Dust Bowl from Oklahoma to the California citrus groves. Her family of 13 was scattered during the Great Depression after her father was killed in a mining accident and the children were sent to foster care.



Through a combination of hard work and luck, they found each other and built a prosperous business and a loving family. They counted on each other throughout their 63-year marriage to navigate life’s ups and downs.



And after so many years together, they couldn’t be apart.



Bill died at age 94 on December 25, 2023, at the couple’s longtime Yuba City home. The loss left Shirley bereft and just six weeks later, on February 9, 2024, she unexpectedly died at home at age 88, reuniting with her soulmate.


The family they created mourns their loss and celebrates the remarkable life Bill and Shirley built together — a life as loving parents, owners of several Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, and a life filled with friends and guided by deep religious faith.



They will be remembered at 2 p.m., May 18, 2024, in a Celebration of Life at Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, California.



Billy Joe Stubblefield was born September 20, 1929, in Wilson, Oklahoma, to Herman and Perna Gill Stubblefield, the oldest of three children. He was young when drought and strong winds sucked the soil from the fields and prairies.



The family joined the great Dust Bowl migration from Oklahoma to California, landing in Fillmore. His father found work at Sepse Ranch, picking fruit and pruning trees. His mother worked at a lemon-packing plant.



The family eventually settled in Van Nuys. Bill’s father trained as a welder, got a job at Lockheed Aircraft Co. and worked there all during WWII. Bill’s mother also worked at Lockheed as a security guard during the war. Bill attended Van Nuys High School, joined the ROTC, and graduated in 1947.



Bill went to work for JCPenney, then he was drafted and proudly served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He was honorably discharged as a corporal in 1953. Bill returned home and settled in Ventura, California, and became a manager for JCPenney.



Unbeknownst to him, a young lady from Minnesota moved to Ventura that very same year.



Her name was Shirley Hazel Ethel Hill, and she was born in tiny New York Mills, Minnesota, on June 20, 1935, the youngest of 13 children of Finnish immigrant Alfred Alexander Hill and 2nd generation Finn, Ida Jaakola Hill. The family spoke Finnish at home. Shirley inherited “sisu” — a Finnish concept of strength of will and perseverance that helped her overcome many hardships.



Times were tough at the height of the Depression, and they lost the family farm. The large family had to squeeze into a tiny two-room bungalow. Three children died in infancy. Shirley’s father had to travel to the Dakotas or further to find work to support their large family.



In February 1943, he was working in a Montana mine when it collapsed, killing him. Shirley’s mother loved her children but was unable to make ends meet. The family broke apart and Shirley, 7, and her siblings went to a series of foster homes.



She was about to be sent to an orphanage at age 11 when a young Lutheran minister, Rev. Owen E. Doely and his wife, Florence, welcomed her into their home and hearts in Henning, Minnesota. She now had her very own forever family.



Shirley was the oldest of their five children. Florence taught her to cook the Scandinavian delicacies that she would later make for her own children — Swedish meatballs, pickled fish, Swedish pancakes, krumkake and lefse, among others. From her new parents, she developed her deep Christian faith.



She graduated from Henning High School in 1953 and that summer moved with the Doelys to California when Pastor Doely accepted a call to Trinity Lutheran Church in Ventura.



Shirley and Bill’s paths wouldn’t cross for another six years, when fate brought them together at the same department store.



She was busy attending San Fernando Valley State College, where she graduated in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in education. Following graduation, Shirley got a job teaching first and second grade.



Shirley applied for a summer position at the local JCPenney. On the Fourth of July 1959, a young manager, Bill, telephoned to offer her the job.



They met in person the next day — and sparks flew — an encounter they would forever call their “Always and Forever” moment.



Shirley’s foster father performed their wedding ceremony on June 26, 1960, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Ventura. The couple settled in Ventura, where Bill continued to work for JCPenney, and Shirley taught elementary school. She became a mother figure to Bill’s two young children from a previous marriage, Ellen and Dale, taking them under her wing.



Bill always wanted to be his own boss. He was more of a risk-taker than Shirley, but eventually he convinced her that they should cash out all their savings to buy a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. They were given only two locations in the state to choose from to start their franchise, both in Northern California. They chose Marysville due to the location of other nearby areas for possible expansion.



In the summer of 1968, they traded the cool ocean breezes of Ventura for the heat of the Central Valley and moved to Yuba City. They didn’t know a soul and Shirley was pregnant. But they had been through hard times before and neither was deterred.



They got busy, applying for permits, buying property, making signs, hiring staff and everything else that goes along with opening a business.



No matter how hard he worked, Bill had a huge smile on his face every day. The long hours finally paid off when they held the grand opening of the area’s first KFC, on Tenth Street in Marysville, in January 1969.



Bill’s dream of being his own boss had come true. He relished every moment operating the KFC’s. The busier he was the happier he was.



Their daughter, Kristen, was an infant and Shirley set up a playpen for her in the store so she could see her dad. Bill and Shirley raised their children with love, patience, and wisdom. His children remember how he would wake them up every morning by singing at the top of his lungs “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” from the musical “Oklahoma!”


Bill and Shirley were both “people persons” and soon their friendly nature attracted new friends and customers. Shirley kept the books and did paperwork for the store while she stayed home with the children.



Through their hard work and determination, the couple expanded their business and eventually opened five additional KFC franchises in nearby locations.



Bill held various positions with the Association of KFC Franchisees, including serving as president of the AKFCF from 1987-1988. Bill also was elected by his franchisee regional peers to represent their region on the National Franchisee Advisory Council, serving a four-year term. Bill and Shirley were honored to meet KFC founder Colonel Harland Sanders before he passed away in 1980.



Both Bill and Shirley were active at Faith Lutheran Church in Marysville. Bill served on the Church Council. Shirley enjoyed teaching Sunday school and Bible school.



Shirley loved to entertain and was an excellent cook, renowned for her German chocolate cake and Scandinavian specialties. She was also a talented seamstress, a skill she perfected when she was young and won first prize in home economics class for making matching pajamas for her toddler twin sisters.



She made her own stylish clothes and matching outfits for her daughters, Halloween costumes, even doll and Barbie clothes. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren still treasure the personalized Christmas stockings she made for each of them.



Shirley bowled in the Women’s Bowling League for many years. She enjoyed playing Bunco and Scrabble and was active in church events such as Circle and sewing sisters.



Bill joined the Ventura Kiwanis Suburban Club in 1965 before moving to the Early Riser’s Club of Yuba City. He enjoyed tending his garden, especially growing his beloved tomatoes each summer. He was an avid reader and enjoyed books about history and world affairs and liked discussing what he had read. He loved keeping in touch with friends and family and reached out to them frequently.



After they sold the franchises in 1991, Bill continued working hard, even in retirement. He volunteered with the Juvenile Justice Committee, Hands of Hope, and many Kiwanis events. Bill and Shirley both volunteered at Christian Assistance Network (CAN) and at church activities.



The couple traveled widely in their retirement. Both had a curiosity about the world and a hunger to see what was around the next bend in the road. They loved sampling new cuisines.



They had a motorhome and drove all over the U.S. and Canada, frequently stopping to visit friends and family in the Midwest and across the United States. And they became globetrotters, visiting Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, South America and even a memorable trip to China with Bill’s sister, Susan.



Even as they aged, they managed frequent trips to Southern California to see family and even walked miles around Washington DC on a visit to see their great-granddaughter. Bill celebrated his 90th birthday on a Baltic Sea cruise.



Bill had an internal engine, as Shirley used to say, that propelled him forward each day with a goal in mind and a will to accomplish something. Even in old age, that internal engine drove him up and onward, even if he had to use a walker or wheelchair to do what he had set his mind on doing.



Bill and Shirley were sweet and kind, loving, warm-hearted and generous, genuine, caring, and happy people, and stayed that way until the day they died. They were amazing parents, friends, grandparents and great-grandparents. They will never be forgotten. Their love and zest for life now echo in the laughter, tears, and joy of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They created many happy memories that family and friends treasure as they celebrate the legacy of love and commitment that Bill and Shirley leave behind.



May they rest in eternal peace, hand in hand, “Always and Forever” as they embark on their next journey together.



They are survived by three daughters: Ellen Renga and her husband, Bob, of Culver City, California; Kristen Stubblefield, and Kerri Stubblefield, both of Yuba City; and estranged son, Dale, of Florida; four grandchildren: Cherilyn Estrada and her husband, Rudy; Carlene Daggett and husband, Darin; Kristie Quinn and her husband, Brian; and Joshua Stubblefield; and six great-grandchildren: Lauren, Kylie, Ashlyn, Alyssa, Brooklyn and Calvin.



Bill is also survived by his sister, Susan Garcia, of Santa Rosa Valley, California.



Shirley is survived by her siblings: Mildred Zavadil and her husband, Arnie, of Glenwood, Minnesota; Melvin Hill and his wife, Sharon, of Fridley, Minnesota; David Doely and his wife, Cheryl, of Minneapolis, Minnesota; Martha Winter and her husband, Jerry, of St. Paul, Minnesota; and Mary Deneen and her husband, Peter, of Maiden Rock, Wisconsin.



Both are also survived by many nieces and nephews, cousins, good friends and fellow church and community members.



Bill’s sister, Betty Munn, and brother-in-law, Douglas Munn, died before him, as did brother-in-law Henry Garcia, great-nephew Daniel Biron and daughter-in-law Vivian Grant, mother of Cherilyn Estrada and Joshua Stubblefield.



Shirley’s siblings Signe Hilden, Arthur Hill, Lillian Steeke, Inez Lohse, Hugo Hill, Arvid Hill, Violet Fleck, Helen O’Brien, Elvin Hill, Dolores Hill, and Peter Doely, died before her, as did a nephew, Gary Steeke, and niece, Kathie O’Brien Johnson.



Friends and family are encouraged to reminisce about Bill and Shirley next time they visit KFC or while enjoying a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie, Shirley’s favorite.



Ullrey Memorial Chapel in Yuba City handled arrangements. Memorial donations may be made to Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901 or to the charity of your choice.

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Memorial Service

2:00 pm
Saturday, May 18, 2024
Faith Lutheran Church
1000 D Street
Marysville, California, United States
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